It’s sometimes difficult to find a series that my wife and I both enjoy, that we can watch together. But in Re:Zero, I think I may have found one. It hits all the accessibility points for her, and is a series that I would like to watch again as well. I realized I’d forgotten so much while watching episode one, as so many bits and pieces flew by that felt new to me, including a tidbit of some importance: as a half-elf, Emilia is the victim of discrimination.
In the world of Re:Zero, half-elves are regarded with suspicion and treated with prejudice. It’s a feeling among the populace that is deep-rooted and associated with the actions by the Witch of Envy. And so when the tender-hearted Emilia reveals to Subaru for the first time that she is half-elf, she does so cautiously. When Subaru responds to this information with warmth and innocence, she goes full tsundere, pretending that his reaction is terrible when she obviously—and as explained by Puck—feels quite the opposite.
Well, Emilia, I feel ya. As a hapa, I’ve experienced prejudice and still sometimes do. Thankfully, I think these events (the most prominent was once when a group of kids tried to drown me) were so few and I was so supported enough by loving and diverse community that I grew up without fear and with little anger. Still—and this was more common in my childhood than now—I grew up among people that sometimes saw how I looked (full Korean) and decided to levy their racism against Asians upon me. Unlike Emilia, I was discriminated for half of my background.
Nowadays, there’s a more subtle thing happening, and this time it’s because I’m hapa. I’ve been called “the enemy” and other distasteful things both by those that only know me by my name and race and by those that were once close friends. These hurtful assertions, levied now exclusively by Asians of full blood, carry a nationalistic fervor. They complement similar recent assertions involving Crazy Rich Asians where casting was criticized because a mixed-race actor was selected to play a character of full-Chinese descent. Where once I and others felt criticized by non-Asians for not being white enough, I now receive criticism from Asians for not being Asian enough.
I can understand how some in similar situations as me might feel angry. I sometimes feel that, too, but I’m honestly more confused, frustrated, taken aback, shaken. I think I’m more like Emilia, internalizing and thinking about what it all means, and feeling hurt. For me, I struggle with identity as many hapa do—we don’t belong on either “side,” but have to take on the mantle of “white privilege,” for instance, and unraveling that difficult concept when we feel both “too white” and “not white enough.”
So yeah…for both half-elves and hapa haole, it’s complicated.
But Subaru’s reaction is decidedly not complicated, and I like it. For all his, ahem, challenges, Subaru reacts in the way I know I want others to—with kindness and curiosity. I think that’s a lot to expect out of society. In fact, it’s a lot to expect out of just you and me. But that’s where it has to start, with humbleness and love. As we see each other without so many layers of expectations and prejudices, we start to realize that we’re all wonderfully made, as well as all doers of evil. And if that doesn’t level the playing field and make us feel as equals, nothing will.
featured art by novelance | reprinted w/permission
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