Let it not be said that the Light Novel Club shies away from the most popular isekai series. This session, we’re jumping into volume one of the enormously popular Re:Zero franchise. The last episode of the first cour of the anime’s second season just aired, so it felt like a perfect time to look at the light novel that started it all, from the perspective both of one who hasn’t seen the series and one who is keeping up. So come join stardf29 and myself (no Jeskai Angel this time around—you’ll read why during the discussion) below and on Discord, where we’ll continue to have public discussions of our light novel selections moving forward!
1. What are your overall thoughts on the novel?
Twwk: I enjoyed it pretty thoroughly, which surprised me because I thought I’d be bored. I’ve seen the opening episodes of Re:Zero several times and this particular volume repeats events as part of its very plot, so I thought all that repetition would make reading a slog. However, it wasn’t. Volume one was well-mapped out, and the repetitious parts read like new content. By the middle of the volume, the story was in full stride and I couldn’t put it down. Through and through, I thought it was an exciting and fun read.
stardf29: Having never seen the anime, I went into it pretty fresh, and overall liked what I read. I liked how the whole time-travel aspect was written (more on that later), and it provided a solid introduction to what I presume is a much bigger story, as the volume did feel overall like more of an introduction. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more of it.
2. What do you think of the main protagonist, Subaru?
Twwk: I’ve spent a lot of time considering Subaru as a character. More than once, I’ve developed an entire article about him before trashing it. He stirs a lot of emotions in me, including pity, compassion, and anger. But mostly I just liked volume one Subaru a lot. He has this joy in him that reads as quite authentic, despite the situation he’s in and his life situation, as refers back to being a shut-in. That kind of energy and immaturity, in a sense, makes him an easy protagonist to root for. And I think he needs to have that innocence to him to endure his “power”—I feel like the protagonist would likely either be this joyful, kinda goofy guy or an intense protagonist, and the latter would be far less interesting.
stardf29: Well, I’m definitely having a hard time putting my thoughts on Subaru together myself, even in this first volume. It’s pretty clear he has low self-confidence given his past lifestyle, and yet he still tries to make the most of his new life, trying whatever he can to protect others even given his lack of power. I did get a bit annoyed with how long it took him to realize that he was in a time loop, though I suppose that’s not exactly a normal sort of occurrence (even given how abnormal being in another world is to begin with), and once he figured things out I think he made decent use of that information. Overall, I agree that, at least for now, his character is easy enough to cheer for as the main character.
Twwk: Yeah, the time loop thing…as an otaku himself, you’d think he would have jumped immediately to that very gaming-style conclusion, seeing as he already realized he’d been spirited to another world.
3. What are your thoughts on the other characters?
Twwk: When thinking about this question, I’m immediately drawn to two side characters because of their immense power—Elsa and Reinhard. The latter is such a lovely character. You know, it’s so easy to turn a chivalrous, powerful night into a “okay, enough already” type of character, even if they’re developed in a good light, but Reinhard comes across as authentically humble and the type of person that, well, I would love to have as a friend regardless of his strength. But that strength, too, is compelling—how powerful can he get? From where does he draw this power? Elsa, too, is interesting because of how fierce she is. This level of boss this early puts real danger into the story (as does how many times she kills the characters). A really terrific first enemy.
I then turn to Emilia, who for most of the novel is referred to as Satella or non-Satella (ha!). There’s obviously a lot of mystery there. But again, when thinking about her, I start comparing to the Emilia I know now, dozens of anime episodes later, to the original. The very strong part of her personality where she’s nice even though she acts tough (and convinces herself that she’s not doing things for others) has kind of gone away. It’s an interesting element to her character, though I don’t know if it’s an “attractive” one when she’s being set up as the primary love interest. Otherwise, I love her character design and I love Puck! What a fun side character, though it feels like cheating to have him. Just dodge any nighttime fights and you’ll probably win in any troublesome situation you get into.
Felt and the old man were also nice supporting characters, with that ending involving Felt really being a high point of the novel, because suddenly you understand that she isn’t a one-off; there’s something more to her, something perhaps dangerous. A captivating turn of events.
stardf29: There’s something about characters named Reinhard (or its variants Reinhart and Reinhardt) that gives them an extra bit of oomph. (Those who’ve played Fire Emblem Heroes probably know what I’m talking about.) Reinhard is definitely a nice “powerful” character: someone who at least here can take what Subaru wants to do but lacks the power to do so, and actually do something about it. He’s also not super-uptight about his “justice”, which is what I think helps make him feel more “friendly”.
Elsa is a frightening first villain to have to deal with; she’s an endgame boss that Subaru is facing before he even has completed the tutorial. She obviously belongs to some faction that is in direct opposition to Emilia, and thus part of some major conflict that we’re only getting a glimpse at here.
Speaking of Emilia, she’s a nice girl. Again, not having watched the anime, I can only judge from what I see here, and as of now she’s another character that can’t help but want to help others. So it’s pretty easy to see how Subaru is drawn to her, and now she’s also interested in the mysteries surrounding Subaru, so I’m interested to see how things develop between the two.
And yes, the hint at the end that there’s more to Felt is great, and it’s nice to be able to see more of her, too.
4. What do you think about how the time-travel aspect was used?
Twwk: I think it’s an interesting device though just looking at this first volume, without considering where the story goes, my concern would be if this could remain engaging for volumes and volumes. It’s used effectively here, with actual little repetition for being a power all about repetition, so I wasn’t bored by Subaru redoing time, but can the author keep that up? Or will it become a chore to read through some chapters?
stardf29: I think what I really liked about the time travel here is that each of the different loops are pretty distinct; Subaru starts off going with Emilia, but in the second loop he instead goes straight to the cellar and experiences things from Felt’s end. It makes for something more interesting than just following the same path multiple times. And then the third path he gets himself killed extra-early, which is kind of funny but is more to get him to realize he has a time-travel power, and the fourth loop is where he finally puts everything together to… at least make it past this first stage alive.
Twwk: Ah, you’re right, kind of like different routes in a game, which I think must be what influenced Tappei Nagatsuki‘s decision to imbue Subaru with this power.
stardf29: As for whether the series can continue to make use of this mechanic, I think as long as the story keeps using this idea of exploring alternate paths like it was done in this volume, it should remain interesting.
(As a side note, it seems that the whole “go back in time to change a bad future” concept is an entire sub-genre among otaku web novels, with Tearmoon Empire, which we’re covering next month, being another example of such.)
5. What do you think about the rather graphic depictions of violence in the novel?
Twwk: Funny story. The reason why Jeskai Angel is missing from the discussion this time is in direct relation to this question. A death in the prologue is described in quite detail, enough for me to tweet about it. That caught Jeskai’s eye, and already having difficulty with the violence in the anime, he decided to sit the light novel out. I don’t blame him, though I do feel bad since I would say that initial description is the most visceral and graphic in the entire volume. There’s a lot of violence throughout, but nothing as faint-inducing as what’s described in the opening. It’s a doozy. In fact, last week on Instagram, I asked our followers which they liked better: Re:Zero or Game of Thrones. I feel the two series align in a number of ways, including the descriptions of violence in the original novel versions, which stayed with me longer than the animated / live action adaptations of said violence did.
stardf29: We discussed this on Twitter, but in reading the novel I basically glossed over the more gory details. I’m a bit of a speed-reader as it is so it wasn’t too hard to quickly move past something I have no desire to read in-depth to begin with. That said, I can’t “gloss over” such things as easily in an animated format, hence why I think I prefer novels for these sorts of more graphic stories. However, I know some people are more sensitive to reading the details compared to seeing it visually.
The other question is what purpose do these descriptions even serve in the first place. After all, why go into such detail when you could just say “oh I died” and be on with it? It’s likely to really make us think of how agonizing dying is for Subaru and how his Return By Death ability is not a pleasant ability to have. That, in addition to the uncertainty of how often the ability will work, gives him incentive to stay alive as much as possible, rather than trying to abuse the power in any way.
6. If you’ve seen the anime, how does the novel compare to the anime?
Twwk: For one volume at least, I thought it was better. The opening segment of Re:Zero drags a bit for me with its repetition, which as I stated earlier, isn’t boring in the light novel. I also think the limitations of the written page cover up for some of the author’s sins in a way that animation cannot. For instance, in the novel it was a lot more believable to me that Elsa and Emilia were at a standstill in their fight; I could picture it well in my mind, almost as if it was a video game. That doesn’t work so well in animation.
That concludes our discussion on Re:Zero volume one! As always, if you read along with us, let us know of your own thoughts on the volume in the comments!
And then it’s onto our next novel! As stardf29 mentioned earlier, the October selection has already been made and announced—we’re going to be continuing with Tearmoon Empire by reading and discussing volume two together. Links to purchase the light novel are available through the J-Novel Club website. And in the meantime, you can also read our discussion of volume one and join the Discord, where other than the public discussions, you’ll find early announcements of future light novels and most importantly, community!
Note from stardf29: I have already announced November’s Light Novel Club title in the Discord, but if you want a quick hint here: I think New Orleans’s football team could use her help.