Beginning like any other fish-out-of-water fantasy anime series, witches, sorcerers, ground dragons, and knights are in abundance. But the true magic of this one anime series lies underneath its gorgeous facade — an engrossing psychological thriller veiled by cute-as-a-button princesses and the darkness of a time-loop triggered by death.
Quickly abandoning the rules of its subgenre, Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World creates its own category.
The anime series received rapturous praise when it debuted in 2016, and today, it still holds a steadfast following. It’s no coincidence: Re:Zero is produced by White Fox, the same studio behind Steins;Gate, widely considered to be one of the best time-travel anime shows— and one of the best anime shows, period.
Here’s why Re:Zero, a genre-warping time-loop anime that is as gorgeous as it is disquieting, should be your next must-watch.
THE RULES OF TIME TRAVEL is an Inverse special issue exploring the evolution of science fiction's most imaginative sub-genre. From Marty McFly to Avengers: Endgame.
Both the original Japanese version of Re: Zero - Starting Life in Another World and the English dub are available on HBO Max and Crunchyroll. Spanish and Portuguese dubs can also be streamed on Crunchyroll.
Based on the Japanese light novel series of the same name written by Tappei Nagatsuki and illustrated by Shin'ichirō Ōtsuka, Re:Zero follows the aimless and isolated 17-year-old Subaru Natsuki. The protagonist finds himself time-warped to the medieval Kingdom of Lugnica after purchasing some snacks at a convenience store.
Subaru’s has the ability to “Reset by Death,” and it plays out in ways that are unexpected in a fantasy cartoon with cute, cat-eared knights and little magical girls with blonde ringlets. After all, there’s a reason that Re:Zero is rated TV-MA. Its gore and bloodiness are on par with Amazon Prime’s Invincible, while its dark fantasy horror scenes are akin to Netflix’s Castlevania.
Being forced to watch strangers and loved ones constantly get massacred isn’t enough psychological torture for Re:Zero’s protagonist. Subaru is also often subjected to a cycle of cruel, ghoulish deaths — demonic decapitation, to name one scenario of several — that our hapless hero not only can feel but also remember.
Memory betrays Subaru more than it aids him, and his “cool” regenerative power suddenly seems less like an easy-to-manipulate blessing and more like a painful curse. Subaru’s teenage mind is fractured by the insurmountable and inhuman load of grief, trauma, regret, and guilt that he carries, causing him to appear weak, clingy, and cringe-y at many moments.
Whether you love him, hate him, or find yourself wavering between the two extremes, Subaru is a peculiar male main character for the isekai anime subgenre, in which most protagonists are typically overpowered, chivalrous, and disciplined. In Re:Zero, Subaru is, purposefully, almost always the most boring person in the room, surrounded by freakish villains and badass young women with far more vigor and competency.
Besides, the most obvious deviations from isekai tropes — aka the time-looping — are the complex female characters in Subaru’s orbit. Rem and Emilia are anything but damsels-in-distress and do not have to sacrifice strength for softness. They are not written to waste time pitting themselves against each other for the male lead’s heart, making Re:Zero an empowering watch on top of a unique one.
Re:Zero was nominated for an "Anime of the Year" distinction in Crunchyroll’s The Anime Awards in 2016, and it was also the platform’s most-watched series the year it premiered. Its Season 2 finale was released in March 2021, and fans are still on the edge of their seats awaiting a Season 3 renewal announcement.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something that blends the subgenres of medieval fantasy, psychological thriller, and sci-fi all in one stunning show, look no further than Re:Zero on HBO Max.
Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on HBO Max and Crunchyroll in English and in Japanese.