The year 2018 has been one heck of a year for the western side of anime. The anime community was driven into nervousness over the uncertainty of Crunchyroll and Funimation’s sad yet inevitable breakup. Shortly after the split, Crunchyroll looked toward working with Adult Swim, thanks to the two of them being under the same parent company. The result: Mob Psycho 100, a much-requested series, finally aired on Toonami, complete with a little Crunchyroll logo bump at the start of each episode. Wasting no time, the two partners recently announced a brand new anime based on the influential and highly acclaimed sci-fi franchise Blade Runner. At first, I wondered if the deal with Crunchyroll was just a one-off collaboration, but after this blindsiding Blade Runner announcement, I’m 100% a believer now. This partnership is going to go places, and we’re going to get a lot more content in the future. Since they’re potentially in this for the long haul, I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe Re:Zero on Toonami will be feasible.”
Why Re:Zero over other Crunchyroll-licensed series? Other than being a pretty dang good anime, Re:Zero’s interesting mix of isekai (“trapped in another world” stories) and psychological thriller would be a fantastic way to add variety and spice up the block. I feel that both genres have been highly underrepresented, and Re:Zero would manage to fill that void. Back when it aired in 2016, it had the whole anime community abuzz with thought-provoking discussion, constant speculation, and wild freakouts. Something that I could easily see that happening among Toonami viewers. First-time watchers would be in for a hell of a ride, and fans who’ve already seen the show can re-experience all the feels, screaming, and utter torment in English!
Re:Zero follows seventeen-year-old “hikkikomori” (no-life shut-in) Subaru Natsuki as he gets whisked away from his delirium of an unfulfilling life into a brand new world chock full of magic, mythical creatures, and many opportunities for adventure. There he has a “destined meeting” with a beautiful half-elf girl named “Satella.” Being the gamer that he is, the trope-savvy Subaru tackles his new life with excitement. Subaru feels on top the world thanks to his life now being like one of his many games, but the grass is a lot less greener on this side. Not even a day into his new life, he dies. As he fades into the blackness, he feels the presence of what seems like dark magic, and the next thing we see is Subaru waking up right back where he started (at the beginning of the story). Normal human Subaru now faces the perilous new world with the help of some allies of the royal Roswaal mansion and his newfound passive skill (dubbed “Return by death”) in tow, as he struggles to stay alive (or die as little as possible).
It’s an easy-to-follow plot that takes elements from other isekai anime while adding a death reset element into the mix (similar to that of All You Need is Kill and its movie adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow). The story progression plays out like a visual novel exploring its many different routes and branches to get to the happy end. The resets provide breaks in the “Point A to Point B” style progression and keeps the viewers on their toes. Each “return by death” scenario brings a slight feeling of mystery into the fray that will have you wondering “how will Subaru get out of this?” or “what’s causing him to keep dying?” The addition of the mystery element is another ingredient that turns this deceptively simple story into something much more engaging.
Re:Zero stands out from many other isekai thanks to its tone. While a lot of these stories tend to have main characters that are either overpowered or away from a lot of the action yet still necessary, Re:Zero doesn’t stand on those platitudes and ends up being a lot harsher. This series is brutal, not being afraid to show tons of blood and even severed body parts (and I think organs too!). The bits of physical brutality isn’t the forefront of this series. The strongest point of this anime is the unrelenting mental brutality which isn’t seen in a lot of anime. The show isn’t afraid to kick its main character while he’s down. Whether it’s him making a stupid decision, or the universe just deciding that it doesn’t like him at that particular moment, when Subaru screws up, the show makes sure you’re aware of it. Re:Zero takes Murphy’s Law to the extreme, to the point where Subaru’s worst days will even affect the other characters drastically. Not even minor characters are safe from the suffering. Watching the series can get legitimately depressing at times, but it’ll leave your heart heavy and begging for more pain.
Of course, what good is a fantastic story without any intriguing characters to back it up? Being a shut-in gamer, Subaru is knowledgeable about the isekai genre and all that comes with it. His portrayal is pretty believable. He’s nonchalant, confident, and paints the perfect portrait of a self-insert that thinks the world revolves around them. That ultimately leads to his slow, downward spiral. Subaru starts as the character you want to root for, but everything goes to hell at blistering speeds. Despite the immense pain, Subaru’s gamer-like determination pulls him through, making him feel like the “Big Damn Hero” he believes he was meant to be. He’s a great character — not an entirely likable one, but no doubt a great one. The rest of the hefty cast of characters is more or less decoration in comparison. None of the other characters introduced are intrinsically “bad,” but they make you yearn for a little more from them. What they bring to the table first and foremost is a personality to the world surrounding them. While I feel that it isn’t always the best way to include characters, it’s a fair tradeoff that allows the supporting cast not completely to overshadow Subaru. Overall, they feel consistent when juxtaposed with the general plot and Subaru’s focus. Thankfully we also have Rem and Ram, twin demon maids that get a complete backstory and fully-realized character arcs early on. The two of them spend the most time with Subaru, and they grow almost as much as he does, adding a little bit of freshness to the first half of the series.
Re:Zero’s enticing immersion factor is cranked up to eleven thanks to studio White Fox (Akame ga Kill!, Steins;Gate) and their sublime visuals and sound design. The fantasy world is bright, colorful, and vibrant with beautiful scenery shots all around. During the more intense moments, the colors get muted and darker, further intensifying whatever serious, foreboding, or creepy occurrence was going on. A standard technique, but Re:Zero pulls it off masterfully. The strongest facet of this series’s visuals most definitely stems from the characters. Their body language is entirely on point, and they look fantastic in motion. An example, Subaru’s trademark “victory pose” is totally cringe-worthy yet perfectly fitting for the person he is that you can’t help but groan and chuckle when he does it. As great as their bodies move, everything from the neck up is what captured me the most. There’s no shortage of absurdly exaggerated faces, and some of them are downright gruesome. The faces made during displays of stronger emotions, like seething rage, sheer horror, and complete despair, feel so real that some of them made me shudder.
The sound design of Re:Zero is one of its biggest highlights. In addition to the creepy abundance of sound effects thanks to the permanent presence of dark magic throughout, the music perfectly matches any mood presented, from touching to goofy to downright chilling. The moment I hear “that one eerie song” when something bad happens, my skin instantly crawls. This is immersion done right, and it does a fantastic job in grabbing the viewer’s attention with the strength of a vice-grip.
Despite premiering in 2016, Re:Zero finally obtained a dub this year (with the first part released in June, while part two is coming within the next few months) recorded at Bang Zoom! Studios. And it is fantastic. Most of the lead roles in this series were given to some of the more recent names in the Los Angeles anime dub scene. Sean Chiplock (Yuuki Mishima in Persona 5) took on his very first lead role in his career as Subaru and nailed it. As amazing as Subaru’s Japanese voice already was, Chiplock matched all the intensity, raw emotion, and expressiveness of Subaru’s character blow-for-blow. Much like how Yusuke Kobayashi gave one of the best Japanese voice acting performances of 2016, Sean Chiplock delivered one of the best, if not THE best, English performances of 2018, hands down. Concerning the supporting cast, Kayli Mills, Ryan Bartley, and Brianna Knickerbocker deliver spectacular performances as Emilia, Ram, and Rem, respectively. Knickerbocker’s Rem deserves a special shoutout, as she does an amazing job reminding us all that Rem is as sweet as a button. Alongside those performances, Re:Zero pretty much has an all-star cast from most of LA’s “usual suspects.” There’s a lot of Erica Mendez (Ryuko Matoi in Kill la Kill, Gon in Hunter x Hunter), a touch of Kira Buckland (Izumo in Blue Exorcist), a dash of Robbie Daymond (Ide in FLCL Progressive, Mumen Rider in One-Punch Man), and even Beau Billingslea (Jet Black in Cowboy Bebop). The entire dub, directed by Chris Cason (Mob Psycho 100, One-Punch Man, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans), is a delight to watch, and by far my favorite new dub of 2018.
My name is Sean Chiplock.
11 years ago, anime introduced me to the world of VO, along w/ a life goal: to voice my own lead role in one.
Today, I couldn't be more ECSTATIC to announce I voiced SUBARU NATSUKI in the English dub of RE: ZERO!https://t.co/0npANEsCFu
— Sean Chiplock (@sonicmega) March 4, 2018
With all the good the series brings, there are, of course, a few small kinks in the execution. Re:Zero can be exposition-heavy, and some episodes are much more slower-paced than others. Thankfully, the series’s lowest points only border on “boring,” as the eclectic cast and intriguing plot still freshen things up. Re:Zero manages to move from plot point to plot point fairly quickly, and whatever doesn’t get resolved immediately tends to get called back to later and resolved then, so the anime never totally feels like it’s at a standstill for long. Regarding weekly viewership, thanks to its storytelling style, it’s a bit more of a commitment than a lot of other series. It’s difficult to “jump in” at any point, but on the flip side, it does well in making sure that fans are devoted not to miss a single second. Many cliffhangers await new viewers during the ride to always make sure they’re still itching for more.
Re:Zero, if it were to make it to the block, would bring something different to the table. It makes the most of its derivative isekai label by adding a considerable amount of psychological flair and a plot that’s not afraid to be unkind to its hero (a lot like Parasyte huh). Thanks to its brilliant audio-visual mastery, Re:Zero is intense, gripping, immersive, and chilling in every sense of those words. Also, with the lack of thrillers and small amounts of genre variation currently seen in the lineup, this series has the potential to shake things up for Toonami. If successful, it could lead to more interest in exploring psychological thrillers/horrors on the block. The veteran simulcast/seasonal watchers already know the show’s clout is pretty strong, regardless of their own opinion of it, and it’d fit right at home with some of the late night programs with its nightmare fuel and dark presentation. The Witch of Envy is getting restless, and her curse needs to spread to Toonami’s airwaves as soon as possible.
Alien Renegade is a staff writer for Toonamifaithful.com. Feel free to follow Alien on Twitter @AlienRenegade