Re:Zero – Love, fate and sins
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is a psychological anime directed by Masaharu Watanabe and produced by White Fox in 2016. It is originally based on a light novel. The story revolves around an-18-year old boy named Natsuki Subaru who unwillingly teleported to a fantasy world after coming out from a convenience store. From this moment onwards, the events of the anime begin to unfold in this fantastic universe.
At the beginning of the anime, Subaru mentions that he is a hikikomori (a Japanese term referring to shut-ins), which reminds us of the character Satou Tatsuhiro from Welcome to the NHK who is portrayed as a secluded young man. Some episodes show his obsession with a fantasy Role Playing Game (RPG) to the extent that he could no longer tell reality from fiction. The storyline in this anime differs in that everything seems so real from the beginning to the end and we are not aware of Subaru’s past in the real world. All we know about is what is going on in his mind in this strikingly imaginative abode called Lugnica. The kingdom Lugnica is where all the events of the anime take place and all the creatures it contains including humans, demons, spirits, and demihumans represent the kind of society that Subaru desires. Yet, even in his fantasy, he keeps undergoing constant pain and suffering through death by different means. Perhaps this invites the question of fate in Re:Zero and how it imposes inevitable consequences.
As has been already stated, the setting and characters seem to be from a fantasy RPG and Subaru is an intruder who suddenly teleports to this world where he goes through a series of death situations. He figures out that he is able to time leap everytime he dies. By analogy, this resembles a video game in which you have the control to reset and start from scratch even when your avatar “dies”. In Re:Zero, this implies a much deeper meaning which is that of the dichotomy of fate and free will. In other words, do the death situations that Subaru keeps facing indicate that no matter how hard he tries his best, all choices will lead to the same route, i.e. the same result? Or, on the contrary, does it mean he has the choice to control his own life and that he can probably change it through determination and strong volition?
When Subaru tries to open up to Emilia by telling her the truth that he keeps dying and coming back to life, he is immediately transferred to a dark dimension where the Unseen Hands control his body and take over his heart. He then wakes up of this unbelievably realistic nightmare to claim that he doesn’t feel pain but fear is still manipulating him. These Unseen Hands belong to Betelgeuse Romanee-Conti who represents Sloth, which is considered one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. In the real world, Subaru is a shut-in who avoids work because of his psychological problems and the Unseen Hands of Betelgeuse, i.e. Sloth that chase him everywhere symbolize this struggle of overcoming laziness. This is also clearly expressed in Puck’s words “You truly are slothful, Subaru.” Plus, Betelgeuse tells Subaru “you must be Pride” whenever he encounters him and that explains why the protagonist is striving to be a hero, which leads him to be excessively arrogant. Subaru is a flawed hero who is also envious of the ones who hold a remarkable status in the society. That demonstrates why he has the smell of the Jealous Witch and why he is jealous of Julius, a respectable knight in Lugnica, because he craves to be chivalrous like him. Therefore, Subaru has been committing three deadly sins: sloth, pride and envy. These sins trigger his tragic downfall, which shows why he couldn’t attain his goal of becoming a hero even though that’s what he desires the most.
Another significant point that should be taken into account is Subaru’s struggle with unemployment and how that affects his psychological character. When Lord Roswaal asks him what he wants, Subaru answers that he wants a job in the mansion. Seeking a job is probably a priority for him to overcome failure and ostracization. Thankfully, in this fantasy world, such desire can be attained without having to undergo social pressure. At least that’s how the protagonist expected it to be like, but as the events progress and after facing many hardships and death situations, he ends up pretending to be energetic and smiling while, in reality, he is feeling disgusted and that is revealed through his repeated statement “I feel sick”. Consequently, Subaru goes through an emotional breakdown when Emilia leads him to the room to comfort him. The moment Subaru hears Emilia telling him “It was rough, wasn’t it?”, he remembers all the things he went through and bursts into tears. All his negative emotions are unveiled including fear, despair and sadness. It is clear that the protagonist is craving understanding and empathy from others and he is struggling to reach them to overcome the torment of loneliness. This explains pretty well the psychological make-up of Subaru who is longing for someone to understand his pain and empathize with his feelings. For this reason, he unconsciously came up with an ideal image of Emilia in his mind, an image incorporating love and affection. That way, Subaru thought he could overcome his slothful character by depending on Emilia’s caring nature. Yet, he realizes that he has the wrong image of her and that only the Emilia in his mind is able to connect her emotions to his. This is revealed when Emilia confesses that she is actually unable to understand Subaru’s feelings and that he’s expecting her to be like the one in his mind, which is, at his misfortune, not the case. Subaru idealizes Emilia because he seeks to be loved to overcome the emotion of self-hatred.
It is obvious that Subaru is escaping reality by substituting it with another. All the events and characters that we experience as we keep watching belong to Subaru’s mind. This is evidenced by Ram’s statement “You must be the one who’s dreaming” and his statement “All I have to do is run away, run away, run away.” The emphasis on wanting to run away shows that Subaru suffers from the avoidance of human contact although he is dying for it. A paradox created by a desire that is blocked by the fear to face reality and move forward in his life. This act of avoidance probably reminds us of Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion who kept avoiding to pilot the eva and fight against the Angels. This is what happens to Subaru each time he is faced with a new challenge. Instead, he chooses to delve into a world that lies within his subconscious. This is also what leads Subaru to his powerlessness and egotistical behavior as all he cares about is becoming a hero in order to impress his surrounders, i.e. the society. The protagonist craves heroic features because he thinks that in that way, he will gain their love, especially that of Rem and Emilia.
At the beginning of the anime, Rem aims at killing Subaru claiming that he has the smell of the Jealous Witch. In episode 7, he bursts into tears and cries out loud saying “why do you hate me so much?” and then gets killed by Rem. However, when he saves her from the mabeasts and destroys her demonic possession, she became super friendly and caring with him and continued being grateful. This reinforces the idea that Subaru is feeling loveless and, as has been already mentioned, he is craving a reality where being a hero is possible and effortless. Subaru’s relationship to Rem also incarnates a yearning for deep connection and affective recognition. The reason why the protagonist is desperately in need for such attention is the fact he suffers from self-loathing, low self-esteem and intense feelings of guilt and shame. This was revealed in his words in episode 18:
All of my powerlessness, all of my incompetence is the product of my rotten character. Wanting to accomplish something, when I’ve never done anything goes beyond the limits of arrogance! […] all of it was my fault… I’m the lowest of the low. I absolutely hate myself.
Subaru is simply yearning for love but no matter how hard he tries, he keeps failing to have what he wants over and over again. Thus, the question of free will and fate in this anime implies that free will is governed by mental conditions which have the potential to affect fate. Re:Zero explores dark themes pertaining to the issue of fate in relation to Subaru’s mindset. The lesson to be learned here is that humans do have the ability to change their own fate if they just manage to overcome the psychological obstacles that hinder them to make the right choice.
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