There’s a charming moment in Groundhog Day where Phil, the hero played by Bill Murray, goes, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and everyday was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?” Some dude then replies, “Yeah, that sums it up for me.” It’s a charming, little scene that becomes doubly poignant by the end of the movie. The hero eventually manages to escape his fate, but only once a remarkable change had overtaken him. Phil is essentially trapped; all he can do is relive the same day over and over. Can you imagine how agonizing that must be? Not only that, he’s not some super-genius with great powers of deduction. He’s not some superhero who can just fight his way out of some metaphysical time prison. He’s just an average Joe stuck in a very strange predicament. And yet, Phil makes the best of it. It wasn’t easy, of course, and he killed himself plenty of times in the process. But eventually, our hero gives up on selfish nihilism. He becomes purely selfless, and as a result, Groundhog Day comes to an end.
It’s important to recall Phil’s question at the top of this post. He’s literally trapped in some sort of time loop, but other people are not. Despite this, they can’t help but feel the same way as Phil. It’s so easy to give up: “I’m going to do the same thing everyday, then I’m going to come home and bitch about how my life sucks.” Well, have you tried improving your situation? Do you have any constructive ideas as to how your life can get better? Sadly, when faced with these questions, the excuses start flying. Oh, but there’s x, y, and z, so as you can see, I’m stuck in my rut forever. Now, I realize that there are particular cold realities that we simply can’t ignore. For instance, just because you hate your shitty job doesn’t mean you can afford to quit it. Nobody’s denying that we all have bills to pay. But nevertheless, what a lot of people don’t do is attempt to break out of the cycle. You could take night classes, learn a trade on the side, or even pick up a new hobby just to enrich your life. The sad truth is that while Phil was forced by unseen powers to relive one day over and over, other people do it to themselves.
So what does this have to do with Re:Zero? Well, the anime is kinda similar to Groundhog Day. The mechanics are a little different, but the results are essentially the same: Subaru’s going to relive this day over and over until he somehow manages to break the cycle. Certain events seem fated to occur: the apple seller’s lost daughter will be helped whether or not Subaru is present for it. And for now, it seems that all roads eventually lead to the old man’s tavern. Other events, however, are mutable. Subaru doesn’t always have to meet Satella, for instance. He is perfectly capable of getting himself killed without her. Nevertheless, with a whole season’s worth of episodes ahead of us, it’s safe to assume Subaru’s going to fail and he’s going to fail a lot. I wonder, then, if he’ll temporarily give up at some point. I wonder, then, if hopelessness won’t naturally settle in, and he’ll take a shot at nihilism much like Phil did. Or will he be like most anime protagonist, and be one-dimensionally filled to the brim with pluck and determination? Re:Zero shouldn’t just copy Groundhog Day, but it could benefit a lot from adding layers of complexity to its hero.
But unlike Phil, Subaru doesn’t really start from rock bottom. Phil sorta did. I mean, the guy seems to have a successful career, but that’s pretty much all he had got going for him at the start of the movie. For the most part, Phil was a giant asshole. It is thus easier to trace out his character arc over the course of the film. For whatever reason, Subaru’s development won’t quite be as pronounced. He’s supposedly a hikikomori in his world, but he doesn’t act like one here. We shouldn’t stereotype people, but c’mon, the guy acts pretty much like any bog standard anime hero. For a brief moment in this week’s episode, Subaru considers throwing in the towel, selling his cellphone for a ton of money, and living out the rest of his life in luxury. Ah, is this finally a glint of selfishness to add depth to his character? Not really. As bog standard anime heroes are wont to do, Subaru quickly becomes a beacon of morality. Knowing that people will die, he can’t just sit pretty and allow it to happen. Okay, well, that’s great. That’s the conclusion that we ultimately desire. Nevertheless, it just feels less powerful. It’s as if we’ve skipped a step or two for the sake of narrative expediency.
But it’s hard to accept that everything’s for the sake of narrative expediency when our hero idiotically decides not to recruit a master swordsman to his cause. This week, a red-haired royal knight by the name of Reinhard ends up saving Subaru from those three punks in the alleyway. Our hero then has the golden opportunity to ask for the guy’s help, but he decides against it at the very last second. I can only surmise that he doesn’t want to get Reinhard involved, and thus place the latter in danger, but that’s just stupid. After all, Subaru has no fighting ability. All he’s got is knowledge of his past failures. It would be like me deciding not to call 911, because gee golly, I don’t want the police to get hurt! I’ll just fight the murderer by myself! I’m not saying it isn’t possible for Subaru to knowledge his way out of his predicament, but look, we all know why we were introduced to Reinhard. Subaru will fail again, because it’s just the second episode. It’s so early in the story that you know he will. And as a result, Reinhard represents a possibility to explore in later episodes. We just have to conveniently decide against having the master swordsman help us this time around.
But if that’s the case, then you’re not really embracing narrative expediency, are you? So why don’t we go back and develop Subaru’s character a little more? Why don’t we avoid having him be yet another bog standard anime hero? Why don’t we have the guy reflect a little more on this strange, bizarre situation that he’s fallen into? Instead, Subaru does what we expect him to do: he instantly runs off to play hero for a pair of cute anime babes. Even in his selfish moment, he’s ready and willing to embrace this fantasy world. Like yeah, my knowledge of the modern world will really help me out in this place full of magic and demi-humans! Dude, you may never see your family again. Like what the fuck, doesn’t that bother you? Wouldn’t you pause for one minute and consider whether or not you’re just having a bad trip? I would.
- If you’re gonna have a femme fatale, at least draw her correctly. Jesus, I feel sorry for Elsa’s poor breasts.
- I can’t stand Felt. It’s not just that she’s yet another flat-chested loli character, but god, she’s pretty heartless. She goes all bootstrappy on us, because she’s ashamed to be associated with the other slum-dwellers: “They’re just a bunch of stingy losers at life.” But then the anime cuts to some disheveled-looking kids. Lots of people are bums who have embraced their lot in life, but I doubt those kids chose to be poor and hungry. But of course, Subaru gets that “Oniichan so proud!” look on his face when he’s done hearing her rant, then pats her on the head. Just fucking shoot me.
- You have to expect Satella to show up at the end, huh? The anime telegraphed it so hard. Was that supposed to be a twist?