Amelia and Peter look back on Re:ZERO‘s main characters with Caitlin, who just finished watching it for the first time and has some strong opinions to share.
Date Recorded: Saturday 18th February 2017
Hosts: Amelia, Caitlin, Peter
00:00 Intro: What is everyone’s experience with Re:ZERO?
45:48 Would you recommend Re:ZERO?
51:01 Hopes for Re:ZERO season two
AMELIA: Hi veryone, welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Amelia, I’m the Editor-in-Chief, and I’m joined today by Caitlin and Peter. You guys want to introduce yourselves?
CAITLIN: Caitlin, I’m an editor and moderator at Anime Feminist as well as running my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem, and “heroine” is spelled with an E at the end.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associate Features Editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor at Anime Feminist.
AMELIA: So we’re talking about Re:ZERO today, which is a series very close to my heart, not least because it’s how I became friends with both Peter and Frog-kun, who is another kind of honorary member of the AniFem team. But Caitlin, I believe, has just finished watching it. So, Caitlin. Did you know anything about Re:ZERO before you went into it?
CAITLIN: I knew the basic premise.
CAITLIN: I kind of…I knew that it was about a guy who keeps dying and comes back… And I knew it was like a light novel-based isekai show, and I knew that Rem is everyone’s favorite waifu.
PETER: She knew the memes.
CAITLIN: I knew—yes [LAUGHS]. I knew “I wanted to protect that smile.” I knew she got–did she win best girl in the Crunchyroll Awards?
PETER: [crosstalk] Yes
AMELIA: Yeah, she won “best girl” in every corner of the internet for a six months.
[Cacophony of agreement]
CAITLIN: Yep, so I know that much.
AMELIA: So you’re brand new to this, and we really wanted to just talk through it with you, because I was very involved at the time on a personal level. I was writing about it from my blog at the time, and I was making friends through it, as I said, and we were speculating on kind of a one-on-one level. So I would talk to Peter after every episode, and we kind of compared theories for the future, but it was very much kind of on a personal level. I didn’t really get involved in Re:ZERO fandom. I wasn’t part of any of the forums; whereas I think Peter, you were much more involved.
PETER: Yeah, I think that was probably one of my favorite parts about the series, although it was a mixed bag.
AMELIA: That’s one way to put it. [laughs] Okay, we’re almost definitely going to come back to Re:ZERO at some point, it’s something that half the team has very strong opinions on and there is a second series coming up, so…
CAITLIN: Oh, has it been announced?
AMELIA: I think the second season’s been announced.
PETER: I think they announced their intention to make a second season, but they have not spoken as to when it will be, like the current prevailing theory is later half of this year, but we don’t know. Right now the same studio is making a different anime, so.
AMELAI: This is really meta, we’re even speculating on the future of the series itself.
PETER: Well it’s a sure thing, pretty much. I think it got a pretty big following.
CAITLIN: [hissing] Yeaaaaaah….
PETER: Actually, it was the most popular anime by viewership, I believe. Miles did that by geographical location popularity map?
AMELIA: [crosstalk] In 2016?
PETER: So more people watched Re:ZERO last year than anything else on Crunchyroll.
AMELIA: I’m really not surprised. and I loved it too, I absolutely loved it. I re-watched parts of it for this podcast and I continue to love it. I think it’s one of my favorite things to come out of last year. Obviously, it’s a bit of a mixed bag as you’ve already alluded to, and there’s a huge amount that we could discuss and absolutely no way that we can cover everything in the one podcast, so we will come back to it. But for this particular episode we just want to kinda capture Caitlin’s perspective, which is obviously very fresh. I think you finished the last episode, what, twenty minutes ago? Half an hour ago?
CAITLIN: Uhhhhh, something like that. The takes are coming in hot right now.
AMELIA: Exactly, so we just wanna compare kind of what your views are now to what Peter and I remember at the time and what Peter remembers of fandom reaction.
PETER: OH boy.
AMELIA: It’s gonna be an interesting discussion.
So we’re gonna do this by character. We’re just gonna dive right in and we’re gonna start with Subaru. So, Caitlin. How are you feeling about Subaru right now?
CAITLIN: [tired groan] I… He is just a garbage person, and I don’t mean that in an affectionate way. He is a NEET who has lived a life where he had not done anything. Then he comes to this fantasy world, and he wants to be the hero and he gets to be the hero. So yeah, not loving Subaru right now.
AMELIA: So how did you feel about him at the very start of the show?
CAITLIN: “Oh great, and another NEET otaku hero.” Because yeah, that’s sort of the prevailing narrative in isekai. The main character is a NEET who is… video games are the main force in his life, and then he gets pulled into a video game and suddenly, all of that knowledge is helpful instead of useless. And…yeah, I had no reason to believe Subaru was any different.
AMELIA: Was there anything about him that kept you watching? Or at that point would you have turned off if you’d watched it during the simulcast?
CAITLIN: I mean, I probably would have turned it off.
AMELIA: I really don’t blame you, for what it’s worth. And did you feel with him change over the course of the series?
CAITLIN: I thought he had a really solid emotional arc, his emotions in the situation were really well done. He is dying over and over, he’s seeing his friends dying over and over. That’s incredibly stressful to him, and he kinda falls apart on multiple occasions. During the first arc where he’s sort of struggling against the curse and one day the last time when he was just being like, “I must be cheerful, I must get through this, I’m gonna fix this.”
He’s driving himself crazy with anxiety, and the whole time that he acting Subaru happy and cheerful, inwardly he’s like “I feel sick, I feel sick I feel sick, I feel sick.” He’s puking from anxiety and I was just like…Okay, I still think he’s kind of a trash heap of a human being, but he still has emotions and the emotions are very believable and very relatable for an unrelatable situation.
AMELIA: Okay, so Peter, how does that compare with your experience and your memories of the fan reaction at the time?
PETER: Well, the fan reaction I think was more appreciative of him.
AMELIA: [faux shocked] Than Caitlin?
PETER: Yes, yes, they were. I guess the main criticisms. I think I heard of him on forums and Reddit and stuff like that, was they just found him annoying, because he’s kind of an extremely annoying person. And the primary one was of course, choosing a Emilia over Rem. That was the two things that people don’t like about Subaru, I didn’t hear too much mention of other things.
Personally yeah, I think you set it up pretty well. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of sympathetic elements to him–he’s basically going through an inhuman amount of suffering right now, and a lot of his personal perspectives are pretty warped. But I think the series did a great job of humanizing him and also having characters not just go along with him because he’s the main character, but kind of calling him on his crap when he’s being hypocritical. Basically I think the other characters and the way they react to him is more realistic than in most series.
AMELIA: How did you feel about him personally? Did you like him as a character, when you watched it through?
PETER: Yeah, I mean as a character, I think he’s great. As a character in a story, he’s really interesting, I think I might be probably the most empathetic person to him here. Actually. I don’t know but based on your tone of voice… [dark laughter all around] He’s definitely flawed and his ideas are really bad and sexist and very self-driven, but the experience for me is kind of like watching WATAMOTE I guess. The main character in WATAMOTE has very warped perceptions and blames other people for her own problems and I know they’re wrong, but I sort of understand why they’re thinking that way and I hope they make their way through it.
AMELIA: So, when you say “Subaru’s warped perceptions” what are you talking about specifically?
PETER: [I mean] His thinking of himself as the protagonist. I believe he genuinely wants to help Emilia, but I believe the reasons that he wants to do it… it’s genuine, yes, but he also wants to do it as a way of justifying himself and building himself up. He has a lot of problems with self-hatred, and I think he thinks of this as a way not only to save Emilia but to save himself.
CAITLIN: I agree that is a warped perspective that he holds but I don’t think the story did anything but validate it in the end. Midway through the series he has his falling out with Emilia, but at the end he gets to be the hero, he gets to save her and wins her love by rescuing her–when she has told him in no uncertain terms she does not need him to be the hero, she can take care of herself. But in the end, it shows that she can’t take care of herself and she does meet him to rescue her. And that is the part that I had the really big problem with.
AMELIA: It’s quite interesting ’cause I just re-watched from Episode 19 to the very end, which are probably the ones I’m least familiar with. And what really struck me was that there’s actually two endings that he has, there’s the first one where Emilia shows up and he goes to help her and protect her, and Felix says “No, you have to trust her. She can handle this. Give her a chance.” And she does, she saves the village and everyone’s really happy for her. And then Subaru gets taken over by Betelgeuse and that timeline ends. And then in the second one, she then gets a bit damseled. I thought that was really interesting, actually, because if they done the first ending and left it at that, I think I would have been much happier with his arc than he second timeline that they actually did end on.
PETER: So if he’d after that just gone and apologized.
[CAITLIN and AMELIA both agree]
AMELIA: Because then she’s the savior at the end; you know, she’s really powerful. And one of the big problems I had with his arc in episodes 12-18 was where he kept saying “I have to save her” and just completely ignoring the fact that she’s a lot stronger than him, she’s a lot more powerful than him, and she really doesn’t need him for much of anything at that point. And it turns out in the end I think that the one strength he really does give her is credibility with the villagers. And he really is that bridge between—she says herself, that she’s kind of awkward with people, she’s been ostracized her whole life. She doesn’t really know how to connect with the people around her. And Subaru does give her that bridge with ordinary people, but that would have been the right ending in the first timeline and in the second timeline, it doesn’t really show the strength that she’s gained from him, I think.
CAITLIN: Right, if it had been… “He helps her he helps her in things that she cannot do herself,” ’cause everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, it would have gotten a much different reaction from me. Because she is very powerful. Subaru really doesn’t have that much going for him other than a sort of superficial charm and gregariousness.
AMELIA: I mean, Crusch literally says “he is the very weakest person among us.”
PETER: Literally anybody can kill him.
AMELIA: So not too impressed with Subaru then, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: Nope, not at all.
AMELIA: Is there anything they could have done with his arc that you would have been kind of satisfied with?
CAITLIN: If he’d had to work harder to repair his rift with Emilia; ’cause honestly, it was way, way too easy for him. I’ve seen friendships falling out over the situation where a guy starts feeling entitled to a woman’s time and an attention. He convinces himself that she needs him and he can fix all of her problems; and no, that’s not how it is. It’s like the legendary internet story where a guy carries a printer across the college campus in the rain because a girl was saying that she didn’t want to have to walk to the library to print her stuff out in the rain.
[Baffled disbelief from PETER and Amelia]
CAITLIN: I’ve heard that story. I don’t know how actually true that is. That’s an extreme example, but I have witnessed things like that happen, having run in nerd circles since high school; and eventually, the girl’s like “you need to chill.”
AMELIA: And this was my biggest problem with Subaru as a character actually, was in the first few episodes his behavior towards Emilia made me really uncomfortable. When he kind of… She saves him, she walks way, she says, “I need nothing from you, you’ve repaid your favor, we’re even… That’s fine. I’m moving on.”And he chases her down the street.
[CAITLIN hisses in horror]
AMELIA: Yeah, and he forces her to give him a fake name, and I just flashed back to all the times I’ve done that, I’ve given people fake names. It’s such a real experience that I think many people have had and Subaru, the guy who causes this, is the hero. And that made me so uncomfortable, I think I’ve said to both before I actually dropped Re:ZERO episode 12, I think, episode 11 or 12. I got so bored and frustrated with his arc I dropped it. And then episode 13 happened, fandom exploded. I had to get back into it and I’m so glad I did. And now it is one of my favorite shows from last year, but Subaru and those opening episodes are just insufferable.
CAITLIN: Like I was saying that rift is a deep one, it’s not something that can be just fixed with him actually rescuing her and apologizing. And it’s great that he apologized, it is, but it was just way too easy. He really messed up, he humiliated her in front of all of these people when she is supposed to be showing her status, and the fact that he’s like, “Oh yeah, sorry, I kinda messed up” and she’s like, “Oh you know, it’s okay.” And then they smooch in a field or whatever, it’s… no. It’s too simple. People have to work harder to earn forgiveness, and they have to show signs of really changing. And I don’t think he has, I don’t think he’s changed at all.
AMELIA: See, that’s the bit I don’t know if I agree with you on. Because I really do feel when I watch it that he goes through a complete development arc. I think he does reflect. I think he does learn. In the last episode—I’d forgotten so much of these episodes and I’m really glad I rewatched them—there are two moments in the last arc, the White Whale and then the witches’ cult. Rem says to him, “I have complete faith in you, Subaru”; and this is after Emilia telling him “I want to trust you, I want to believe in you, and I can’t. You’re giving me nothing.”
And Rem says, “I have faith in you.” And he’s so moved. And the first thing that comes to his mind is a line he’s heard from Emilia where he says, “I guess I should say ‘thank you,’ and not ‘sorry.’” And that’s something that they had had a conversation about way back in episode—I think six or seven. And then there’s a moment later, when he and Rem are fighting the White Whale, and he catches her after she falls. And he says something to her like, “giving up doesn’t suit me, it doesn’t suit you, and it doesn’t suit any of us,” which is something that she says to him in episode 18: “giving up doesn’t suit you.”
I feel that moments like that show how he’s learned and grown and changed, and I do feel that his apology to Emilia in the end was sincere and a real culmination of an arc. But yes, my disagreement with the show’s decision is where Emilia then says “I’m so happy. How could I ever have been so happy, am I really allowed to deserve such happiness?” over Subaru’s confession. That was the line. Everything up to that point where she says to him, “but I’m a half-elf, people hate me, I’m just gonna cause problems,” things like that, I understand and I can get behind. As soon she jumps into “I’m so overwhelmed with such happiness, how can I possibly have deserved this?” That’s where it loses me.
CAITLIN: That’s something that didn’t feel right to me, but also I’m not of a marginalized class, so I didn’t know if that was something that was legit or not, but it didn’t feel right. When he confesses her and she’s just like, “Oh I’m so happy…”
AMELIA: [Dry laugh] Oh yeah, no. I think I understood it, I was on board with it to the extent of, “I didn’t think anyone would say that they liked me, right?” Had it been translated like that. The idea that somebody could say to you, “I like you,” when you’ve been told all your life that you’re a witch and you’re just like this really destructive person. I think that would have been really powerful, but because it was attached to romantic love and because they really hadn’t had any contact between their huge argument—in which she was completely justified—and him confessing his love to her. There was no contact between those times and then suddenly she’s come around to the point where his love for her causes her this overwhelming happiness. I couldn’t get behind that. It’s way too easy.
CAITLIN: It’s too easy! He has to earn her trust back and he doesn’t have to do that.
AMELIA: Yes, but I feel like—I think this is the point of difference is I do feel like his art was solid. I do think he developed, I do think he reflects, and I do think he grew, and I think that his growth was completely earned. It was Emilia’s response that was the easy part. I think that’s the bit I struggled with.
PETER: So do you think she should have just said something like, “I forgive you” but it’s more… I guess this could still happen theoretically starting in the next season, we’ll see. My hopes aren’t too high. But she understands that he has reflected on what he’s done and does genuinely wanna help her, but it’s not like he has her total trust.
AMELIA: See, what I think would have been an amazing end for that was to complete that three beat of “believing in you.” So originally, he says, “Why won’t you believe me” and she says, “I want to believe you and I can’t.” Then Rem says to him, “I completely believe in you,” and that’s nice but she’s Rem, she’s not Emilia. If Emilia in this last scene, if he’d given her reason to say “It’s okay, I completely believe in you,” because he’s demonstrated something too, that I think that would have been a nice end.
Or “I completely believe you” if you’d given her some reason, and she hadn’t said “that’s lies” as she did the last time they spoke. If she’d just come around to position of, “I can see that you’re more trustworthy now, I can see that you’re more sincere now.” I think that would have been a really nice step in their relationship.
CAITLIN: Right. I’ll for a minute just go with “he has truly learned and changed”—which I’m still not totally board with, but for the sake of argument, I’ll go with that.
AMELIA: [laughing] We can agree to disagree, that fine.
CAITLIN: But she doesn’t know that! She doesn’t know that he’s not paying lip service, like… “Oh, so I know I made you mad, so I’m going to apologiz”e and just go right back to his old patterns; she can’t know that. We may know that, but he needs to really put in the work to prove himself to her so that she can see how he’s changed.
PETER: We don’t know how long—and this is a really weak argument, but—he was apparently out for a while, so somebody might have actually explained the events leading up to all of that to her; of course, they probably should have shown that on screen if that’s the case, so that we know that she’s not just going based on what he’s saying. Before we jump off Subaru, I wanna say that I do think that there was a lot of themes of him correcting what he was doing previously; ’cause before he was very much acting on his own, but through the whole White Whale arc and afterward I think he was relying on other characters more. He realized that he couldn’t do all that much except what was within his own capacity of being able to get knowledge ahead of time. And the reconciliation with… What was the knight’s name? Purple-haired guy.
PETER: So they both admit that they don’t really like each other but are able—I guess this was kind of a growing thing for Julius too—but they admit that both of them have value and are willing to be friends despite the fact, which I thought was very important as well. But yeah, with the whole Emilia thing, I feel like she was very trusting. But there are some Stockholmsy things going on in the series with a lot of the female characters, which we’re probably gonna touch on later.
AMELIA: Or right now! Let’s talk about Rem
[Long sigh from Caitlin]
PETER: Perfect segue
AMELIA: Caitlin, did you know about Rem before you started watching or had you seen any images of her? Did you hear anything about her?
CAITLIN: I knew she was everyone’s favorite waifu, that was pretty much the long and short of it.
AMELIA: And did your opinion of a change as you watched?
CAITLIN. No [PETER and AMELIA both laugh] Yeah no, not a bit.
AMELIA: So, it just confirmed every impression that you got without hearing a line of dialogue, without knowing any of her back story
CAITLIN: Pretty much.
AMELIA: Wow, that is one hell of a condemnation.
CAITLIN: That’s pretty much an over-simplification. I think that her… How do I put this? She should be a powerful character in her own right. But her arc is mostly… “Oh, Subaru who taught me to love myself, now I’m in love with Subaru. That’s really all there is to me.” That’s really all I got out of Rem. She’s designed to be really moe otaku-appealing with her maid outfit, and hair over one eye and she’s a twin sister, so guys can be like, “[lascivious] ohhhhh twins,” which that’s a personal thing for me.
AMELIA: You are a twin.
CAITLIN: I am, so fetishization of twins and treating twins—fetishization, romanticization, mystification of twins is dumb and it irritates me more than probably the vast majority of people.
AMELIA: That’s entirely fair. I mean, you’re still siblings, right? Yeah, I think anything to do with incest is a bit of a sensitive topic for a lot of people. But yeah, this is a very specific kind of fetish, as you say.
CAITLIN: I’m sure twin moe is a thing.
AMELIA: Well, yeah, I can’t imagine it’s not. Peter, you kind of experienced Rem episode to episode. So you don’t know anything about her in advance, because you’re watching it as it aired. What was your response to Rem watching her, like how did you feel about the character as the series aired?
PETER: Well, I very much liked her arc actually, and I think one of the reasons for that is ’cause we were getting themes about what was going on behind the scenes with Subaru, in his head, even as early on as the Roswell Mansion, which of course culminated in 18. I kind of felt like both of their… the deep self-loathing, that they had for each other—themselves, rather—was the link between them, I guess? And that gave Subaru a lot of insight into what Rem’s problem was. I don’t really like the fact that she likes him. That’s just not gonna work out, right? So, I’d prefer she maybe find somebody else, like if she wants to help him, help him help Emilia because she also like Emilia? Sure, that’s great.
CAITLIN: Oh, is that your ship?
PETER: Subaru and Emilia? No, I want Emilia to succeed ’cause she’s a great character. But I would much prefer, Rem maybe say, “Oh it’s not gonna work at a Subaru… maybe I should just try to find somebody else who emotionally fulfills me rather than just telling me how much greater this other girl is,” something like that.
CAITLIN: I meant, is Rem/Emilia your ship.
PETER: I…no. I think I like them as friends.
AMELIA: Yeah, but see, that’s a problem that I have with them actually; is that Rem and Emilia don’t really interact except as master and servant and that’s fine. But the household is obviously quite an intimate household.
PETER: I think that she’s even kind of an outsider in that household, it seems like most of their interactions are with Subaru or Roswell and Emilia is just sort of this person staying there.
AMELIA: Yes, it does come across that way. And I think that’s a real shame that that didn’t develop at all over the course of the series. Subaru helps Emilia bridge from herself to the “common people.” He doesn’t really do that for Rem.
CAITLIN: We don’t really see any relationships the characters have other than either very superficially like, “oh this is… I am a candidate, and this is my sponsor” or…everything is very Subaru-centric. There’s very, very little sense of what relationships characters hold outside of their interactions with Subaru.
AMELIA: And I think that’s a bit of a shame because through Subaru, you actually get a lot of really interesting relationships. We were talked about his relationship with Julius but also there’s Reinhart, there’s his relationship with the other candidates for the throne, there is relationship with Ram, there’s his relationship with Roswell. There’s a lot of really interesting and very different relationships.
We don’t see relationships between women at all and I think that’s where Rem and Emilia are both a bit under-used because they are the two main women. If they’d had any kind of friendship or any kind of connection or conversations even, I don’t think they even talk to each other very much beyond that first scene where Emilia says, “stop teasing him.” I think that’s a bit of a missed opportunity.
PETER: You get that she admires her. But I don’t think there’s much communication and I don’t know if that’s just bad writing or feeding into the whole “Emilia is isolated” theme, but…
AMELIA: You might be giving too much credit
PETER: Yeah, I started with the poor writing.
AMELIA No, I have a lot of respect for the writing of Re:ZERO. Genuinely, every time I watch it, I notice new things and over time I get emotionally invested all over again. I don’t wanna be rude about the writing but I do think that the lack of female relationships is probably more an oversight than anything.
CAITLIN: [muttered crosstalk] I’m fine with being rude about the writing.
AMELIA: Go for it.
CAITLIN: I mean, yeah, the writer is clearly only thinking of Subaru in building this world. He’s a protagonist it’s fine for him to be the center of the action most of the time, but you need to have a sense of the rest of the world and how the other characters interact with each other, and there’s none of that. There’s no sense of bonds between anyone else except for… Like I said, very superficial master and servant. even like…is it KrOOsh or is it crush?
CAITLIN: Feels like I’m saying that wrong. Even Crusch, Felix was her servant, right? After Felix starts interacting with Subaru, we don’t see him interact with Crusch much at all because Subaru is now the center of Felix’s is attention and Crusch just sort of off on the sidelines.
AMELIA: Which is another huge missed opportunity, ’cause Crusch is amazing. I love… That’s one of the areas where I’ve really wanna give Re:ZERO credit, because the diversity of female characters in this is fantastic. I have a lot of respect for the fact that they put a character like Crusch in and she was armor and it’s not ridiculous, and she leads them into battle and she’s absolutely wonderful and she’s completely underused.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Crusch and Felt are the two female characters that I loved, and they both got to do very, very little. I’m sure, we’ll see more of them in the next season or whatever but come on, give me something to work with. Even Emilia, when she shows her strength of character, she gets pushed out of the narrative until Subaru comes back and is like, “Oh I love you,” and she’s like, “I’m so happy that you love me.” We don’t see her in that period where she’s not relying on him at all.
AMELIA: Let’s move on to Emilia. I don’t think there’s gonna be much more to say about Rem. I completely agree with you. II enjoy her a more on re-watch, but even when I re-watch it now and I think that…she is such a fantasy, she’s not a real character, there’s no real happy ending for her. It’s just a dead end of a character, unfortunately.
CAITLIN: I just think it’s really funny that we’re supposed to be talking about Rem, we barely talk about Rem; and yet, she won all of these Best Girl competitions. There’s almost nothing to say about her, but all the otaku fell in love with her. And I’m gonna get real salty here, but that’s probably partially why all the otaku fell in love with her, because she is mostly a blank canvas for them to project their fantasies onto.
AMELIA: Peter, any thoughts on that?
PETER: I can’t argue with that. I think she’s basically just her features, or that she’s very sweet and completely faithful to the main character.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] And she wears a maid costume.
PETER: Yeah, she’s kinda got a Rei Ayanami [from Evangelion] thing going on too. Well yeah, the maid thing too. It just leaves a lot of blank area for them to project what other features they like on her, but it’s the devotion aspect I think is what attracts people.
CAITLIN: Okay, I just wanna imagine for a second, what it would have been like if Ram had been the twin that went with Subaru instead of Rem.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh my gosh, I love Ram.
CAITLIN: And it’s actually incredible ’cause Ram would have called Subaru on his shit at every turn, and I think that would’ve been actually a much stronger series is having someone who is down-to-earth and no nonsense to call him on it whenever he starts getting in his head.
AMELIA: I think I would have enjoyed that more, but I think I Rem is to… Let me see if I get this right… Subaru is to Rem what Emilia is to Subaru, right? So, Emilia is this kind of idealized person on a pedestal to Subaru and Subaru to Rem is this idealized person on a pedestal. Rem treats Subaru the way Subaru treats Emilia, and they’re real foils for each other I think, in that sense; and we see Rem kind of work through that. She doesn’t really get rewarded for it. And then we see Subaru work through that, and he does get rewarded for it. I’m not sure if they’re trying to achieve anything with that contrast, but you couldn’t have done that with Ram.
CAITLIN: Actually, that does remind me of something that I was thinking about. ’cause, Subaru’s turning point is when he’s in despair; he’s just been fucking everything up at every turn, and everyone can sense the horrible desperation on him. They’re all repulsed by him and he talks to Rem and is telling her just how much he hates himself. And instead of him having to work through that and having to learn to change, Rem just goes, “actually, you’re pretty awesome.”
AMELIA: However, however, that is a direct call—you’re talking about episode 18, right, when he completely melts down the second time? That is a direct call back to when Rem broke down. when she, when she went out to fight the Mabeast and she lost all sense of herself. She brings Subaru back and he wakes up in bed and she’s next to him holding his hand. She says, to him, “but I’m weak, I’m selfish, I’ll never be as good as my sister” and all of that. And he says, to her, “It’s okay, we’ll be together now. I think you’re pretty great. You saved my life.” And they have exactly the same lines in episode 18. This is kind of what I mean. Rem I think serves that purpose, where if you go back to that arc—and I said this to you before, Caitlin that—Now that you’ve seen it, if you re-watch those episodes [unimpressed hmm from CAITLIN] they are so much more satisfying now because you see that echo.
PETER: It’s returning the favor, basically.
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. And it’s almost like she learned from the way he treated her, what would be truly useful in that situation. And it was to be given that support and to be told it’s okay, we can be here for each other. And you are actually a good person, you are valued and I do care for you. So, seeing that situation occur again and seeing that that’s the way that she saves him. Now, had this been an actual romance between two fully fleshed-out characters that would have been a really touching moment. As we know, it ends with the famous, “I love Emilia.” So, it doesn’t go down that road.
CAITLIN: Oh yeah, [mimicking] “Aishiteru.” “But I love Emilia!” What a garbage thing to say.
AMELIA: I have said that line as often as possible since then, every opportunity. to think
CAITLIN: Sure, he needs to be comforted that “No, you’re not irredeemable piece of shit.” But I would much rather see him go through the hard work of realizing he needs to change and her being like, “Okay, well, how can I help you through this?” Not just being like, “Oh you’re perfect the way you are.” ‘Cause he’s not, he is a very small, petty person. It takes a lot of hard work to recognize that within yourself and to change and it doesn’t just take someone saying… “Oh no, you don’t need to change, you’re already great.”
AMELIA: Ohhh, I might have to disagree with you on this because I think if I had someone dear to me, break down in front of me and say they hated themselves. In fact, I know from experience, I would be saying everything that Rem said. I would be saying No, you’re absolutely loved, you’re absolutely cared for.” I think that that was a really real response from her, actually; and it’s clearly what she thinks. I don’t think that it’s an unhelpful move. I don’t think that Rem’s the problem, basically, in Subaru arc. I think for me the real problem is Emilia coming around to his way of thinking so quickly.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no; actually, yeah, that’s fair. I was being a little harsh, not really thinking about about human situations. Just thinking about how much I dislike Subaru.
AMELIA: It is very tempting to be harsh with Subaru, I completely understand that inclination.
PETER: We don’t have her perspective either ’cause she’s only seen his successes, really, save for the one thing in episode 13 because all of his failures have been erased and here he is…basically his lines before that were “I am empty and everything I do is a lie to make me look good.” Where she’s seen him accomplish things.
AMELIA: Let’s talk about Emilia because she’s my favorite character, and I’ve been patient. So Caitlin, how do you feel about Emilia?
CAITLIN: I need to see more of Emilia before…
AMELIA: Are you just softening because I said she’s my favorite character?
CAITLIN: I’m still really frustrated about how the show concluded with her arc. I need to see more of her in action, ’cause right now I’m just really pissed off.
AMELIA: Yeah, ’cause you messaged us, and you said “if Emilia doesn’t do something in this last episode, I am gonna be furious.”
[Incoherent frustration from CAITLIN]
AMELIA: I think you let us know in all caps when you were ready to record the show. So did your impression of her change from the beginning of the series to the end?
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, yeah.
AMELIA: For the better for the worse?
CAITLIN: At first it was like, Okay, well, Emilia it seems like a little bit of a waifu character, she’s this pretty girl who Subaru dotes on and we’re not really seeing any development of her as a character for the first few episodes. And then she had her big confrontation with him, and I was like… Yeah! You tell him Emilia! I got really excited about that. But then she was out of the series for quite a while, and then when she came back it was what we were talking about before. She’s so happy that Subaru is in love with her, and it’s so easy. I’m really frustrated, I need to really see the more from her to really get on board.
AMELIA: Sure. Peter, what do you remember of the fandom’s response to Emilia at the time?
PETER: As far as the fandom, I think she was actually a really popular character until Rem came around and got her moment. Basically what they were doing for Rem, they were doing for Emilia. And then, I guess, Rem just sort of pulled ahead. I guess she was a magical girl and the focus of Subaru’s affection so she was pretty popular, just as far as the fandom work.
AMELIA:Do remember what response was to her in Episode 13, where she says to him, “You’re doing all this for yourself and the version of me that in your head must be amazing, she can understand everything that you want.”
CAITLIN: Yeahhhhh, that line was so good!
AMELIA: That was series-defining for me, that was an incredible moment and it’s why I picked the series up again, it’s why I continued with it at the end. But, what was fandom’s response?
PETER: I think it was pretty mixed, but I guess that depended upon your inclination, the people who hated Subaru were just like, “Thank you, thank you so much for telling him what an atrocious shithead he is.” I think the reactions to Emilia depended upon what the person thought of Subaru. Either they felt the callout was warranted or no, and I think in that case it was mostly just them watching Emilia do what they wish they could do to Subaru. But I think if they like Subaru… I don’t think I heard too much about it besides like, maybe frustration with Subaru or… actually, a lot of people dropped the series in that episode where you picked it up. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do with that situation, ’cause that’s kind of bizarre as far as anime tropes go.
CAITLIN: [sarcastic] Oh yeah, female character asserting herself when a male character is creepily obsessed with her. [growing sincerity] I can’t think of really any other series where that happens.
AMELIA: I remember one very specific problem I had at the time which was with people who were saying that she’d led him on. I got so frustrated with this. I didn’t really get involved in Re:ZERO fandom at the time, I think I mentioned, but I did after that episode kind of drop into forums, drop into Reddit and kind of say, “what are people saying?” And I did see people saying “Well, she let him she let him lie on her lap and cry, the was giving him the impression that she was romantically interested in him. She went on that date with him, she led him on and then she shot him down.”
CAITLIN: She literally didn’t know what a date was though, he had to—he explained it to her as “it’s like going out with someone else and doing this and that,” and she’s like, “Oh yeah, okay, sure, sounds great.” She didn’t know that a date is something that has romantic connotations.
AMELIA: Yeah, you are preaching to the choir. The interesting thing when you go back and watch it, and I really hope you do [skeptical noise from CAITLIN], the interesting thing when you go back is that you will see at every opportunity Emilia deflects the things that Subaru says. So the morning that he wakes up in the mansion for the first time and she walks in om just some dress he says to her, “whoever chose that outfit knows what they’re doing.”
CAITLIN: [disgust] Oh God, yeah.
AMELIA: Yeah, he comes out with lines like that quite a lot, and she looks at him and she says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about but I’m sure it’s something stupid, and that’s disappointing.” She deflects him like that repeatedly. There’s another moment where they’re outside and he says something about, “Well, what relationship do I have with you” or—that’s it, he says, “Who do you love” and she says “I’m in love with Puck and Puck’s in love with me.” And that’s the end of it.
And he says, “Well where do I fit in this relationship?” And Puck’s like [emphatic] “you don’t.” She just deflects him, and she does that repeatedly, and so to see people saying, “Oh no, she led him on…” It was actually really unsettling because it really shows you that people can see mixed messages in a situation with which I look at, and I say there is nothing mixed about this message.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I personally did pick up on those hints. ‘Cause I can think of times when male friends have said stuff along those lines to me, and how uncomfortable it made me, but I also didn’t want to outright tell them to cut it out because it could damage our friendship. Now I don’t give a shit, now if guys says something creepy to me I just tell them to go screw themselves.
AMELIA: But you recognize the deflect.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely
AMELIA: That is a move that you’ve used, it’s a thing that I’ve used when somebody says something and you think, “they are expressing a potential interest in me and I need to stop that conversation there in a light-hearted way that won’t be uncomfortable for anyone,” and she does that time and time again. I love Emilia, I absolutely think she’s a wonderful character. She was one or favorite characters from last year, I just think she’s great.
PETER: Even in the context of that like being a relationship, that logic doesn’t really hold with me anyway, the whole “she was leading him on” thing. Because let’s assume that they were in a relationship. Just fulfilling the fantasy, right? He humiliates her in public and has been consistently lying to her and she forgives him for that. She just said, “You just need to explain it to me at all for give you, I’ll even forgive you humiliating in public. You said you made a mistake, whatever.”
And then he says “I can’t tell you the truth.” He basically just keeps lying to her, so she knows that and what she says after that would be breaking up with him. So, assuming they’re in an equal relationship where she’s not just his possession, and assuming they were in a relationship period, that’s her saying, “Okay, the relationship is over, because they can’t trust you anymore.” So even that, no leading on there.
AMELIA: I think we need to start wrapping this up. So, I just wanna talk about Re:ZERO as a show. Caitlin, would you recommend Re:ZERO to a feminist anime fan?
CAITLIN: [immediately] No
AMELIA: Why not?
CAITLIN: Because of all the various stuff that we’ve discussed so far…
AMELIA: Cop-out. Come on, explain it.
CAITLIN: Like how, basically the show ends with Emilia having to be rescued, being damseled, basically validating Subaru’s need to save her and how he sees himself as the hero who needs to protect his object of interest; the whole character of Rem and how all of the more interesting female—well, not all…. No, actually, yeah. All of the more interesting female characters get sidelined, and I don’t think most feminist anime fans would be able to get behind the character of Subaru, he is a trash heap of a human being. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get really good into just how petty and entitled he is at the beginning of the series, because he really is. The way he talks to the female characters really made me uncomfortable.
AMELIA: Yeah, I agree with you. When he wakes up, and Rem and Ram are in the room and he’s like, “Oh yeah, twin maids,” or whatever. [Nauseated noises from CAITLIN] His response to them is really…again, it’s uncomfortable. He just says these things without a filter
CAITLIN: Or “pretty girls have a duty to smile for the eyes of others.” Also, not everything I recommend, I recommend just purely for feminist merit, but if I’m just talking about series I would recommend as a feminist, Re:ZERO is not one of them.
AMELIA: Fair enough. Peter, same question. Would you recommend it to a feminist anime fan?
PETER: With caveats, probably. If I was putting it on a recommendation list—I actually had debated putting it on my problematic favorite for the end of the year.It definitely has a lot of bad stuff, but I think it’s also got a lot of good stuff. The female cast is amazing to me. There’s so many female characters I like. I think they’re very diverse, I think they all have…I guess it’s a mixed bag as far as agency goes. I do agree that a lot of the relationships are very Subaru-centric, but it’s also his perspective so. I wish they did stuff with other characters more, but I think they all have their personal ambitions that they’re pursuing. And there’s this sort of meta-story going on.
Well, there’s a couple of meta things going on in the series, but one of the big themes seems to be that it’s sort of recognizing that Subaru being an entitled, kind of misogynistic otaku is a problem of his. And although it’s sort of being validated, his internal “this is my plot” is being validated, it’s only coming at the cost of him having to change, and the series portrays him as, the weakest character. So it’s kind of, I guess, a sort of like a hopeful… “you don’t have to be an otaku forever” kind of thing. Or at least I hope that’s where it’s going. I see definite themes going there. So, I feel like it’s definitely a mixed bag but there’s a lot of redeeming qualities.
AMELIA: I think I basically share your opinion and this question is already answered, because I did recommend it to a feminist anime fan. Caitlin, you kept putting up our poll where you said, “What should I watch next?” And Re:ZERO was always one of them. And every time I said, “Caitlin, watch Re:ZERO!”.
CAITLIN: But then you also said you didn’t think I’d like it!
AMELIA: I didn’t know if you’d like it, but I still recommended you watch it. And we’ve ended up with some interesting discussion about it, so I think that that was justified.
CAITLIN: I don’t regret watching it. I’m probably gonna write a post for my own site about it, on a write a post for Heroine Problem.
AMELIA: It’s definitely… it has a lot of very serious problems. I think it has some untapped potential when it comes to his female characters, like the fact that the country is ruled necessarily by a woman and that all of the candidates for the next ruler are women.
PETER: To be king specifically, only a woman can be king.
CAITLIN: Yeah, only a woman can be king. I think the king succession honestly, has potential to be a much more compelling plot, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t get explored more; and honestly, if the next season ends up focusing on that, I’d be a lot more willing to watch it. Because I like Felt a whole lot. I wanna see more of Felt.
AMELIA: We should get Frog on this podcast, Frog loves Felt.
CAITLIN: I was really disappointed that she didn’t do more.
AMELIA: Well, that actually ties in with the next thing I was going to ask you, which is: what could the second season do to make it a feminist recommendation from you.
CAITLIN: Focus a lot more on the female characters and their stories ’cause it’s obvious the women in the series have their own deals, they have their own stories, but we get only the barest hint of that. Like I’ve said before, it’s fine for things to be centered on Subaru because he is the main character. But there’s very, very little sense that these characters are out living their lives when they’re offscreen. And I would need to see more of that, especially since they are currently going through such a major process within the country.
AMELIA: Yeah. Peter, what do you hope season two will do?
PETER: Along the same lines. Personally, I’d like to see… I thought the ending was good, but I’m hoping that Emilia kind of, I don’t wanna say she’s necessarily guarded to Subaru, but she is maybe a bit reticent toward [him]. He’s basically got to prove that he knows how to help her while still doing what she tells him to do, ’cause he would be working under her. I guess I’d like to see their relationship develop that way. They’re still friends, but Emilia’s in charge and you have to obey orders, not do horrible stuff in public that embarrasses her and probably ruins her chances of becoming a leader, that kind of thing.
And also focusing on… basically, he and the other candidates are sort of necessarily opponents politically, so if everybody’s making different moves—which I think we got a bit of a sense of later—and all of them get more development not necessarily as allies or people who end up having to work with Subaru for different reasons as with Crusch, I think that would be super interesting and really allow the female cast to take off.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Subaru definitely needs to show that he is willing to trust Emilia and let her take the lead in matters where it is entirely her business to take the lead, and it is his business to shut the fuck up. That’s really one of the big things that Subaru need to learn that I don’t think he really did. Is he needs to learn, one to shut the fuck up, ’cause he’s not the hero in this situation. He needs to learn to stay in his lane.
AMELIA: In that first timeline at the very end, the first of the two timelines where she saves everyone and he’s told by Felix to just stand back and just let her do her work, and he does. That would have been a really great note for him to kinda end on. But yeah, I agree with both of you. I’d look forward to both of those things. On a… It’s not really a feminist note, but I want to see much more explored with Subaru as the Archbishop of Pride. This is something that’s been hinted at.
CAITLIN: There’s so much going on in the series that did not get explored, did not get fully explained. I don’t have any, really, any sense of the larger plot.
PETER: Well, I think that’s taking a lot of time to develop, right? There’s this whole meta-narrative where Subaru might be the agent of evil, so… that’s super interesting, especially given his character.
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s absolutely fascinating. And every time I watch it, I see something new. And today was the first time I’ve really noticed the glint going in and out of his eyes when he’s having his final battle with Betelgeuse, where Betelgeuse is kinda crawling after him. And you see the glint going in and out of his eyes then.
PETER; He does that himself earlier, actually. The moments when he’s kind of doing something not because it’s right… or, out of his warped sense of personality. So you know when he’s being moral or he’s being immoral.
AMELIA: Exactly. And I’ve noticed it in other scenes, but that’s the first time noticed it in that scene. Every time I watch the show, I pick up new things that I haven’t noticed before. And yeah, his connection to the Archbishop of Pride role, we don’t know what it is. I have no clue. I haven’t read the light novels. Again, if we get Frog on the podcast at some point, we’ll discuss it.
PETER: Oh, they’re translating them. I think the first one is out.
AMELIA: Really. Okay, I might have to…
PETER: I’ve been thinking this entire time, “man, I need to read this light novel” as well.
AMELIA: I suspect the anime writing might be better than the light novel writing, but the light novel writing is probably better than the web novel writing, so.
PETER: Well, I’ve heard that there are a lot of asides in the light novel, specifically side stories, but that could mean that Nagatsuki actually spent more time focusing on side characters, which would seem to be a complaint that all of us had, so it could be good for that reason.
AMELIA: That would actually be great, because there were some side characters who’d drop in, who I would love to see fleshed out or I’d love to know more about their story. So that actually might be a good way around that.
CAITLIN: I spent the whole series sort of wondering what that Al dude’s deal is. Just like, “are we gonna see learn why he looks like that?”
CAITLIN: Uh, Priscilla’s knight?
[Sounds of general shrugging and uncertainty]
PETER: I thought you said like the animal, like an owl.
CAITLIN: No, Al.
AMELIA: Aren’t you also from the West Coast, Peter?
CAITLIN: Oh, okay, it’s my SoCal accent. It’s my Los Angeles accent.
AMELIA: Okay, so I had no chance of understanding either of you from the start. I think we’re gonna have to wrap it up there. Thank you so much guys for taking part. Just to say that we have a website, AnimeFeminist.com, we have a Twitter account @AnimeFeminist; we’re on Facebook, Facebook.com/AnimeFem; and we also have a Patreon, which is Patreon.com/animefeminist. In the last month, we’ve provided a feminist premiere guide, we reported on unethical practices in a major anime side and we challenged simulcast services on keeping problematic translations unedited. This is the kind of work we can only do because we’ve funded 100% by readers, and we have no conflicts of interest or commercial obligations. So if you can spare a dollar a month it really, really adds up.
I think half of our patrons at the moment, are $1 patrons, that’s a huge chuck money we wouldn’t have had without them. So, it’s all appreciated. Please, if you can spare it, go to www.patreon.com/animefeminist, send us a dollar a month to carry on our work and continue making podcasts like this. Please do get in touch on any of those avenues and let us know which shows you’d like us to go into in the future. We are going to start looking at other older shows and go through from this kind of perspective, maybe more than once. We’ll definitely come back to Re:ZERO at some point. So, thanks again to Caitlin and Peter and let us know what you’d like us to look at next.
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