Many of the best anime start from a simple deviation from the world as we know it and use that deviation to generate a great story. Examples include Code Geass (the story of an anti-hero with the power to control minds), Death Note (the story of a devious psychopath with the power to kill through a book), and Steins Gate (the story of a mad scientist who learns how to send messages back in time).
Re:Zero follows this formula wonderfully, focusing on a character with the power of a Save Point that he returns to after he dies. The premise allows the story to unfold as something of a mystery with the main character slowly learning from his mistakes until he can finally overcome whatever has been killing him. The show works best when it follows this formula and only really suffers when the main character stops showing signs of someone who learns from his mistakes.
The main character of Re:Zero is Subaru, an average boy who has been transported from the real world into a fantasy realm. The first few episodes are extremely entertaining as Subaru attempts to understand how this new world works and how he fits into it as a main character. Then the show gets a little darker as Subaru starts dying.
Subaru as a character is amazing (for the most part). He is most likable as an unexpected hero – someone who is relatable to the audience because he is neither too clever nor too stupid. When he first interacts with the world of Re:Zero, Subaru continuously uses general anime and video game knowledge to try to understand the fantasy setting into which he has been placed. He also tends to be optimistic, lighthearted, and genuine – personality traits that make the audience want to root for him.
The caveat in the first sentence of the above paragraph is due to a personality shift of Subaru during the first half of the second character. The first half of the second season is the biggest stumbling block of the show. It is where Subaru goes from being happy and likable to being jealous, angry, and generally stupid. The shift in personality feels disingenuous – as if the writers rewound Subaru’s personality so that he could develop as a character back into who he used to be.
Even when Subaru is acting like a detestable worm, Re:Zero is able to stand on the strength of the supporting cast. The supporting cast includes Subaru’s love interest, Emilia, her spirit companion, Puck, a pair of sarcastic maids, Ram and Rem, an angry librarian, Betty, and a host of other characters each with unique and likable personalities.
Emilia is the central focus of the show and not just because she is the character that Subaru loves. She is a strong character on her own. She struggles with being a good ruler of her people while being generally despised because she is a silver-haired half-elf who resembles the Witch that used to terrorize the world. She is both naive and hardened in different ways, making her more than just a one-dimensional object of affection.
The other side characters are all unique and enjoyable. I honestly cannot think of any character of the supporting cast who I found to be annoying or boring. Each character feels fully realized, with their own personalities and struggles that make them unique. The show rarely shows the back stories of the minor character with a few notable exceptions (Rem and Wilhelm). Yet we still get glimpses into different sides of each character so they don’t just feel like a one-dimensional NPC.
A great example of the way Re:Zero brings depth to its supporting cast is the librarian, Betty. Betty is depicted as a no-nonsense girl who damages Subaru whenever he annoys her. Yet Betty also protects Subaru when he asks and even steps up to defend him when he is accused of murder. Later, when Subaru asks Betty to kill him, Betty refuses, stating that she does not want to see any more death in the world. These few moments serve to expand how we see Betty. Instead of just being a foil for the main character’s personality, Betty is an actual person with her own internal pain.
The voice acting in the show is phenomenal. Subaru’s voice acting in particular works exceptionally well with the character he is portraying – even when he is being unlikable.
There is no real villain for most of the show. The first villain that shows up disappears rather quickly and is never heard of again. The major villain of the show, who appears part way through the second season, is one of the best villains I have seen in anime. Betelgeuse Romanee Contee is wonderfully twisted. His voice acting is stupendous and he steals every scene he is in.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Re:Zero. The show makes wonderful use of the Subaru’s ability to Return From Death to turn a generic fantasy action show into something akin to a mystery where the audience slowly learns what is actually going on. The side characters are portrayed so well that one could make a spin-off show about any of them and it would be fun to watch (first up – Wilhelm). The voice acting is great and the art style is flashy without being egregiously so. The only stumbling major stumbling block for the show is Subaru’s sometimes inconsistent personality.