FEATURE: Re:ZERO and Emilia’s Doubt

Hopefully this article finds you well into your cooling off period after watching the single most brutal ending to a Re:ZERO episode yet (and without a single death). Popular reactions to Subaru’s nearly complete self-destruction have ranged from annoyance to disgust to homicidal rage.

 

Just die, Subaru


Rest assured, your anger is justified. Subaru made not just one, but three back-to-back cataclysmic errors to satisfy his own pride, single-handedly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and forcibly dragging the story toward what seems like the darkest possible timeline. Everything has been absolutely ruined forever. All of this may be true, but if we can separate ourselves from our own emotional investment in the story–speaking from personal experience here–and let go of our own hurt, we can not only begin our journey of personal healing, but perhaps appreciate what a wonderful disaster this turned out to be.

 

No! Just stay with me a bit longer


The tremendous physical and emotional beating Subaru took is a great thing, not only because he absolutely earned it, but because it represents some equally tremendous character development. We are shown some real cracks in Subaru’s veneer of heroic altruism and the toll that returning by death is beginning to take upon him. First we must accept that there is really no excuse for what Subaru did. We’re all there already? Good. But let’s ask ourselves really why did he do all that? The short answer is pride and frustration.

 

Maybe some repressed resentment


Julius attacked Subaru in a way that no character has before, by doubting his bravery. If there has been one thing that Subaru has shown true a true sense of ego over, beyond his usual boisterous attitude, it’s his single-minded pursuit of Emilia against all odds. His pride is certainly justified, as he has literally endured death several times just to bring himself to where he is today. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Subaru is that one will ever know of even a fraction of his deeds. To this point, Subaru has admirably taken it in all in stride as a private burden, but he couldn’t handle being called out, especially by potential competition for Emilia. Coupled with the essential invincibility afforded by being able to return by death, Subaru was overconfident and ended the day with a dented skull.

 

Remember when we all hoped he could make it through an episode without suffering?


As the situation deteriorates and Subaru can feel Emilia attempting to sideline him, he grows desperate and, in that desperation, we begin to see the burden of returning by death. The difference in perspective between Subaru’s reality and those around him is a two-way street. While others are confused by Subaru’s behaviors without the benefit of his prior knowledge, Subaru is having trouble reconciling his experiences with others and their actions, which are motivated by only a small fraction of those events. Emilia’s inability to understand why Subaru took Julius’s insults so personally and confusion about why Subaru is even so devoted to her in the first place, cause Subaru to feel betrayed despite himself and makes his fateful outburst.

 

The foundation of any healthy relationship


It bears repeating that this scenario is unquestionably brought about by Subaru’s personal failings, but in examining the ongoing stressors that contribute toward this outcome, we can appreciate the amount of care that has been taken in examining each character’s different perspectives. Additionally, this complete meltdown actually makes Subaru a better character. The greatest injustice that could have been done to him is make him nothing more than a relentlessly compassionate and optimistic caricature. Having actual flaws makes him a real person and enhances the series by raising the stakes and making adversity more meaningful to overcome.

 

Let’s switch gears


Even more important than our revelations regarding Subaru is the implications of the episode’s climax on Re:ZERO’s other lead. Perhaps the greatest take-away from all this events is evidence that Tappei Nagatsuki truly respects Emilia as a character and not a narrative device. In addition to displaying tremendous care in appreciating Emilia’s perceptions of Subaru, the story turned a corner when Emilia made a definitive decision which was against the interests of Re:ZERO’s protagonist.

 

Subaru is more of an objectivist


First, let’s appreciate why Emilia made her decision. Although we as the audience have seen every sacrifice, small and large, Subaru has made for Emilia, she is aware of only a few. Subaru, and therefore the audience, have known Emilia roughly four times longer than she has known him. We covered how that rift has affected him, but imagine how truly bizarre his actions seem from her perspective. Through the multiple lives Subaru has met Emilia, the one he actually managed to survive was probably the most schizophrenic of them all.

 

 

This is the timeline he survived


The canon timeline as of this moment had Emilia first meet Subaru along with the thief who stole her insignia just as both were about to begin fighting Elsa. Subaru immediately began fanatically defending Emilia, claiming that he was only there to return her insignia to her, and displaying personal knowledge of her by setting up an ambush for Puck. Had Emilia later recounted this to Ram and Rem, then it’s easy to see why they were suspicious enough to kill him when he acted like he was trying to escape. Still, Subaru is a pretty nice guy and jumped in front of a really sharp knife several times to save her, only asking for her name in return, so that spoke to his sincerity. Also, Puck said he could sense Subaru didn’t mean her harm.

 

Puck said a lot of things


Upon awakening at Roswaal’s mansion, Subaru asked to become a servant and proceeded to work to the point of an emotional breakdown. This was so plain to see that Emilia had to literally force him to stop so that he wouldn’t hurt himself or collapse from exhaustion. All the while Subaru remained evasive about his behavior which, in a show of immense understanding and affection, she let slide by saying he didn’t have to explain. He snuck off not once, but twice into the forest with Rem to fight Mabeasts and generally displayed fanatical devotion and suicidal behavior. With only her personal intuition and Puck having sensed no ill intent to go on, it was only a matter of time before doubts began to outweigh deeds. Subaru’s reckless behavior and crazed outburst were simply a catalyst for reservations that had been gathering since they first met.

 

It’s his own fault for not taking her seriously


It’s hard to argue with Emilia’s explanation for her decision. Based on her own experiences, Subaru’s interest with her was unhealthy and his actions endangered both himself and her interest in the throne. She repeatedly asked him to simple explain himself so she could understand some of his more bizarre decisions, but he remained evasive. Despite her personal feelings for him and sense of indebtedness to him, Emilia is able to recognize the best thing she can do for both of them is leave. It was compassionate but impersonal and something you would expect from a true ruler.

 

Positively regal


Like getting your wisdom teeth pulled, some short term discomfort does this story a lot of good in the long term. Subaru displayed a seriously tragic flaw which make him immensely more interesting as a character and has placed him in a deeper hole than nearly constant mortal danger has been able to manage. Emilia was revealed to be a character with real agency and the ability to break away from Subaru to follow her own story.

 

A look that could destroy storylines


We are also introduced to a fascinating dynamic for a story of this sort in which our hero’s own passion for the object of his love becomes the very thing that drives her away from him. The rug has been pulled out from under the classic tale of a prince saving a princess and now we are left with only doubts and an entire constellation of possibilities where the story could take us. Until now, Emilia has been Subaru’s lighthouse in unfamiliar waters. He is now back where he began.

 

Lost and alone


Or… maybe Subaru will just fix it all by returning from death, at which point…

 

JUST DIE, SUBARU!

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Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll, author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight, and streams on Crunchyroll’s official Twitch channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PeterFobian.