One day on his way home from the convenience store, high schooler Subaru Natsuki is spontaneously summoned to a fantasy world. When his life is saved by a beautiful girl with silver hair and a talking cat sidekick, he’s determined to repay the favor by helping her retrieve a mysterious object that was stolen from her. In trying to help, he discovers that he’s been given the most inconvenient ability of all time: whenever he dies, he respawns to a previous point in time. Now hell-bent on helping the girl, he’s decided to do whatever it takes, even if it means dying over and over and over again…
Based on the original light novels and following in the wake of the unexpected success of Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- the anime, Yen Press is responsible for the 2016 US release of the manga, with original story by Tappei Nagatsuki and art by Daichi Matsuse.
“Hero gets trapped/dropped into a fantasy MMORPG-like world” stories are practically their own genre these days, but there are a few things that set Re:Zero apart, making it stand out in a media climate that’s saturated with these kinds of plots and well-deserving of an audience.
Volume 1 begins by promising the reader a lighthearted action adventure, but gives the reader with a story that’s clearly more complicated than you could have ever guessed. Having seen the anime, I can say that the narrative still manages to maintain some of the lightheartedness the series starts out with, but it’s definitely a story that has substance, tackling issues of the heart very few series in this genre dare to address.
Very few approach the genre with the same type of self-awareness we see Volume 1 of Re:Zero begin with. Much like Subaru, the reader is dropped into the story without much introduction, leaving them to ground themselves as he does. While this kind of entrance is hardly an original way to start a manga, when Subaru realizes where he’s been transported, he smoothly accepts his new role—expecting to encounter the same events the main character would participate in during the tutorial level of a popular MMORPG. He, just like the reader, has seen this story before, and he’s eager to discover his trope-promised, magical, world-saving ability. It’s pretty funny the way he launches himself without abandon into situations he thinks will trigger in-game events, facing disappointment every time.
When it’s revealed that Subaru does actually have a special ability—to regenerate from a starting point after dying—the story’s tone shifts, and it’s almost uncomfortably (but purposely) abrupt, making the reader desperate for Volume 2.
But for those who don’t always like their stories full of murder and mystery, have no fear. Despite dying repeatedly, Subaru manages to inject a level of lighthearted optimism within the story. He’s not a Kirito from Sword Art Online or a Shiroe from Log Horizon or even a Kazuma from Konosuba, who are all insanely talented in one way or another at the games they play. But he has something the other characters don’t: a desperation to connect with the people around him, and the persistence to keep trying, despite the fact that everyone he comes in contact with remembers only a fraction of their interaction, as everything but Subaru’s memory gets reset each time he dies.
It’s an interesting growth model for a character. There’s something inherently tragic about it, but as this is only Volume 1, we won’t get to see the emotional strain on Subaru thanks to his ability until later in the story.
The art doesn’t make use of cute chibis or silly expressions, letting the dry, self-aware humor do all the work on its own to bring the reader an amusing and unique read. If I were to have any complains about the art and the layout, it’s that the type is not very well aligned in the speech bubbles, running very close to the edge of the page or line of the bubble.
Despite the dark tone the story promises, its initial moral is pure of heart: One act of kindness can inspire even the (seemingly) most selfish and lazy of people. With that said, Volume 1 of Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- kicks the series off to a solid start that is sure to leave any reader hooked.
Story: 4 out of 5 stars
Art: 4 out of 5 stars
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
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