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Snooze:Fest — Falling Asleep in Another World

A rerun and a global pandemic later, it is time for the much-awaited second season of Re:Zero. Lord knows I was not kind to the first season, and far be it from me to be inconsistent. The second season didn’t have the highs of the first one, nor did it have the lows ; alas, the lows were more than the highs. With Rem snoozing it out for all of the second season (and beyond), it is time for the question you all ask deep in your hearts : can Re:Zero exist without Rem, or will we sleep too ? Grab your pillows.

Much like the first season, Re:Zero starts off well. This is something it shares with the first season ; the opening acts do well, though not amazing. I will go as far as to say that the first half is above the average of the first season overall, though it lacks the despair arc that I enjoyed so much. The problems appear later on, but you can see hints of them very early.

I liked what it had to show visually. The opening theme — when it is actually shown — is great and an absolute banger. The struggles Subaru goes through to save the people of the Roswaal Mansion, and the incoherence of trying to save everybody but himself are in full display and make for good drama. The high points of the season are Beatrice, who was a bit of a meme character in the first season, but really gets a lot of development and time to shine. The paedosexual ship has water to at least sail in, if you are of the intellectual class.

The same is attempted with the other characters that didn’t get as much attention in the first season, but the effect isn’t nearly the same. I really like Ram, but her characterisation really didn’t go where I thought it would, and frankly I consider the way she was treated to be turbocucked. More on that later.

Emilia gets a lot of backstory, making her less bland as the primary love interest. I still think she’s incredibly bland, sorry. Yes, little Emilia is cute, and what happened is tragic, but it’s hard to sympathise with her character development when all she has to do to overcome her difficulties is a few pretty words from Subaru and watching a video playback of her past. Honestly I don’t see what people see in her, and with Subaru doing his damnedest to protect the sleeping Rem, I don’t understand how anyone can justify Emilia/Subaru being the canonical ship.

Contrast Subaru’s trials, who in the first half had to experience his shortcomings in first person and overcome them through his own experience. I greatly enjoyed his trials and was eager to see more. Alas, it was not to be, just as it was getting interesting with the parallel timelines.

Roswaal of course gets the villain treatment. This is not entirely unexpected, though the way it played out made it not have the desired effect. Yes, it did have an enriching effect on his character, but it isn’t the powerfully tragic yet brilliant personality like Schneizel or Char, despite having the right building blocks. You even have interesting off-the-cuff remarks from Puck that Roswaal tries to be superhuman that never amount to anything or are explored for that matter.

What characters like Roswaal need are room to breathe. Season 2 does experiment artistically a little bit, but this is no character study. Characters need to learn how to shut up, and characters need to be shown emoting by themselves more. We are told Roswaal despairs a lot. We understand it. But we don’t really see him experiencing the despair. He lives 400 years away from the woman he loves, and the passage of time as it affects him is only shown from Beatrice’s perspective near the end of the season. This is an ineffective way of presenting things.

We get new characters, of course. Despite his angst, I didn’t find Garfiel very interesting. He’s too much of a meme character for me to take seriously. Same can be said about Otto. Exposition on their backstories came seemingly out of nowhere, and while interesting, it felt like someone going through a list and crossing todo items for how to make them cool and relatable. It feels very artificial.

Echidna is better and more interesting. She walks a dangerous line, as the more information is given about the witches, the less mysterious and thus interesting they become. While I don’t have major criticism, I do think that more of her actions should have been presented as morally ambiguous. She acts way too much as a good character for way too much of the season, and if greyness was the intended message, it wasn’t very effective, not when everyone who meets her wants to be her friend. The same can be said about the rest of the witches, and I really don’t think all of them should have been introduced this season. It takes away from the mystique.

What really bothered me about season 2 is playing into its worst flaws and demeaning its best merits. Season 1 had a great despair arc followed by a great pep talk, probably the most memorable moment in the series and why Rem has such a big fandom. It’s like someone saw that, and in season 2 you have a pep talk every couple of episodes or something, sometimes targeting the same character. As you might imagine, this gets old and boring fast, and really gets across that the brilliance of season 1’s high points were accidental rather than planned.

It also displays some grade-A Japanese master-servant cuckoldry, the likes of which even the most Hollywoodian productions can rarely match. So, unless I’m missing something, Roswaal was the one responsible for genociding Rem and Ram’s tribe, crippling Ram, and traumatising both. Ram was aware of it (or so she says), and yet she is madly in love with Roswaal, which is presented as a good thing.

Okay. I’m aware of Stockholm Syndrome, but this is some fucking bullshit and such a step backward from the uncucked message of the first season. I understand it can get complicated when your abuser is the same person who’s raised you, but this isn’t just any abuse my dude ; Roswaal had your entire family killed and crippled you for life, and it’s all handwaved by « the power of love. » Big nope from me dawg, 0/10, go back to school, that shit is turbo mega cucked. Grow some fucking spine.

Even the ultimate showdown between the Great Rabbit and the Roswaal group is meh at best. Compare this with the immense effort of taking down the White Whale, and it’s a fucking joke ; it goes down in a fraction of one episode. Beatrice and Subaru literally teleport to the location to save the day ! Jesus fuck, what a letdown.

All of this is compounded with much of the second season taking place in a secluded location, with the same small set of characters interacting over and over again. This makes the season feel claustrophobic and devoid of a setting or machinations outside the rigid scope of the Sanctuary. This only works with immense planning and by surrounding the location with mystery ; when you have Echidna spilling the beans early, where’s the mystery ? Take Dark, for example, which pads out the mystery of its main location to three whole seasons, and while it gets tiring near the end, it’s only near the end.

Overall, I wish I could rate this series highly ; it really looked like a 7/10 by the end of the first half. I really enjoyed the way the first half ended. It was great wrapping it up with Subaru getting some more self-respect. However, I wanted to fast-forward through the second half, and that is never a good thing. By the last episode, it didn’t even feel like I was watching the same series anymore. Thus there can only be one rating : 4/10, zzz.

Fix:Me — Improving this series in another world

With most of its episodes at 30 minutes and beyond, and even skipping opening and ending themes, Re:Zero season 2 doesn’t have an issue with running time. There is time to do what it needs.

They should have doubled down on Roswaal being this season’s big bad and tie him more closely to the Sanctuary. Learning about the Sanctuary (and Echidna) invariably involves learning more about Roswaal. Echidna’s appearance should have been delayed, and more of her personality should have been drip-fed so as to keep her mysterious and remote, as a witch should be. This gap is closed the closer we get to Roswaal’s full plan. Symbolically, the more we learn about the greyness of the witches, the more we learn about Roswaal’s blackness.

Ram should have been shown having her personality utterly devolve to blind loyalty to Roswaal in the absence of memories of her sister. This would at least justify her pathological relationship with Roswaal — being the only person she has in her life — and give Subaru a more pressing reason to wake Rem up : without her, her sister may end up being lost forever.

Roswaal should not have lost or capitulated. Though his plans may have failed, he should have parted ways with Emilia’s group, taking Ram with him. The discrepancy between actual events and the book of wisdom would make for some good drama as he questions his blind faith in it and by extension Echidna. When Ram gets her memories back, that’s another source of drama. It basically writes itself. As discussed, he should receive more of a character study.

We should only have received glimpses of Emilia’s past, and she should not have passed the trials. The agony she feels from them, and also feeling useless because she could not pass them would finally give her some opportunity to have some character development. This would have temporarily soured her relationship with Subaru, and given more effect to her argument about ideal Emilia and actual Emilia.

The Authority of Sloth should have been involved in taking down the Great Rabbit. Emilia recognising it would be a nice hint of potential future conflict. At least one full episode should have been devoted to taking it down, with significantly more planning to justify the victory. Puck’s strength is also of much better use here than fighting Roswaal.

A different way to resolve the attack on the Roswaal mansion should have been found, because I don’t think Team Emilia can handle both the Great Rabbit and the attack simultaneously.

It would be interesting if there was a 2v2 between Emilia/Beatrice and Roswaal/Ram near the climax of the season. There would have to be no resolution, of course, because of the Great Rabbit, but it’s a great opportunity for them to hash out their differences and disappointments in physical form.

The series should be shorter and more compact and actually play its opening and ending themes. Yes, I know this is weird coming from the person who suggested the opposite in Aldnoah Zero, but there is such a thing as too much padding. Re:Zero has always had too much room to breathe to the detriment of its drama. Much like in the despair arc, padding is good for atmosphere, but then the shock value needs to be forced in rapid-fire style.

This gives the series a more bittersweet ending, but that is something that has characterised Re:Zero in general, and I don’t think it’s out of character. Ending on a strong hook towards a third season is very much preferable to the open-ended bland finale we got in actuality.