Where are you?
Looking around, you find yourself standing in the middle of a wide, paved city square, surrounded by vibrantly colored buildings. Some of the people walking around seem to have the heads of dogs or cats!
You wander around a bit and eventually come to what looks like a stall selling fruit. The shopkeeper holds out what looks like a bright, red apple to you and says, “Hello! Care for an appa?”
Appa? Is that what they’re called here?
You take several hundred yen from your pocket and give them to him.
“What’s this? This isn’t any kind of money I’ve seen before!”
“If you’re broke, go away! No browsing at my stall!”
You run off into a nearby alley and sit down.
Seriously, where are you?!
You take out your cell phone and see that there’s no signal!
A threatening voice suddenly interrupts your train of thought.
“Hey! Drop everything ya got now if ya wanna live!”
Looking up, you see three scruffy, unsavory men in front of you. It’s obvious that their intentions are less than noble.
You punch the large, fat brute to your right and give the little punk to your left a roundhouse kick.
Oww! Does hitting people really hurt this much?
You start running at the thug in front of you when he suddenly brandishes a pair of nasty-looking knives! At the sight of this, you feel a blinding rush of panic and quickly get on your knees.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! PLEASE forgive me…”
Something hits you across the face and you are thrust onto the floor.
“Think yerself so smart, huh?! Take this!”
You feel a foot on your face and several kicks to your ribs. Ugh! Stop it…!…stop…
Huh? A girl’s voice…?…
Squinting from the corner of your eye, you see a shadow against the mouth of the alley.
As it walks closer, you see a glint from her hair… silver hair…?
Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World (Re：ゼロから始める異世界生活, Ri:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, lit. “Re: Starting life in a different world from zero”) is a web novel, light novel series, manga and anime written by Tappei Nagatsuki (長月達平, Nagatsuki Tappei). Based on the story is the visual novel video game, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- Death or Kiss (Re:ゼロから始める異世界生活 -DEATH OR KISS-, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu -Death or Kiss-), released on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.
Without warning, the young shut-in Subaru Natsuki suddenly finds himself in a completely unfamiliar city. At a fruit stall, he learns that he’s in the capital city of the Kingdom of Lugnica. While trying to figure out his predicament in an alley, Subaru is rescued from thugs by a silver-haired, half-elf girl and he falls in love with her at first sight. After recovering, he learns that the girl was looking for a small insignia stolen from her a while ago and he offers to help her. Eventually, the two are directed to a house on the city outskirts. Upon discovering a grisly murder there, the assassin (who is still there) disembowels both of them…
Immediately finding himself in front of a familiar fruit stall, Subaru soon realizes that he has somehow acquired the ability to return to a certain point in time after he is killed, which he names “Return by Death”. Subaru gradually learns to use this ability to gain knowledge of future events and change them to his advantage. He is eventually able to retrieve the insignia and fight off the assassin with the help of a knight. In doing this, he gains the trust of the half-elf girl, who reveals her name to be Emilia.
Subaru is later invited to the mansion of Margrave Roswaal L. Mathers, where he offers himself as a retainer to stay close to Emilia. He continues to protect Emilia and his friends, often doing so after getting killed in a disaster and then averting it when he “returns”. Subaru soon learns about Lugnica’s royal succession crisis, encounters the mysterious Witch Cult, fights against the Three Great Demon Beasts and learns that his Return by Death had been granted to him by Satella, the Witch of Envy who once brought devastation to the world centuries ago.
Subaru Natsuki (菜月 昴, Natsuki Subaru), an 18-year old retainer (and later, knight) of Emilia and a former Japanese high school student. Formerly a naïve, self-centered NEET, Subaru has become much more observant, mature and determined after dying several times. To conceal his inner trauma, he adapts a more boisterous attitude. Despite its benefits, Return by Death has two major drawbacks: Subaru must never reveal this ability to anyone (doing so causes him intense pain and could kill anyone who hears him) and trying to reveal it heightens the Witch’s aura within him, attracting nearby demon beasts like moths to a flame (he sometimes uses this to act as monster bait). The son of a popular, talented man, Subaru often felt inadequate and eventually gave up on life, which resulted in him not attending school for months. After befriending Emilia and others, Subaru discovered a new meaning for his own life and has vowed to start over from “zero” (hence the story title).
Emilia, a 115-year old half-elf spirit art user and a candidate to become the 42nd ruler of the Kingdom of Lugnica. Although kind and compassionate, she is also somewhat insecure and her choice of words is slightly outdated. Emilia can form contracts with spirits (most notably Puck) and call upon spirits to cast magic including healing and ice spells. Over a century ago, she was the only survivor of an attack by the Witch Cult on her home village deep in the Elior Forest. She froze the entire forest, including herself, upon seeing the corpse of her beloved aunt. Unfrozen by Puck several years ago, Emilia has faced constant, severe discrimination because the legendary Witch of Envy, Satella, is said to have been a silver-haired half-elf herself. After being chosen as a royal candidate with Roswaal’s patronage, she has vowed to create a kingdom where all are equals.
Puck, Emilia’s kitten-like artificial spirit companion. Carefree and mischievous, he is extremely protective of Emilia, whom he treats like a daughter. Puck can use empathy to read the surface thoughts of others and he can use several kinds of magic including Water and Fire. One of the conditions of his contract with Emilia is that he can be active only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Puck’s true form is a gigantic, cat-like monster known as “The Beast of the End”.
Rem, a 19-year old oni maid and the younger twin sister of Ram. Polite, dedicated and lacking self-esteem, she is very skilled in using her flail in combat and is a competent user of water and healing magic. Through her oni horn, Rem can channel mana to enhance herself, but she is gradually overtaken by rage when she does so. She is also a hardworking maid who handles most of the housework in the Mathers Mansion. Because they are twins, Rem and Ram were each born with a single horn. Since childhood, Rem had an inferiority complex with her sister, who had demonstrated extraordinary magical talents. Seven years ago, their home village was attacked by the Witch Cult and Ram’s horn was cut off by a cultist. Because of this, Rem feels that it’s her duty to accomplish what her sister could no longer do. She fell in love with Subaru after he saved her from being mauled by a pack of wolgarms.
Ram, a 19-year old oni maid and the older twin sister of Rem. Haughty, distant and conceited, she rarely misses an opportunity to give a scathing remark to Subaru, whom she nicknames “Barusu”. Since losing her single oni horn, Ram has lost much of her magical strength and tires easily whenever she uses her wind magic. After the Witch Cult’s attack on their home village, Ram and Rem were taken in by Roswaal to work at his mansion. Despite having some apprehensions, Ram is in love with Roswaal.
Beatrice, an artificial spirit, caretaker of Roswaal’s forbidden library and, later, Subaru’s spirit companion. Abrasive and stubborn, her harsh behavior masks a deep loneliness. A knowledgeable magician, Beatrice is highly skilled in Yin magic (teleportation, stopping time, creating spatial loops, sending targets to another dimension, etc.), magical healing and undoing curses. By contract, she is unable to leave Roswaal’s mansion unless the library is destroyed. She enjoys playing with Puck whenever he’s not with Emilia. Although initially unfriendly to Subaru when they first met, Beatrice has gradually opened up to him since then, but remains outwardly annoyed with him.
For starters, this story is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The main character Subaru is killed several times through either tragic circumstance or his own poor choices, only to “return” to a point in time before that occurs. He feels all the pain, terror and trauma of each disaster/violent death and remembers it all clearly when he is alive once again. Among other things, he has experienced disembowelment, getting his limbs torn off, dying from extreme frostbite (he was decapitated once from that!) and watching both Emilia and Rem die horribly. On top of this, he unable to tell anyone the truth about his death experiences, forcing him to stew in his own suffering. In time, he develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even briefly goes insane.
Subaru is later reminded by both Emilia and Rem that he saved their lives and is thus a real hero. Despite having no notable skills or talents, Subaru gradually develops incredible willpower, becoming brave, determined and unnaturally calm in the face of death. Return by Death also allows him to learn from his mistakes and literally do-over his actions to get better results, allowing him to anticipate and understand people better. As a result, he eventually becomes the most effective hero on his world.
Subaru is an example of how important persistence and learning are. Having skills, talent or unique abilities won’t do any good if one is lazy, unmotivated or demoralized. Living through severe loss and tragedy is never easy, but if one can persist and find strength within themselves and those they care for, one can learn how to cope and live strong. It’s similar to how soldiers have to endure constant near-death experiences and deal with fallen comrades and loved ones.
Persistence and learning from mistakes are two of the best things we can have.