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Re:ZERO vs Japan Sinks: anime for fans vs anime for everyone

A few weeks ago, I made a second attempt to watch Re:ZERO. It’s not exactly an unpopular show, so I figured that maybe the first time around it just caught me at the wrong time. People often speak about it with a sense of reverie, suggesting that it “may seem like just another isekai fantasy, but it’s actually a much deeper story than that!”. I’ve even seen it compared to Berserk, which to me is the highest praise one can laud upon an anime series, and from then on I was like, “Okay, I must’ve been wrong about this!”.

12 episodes later and…

…I dropped it, again!

At least I made it further than last time, which was half way through the first episode, but I think I’ve seen enough now to know that I’ll never get on with Re:ZERO.

Re:ZERO (Subaru and Rem)

My problems stem from the core aesthetic of the show: Re:ZERO is an anime made for anime fans, and it looks it. It’s about an avid gamer thrown into a fantasy world tasked with solving the problems of a conveyor belt of pretty anime girls. Sometimes they are elven princesses, other times they are maids, but one thing’s for sure, they are all cute, and they all need help. It’s knowingly iterating through a database of character types, giving them tragic backstories, and then tasking Subaru with helping them work through it all or die trying. Just like in a video game, if he dies, he has restore points from which he’s resurrected. He even comments on how it’s like a video game too, because he’s walking around using terms like NPC. I think a lot of people find this level of self awareness endearing, but it just feels artificial to me. This is transparently a story built around a series of tired anime stereotypes and drawn in a way to emphasise the innocence and daintiness of its female cast. Strong, charismatic men are a threat to Subaru’s total mediocrity, so there aren’t any. Which is to say, this isn’t like Berserk at all. But I’m not surprised that anime fans love Re:ZERO, that they have Rem for their desktop wallpapers, and figurines of Emilia. I’m also not surprised that it hasn’t garnered that same acclaim outside of anime fandom.

Japan Sinks: 2020 (image from opening)

Anyway, I wasn’t going to bother writing about Re:ZERO, but then I started watching Japan Sinks: 2020 and it’s helped me contextualise why I like Masaaki Yuasa’s anime so much, why he’s now one of the most popular anime creators out there, and why I really didn’t like Re:ZERO. The thing is, Japan Sinks: 2020 wasn’t made for anime fans. It hasn’t been created to sell merchandise. No one will have Ayumu figurines, because no one is cute in Japan Sinks: 2020, especially the teenagers. They are frustrating, annoying and hard to watch, but I’m gripped nonetheless, because Yuasa’s default style is to reach beyond the superficial, traditional anime styles, just as his storytelling avoids anime archetypes, to create a universal aesthetic that can cross cultures.

Japan Sinks: 2020 (Mari embraces her daughter, Ayumu)

My favourite character is Ayumu’s mother, Mari. She’s physically strong, strong enough to protect her family in the face of utter desolation, yet vulnerable enough to argue and cry with her brattish daughter. She’s an awesome person, basically, and she isn’t fetishised by the show at all. Yuasa’s aesthetic choices are somewhat restrained these days (compared to say, Kemonozume), but there’s still something of the chameleon about him and Science Saru: they build an aesthetic in service of a story as opposed to an industry, and an aesthetic that’s brave enough to be ugly if it means communicating authenticity. I’ve always loved that about Yuasa: he doesn’t make anime just for anime fans, he makes anime for everyone.


Video version of this post!!

4 replies on “Re:ZERO vs Japan Sinks: anime for fans vs anime for everyone”

Wonderful post indeed.
This is my first time commenting here (hopefully I’ll be able to write more in the future 😉 but your article seems to sum up my thoughts exactly.
I also tried watching re zero a couple of years ago when everyone was raving about it and how “dark” and “different” it was from other isekai shows… only to discover that it was basically the same old isekai crap meant to please the otaku fanbase who only care about having cute moe waifus in their shows. Also, I absolutely hate the way a lot of anime shows like this banalize the idea of a character dying. Really, if you are going to kill off a character in the most gruesome way only to have him/her revived a couple of episodes (or even minutes) later what is even the point of killing it in the first place? That’s why I have loved Japan Sinks soo much (for me, clearly the anime of the year unless there’s a major surprise). I don’t know if you have watched the whole thing yet so I don’t want to enter spoilers territory but I’ll just say episode 8 left me speechless and unable to continue watching until the next day… a feeling I sorely missed in the anime that has been made in the last 10 years or so… Japan Sinks not only is a series that anyone outside the otaku circles could enjoy as you very well put it. For me it felt like a kick in the nuts of all the bland shonen fluff, idiotic teasing rom coms and isekai trash we’ve been having non stop for the last few years. It made me feel in a way that very few series (we have to go back to stuff like Texhnolyze or Gilgamesh, truly dark and depressing series that make Re zero look like a freaking Disney joke) have managed to do in the last decade, and for that alone I’ll be eternally grateful to the people behind it.

Honestly, I completely agree with you. I finished Japan Sinks this week, so I know exactly what you’re talking about, and you’re right, that episode left me stunned and gutted, as did something that happens in episode 9 too. I ended up really liking it, yet it’s looking like a lot of anime fans really hated it: I may write a bit more about Japan Sinks, if just to provide a dissenting, positive voice.

Anyway, thank you for commenting. It’s looking like you and I have very similar tastes! I hope to see you around!!

Thanks for a great writeup. I’ve kinda meant to give Re:Zero at least a try as it’s been highly regarded unlike, say, SAO which is undeniably a polarising show albeit super hyped. I haven’t though, because I’ve sensed some miasma wafting around its fanbase so basically you confirmed that my hunch was spot on that I’m not in the target audience.

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