by Er Gin Jack
The dark horse of the Spring 2016 season, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero for short), has garnered tons of positive reception both in Japan and in the US thanks to its smart twist on the "teleported to a fantasy world" setting. Prior to the release of episode 12, the start of the third major arc for the anime, a special event was held for fans of the anime in Tokyo at the Kadokawa Shinjuku Cinema on June 18. The tickets for the event sold out almost instantly, surprising the organizers.
Upon entering the cinema, all the participants were given a limited edition clear folder. It features the first three characters we met at the start of the anime, Felt, Subaru and Emilia.
[Left: the sample image of the clear folder. Right: a photo I took with my phone.]
The event featured an all-night marathon of episodes 1 through 11, ending with an early screening of episode 12 prior to its official air date.
As I anxiously awaited the start of the event, the staff brought out 5 chairs and arranged them on stage. The first chair was for the event host, while the other four held the guests who were joining us for the event: Yusuke Kobayashi (the voice of Subaru Natsuki), Sho Tanaka (a producer at Kadokawa), Yoshikawa Tsunaju (an animation producer at White Fox Animation Studio), and Ikemoto Akirahitoshi (the editor for the Re:Zero light novels at MF Bunko J).
As the host addressed the audience and thanked everyone for attending the event, Tanaka, Tsunaju and Akirahitoshi came on stage and took their respective seats. Everyone applauded loudly for the guests. As they sat, they joked how they were all surprised that the event sold out so quickly. "An anime event with no female cast members or guests managed to sell out? It’s quite an amazing feat!" they said. "Who would have thought that so many people would want to come and watch an overnight marathon with a bunch of old geezers?"
Following the introductions, we launched into the talk portion with a couple of simple questions from the host to the guests. The first question was how they all managed to come in contact with the source material, which began as a web novel.
[On-screen text: "Re:Zero all-night screening event."]
Host: How did you come into contact with the original web novels for Re:Zero?
Ikemoto Akirahitoshi: There are many gems out there in the web novel catalogue buried among tens of thousands of other stories. Recently, web novels of decent quality have been emerging more and more often, getting turned turned into light novels, and eventually being adapted into hit anime series like Sword Art Online, Accel World, and, most recently, Overlord. As I looked through the message boards for new sources of information, I chanced upon the title (Re:Zero) and how it was a depressing, yet surprising, twist on the fantasy genre. I started reading it and got hooked immediately! After reading, I recommended the web novel to my fellow colleagues you see on stage today and began to work with the author to make this web novel into a light novel.
Sho Tanaka: Ikemoto told me to give it a try and I told him I did gave it a read, but I did not give him a proper reply about how I personally felt about the series.
IA: I thought he did not bother reading at all since he didn't reply me! I wanted to scold him for patronizing me by telling me he read the web novel when he did not do so.
ST: I did read it; if not, we all wouldn’t be here on stage together, would we?
ST: As Ikemoto said in his previous statement, I came to know of the source material through his recommendation and thought it was a pretty good story. As Ikemoto helped the author turned it into a light novel, we met often to talk about a potential anime adaption of this series.
IA: A typical light novel has about 250 pages per book, but the author (Nagatsuki Tappei) wrote over 1000 pages for the first book… I had to edit heaps of content and rearrange parts of the story so they would appear in the later volumes of the series. He wanted to elaborate more on the world and the lore of the setting, but it wasn’t necessary at that point in the first few volumes. Thus, we pushed that back till Arc 3 of the series. We focused our attention on getting the audience attached to the characters themselves before we explored upon the world and backdrop. This is why upon entering Arc 3 the cast of characters the audience will encounter in the anime suddenly increases three-fold from the current cast.
Yoshikawa Tsunaju: As the two of them talked about the possible future of an anime adaption, I was also approached by them in hopes that White Fox Animation Studio would adapt this light novel into an anime. They seem to like (something something);gate and hoped that we could adapt this light novel into a god-tier anime similar to (something something);gate*.
[*They were referring to Steins;Gate but couldn’t say the official name of the anime, so they said "nani nani gate," which means "something something gate."]
H: How did you feel about the source material and the anime adaption?
IA: From an editor's point of view, the story was interesting and different from a typical fantasy setting where the main character is overpowered since he's an irregular being in the new world. Subaru was a normal guy with no special power, excluding Return by Death. He’s the type of guy who you would cheer for and hope that he would reach a good ending. He’s the type of guy who does what he has to during clutch time. He does suffer from time to time, but he manage to survive his trials and become a stronger person each time. However, you can clearly see the effects of his deathes on him as the story progresses.
ST: Without spoiling too much, with the end of episode 11, which concludes Arc 2 of the series, Subaru manages to survive a few days without dying. In episode 12 (the start of Arc 3), as you will see later during the marathon event, he has lived happily for a period of time with Emilia, Rem, and Ram in the mansion. This is the calm before the storm. This might be the only break he is going to enjoy for an extended period of time—the suffering is going to continue on and on from now.
YT: As the studio representative, I hope that people could pay more attention to the emotions portrayed in the eyes of the characters. We tried our best to make their eyes as lively as possible in order to communicate the emotions they are feeling just through their eyes. With regards to my opinion about the source material, I’m hoping we are able to adapt this story faithfully, as we at the studio really do enjoy this light novel.
After 20 minutes or so, the final special guest arrived on stage: Yusuke Kobayashi, the voice of Natsuki Subaru. He was wearing the same jacket that is worn by Subaru in the anime. Once he arrived on stage, Kobayashi unzipped the jacket, revealing an anime t-shirt featuring Ram and Rem. He told the audience that he'd wanted to wear an "EMT" t-shirt (EMT is an acronym for a phrase Subaru says in the anime, "Emilia Maji Tenshi," which translates to "Emilia is seriously an angel!"), but was only able to find one with Rem and Ram on it.
[Photos from the official Re:Zero Twitter account.]
H: How did you manage to secure this role as Subaru?
Yusuke Kobayashi: I don’t really want to talk about this since I find it to be such a strange story. Normally as voice actors, we go for an audition and the director picks the one who they feel fits the role the best. However, in my case, once they heard my voice during the audition, they just said, "Okay, we want to get this guy to be the main character." I was shocked that they decided to go with me on such short notice. I asked them why they picked me and their reason turned out to be simple—I sounded like a delinquent, an exact match for Subaru! I had just the right amount of roughness and delinquency in my voice, yet also a soft and gentle side. I didn’t know how to feel about myself when someone said I sounded like a delinquent, but I guess it was a good thing since I was able to secure such a fabulous role!
H: Tell me about the recording sessions during the anime production. What was the environment and the relationship with the other cast like?
YK: I’m usually super tired and exhausted after each take due to the amount of exertion required in some scenes. When I received my script, I was so surprised, thinking, "Isn’t this too many lines for an anime?!" There was lots of crying, panting, and shouting involved during the recording. After each recording session, I would just sit exhausted on a chair. The relationships between all of us in the cast are great. We're all on good terms with each other, and the environment is lovely too. It’s just that this role takes a lot of energy out of me. Sometimes I get so tired that the atmosphere turns gloomy. The other cast members, like Yumi Uchiyama (Puck), often showed concern for me, offering me lollipops and sweets during and after recording to cheer me up.
H: How do you feel in regards to your character and the anime?
YK: Subaru is a respectable individual who seems to be really nonchalant about everything, but he does actually care for several people in his life—as you can see in the anime and the source material. He knows that he’s stuck in this world and that there's nothing else he can do at the moment but live his life to the fullest and to try to make a difference in this world where almost everything is foreign to him. He met Emilia, a kind girl goes out of her way to do good deeds and does not request anything in return, and after their first encounter and her dying from an ambush in episode 1, he dedicated his life to ensuring that nothing bad happens to her. The power Subaru has to go back in time upon death was quite a unique twist that was put to good use in the story. It allowed deep character development of every single character, as well as Subaru himself. You can really see how it affects him each time he dies, how everyone is different in each timeline and everyone behaves slightly differently due to how he acts in each timeline. This multi-faceted approach to exploring every single character introduces us to them again and again in the same setting, each time revealing something a little different.
At this point, we were about 30-40 minutes into the event, and the host brought up a powerpoint slide to compare the initial character designs to the current anime character designs.
H: What's your opinion on the anime character designs and how they changed from this initial draft to the final versions we see in the anime?
YK: Subaru looks super badass in the initial drawing! Look at that fierce looking face! He looks like a proper delinquent! Emilia looks slightly bland and boring, and the uniform looks surprisingly similar to a school uniform from some anime. [He didn't mention the anime by name due to copyright issues, but hinted that it might be The Irregular at Magic High School].
IA: When I saw the initial draft of the character designs, I thought that Subaru needed to look slightly more friendly and less fierce so that he'd be more relatable during the emotional scenes he has throughout the series. I though that having such a stern face would make it awkward for the people to visualize how he would look like during emotional scenes.
YT: We changed the initial color combination of the jacket before we arrived at the current one. The initial color combination was too flashy and made the character stand out too much. We wanted to portray him as an everyday person who just happened to accidentally get sent into a fantasy world. Emilia looked very bland and boring, so the illustrator added more buttons to her costume, as well as the dragon insignia hanging by the edge of her sleeves, the flower ornament in her hair, and the crystal situated on her chest. In terms of character design, it was a great improvement from her initial concept, however it proved to be a challenge for us animators to keep her design consistent throughout the animation production process.
Next up we had slides of our two favorite maids, Rem and Ram! Their eyes weren't censored during the presentation, but the initial character design looked like something from the 1980s-1990s anime period—Sailor Moon-type hairstyles and big googly eyes. The initial design didn’t even include the covered eyes on different side that has become a trademark look for the two sisters.
The second draft was slightly better, as it gave them more distinct characteristics—however, the facial expressions were slightly cold and the maid costume was slightly too traditional and long. The appeal of their maid uniform had to be improved further to arrive at the final design, with the characteristic hair parts and the Japanese-styled maid uniform with shoulder blades revealed and a shorter skirt.
The host then showcased the new characters we would meet briefly in episode 12 later that night. They did not talk much about the characters and the roles they would play in the future of the anime, but simply announced the voice cast for the characters and told us to look forward to their appearance in episode 12 at the end of the event.
The event ended with all the guests taking turns challenging everyone in the audience to a rock-paper-scissors match, with the winner's prize being a signed poster with signatures from all the guests that appeared at the event. During one of the matches, the entire audience was was completely obliterated by Tsunaju. He apologized for not leaving a single survivor and said "RETURN BY DEATH," which let everyone come back to life and have another rematch. I thought it was pretty cool that he made use of an element of the story to help facilitate a rematch of the game. After three matches, a single winner was left standing.
Once the rock-paper-scissors match concluded, the guests said their final goodbyes and we were left alone in the theater from 1AM until 7AM to marathon the anime from episode 1 to all the way through episode 12. I really enjoyed the event and have been enjoying the Re:Zero anime—I hope you all are enjoying it too!