In 2016, an entirely unknown light novel was made into an animated series, and scored second place on the chart, “That Light Novel is Amazing!”. The work is “Re: Zero Starting Life in Another World”, also known as “Re: Zero”.
One of the charms of this work is the existence of a sub-heroine with truly stellar popularity named “Rem”. How did the sub-heroine become so popular to surpass the main heroine, “Emilia”? I believe the answer lies in the bravery of the protagonist, Subaru.
Source：Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World
（Tappei Nagatsuki, Kadokawa, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- Production Committee）
■A hero who possesses a special ability but is somehow still weak
Now then, what kind of a hero is “Subaru Natsuki” in this work? He is an edgy, 18-year-old Japanese student who refuses to go to school. One day, he finds himself summoned to an entirely new world where sword and magic exist, with one special ability. This ability allows him to return to a certain point in time once he dies, with all the memories until then intact. This might make him sound like a totally overpowered hero. But really, just think about it. In a world ruled by sword and magic, what could a human being do who can do nothing more than go back in time? Even if he gets killed by a powerful mage and gets sent back in time, he still has no way to defeat that enemy.
Nevertheless, he never gives up. If he cannot defeat that enemy, he either finds ways to run away from that enemy, or seeks people who can fight that enemy, which, in turn, necessitates ways to befriend them. He thinks hard to plan ahead, and tries as many times as it takes. Although he is unable to defeat the enemy by himself, he tries very hard to come up with something. This “persistence” of his is precisely his “strength”, and what makes him a hero in this work.
■A hero who is evaluated by his process
Typical works of animation and manga would portray heroes who are strong enough to often break through their difficulties, which sometimes remind us of their fictional nature. On the other hand, Subaru’s hard efforts are mostly irrelevant to his abilities. Quite contrarily, the process that goes into solving his problem more than often agrees with the problems we face in the real world.
Now, when we looked up Subaru’s heroism in our hero database (*), we got “Barack Obama”. Although president Obama was not entirely successful in many idealistic changes, his unrelenting attitude in achieving something in the beginning of his term left a great impression in me. Also, looking at Obama’s heroic character, his charisma is something that stands out, among many of his features. Subaru, who starts out as an ordinary high school student in his new world, gradually gains trust from the people around him while facing countless hardships, and gets support from various people, and even from the country. In a similar manner, I believe Subaru’s progress in gaining charisma is an aspect that makes him resemble the former American president.
In sum, this story is about Subaru, who is an ordinary high school student, facing many difficulties like president Obama (as he faced in the beginning), and working endlessly to solve those problems.
■The significance of Subaru and Rem in a social context
Another attractive feature of this work is that Subaru’s work process remains unknown to his companions. Even if he keeps trying, whenever he fails, everybody forgets what happened until then, except for Subaru himself. Everyone else in the story remembers up to the moment when Subaru succeeds in doing something. This may signify that only the results matter in the world, no matter the effort. However, the viewers are all fully aware of Subaru’s efforts in taking various routes. Even though Subaru can share his hard efforts only with the viewers, which is in fact what allows the viewers to sympathize with him in a deeper level, in jointly understanding that there are many important things that remain unknown to the world.
And finally, there is the long-anticipated revealing of “Rem”. Although she is a sub-heroine, she far surpasses the main heroine, “Emilia”, in terms of popularity. And why is it that so many people love her? That is because Rem continues to trust Subaru in his efforts, although she remembers nothing more than anyone else. When nobody, including Emilia herself, trusts Subaru, Rem is the only one who believes in him.
In other words, in a “world where only the results matter no matter how hard you try”, Rem is the only person who has faith in Subaru, and recognizes his hard efforts. I believe this is why Rem is so loved by so many viewers of this series. It also shows that the young viewers of this series deeply wish for a figure like her.
From this, I wonder whether the young people nowadays strongly desire to be judged and recognized by their efforts, and to have someone who can look at their processes, instead of their results. This psychology was the factor behind the success of this work as well as Rem’s popularity.
*“Hero database” is a database created by evaluating figures with 6 heroic characteristics, and 13 traits, based on FRI’s quantitative research.
(Article: Kento Kimura)