Oh you can wait
For what I can give
You know what I am
So you know how I live
Try to look proud
But you’re not in the slightest
Its happening now
And it’s always been like this.
I’m not wholeBombay Bicycle Club, “Always Like This”
I’m not whole
You waste it all.
“Hell is other people. Happiness is other people.” Anime has often explored these extraordinarily simple, but dichotomous concepts. Our worst enemies are often ourselves. We use others for our own benefits and reap the rewards without ever giving back. But at the same time, we constantly seek out people; we beg for their forgiveness, seek their gratitude and acknowledgement, and end up becoming something more with them, or by leaving them.
At the beginning of Re:Zero, Natsuki Subaru is alone.
Emilia from the get go, is also shown to be lonely. She’s quiet, shy, and uncertain. (It’s only in Frozen World, do we see why she keeps to herself and insecure). She’s pleasant to chat with, but there’s an air of solitude and sadness around her, and she’s only shown to ever be laughing with her guardian spirit and best friend, Puck. It’s not revealed until later that Emilia is afraid of connecting with other people because they persecute her for being a half elf, as she shares a similar appearance to the Witch of Envy. Despite this, Emilia still strives to reach out to others, and it’s through Subaru that we see a warmer and happier side of her. It’s this side that Subaru falls in love with, and builds his facade upon.
If the first half of Re:Zero is thus about setting up the bonds between Rem, Emilia, and Subaru, the second half of Re:Zero is about tearing them apart and confronting loneliness at its core. The moment Subaru is left behind by Emilia, he is lost. He cracks under the pressure of multiple timelines of failure, and recognizes that he’s utterly alone in his own despair, understandings, and perceptions of other people. For all of his false attempts to communicate and become someone worthy of Emilia, he has only pushed his selfish pride to the limit, and has become ‘wasteful’. In what is Re:Zero‘s most honest moment, he breaks down in front of Rem, asking her to run away with him.
But Subaru is no longer alone, because he has Rem. And thus, Rem’s confession to Subaru in “From Zero” isn’t just powerful because of her love for him; it’s more importantly, because of how it impacts Subaru.
From the very first time we’re introduced to Rem, it’s very clear she is alone. She has her sister, but she is a caustic wound of what Rem has failed to be. Ostracized for being a twin demon, she endures her loneliness and suffering in the opposite way that Emilia does: by constant imitation and pursuit of perfection.
It is only when Subaru charges in, breaking misconceptions of her own self purpose, and rescues her when she turns her back on herself, that Rem wakes up, and realizes a truth of her own: Subaru is a hero, her hero. She desires him, and in this awakening, she devotes herself to his every cause and beckon, nursing him back to full health, and aiding him in taking down the Witch Cult and White Whale. Unlike Subaru, who masks his selfishness in the guise of heroism, Rem is completely honest about her misguided behavior and intentions. So honest, is she, that even when Subaru openly rejects her, she throws it back in his face.
Just as Emilia is put on a pedestal in Subaru’s mind, Subaru is put on a pedestal in Rem’s mind. To her, he is glowing, imperfect, but brave to a fault. But whereas Subaru’s projections of Emilia and chaining them onto her ultimately pushes her away from him, it’s Rem’s idealistic representation that saves Subaru from himself. It’s selfish. It’s irredeemable. It’s not even truthful. It will never be returned. But it is a freeing, absolute, honest truth.
Re:Zero at this point has done a lot of things, but its ultimate, heartbreaking realization is this: our selfish truth, as cowardly and lonely beings, is other people.
In the very last episode of Re:Zero, Subaru, who has now learnt how to connect and work with other people, finally returns to Emilia, his starting point, and breaks free of his own illusion. He confesses to Emilia in ways more than one: “I’m sorry…I used you for my own self satisfaction. I love you.” It’s a sign of his first step towards becoming a better person, and a better friend; in expressing humility, Subaru allows himself to be vulnerable. And in doing so, he chooses the words of the person who confessed to him, Rem. While many could interpret this as a sign of mockery, they’re confessed out of devotion: just like Rem was saved by Subaru, Subaru was saved by Emilia, and wishes to return the favor, out of love. These words are his truth; even if they are selfish, irredeemable, and deceitful words, Subaru means them genuinely. He may not know Emilia incredibly well. He admits to not knowing her at all. But whom he sees, and whom he’s bonded with, is enough for him to carry on and live bravely, selfishly, and honestly.
Whereas many can construe Re:Zero as a show that has a romantic triangle, to me, it’s far more about three very lonely individuals finding a means to live with, and through each other. Hell can be other people, but heaven is other people too.
It is a solemn understanding I feel more and more these days, when quarantine is in effect, and I am more than ever, separate and physically apart from people dear to me. We are all in some way, craving havens, in the form of others. As we shut ourselves inside, lock our doors, and don masks, we may forget that right now, is the most important time to reach out and connect. Loneliness doesn’t have to be an individual burden. Those connections may not be as whole as meeting face to face; but they can be our truths to living for the time being, if we allow it.