This goes without saying, but… SPOILERS
Probably not the most graceful title I’ve ever written, but this question is constantly on my mind because I honestly can’t decide one way or the other. Because of this dilemma I’ve decided that it might be good to list out all the reasons why and why not Subaru is a little bitch. The trigger to me writing this post was around the 18th episode of Re: Zero. For those of you who watched the series, you can probably guess that it was when Subaru talked with Rem for the entire episode. It was a complete change of character from the previous seventeen episodes and something that should have been celebrated considering how hard it was to like his character until then. This begs the question though, before and after, is Natsuki Subaru a little bitch or not? Is he likeable after reforming or is he the same person he was before just with more confidence?
To be or not to be
For Subaru this means asking the question “is he going to be a hero or just a powerless scrub who gets roped around into adventures by his stronger, more charismatic companions?” From the start, Subaru tries to show that he can adapt to a new world and tries to convince himself that he must have some kind of secret power that will help him save the world. Because of that, he gets himself into a lot of trouble with the inhabitants of the city but eventually finds out he has a power that lets him revive from death. He begins to use this power to try and save the people who die right in front of him as well as try to get on their good side. After falling in love with Emilia, his entire reason for existence shifts from just trying to evade death to trying to save Emilia from dying at all costs.
Already, it’s hard to sympathize with Subaru because he’s basically risking his life every time just so he can get a sniff of a girl that he “fell in love with at first sight.” Depending on what perspective you look at it, Subaru is either pathetic or admirable. Pathetic because he’s clinging onto a very feeble connection on the off chance that it might bloom into something more and admirable because he doesn’t give up his convictions and doesn’t run away from his almost ensured death. So this begs the questions, what is Subaru?
I’d argue that before, Subaru is the former– he’s pathetic. This notion is accentuated when he meets Julius and gets pissed because he doesn’t recognize him as a knight. Even at the end of the series when Subaru says that he hates him, I can’t see any other angle than that Subaru is in the wrong. Sure, Julius didn’t have to beat up Subaru, but Subaru essentially threw mud on the knight name when he called himself one. He used his own preconceived notions about what a knight is and tried to fit himself in that definition when in actuality, being a knight in their world was much, much more than what Subaru thought. Subaru insulted every knight in that room and he doesn’t even apologize for it? Instead he just continues to stomp on their honor by insisting that he’s a knight to the point that he accepts Julius’s invitation to a duel.
This is where I really thought Subaru was a shitty person. He refused to believe that he was wrong. He refused to accept the culture of this foreign world. He refused to accept the fact that he had trampled all over their honorable profession. It was ignorant and immature of him which doesn’t make him exactly number one in my books. He really seemed pathetic and overly prideful for no reason. He was always just all bark and no bite. The fact that he never had anything to back up his talk made it all the more disgruntling to watch him. It made me wonder why someone like him was the main character at all.
Now, after his reformation, he essentially does a 180. He begins recognizing that he’s weak and that his reason for wanting to help Emilia is shallow. This is a very impressive change for Subaru and one that I was very glad to see. Disregarding the fact that he friend zoned the best character in the series, Subaru is overall a much more likeable character. He begins to realize what he can and can’t do and doesn’t get frustrated like a child when things don’t go his way. He still has annoying mannerisms, but his personality took a change for the better. By the end of the series, he’s a real protagonist, but still not one that you can perfectly support.
Subaru: Hero or Victim?
This is the biggest part of not only this post but the series as well. It deals with how you should view Subaru. Should you pity him, admire him, or just hate him? It’s easy to hate Subaru. At first glance and even a closer look, he’s just a straight up idiot who feels very unnatural and fake. It’s hard to bring yourself to like someone who is just over the top for no apparent reason and tries too hard to fit in where he shouldn’t be. There’s sage advice out there that says to “be yourself,” but obviously, Subaru can’t do that.
Subaru obviously thinks of himself as the hero. He thinks that there’s nothing he can’t do as long as he puts his mind to it. Even after he gets the crap beat out of him in a “practice duel,” he still tries any and every way to make himself not seem so useless, which ironically backfires making him seem even less like a likeable guy who just wants to get stronger and more like a desperate idiot with no temperament and class– a wild animal who’ll sink to any level to gain power. Honestly, Subaru is a base human being. That’s what I’ve been getting out of the series. Although he’s definitely a victim, he’s no hero.
Now that he’s involved with Emilia, he’s basically painted a huge red target on the back of his head because everyone wants to kill Emilia especially since she’s not only a half elf like the Witch of Jealousy that everyone hates, but she’s also a candidate for the throne. Despite this, Subaru falls for Emilia in the short day that he spends with her and then after witnessing her die and then shortly following her afterwards, he revives and tries to save her from dying while also trying to get the emblem that she lost back for her. Subaru eventually succeeds after dying multiple times, but then he starts dying due to curses, maids who were weary of him, magical beasts, and many other causes. The mental strain of experiencing these brutal deaths of course put Subaru in a very unsavory position because he can’t just run away knowing that Emilia and the rest of the people who helped him are going to die. Subaru constantly tries to play hero, but can’t.
Being unable to play hero and having to keep resetting his life, losing any progress and meaningful relationships he had made is crushing to Subaru. At one point he just becomes an empty shell and doesn’t do anything and just lets himself get captured by the Witch’s cult and then watch as Rem gets killed in front of him. The mental strain that comes from facing an impassable wall is one that Subaru is very familiar with. Every time he gets revived, he has the challenge of trying to pretend like he didn’t get brutally murdered and has to interact with everyone normally. In this regard, I feel bad for Subaru. Having to pretend like nothing happened and still try to get somebody on your side is very frustrating. When they reject your opinion even though you’ve seen the end result, it’s very frustrating and difficult to cope with. Due to Subaru’s poor reactions to these situations, it’s easier to paint him a victim than a hero. A hero wouldn’t let himself fall the way Subaru did.
Even after he reforms himself, I wouldn’t call him a hero so much as a victim. Even though he’s able to finally rally unlikely allies behind him for a common cause, he’s only the way he is because of his various tragic deaths and experiences. Even after he’s reformed, he hasn’t changed from who he was before. Everything he does, he does for Emilia. He doesn’t want her to be sad, he doesn’t want her to feel threatened, and he wants to make sure that she feels loved. If anything goes wrong, it’s not bad because he failed, it’s bad because he failed Emilia. Subaru is not a hero, he’s just a victim of the Witch of Jealousy, who’s caught him in a web of love, death, and insanity.
The boy who cried wolf
Every time Subaru revives, he’s given knowledge of what will eventually happen if he doesn’t try something different. Because of that, he’s given a sort of an advantage against the antagonists because he knows when and where they will be attacking. However, he’s also given two huge disadvantages. Because the Witch of Jealousy, who is presumably the one who gave him the power to revive from death, took measures to ensure that he can’t tell anyone that he can revive from death, he can’t gain the trust of people enough to make them act. In order for him to get the trust of people, he has to take at least several days and go through arduous trials and tribulations with them to make them realize that he’s not crazy.
Even so, because he can’t always convince other people that they just need to listen to him, he’s often asked why he knows what he knows. Since he can’t tell them about his power, he can’t always get people to believe him and instead he hurts them because it looks like he doesn’t trust them in the slightest. Because of this constant frustration, he gets desperate and tries to solve things by force which of course backfires on him leaving him in an even worse place than where he started. It’s frustrating for anyone to have to be constantly doubted and actually want to tell the truth, but can’t. Subaru definitely has it rough in this regard, but he isn’t exactly handling it correctly.
By getting frustrated and trying to rush things, Subaru begins to lose people’s faith and trust. It only makes sense because even if it’s the second or third or fourth time that he’s repeating the same scene, for the other person, it’s the first time and suddenly he’s acting weird. Subaru isn’t able to keep his composure at all and ultimately becomes the boy who cried wolf (except he’s actually right in the end). Instead of getting people to believe him, they become worried for him and try to help him instead of listening to his warnings. This gets Subaru even more frustrated to the point where he lashes out at them and of course, nobody likes that. Subaru’s lack of temperament (though understandable) is something that makes him very disliked and difficult to relate to.
Lack of Character Background
Usually when someone gets sent to another world, they start thinking about the world they came from and even if they aren’t trying to get back, they’re constantly reminscing about the world because otherwise, what’s the point of having someone from another world? If they’re going to act like they belong in that world already, then you might as well just make them some peasant from a far away land or something.
What’s even worse is we don’t know anything about Subaru except for his actions upon arriving in the unfamiliar world and that Subaru straight up sucks. All we know is that he likes wearing tracksuits, he likes going to the convenience store, and he has relatively no sense of reality. Outside of that we have no idea who Subaru really is which is where Re: Zero falls short, because if you’re going to have a main character coming from another world, you don’t have to necessarily give a reason as to why they were summoned just yet, but you have to at least give a little background on where he came from.
Subaru is basically always wearing a tracksuit in order to show the viewer that, “hey, yeah, I did come from another world. Don’t forget!” but they shouldn’t have to do that. Why is he even wearing the same track suit every day? In a Memory Monday I talk about Zero no Tsukaima and there’s a relatively similar situation where a guy is flung into a magical world without warning. Hell, he’s even basically wearing a tracksuit too. But what’s different is that the guy who gets thrown into a different dimension, Saito, actually has a backstory that’s sprinkled across the anime, giving the viewer an idea of what he is really like. Re: Zero gives you a very faint idea of who Subaru is and then fills in the rest of his character with him trying too hard to get people to like him and then desperation.
Even by the end of the series, the world he came from isn’t even mentioned. The last time he even reminisces about the world he came from (excluding the time he talks about his cell phone) is probably in the first few episodes. At this point, Subaru might as well be one of their citizens who ended up with amnesia and a strange electronic device in his pocket. Even though you get to know who Subaru is as a character, you don’t get to know who he really is. Was he a NEET? Was he living by himself? Were his parents dead? Is there some reason why he was dragged to this world? Subaru just feels like some random existence with a fake, useless background. Though he wears the same tracksuit episode perhaps as a reminder that he really is from a different world, he might as well not be because he barely acts like he’s from a different world.
You cannot escape wrong death
From the first episode to its most recent one, Subaru is constantly dying. His deaths are typically very gruesome and soul crushing which naturally gets to him. Having to experience your death over and over again must take a huge mental toll on your mind. It makes sense that when Subaru gets revived, he’s always more frightened and insecure than he was before because he knows that unless he changes something, he’s just another lamb to the slaughter and because he’s powerless, there’s nothing he can do about it.
In this sense, it’s easy to understand why Subaru becomes frantic and frustrated with other people who just act calmly as if they don’t know what danger lies in store– oh wait, yeah, they don’t know. Subaru knows, but doesn’t exactly acknowledge the fact that nobody’s just gonna take his word for things. He’s lucky that Rem does, but of course, no one is head over heels or that trusting of Subaru to just take his word for things on the drop of a hat. His hastiness and poor judgment leads him to multiple deaths including several where he has to witness the deaths of the ones he loves (including Emilia).
Subaru soon learns the futility of his attempts to escape death and goes into a depressed, hollow state where he just gives up on the world. It isn’t until best girl Rem comes to the rescue and makes him realize that he’s been looking at everything the wrong way that he decides to give everything another shot and actually use his brain to overcome death. Even though he was able to cleverly outmaneuver death before, he was up to a part where it seemed like there was no escape. It’s like how there’s one boss in a game that just seems impossible to beat no matter what you do, so you just give up in the end.
When Subaru gives up, I don’t feel too much sympathy for him even though he’s had some of the worst experiences that any one of us could ever have. Why? Because it doesn’t change the fact that he’s arrogant, narrow minded, and prideful to a fault. If Rem hadn’t helped Subaru out of his rut, he would’ve stayed the same worthless twat that he was for the first eighteen episodes or so. Because of Rem, he realizes that he can escape death as long as he’s not being stupid about his approach. Because of his reformation due to Rem, I’d say that he’s not a bitch in this regard by the end of the series. But if we’re talking about the time before he’s reformed, yeah, his name becomes synonymous with “bitch.”
Saving and Loading
I tried putting myself in Subaru’s shoes to see how our choices would differ given the situations and to me, I had a sort of superficial understanding of Subaru’s “power.” I saw it as a way to redo anything. I likened it to visual novels where if you say something wrong to the girl you want to get with, you could just redo the entire encounter. But in the real world, there’s no fast forward button to escape repetitive dialogue, there’s no way to just act as if it’s the first time hearing the same thing you’ve heard a hundred times already, and there’s no way to forget about why you’re going back to the save point in the first place.
I personally already get annoyed by people telling me the same things even just three times so I can’t imagine having to redo an entire encounter with not just one but a pretty large group of people. Even so, knowing what the person you’re talking to is gonna say if you say something is an invaluable advantage that he just ends up throwing away. After he gets completely destroyed in negotiations by the other three king candidates, he gets frustrated and angry which is stupid because he just gained some great information. He eventually wisens up and leverages that information into a huge advantage for him, but until that point, he just mopes around, sitting on a treasure trove of information that he could use to beat out his death.
Basically, Subaru was pretty inefficient with his power. He neglected the fact that the information he got about how to steer conversations and just general information about the world was a weapon, his one and only weapon that he could use to survive. Instead, he tried to brute force through everything and just hoped it would all just work out. It’s not until the end that he finally begins to use his head a little and utilizes the information he got from everyone to turn the situation into a favorable one for him, one where he could obtain everything that he lost and become less of a little bitch and more of a protagonist.
Blessing or Curse?
So, is Subaru’s power a blessing or a curse? Determining whether it is a blessing or a curse has some implications on whether he’s a little bitch or not. If it’s a blessing, he’s a little bitch for complaining about it. If it’s a curse, he’s still a little bitch for not using it right, but it’s more forgivable. In my opinion, his power is most definitely a curse. It’s almost like (spoilers) the geass that Lelouch puts on Suzaku. Because of it, Suzaku could never die, but he uses that to improve his combat capabilities because if he’s cursed to avoid dying, then he can automatically force his body to avoid any fatal attacks. Subaru’s power is very similar. It’s a curse that is inflicted on him that he can use to his advantage. The only thing is that Subaru doesn’t use it as effectively as he could have.
I mean, I guess he wouldn’t want to die all the time just to redo a conversation, but at least he could try to gain better information before he dies so that when he does ultimately die, he’s in a considerably better position than he was before. The only time he really utilizes this is in the last few episodes where he uses the information that he gets from the three king candidates to tempt them into a temporary alliance with him. That’s how he should have been using his curse. Instead of seeing it as an inevitable reset, see it as a way to change the situation into your favor.
Natsuki Subaru: Bitch or True Protagonist?
The answer we’ve all been waiting for. Are Subaru’s emotional outbursts and overall immaturity a reflection of his character as a little bitch or are they merely a transitional period that he uses to become a true protagonist? I respect Subaru for admitting that he’s a little shit and proving that he’s capable of owning up to his flaws, but that doesn’t really change who he really is at heart. The fact that he never really gets over how Julius kicked his ass for calling himself a knight is proof that Subaru is still relatively just as immature as he was before. It’s admirable that he sucks up his disdain for him at the end and even pairs up with him to defeat Betelgeuse, but that doesn’t change his motivations and it doesn’t change who he is as a person.
I’m sure that given more time, he’ll become a more respectable person, but for over 2/3rds of the anime, he acts like a little bitch and then suddenly he has a change of heart and is able to make things go his way. If things didn’t go his way again, would he just regress? Maybe more story would prove me wrong about how far Subaru’s actually reformed, but in my opinion, he might be less of a little bitch than he was at the beginning, but he’s still a little bitch.