As we all know, the massive hit Re:Zero is about your average loser, Suburu, who one day finds himself swept off to a magical world, where he promptly discovers dying is painful. It’s made more painful by doing it a lot, which he then does.
Like, so damn much.
There’s a bevy of things Re:Zero does way better than almost any other Taken To Another World series even dreams of, but of them all, for me, the best thing about the show was not Suburu, or the new twists the show puts on more old plot devices than a Twister convention happening on a Tilt-A-Whirl. It was, very simply, Rem.
Rem, as you may recall, is the blue haired twin sister of Ram, both of whom are demons. When they were young, Rem lived in Ram’s shadow, and was often treated as the inferior sibling due to Sam’s greater control over magic. When Ram lost her horn, the source of her magic, during an attack by the Witch’s Cult, Rem initially felt a surge of joy, followed instantly, and for a very long time, by regret, and guilt.
This is where she still is when Suburu enters her life. Working as a maid at the Roswell Manor, where Emilia lives, Rem is initially distrusting of Suburu, because he carries the scent of Satella, the Jealous Witch, who is in no small part responsible for her own sense of guilt. This leads her to kill Suburu, twice, and die once herself, before Suburu manages to figure out the correct path through the time stream, ensuring everyone lives.
It’s after that where some critics, and even many fans, feel the story takes an odd turn, as Rem develops feelings for Suburu, and becomes very loyal to him. Which isn’t to say the character wasn’t popular, as she was. Probably the single most popular character in the entire show. Just that, it seemed odd she’d suddenly fall for Suburu, when she had already killed him twice.
Except, none of that happened for Rem. Her sudden development of feelings for Suburu wasn’t really that sudden, either, but was born of his own actions, and his seeming insight into her feelings.
Granted, Suburu had been through at least four time lines with Rem, and had gotten a chance to get to know her pretty darn well, even if she didn’t remember knowing him at all. His previous run throughs of the time line, however, are what caused her feelings for him to develop, though she herself is unaware of it.
Let’s look at this anther way, as I often feel Rem kind of gets the short end of the stick. While she is easily the most popular character from the show, her motivations, and her actions, are based in something that I think often gets overlooked, due to the sometimes frantic pacing of the show.
In the final timeline at the Roswell manor, everything that happens from Rem’s perspective, makes Suburu seem incredibly noble, selfless, and heroic. Despite her own desire to hold him at bay, and even her building desire to kill him, he goes with her to town, plays with the kids, and figures out, seemingly, to her, from almost no evidence, that Maebeasts are threatening the town.
To Rem, this casts Suburu in a new light. He may have the scent of the Witch on him, but his actions are as pure as any knights. He even rushes into the forest, with no thought to his own safety, to save the children. Children that, again, from Rem’s perspective, he only just met, and has no reason to care about.
He battles Maebeasts, and is even horribly mauled, yet keeps fighting. Then, even after saving the children, and faced with his own death due to having been mauled by the Maebeasts, he chooses to go back into the forest, to save Rem.
She went to defeat the Maebeasts, so Suburu wouldn’t have to die, but also, to prove to herself that she was as good a person as she had believed. The guilt hanging over her head from her sister had left Rem with doubts about her own worth, and inherent goodness, but to see Suburu, a normal human, who she had initially planned to kill, act in such a selfless, heroic manner, it made Rem see herself in an even worse light.
If Suburu, who had the stench of the Witch clinging to him, could be so good, then what was she?
Her actions here aren’t born out of a desire just to save Subur, which she does want to do, but because she herself needed it, in order to validate her own self worth. To prove to herself, and to Ram, that she wasn’t a terrible person. That she could fix her mistakes, something she had never been able to do with Ram.
That one moment of gratitude over her sister losing her horn had torn at Rem’s soul for so long, she had lost the ability to view herself as anything but a terrible person. If she could save Suburu, then maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe she could be at least half as good as someone like him. Someone she had seen as beneath her at first.
Someone she now knew she owed as great a debt as she did Ram. This was different, however, because this one, she could make right. She couldn’t give Ram her horn back, but she could save Suburu, even if it cost her her sanity, or her life.
Naturally, Suburu won’t have it, because he doesn’t want to go through all this again, but also because over his multiple run throughs of the time line, he’s come to care for Ram and Rem both. He doesn’t want them to die, but mostly, he doesn’t want to repeat all this again. To save himself, he has to save Rem.
Now, I’ll grant, Suburu is basically a good person. He would have gone to save Rem anyway, even if it wasn’t necessary to keep the timeline from resetting. But there was a bit of a selfish motive involved. It was, truly, mostly his desire to help someone he had come to care for, though, and that matters.
Until you look at it from Rem’s perspective again. To her, he came running back into the forest to save her, just because he is, again, a good, noble, selfless person. Because he is, in every sense of the word, from her perspective of the timeline, a hero.
It is not the least bit surprising that Rem would fall in love with him, from her point of view. Suburu did all of this, risked so much, for people that he barely knew, and most of all, for her. Worthless, to her own eyes, Rem, who had been glad her sister was maimed. Rem, who had planned to kill him, was being saved by him, out of nothing but the goodness of his heart.
Naturally, she has no way of knowing that to Suburu, he’s known her for weeks. She has no way of knowing he is aware of her self torment, much less her self loathing. She has no way of knowing that he understands her, considers her a friend, and does what he does because they have, to his point of view, a lot of history together.
She just knows that this weirdo she thought so little of, is saving her life, just because.
Yeah. That’d make anyone, male or female, a little weak in the knees, to be faced with such nobility, such selflessness, such heroism. Stench of the witch be damned, from Rem’s point of view on time, Suburu is nothing less than a god damn knight in shining armor, who embodies all the concepts of chivalry at every turn.
Hell, in her shoes, I think I probably would have fallen for the guy a little. Maybe even a lot! He looked damn heroic all the way through that final Roswell manor timeline.
It’s what happens after that, though, that rally cemented Rem for me as a great character. Every arc after that, all the way to the final episode, showed her in a way that I felt was some of the best character writing ever.
Yes, she is love with Suburu, and is even willing to risk defying Roswell, and Ram, for Suburu. Yet, she does this, knowing all the while, that he loves Emilia, and will never return her feelings.
When she cares for him after he goes catatonic from too many deaths, it is done not just out of love, but because she knows he would have done it for her. When she has her bones broken trying to save him from the Witches Cult, her last thought is to die in his arms, happy that he is holding her, because she knows, he risked his life for her.
Every action Rem takes after the Elior Forest, is taken knowing that Suburu will never be in love with her, but that her life does matter to him. That he cares for her. That she is important to him, as a friend, a confidant, and more than that, as someone he can count on. Rem has never really been that before, not to anyone, including Ram.
This is emphasized, I think, in the episode where Suburu begs her to run away with him. To leave it all behind, and just go be happy together, hinting that he does have stronger feelings for her, but that his feelings for Emilia are stronger still. Or perhaps, even that his feelings for Emilia are becoming those of obligation, due to how Satella is manipulating him. It suggests, at the very least, that if given the choice, Suburu may well choose Rem.
Which makes it all the more interesting that she turns him down.
Now this, kids, this was some brilliant writing. Not from the plot perspective, but from the character perspective. Everything about it was just so… amazing.
Rem knows. She knows Suburu is in love with Emilia, and that she is his second choice. She knows all that. Yet, given the chance, she refuses him, because to accept would change who he was. It would be to change the man she loved. She fell for him, knowing his heart was Emilia’s, and rather than change that, she chose to continue loving him for the person he was.
Even when he points out all his flaws, she argues them with his strengths, and you see it. You see so clearly what it was about him that made her fall in love. It is said that we are incapable of seeing ourselves as those who love us see us, and this is such a great use of that adage. Suburu sees only his flaws, while Rem sees only his strengths.
So much so, she would rather give him up, than change anything about him.
That is beautiful. That is what love is.
When she calls him her hero, it isn’t just that he saved her. It’s that he saves everyone around him. He saved all the children. He saved her. He saved her sister. He saved Emilia. She has no idea that he had to die countless times for that happen. She just knows, he saves everyone around him.
That he is a hero. The hero she admires most.
To accept his proposal, to run away with him, would diminish that. It would make him less. It would destroy the very thing about him she loves. Even though she wants to, and admits to having thought it out, in pretty extravagant detail, she knows it’s just a dream. It can never happen.
Because Suburu cannot be that man, and still be Suburu.
When you love someone, really and truly, you do not try to fix them. You help them see they are already great the way they are. This is what Rem does, because she truly does love him. She just helps him see how amazing a person he already is, and in doing so, saves him.
Just as he once saved her.
The thing about Rem that makes her such an amazingly well written character is that she is willing to do that. It would have been easy to write the story in such a way that Suburu didn’t have his breakdown, and beg her to run away with him. That he stayed strong, and kept plugging away, until he found the right way through the timeline.
It would have been far easier than what we got, really, which was an amazing portrait of two incredibly well crafted characters. Suburu, who faces all the things about himself he has known for a long time, and resented. Who took this trip to another world, and tried to become all the things he always felt he could be, but never put any effort into. No more than he did after he got there. He just kept using his knowledge of what was going to happen, rather than actually work for anything.
Then, there’s Rem, who hasn’t seen any of that, and just knows him as the person who always finds the way. Who saves he day. Who faces impossible odds, and wins out through his superior cunning, intellect, and skill. That’s the man she knows, but beyond that, she knows Suburu as the genuinely kind, caring, compassionate person he is.
Suburu was incapable of seeing all he had accomplished, because he knew how many times he had failed. Rem is incapable of seeing his failure, because she sees all the times he succeeded.
The best exchange of the entire thing is so simple, yet so profound.
Suburu, broken, says he wasn’t able to save anyone, to which Rem replies, very simply, “The Rem you saved is standing right here.”
Rem gives up her beautiful dream, because she knows, the man she loves, is meant for greater things. He’s a hero. A hero she is content to watch do all the things she knows he is capable of, because she knows he can. She knows, because she has already seen him do it.
Her standing there, alive, is proof of that. All the proof she needs, to let him go, give up what she wants, and support him as just a friend.
That, my friends, is what real love is.
Which is what makes Rem so amazing. More than any anime character I think I’ve ever seen, she embodies what it is to truly love someone. To really, honestly, be in love.
Love is such a strange thing. It’s so hard to explain. It’s a feeling, and nothing about it is rational. It compels us to give up what we want most, just to see the one we love smile. To know they are happy. To see them be what we know they can be.
That’s really what it is to be in love.
Rem embodies that, and the entire scene atop the bridge in episode 18 is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen of a character. While Suburu’s despair driven confession, and his harsh look at his own shortcomings, is incredible, Rem steals the scene with every word she utters.
Because all of it comes from her heart. Which is what I’m driving at here. Rem is more than a character in an anime. She is a fully realized person. Because she can speak from the heart, in a way no half formed archetype, or plot device character ever could.
I can’t get through that scene without crying. I just can’t. It’s so beautiful. Because it’s Rem. Because she is so well written, so well realized, and the needs of the plot aside, she’s a fully formed person, with wants, needs, desires, and dreams of her own, that exist separate of the plot.
All things she’s willing to sacrifice, for the person she loves, separate from the plot.
Just as it would have been easy to write the story without Suburu’s breakdown, it would have been just as easy to write the story with Rem being appreciative of Suburu, but not in love with him. His proposal that they run away together could have been met with confusion, or even a flat out rejection, because while she considered him a friend, she had no feelings for him past that.
In fact, an entire episode could have been saved by writing the story either of those two ways.
But then, it would not have been faithful to the characters, especially Rem.
Of course she would dream of running away with him. Of course she would think out this whole life they shared, only in her imagination. Of course she would give that up, for him, because that was what he actually needed.
It doesn’t forward the plot, not really. It’s an amazing character moment, however, and forwards both of them, as people. Most of all, it allows us to see Suburu through Rem’s eyes, and why she would let him go, for his own sake, out of love.
Granted, it also serves as a great contrast to Beetleguise and his constant ravings about love. Almost like it was meant to make a point about the difference between obsession, and real love, just as it made a point about the difference between the infatuation Suburu has for Emilia, and real love.
Still, that doesn’t actually forward the plot, either. Not really. It just serves as something powerful, meaningful, and moving. Which often, in my experience as a writer, doesn’t serve the plot at all.
I’ve said a lot in the past that characters must drive the story. The plot can be as awesome as you want, but without characters you can care about, that plot is meaningless. It is the characters, and how well realized they are, that hook readers, and hold them. That give the plot meaning, purpose, and allow it to happen. Without the characters to drive things forward, the most well executed plot in the world is nothing.
Nobody reads a story, or watches a series, for the plot. They are there for the characters.
Which is what makes Rem stand out so much. It’s why she is easily one of the most popular characters from the show. Because she not only drives the story forward, but she creates the plot of the show from that bridge scene on, by making a choice, by speaking from the heart, and by being the amazing character that she is. Without Rem, nothing that happens next, would have been possible.
Yet, she does it without being a plot device. She does it by simply being a person, a well realized, well fleshed out character, who makes a choice that we can understand, agree with, and that makes us feel. That emotional high point in the story changes everything, and without Rem being so well written, it wouldn’t have worked at all.
Rem does what she does out of love. We respond to that, because all of us what to be loved the way she loves Suburu. Even if he can’t love her back, he knows, and in knowing, he is stronger. That’s not something you do, as a writer, for the sake of the plot.
That’s something you do because the characters demand it be done. Because they have earned it, and without it, the whole story falls apart.
Rem is an amazing character, who truly does deserve the adoration she has gained, because of how well written, how well realized, and how well crafted she is. Because, outside the plot of the story, she feels like a real person.
That’s what writers are suppose to do.
Write amazing characters. Like Rem.