The most recent episode of Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- has—at least in the little corner of the internet where I’ve taken up residence—proven quite divisive. With reactions ranging from this being one of the series’s strongest episodes yet to it being the culmination of all the series’s worst tendencies, it’s provided an interesting couple days’ worth of discussion that’s really highlighted the vastly different ways various sectors of the audience approach the show. One thing everyone seems to agree on, though, is that it was painful to watch.
And damn if that isn’t the truth. This episode properly introduces us to the five royal selection candidates we briefly met last week, their attendants, and their “campaigns” (which mostly consist of varying degrees of “I’ll fuck your shit up“—and then Emilia), but the crux of the episode lies elsewhere: Subaru making a complete and utter ass of himself in front of the council, picking a fight with one of the knights, and in the process endangering Emilia’s already precarious position in the selection process.
This all culminates in a brutal spat at the end of the episode, where, finally alone, Emilia calls Subaru out on his behavior. For repeatedly acting against her wishes and refusing to keep his word, all the while insisting everything he did was out of a desire to help her.
To a degree, he’s telling the truth—Emilia was the first person to come to his aid when he found himself in danger and lost in an unfamiliar world. She served as an emotional anchor for him during the second arc—the only person he knew he could trust as he floundered his way from one death to the next. And he latched onto that, coming to treat her with an uncomfortable degree of affection and familiarity, when as far as Emilia was concerned, he was someone she had only known (mostly in passing, at that) for a few days.
For Subaru, it’s understandably difficult to reconcile the different iterations of Emilia he’s spent time with. He may know that this Emilia doesn’t have any memory of the events of more than half the series, but in the wake of all the hell he’s experienced, emotionally, he can’t manage to keep them separate. They may not “exist” anymore, but they still helped him in a very real way.
Even so, Subaru’s fixation on Emilia is unnatural and deeply rooted in his initial assumptions about the world. In his early stages of genre savviness and believing himself to be the protagonist of a “transported to a fantasy world” story, she became his “heroine” simply by virtue of being the first friendly figure he encountered. And while he’s since mostly dropped the “genre savvy” act (to the point they’ve even started making fun of him for it), Subaru has still yet to shake that initial imprinting of her as his heroine. This is reflected in his interactions with her and his tendency (and, in fact, his ability) to regularly reduce their relationship to variations on a three-letter acronym.
In Subaru’s eyes, Emilia is not yet a person. She’s an angel. A fairy. An idol. A source of respite when he needs it most.
As a heroine should be.
He’s been educated on the likes of Sword Art Online and Mahouka and GATE, where the world bends over backwards to satisfy the hero’s needs and desires. Where the girls all fawn over him by default. Where he has to be present or the story comes to a halt. Where it’s his sacred duty to be at the heroine’s side, no matter what.
But that’s not the world he’s in, and the people here don’t play by those rules. Emilia is a person, and she can’t live up to his unrealistic expectations. She isn’t his idolized heroine. She has important business to take care of, and Subaru’s very beliefs about his own role are proving to be a liability. So she intends to cut ties with him. Which causes Subaru to snap and assert his protagonism, bringing all his insidious assumptions to the surface: He deserves her gratitude. He deserves her attention. She owes it to him.
Because he’s the hero.
And Emilia’s not having any of it.