Did you know that for the past decade or so there are almost 200 anime programs on air every year in Japan? The number has doubled compared to 20 years ago when only 100 programs were aired.
Japanese anime has become a successful world-class entertainment in recent years. However, I have a feeling that most anime works are made for mass consumption. In 2016, numerous anime were produced. One anime series which stood out among them was Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World (Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isakai Seikatsu).
I will explore the reason why the anime was so talked about in Japan, and the meanings behind the story that appeal to young people today.
The Outline of ‘Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World’
Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World is an anime based on a light novel series of the same name written by Tappei Nagatsuki. The story revolves around Subaru Natsuki, an otherwise powerless boy with the ability of ‘Return by Death,’ which can bring him back from his own death by leaping through time. It depicts him fighting against his destiny in another world. The anime was aired between April and September in 2016 and attracted fans with its cinematic expression and roller coaster storyline.
The original light novel series are also popular, having sold over 3 million copies altogether. It was originally published on the user-generated novel publishing website, Shosetuskani Narou (Let’s become a novelist) or ‘Narou’ in short, and its physical copies were subsequently published by Media Factory.
The Reception in Japan
At the beginning of its airing, there was a variety of reactions from the viewers. Despite its cute character design, the death scenes were quite gross. Such stark contrast was reminiscent of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and made a big impact on the viewers. It managed to captivate them with its unpredictable storyline and intricate depictions of death, which made viewers feel as if the subject matter of the story was death itself.
The story effectively applies the ‘Return by Death’ situation. It carefully depicts the hero’s feelings when he has to resume his interpersonal relationships and rebuild what was there before, as well as the endless fear towards one’s own recurring death. As a result, viewers felt as though they’d been experiencing his cruel and hostile life and became sympathetic to him.
The credit roll of Episode 15 was much talked about. During a cinematic credit roll but without any sound, Subaru is gradually dying while embracing the body of the heroine. It’s an unprecedented credit roll in Japanese anime history. The fans in Japan was surprised at its dark and depressing ending but, in the meantime, realized its real quality by the unexpected finish. Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World was highly praised for its settings, directions, and plot, and attracted much discussions about the anime in Japan.
The Reasons for the Popularity of the ‘Transported to Another World’ Concept
Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World can be classified as a ‘Transported to Another World’ stories, with one of the most recent examples being the Winter 2017 anime KonoSuba. They usually revolve around a protagonist who is not good at what they do in real life. The story depicts how the protagonist, who is unintentionally summoned to another world, plays an active role there. The concept has created one of the most popular genres of Japanese anime in recent years. I’m going to examine the reason why viewers in Japan are enchanted by the concept so much.
I think that the two most important reasons the Japanese audience is attracted to this kind of stories is:
- Repulsion against an unfair reality which can’t be solved by one’s efforts.
- Yearning to start over one’s life with special abilities.
- Desire to escape somewhere that one can spend a great life without effort.
I think the ‘Transported to Another World’ concept is popular because it allows viewers who aren’t satisfied with their real lives to simulate an ideal situation which fulfills their yearnings and desire.
Why do the young people in Japan have such yearning and desire to be someone else?
The Desire to be Somebody Else
Social media and video hosting services made it easier than ever to see the lives of the talented people around the world. YouTubers who make a living by posting their videos are an example of this and a recent survey shows that ‘YouTuber’ is among the top jobs Japanese children want to do when they grow up.
People who live otherwise normal lives are making the mistake to compare their lives to those they see in the netsphere. For instance, while watching a top YouTuber’s video, young people might think, ‘They are so lucky to earn a lot of money by just introducing some products. It’s impossible for me to live like that however hard I try in my current position.’
Introverted people might get irritated at people who are popular with the opposite sex, because deep down they want to be like them. Furthermore, we often hear people moaning, ‘I made a mistake in my life. I wish I could start all over again’ or ‘Even though I work my hardest, I only earn such little money. I wish I could live an easier life.’ They have things in common. They want to effortlessly start over with perfect looks and brains instead of trying hard to make their lives better.
However, they know that it’s impossible in real life. I think people who have such desires and frustrations find the ‘Transported to Another World’ stories fulfilling and enjoyable, as they can remove their frustrations by projecting themselves onto the protagonists.
On a Final Note
Apart from Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World, there are many anime with the ‘Transported to Another World’ concept. The concept seems to be wearing off recently, so that such stories need unique themes and uncommon settings in order to attract anime fans in Japan. Perhaps, a new challenge for the future of Japanese anime is to find a fresh concept that will help people find their own way.