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With episode twelve, time travel fantasy tale Re:ZERO has moved into its third story arc. And while it may appear on the outside to be centered around Emilia’s bid for the royal succession, the true conflict comes more from within than from without.

[This post contains spoilers up to episode fourteen of Re:ZERO]

Over the course of the series so far, Subaru has saved Emilia and the others he has come to care about through his drive, determination, and ability to go back in time when killed. He has thwarted assassins, overcome curses, fought a legion of monster wolves, and somehow still managed to keep everyone alive. He’s a hero, no question. I mean, he’s literally lived and died half a dozen times for Emilia’s sake, so it’s only right that he win her heart, right?

Wrong.

Subaru is currently just on the edge of learning one of life’s hardest lessons—and one that more than a few people are never able to learn. In life, we all meet people we fall head-over-heels for. You spend time with them, are kind to them, give them gifts, bare your soul to them, and are a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. And many times, no matter what you say or do, your crush will go unrequited. You simply can’t force a person to love you. It sucks, but it’s one of those things you have to learn to accept about life.

But Subaru has yet to learn this. This is partly because of how he views the world he is in.

Subaru is an otaku. As such he is well acquainted with the tropes that come with the “normal boy transported to a fantasy world” genre. He is supposed to be the hero—a chosen one who will save the world. He’s supposed to have adventures and trials and then, in the end, win the heart of the beautiful heroine of the story. No matter how many times it’s proven to him that this is not his male empowerment fantasy, but rather a real, living, breathing world, he still sees his adventure as the most important thing.

In his mind, he believes himself to be selfless. He sacrifices everything to keep Emilia safe–including his life–after all.

Of course, the truth is the opposite. This is shown clearly during his frustrated outburst to Emilia where he attempts to guilt trip her by reminding her how much she owes him. Underneath it all, his core motivations are selfish. He’s done everything so far because being a hero is how he’s going to win her heart.

However, while grateful for his help, Emilia doesn’t want grand gestures. Emilia is longing for a person who will treat her just like anyone else (as opposed to an evil half-elf like the rest of the world does). Unfortunately, Subaru sees her more a prize to be won than a person to be respected. His actions prove the point. Numerous times she has asked him to do things for her. Even simple requests like “wait here for me” and “don’t overexert yourself” go completely unheeded. What she thinks or says means nothing to him–nor do direct promises. He has ignored them every time.

Of course, the way he sees it, this is not a problem with him but a problem with her for not trusting him. He has to disregard what she says because he knows better than her how to protect her.

The arrogance of that idea is staggering. Subaru, a literal stranger in a strange world, always knows better than the woman that’s on her way to ruling a major kingdom? The reason he thinks this is because, again, he views himself as the hero of his own fantasy story–and after all, hasn’t everything worked out so far? So he must be right and every other character in the story must be wrong.

So while Subaru may place the blame for all his relationship problems on the fact that he is magically compelled to not tell anyone about his time travel powers, it is just an excuse. The true problem is his inability to admit to himself that he is in the wrong–that love requires respect before anything else, and just because someone is in your debt doesn’t mean they have to love you.

Now the only question is whether or not he will realize this before it is too late to salvage his relationship with her and everyone else.

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- can be viewed for free and with English subtitles in the US on Crunchyroll.

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