By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.
We’ve already seen DanMachi get a side story novel series licensed, but much as Aiz is theoretically the star of the novels, Bell Cranel is always lurking just around the corner. This side series for Re: ZERO is a different kettle of fish, taking place before Subaru’s arrival in Lugnica, with each volume (there are only two to date) focusing on a different side character with no chance of Subaru appearing. Given that my main issue with Re: ZERO is Subaru himself, I welcome this development with open arms. Instead we get the backstory for Crusch and Ferris, showing how they grew up together, along with a third member of their group who had just as big an impact – Fourier, a Prince of the Kingdom who has a crush on Crusch that is clearly visible from space, but hasn’t actually done about it. Of course, Re: ZERO readers know what happened to the entire royal family from the main series. Uh oh.
That said, the first half of this novel is relaxing and fun. Fourier reminds me a lot of Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club, both in appearance and personality, and he makes a perfect third in the friendship with the emotionally reserved Crusch and the snarky tease Ferris. Also like Tamaki from Ouran, we see that when he gets serious he can move mountains, which helps immensely as the book eventually does turn deadly serious. The narrative implies that he has a special power that comes out in a crisis; unfortunately, as the entire Royal Family ends the novel dead (this can’t really be a spoiler, right? We already know it from the main series), we will likely never know what that power is. The final scenes of the novel are still heartbreaking even if you do know it’s coming, with excellent writing and one of the most tear-jerking “out of context” color pages I’ve ever seen.
Of course, Crusch and Ferris are the characters we know from the main series, and they’re good too. Ferris gets an abusive childhood that makes sense in terms of the plot but is still wretched, and his father is really a nasty piece of work. There’s also a plot twist I won’t spoil, which if nothing else shows you how abusers can justify their abuse even when covering up its true intentions. Crusch is, unsurprisingly, badass throughout, but the ability to see her inner monologue at times is very helpful, and obviously we now know what’s really driving her in her campaign for the Kingdom. There’s also some good development here for Julius, the knight mostly known in the main series for getting into nasty fights with Subaru. Here we see him get a sense of what being a Royal Knight really means, as well as seeing how clever people can sometimes hide behind “acting the fool” in order to not attract attention.
Basically, this is a must-read for any Re: ZERO fan. The second volume will feature Wilhelm and his own tragic past, and I cannot wait.