Re:Zero is one of my favorite anime of all time. I love the dark story, strong thematic development, and, of course, all the beautiful female characters. But hardcore fans say the anime doesn’t come close to the original light novel! I had to know more, so I read the first nine light novel volumes, which correspond to Season 1 of the show. Here are my thoughts on the novel, what they changed in the adaptation, and whether you should read them if you’re an anime fan!
The first thing I noticed about the novels was their outstanding visual presentation. Shinichirou Otsuka’s artwork is gorgeous. Each volume has glossy, full-color illustrations on the cover and first few pages, and even the black and white drawings in the books proper are total eye candy. Of course, the novels can’t match the stunning animation, voice acting, and music of the anime, but they’re still a joy to have on your shelf.
But the real star is author Tappei Nagatsuki, who’s writing style is accessible and keeps the story flowing. Even though I read a ton (9 volumes at around 200-300 pages each!), it never felt overwhelming. One key difference is that the novel narrates many of Subaru’s inner thoughts, while the anime tends to use close-ups or atmospheric lighting to convey emotion. I don’t mind this change: it speeds up the pacing and fits the visual medium. But the novels flesh out Subaru a lot more than the anime, which makes some of his more selfish actions in the later story arcs more understandable (if not necessarily justifiable).
Story-wise, the anime is a fairly faithful adaptation of the light novel, although it cuts out a lot of exposition and worldbuilding for more action. The novel goes into detail about things like the political state of Lugunica, the surprisingly complicated magic system, and the lives of supporting characters like Crusch and Wilhelm. If you’re a lore geek like me, you’ll love this, but the extra details might be tedious if you just want to get to the action. Some scenes in the novel have much more dialogue than in the anime, and I think the anime did a good job keeping the most important bits and cutting out the “fluff”.
However, there are two essential scenes in the light novel that were cut from the anime, and they both involve the lovable demon maid Rem! The first comes after the two’s grueling victory over the White Whale, when Rem fakes her death to get Subaru to confess his feelings to her. Kind of a dick move, to be honest, but it’s a huge moment in the story. Even though Subaru’s first love is Emilia, he realizes he loves Rem too in a different way. He even promises to marry both of them when the time comes. It’s a beautiful scene, and the fact that it’s not in the anime is baffling to me. Did they just not want to make Rem shippers happy?
The other important scene is at the end of Volume 9, and will most likely kick off Season 2 of the anime. (MAJOR SPOILERS for this part!) After Petelgeuse is defeated and Subaru reunites with Emilia, Crusch and Rem are caught in an ambush by the Archbishops of Greed and Gluttony. Crusch has her memories erased, and Rem goes full Sleeping Beauty. She falls into a coma, with everyone but Subaru losing their memories of her. This is foreshadowed in the infamous “Who’s Rem?” scene in the Director’s Cut, but cutting it from the anime proper is an odd choice. I can only guess it was because the studio didn’t want to end the first season on a cliffhanger and make us all wait four years to find out what happens next!
So is the light novel better than the anime? It’s hard to say. The anime has a lot of advantages that come with the medium, such as its expertly choreographed animation and blood-pumping soundtrack. But the light novel fleshes out the series’ world and characters, and has a few key scenes that didn’t make it into the anime. Either way, the story is fantastic, and one of my favorites in the isekai/dark fantasy genre. If you somehow haven’t seen the anime yet, I’d say start with that first, and if you like it enough to want to know more, the light novels are a great read! Just don’t expect to get the whole story just yet – as of this writing, only 12 of the 22 volumes currently out have been officially translated into English.