Very few times is an anime subtle. Anime that surround fantasy and action and waifus tend to throw literary foreplay out the window in order to get to the booms and the boobs. The most common factor of these anime are their respective villains, who are in no shortage of brazen stupidity and excessive force. And monologuing. To be fair, a lot of development on villain characters nowadays tends to lean towards the “we’re the same” cliché, without actually going into minute detail of why these characters are in similar positions. Almost everything trying to convey these types of stories always ends up falling in the mud and just merchandising the female characters. That is until Re:ZERO came along. Those who are privy in the anime community have most certainly heard of a little anime called Re:ZERO, whose sole goal and purpose was to deconstruct every negative stereotype of the “normal guy in fantasy world” genre. Except the merchandising female characters part, they still do that. But, let’s be honest, they are pretty adorable.
It’s brutal, it’s heart-wrenching, and most of of all it’s unpredictable. It’s been a fan-favorite of the spring-summer seasons, also one of yours truly, and its development in characters and dynamics is on a completely different level than the norm. Which is really hard to believe unless you’ve seen it, otherwise it looks like a KonoSuba clone. But one thing that I feel like isn’t getting enough love is the “All-loving” Jealous Witch of the Land of Lugunica, also known as Satella.
Long story short, our protagonist Subaru is blinked into a fantasy world, for no apparent reason and no sign of who caused it. Since he is a quintessential nerd, he seeks for valor and venture…and breasts, but that’s just what you do when you go on adventures. He runs into a girl known as Emilia, and he immediately makes it his personal job to make his love-at-first-sight waifu happy.
This is all par for the course, but Subaru also pegs himself as the main character of his own fantasy-harem show, and expects himself to be as great as the protagonists from those shows. But unfortunately, he is warped to the world with absolutely no buff in his strength, nor any flashy and destructive powers. While this is initially introduced as comedic, it takes a different tone as early as the beginning of the second part of the “first” episode. This drastically changes from magical and goofy happenstance to grim and eerie purposefulness as the episodes go on, as Subaru is only “blessed” with the ability to warp back to a previous moment in time every time he dies. Essentially, he “respawns” at different checkpoints in time. Worse yet, he can’t tell anyone of this ability, else a black hand of mist grabs his heart with every intent to take the secret to the grave.
This turns the rather unorthodox and painful, but useful, power into a full-fledged targeted curse. Through subtle context clues and exposition that drops from characters, the rare times that it happens, we get a vague idea of who may be causing Subaru’s Groundhog Day scenario, and that is the Jealous Witch Satella. Through different stories, it’s surmised that there existed 7 beings that represented the Cardinal Sins. The Jealous Witch “consumed” the other sins in an effort for power, only to be sealed away by the Lugunica Dragon. But the greatest aspect of Satella is that this information is all that’s on her for a good chunk of the anime.
Whereas typical anime antagonists set up their cruel and excessive schemes right out of the gate, Satella’s plans for Subaru’s summoning are kept largely in the dark for 24 out of 25 episodes. Not only that, but she doesn’t even speak to Subaru to command him. All she has to do is grip his heart and he shuts up and follows the rules. Even Subaru himself doesn’t understand exactly what’s causing him to leap back in time to fix a mistake. Satella takes every instance to cover up that she even exists, let alone letting her enemies know she’s on the move. Even having legions of unquestioning followers, the Witch’s Cult, and even they have no clue what she’s really planning, following her rejection of Betelgeuse, the Archbishop of the Sin of Sloth, in Episode 25. But from Betelgeuse telling Subaru the Witch’s potential plans under the idea that Subaru would join the cause, we inferred that Satella plans to come back to the world of the living by possessing Emilia, the target of Subaru’s unyielding affection and a candidate for the ruler of the country. Only then do we realize why Satella is going to such lengths to keep this dork alive, and being as secretive as possible about it, even killing Emilia in an alternate timeline to force Subaru to reboot and not tell anyone.
It is uniquely chilling to have an antagonist that can exhume disgust and brutality without even speaking. Small gestures of her having a different and more shaped form every time she gets Subaru to stay quiet really let the viewer dig deep into the mythos. The only thing laid out in front of the audience is the present plot, but background events are only for those with quick senses to catch. Every appearance of Satella is downright frightening. It’s hard to really sell the idea of an extreme villain that isn’t foreseeable what they’ll do to stay in power. Not only did this anime sell the idea that Satella is a strong being, but one that will not even give her enemies a second thought before cutting their tongues and having them at her beck and call. That is the hallmark of an amazing villain. It’s strengthened even further by her muteness, only having literally one speaking line in the entire anime. Her goals are unknown, she only turns the cogs of war in the shadows, and her not even uttering a peep is reminiscent of the silent ways of death itself. Simply put, she’s really, really scary.
But most important, she hardly pops into the story herself. The only time she is even technically on screen is whenever Subaru dies or he tries to spill the beans, something he uses frequently as a device for attracting beasts who hunt for the scent of the Witch. A silent villain is a good one, but having them appear frequently is less imposing and more of just wasting air time. Her entire background is learned through context clues and background dialogue. Whether that was intentional or a positive byproduct of the director having to compress a ton of information into 25 episodes, even ignoring openings and endings constantly to fit in enough story, it really sells the mystery either way. It’s said that the thing that man is most frightened of is the unknown, and it shows in Satella’s complete mystique, utter silence, and quick-acting brutality.
It’s hard to imagine that I would finally get a villain that I unquestioningly liked as a villain. I’m a stickler for protagonists and side characters, but villains are the ones I’m the most picky about, and very rarely do I get a satisfactory one. Re:ZERO is a champion of many things; character development, corruption of its protagonist, the brutal realization of failure, but another aspect it champions at is its mainstay villain, Satella. Her hold on the entire plot of Re:ZERO while hardly raising her hand is one of the scariest concepts of a villain out of the last few years. With the Re:ZERO season over, and a continuation up in the air, the grip of the Jealous Witch is strong and effective, keeping me curious and coming back, hopefully when the Light Novels pick up where the anime left off.