Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes.
Of the numerous tangential things an anime could inspire me to write something extensive, Re: Zero’s possible showcase of environmental storytelling is one thing that has. I don’t know whether or not the creator of Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World- actually intended to comment on this obscure point of political economy theory in his narrative, but hell. As much as it may irk the political leftists I know online, I’m not going to pass up the excuse for talking about a positive about capitalism and meritocracies, by extension.
It’s a theoretical positive, mind you. I’m fully cognizant of the blurring that tends to occur between free markets and free-for-all markets in the absence of government regulation. To quote Alexander Hamilton, men are not angels. To quote myself, men don’t always act as rational actors. The people who’ve first acquire a disproportionate amount of power to distort the market and media to suit their own profit and prejudice. They can engage in monopolistic practices to crowd out competition from small business outsiders in the workforce by threatening price wars, and set up normative barriers to crowd out competition from minority outsiders in the workplace by enabling the continued propagation of toxic stereotypes. I’ve already spent some time and type making the case for Railgun’s critical attitude towards meritocracies in practice. So in using a narrative element of Re: Zero as a springboard, I want to talk about how capitalism (via the precursor merchant form of it in this medieval fantasy) was theorized to function in the ideal. And it starts with the Fang of Steel, Anastasia Hoshin’s merry band of demihuman mercenaries.
Anastasia Hoshin, the commoner-blooded self-made head of the enormously wealthy Hoshin merchant company and one of five royal candidates for the Monarchy of Lugunica, keeps around her a high-spirited and strong-willed mercenary company of martially-skilled demihumans. A few possibilities arise from why it would make sense for Anastasia’s private army to be comprised of demihumans.
One possibility stems from Anastasia’s seat of power. Kararagi, the city where she is based, seems to have a racially tolerant atmosphere, a culture where humans and demihumans live together peacefully. Re: Zero hasn’t delved too deeply into the racial politics of its world so far. We do know, at least, that at least two different systems of oppression exist in the world.
The first type is by rich nobles against poor commoners, as in the case the case of Felt. The second type is by the general populace against demihuman half-elves, as in the case of Emilia. The explicit reason the show gives for the later kind of discrimination stems from half-elves’ association with the evil Witch (not unlike real-life Jews’ association by anti-Semites with killing Christ). But perhaps a more implicit reason for the discrimination by humans against half-elves has to do with racism against demihumans in general.
Another possibility is that demihumans tend to make consistently better soldiers. High fantasy comes equipped with expectations of non-human and demihuman races being born with greater physical capabilities than your average human, capabilities like greater strength, agility, and instinct. Nothing in the show seems to contradict those assumptions as of yet, with the most powerful human actors featured in the story far being exceptions to the rule. To name a couple of those exceptions, Roswaal is one of the most powerful mages in the land, and Reinhard Astrea is literally dubbed as the one and only Master Swordsman/Sword Saint.
I feel like there should be more human exceptions to the rule than just two though, and to someone as shrewdly capitalist as Anastasia Hoshin, I’d figure it’d make more sense then for her to acquire a mixed company of the best fighters her wealth could reasonably hire, demihuman or not. She commands a lot of money, after all. The majority of her fighters could be demihumans, but common sense would dictate that there should be at least several to a few exceptional humans. By all indications however, she surround herself almost exclusively with demihuman soldiers. The only exception to her demihuman entourage thus far is Julius, and he doesn’t appear to accompany Anastasia everywhere the way her demihumans do.
Moreover, Anastasia seems to have excellent relations with the members of her demihuman mercenary company, or at the very least, their leaders. She dotes on Mimi, the company’s second-in-command. Ricardo, the company’s first-in-command, has an easy-going personality. He also talks about his employer in an fairly easy-going way. These albeit limited moments of exposure to her company’s members suggest a casualness, collegiality, frankness, friendliness, and reverence by the company to their employer that transcends pure business.
There’s not an amazing amount of material about Anastasia to go on, and I’m not entirely confident of how well read Re: Zero’s creator happens to be in political economy. Maybe you don’t need to be well read in political and economic theory to realize how capitalism in a vacuum can be both meritocratic and egalitarian at the same time. But how is that possible?
Well, consider. In the ideal capitalist world, money exists as an unbiased utility. Money is inanimate, and money is blind. Because it is both, money ignores the abstract values people place arbitrarily on other people because what heredity or appearance they were born with. With enough money, people can theoretically buy into the social respect and status they desire in society.
Obviously, the snag in this meritocratic-egalitarian vision is that people handle the money instead of the money handling itself. People are biased. People aren’t rational actors. The immigration of even skilled labor into the US wouldn’t be as controversial an issue if they were, for instance. But juxtaposing Anastasia Hoshin’s honest appraisal of herself as profit seeking at the royal candidate ceremony and her demihuman show of force in a previous life of negotiations with Subaru Natsuki, I think that it says a lot about her character. She is shrewd. She likes to show off. She wants to expand commerce, for her own business’s prosperity as well as those of others’. Not all business is zero-sum, after all. But more than that, her support for capitalism is a means to another end. It is an end that is informed by the demihuman mercenary company she keeps.
Mercenaries have developed a bad rap compared to their feudal and citizen soldier counterparts. They are seen as low in morale and easily bribed. History has shown us, however, that the most lauded and prized of mercenary companies possessed not only exceptional fighters. They also possessed principles. They honored contracts without fail and to the death once acceptable terms were negotiated, and they had the discretion during talks of choosing and refusing terms for reasons material and sentimental. Anastasia might richly reward the demihuman mercenaries she employs, but in a game as dangerous as the one she is playing for the throne, in a world as dangerous as the one she lives, breathes, and does business in, she offers demihumans both wealth and a vision.
Having spent her childhood in merchant-dominated and racially-tolerant Kararagi, her successful bid for the crown could mean both an era of capitalist commerce and an era of racial equality. Anastasia would be both shrewdly capitalist and racially empathetic. These qualities that I imagine are hers are why she surrounds herself with demihumans. These qualities that I believe are hers is why her demihuman company follows her and fights for her. That is the vision that I have for her character as Re: Zero explores the motivations behind her camp. I might be grasping narrative straws here, but it’s a fascinating opportunity character-wise for the show to explore.