January rolls on and catch-up season is in full swing. First on my list of things I didn’t watch in 2016 was ReLIFE, and yet another high school romcom. What makes ReLIFE any different to the God only knows how many other shows in the genre? Well, there are a couple of interesting things about it. First, it’s adapted from a web-comic. An unusual but possibly developing trend given the huge success of the One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 adaptations, so worth looking out for those. Second, the protagonist is 27.
ReLIFE’s gimmick is that, rather than say being in an unusual club or being undercover idols/monsters/aliens, our protagonist, Arata Kaizaki, is a 27-year-old masquerading as a high schooler. How does he go about this? Why. unexplained drugs (a.k.a. Science!) of course. Arata, a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) is approached, suitably drunk and broke, by one Ryō Yoake with an offer. Take part in the ReLIFE experiment and get your expenses paid for a year with a potential job offer at the end or continue to be sad and lonely. Arata, as the plot and desperation demands, chooses the former.
The ReLIFE experiment is a programme whereby candidates are rehabilitated by getting them to relive a year of school, their ReLIFE if you will. Now why the ReLIFE laboratory uses its magic dealing pills to enable adults to return to school in hope that they’ll grow as people is, frankly, beyond me. The senior staff only appear once, in full silhouette in a sinister boardroom. This is tonally in keeping with the scene but does raise questions. Then there’s their desire for total secrecy, up to and including memory wiping everybody Arata comes into contact with at the end of the year. This unsettling backdrop is easily the weakest part of the show. Whilst watching it felt mostly irrelevant, it seemingly exists mostly for plot convenience and was easy enough to forget about but it has nagged me since.
The metaphorical romcom trifle layered on top of this questionable base is, however, delightful. I say trifle for two reasons, first is that it is sweet and full of fruits and second is that it is most decidedly not cheesecake. ReLIFE contains nothing in the way of the gratuitous panties, perverts and pool episodes that are often rife in the genre. The character designs veer noticeably away from both the moe and the ecchi style, going for a more realistically proportioned design. The colours are soft and the animation is smooth making ReLIFE nice and easy on the eyes.
Musically the series didn’t leave much of an impression. The opening is enjoyable but unmemorable and the OST is the same. The reason I bring it up at all is something I noticed as the credits rolled after episode three. The ending is nothing visually stunning but every episode it plays a different song, appropriate for the mood at the end of the episode. The opening shot is of Arata’s hi-fi and then of him on his balcony making the ending feel you’re with Arata winding down listening to one of his mini-discs (yes, that is a joke in the show) and is a remarkably pleasant way to end the show.
The characters themselves are satisfyingly well developed as well. The traditional archetypes are mostly present, including resident tsundere, Rena Kariu, who takes centre stage in the series B plot, which becomes more the focus as the series waltzes on towards its climax. I bring her up first because Rena’s position in the B plot is unusual for a tsundere, at least in my experience, more often than not they take a leading role. Seeing the archetype used as a foil for the main character to recognise their own insecurities and make steps towards their own development by helping them to get over themselves is a new one on me and definitely one of the better uses of it that I’ve seen. But then from the premise on up ReLIFE is about character development so perhaps this should have surprised me less than it did.
Along with Rena other members of the main cast, such as main girl Chizuru Hishiro, serve similar narrative purposes, their insecurities as teenagers providing a reflection for the flaws that are inhibiting Arata. In Chizuru’s case, it’s her withdrawn nature, early in the series unable to smile properly, often to hilarious effect, that mirror’s how Arata hides his unemployment from friends and struggles in interviews. Luckily the series is rarely too overt about it, only bringing attention to it when Arata himself decides to hang a lampshade on the hypocrisy of his occasional life lectures. The fact that Arata is 27 and knows that he’s only a temporary blip in the kid’s life also adds a nice flavour to his interactions with them, especially with Chizuru as he starts to develop feelings for her. The usual ‘will they/won’t they’ at the heart of the genre is unusually justified, rather than it being fear or general uselessness (that’s Ōga’s thing) holding back the relationship it’s a genuine ethical quandary that left me thinking rather than shouting “Just kiss already!” at the screen.
On the whole, ReLIFE is an incredibly satisfying series with likeable characters, honest character development and walks a good line between comedy and drama, easing its way back and forth between the two. The twists it has are fun if a touch predictable and its humour solidly hit home more often than not. The series ends on a high if not a real conclusion shortly after the end of Arata’s first term. Really a second series is needed and in my opinion is well deserved, but that, should it ever happen, will have to wait until there’s enough manga to adapt. Whilst it’s unlikely to create any converts if you enjoy the genre I’d recommend giving it a look, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and don’t regret a second I spent with it.