If you were told you could get another crack at high school life, would you take it? Would you get through studies like a wiz, make more friends than you did in the past, join a club or two, or even try your hand again at the world of romance? In the latest anime series ReLIFE, these scenarios are easier said than done. Fortunately, it's still very entertaining.
Based on the web manga by Yayoiso, ReLIFE focuses on the 27-year-old Arata Kaizaki (Kenshō Ono), who is stuck in-between jobs and is now working at a convenience store. His life is not going anywhere, especially after leaving his previous company in a somewhat heroic fashion, and his parents just cut off his extra allowance. Enter Ryō Yoake (Ryohei Kimura), who gives Arata the opportunity of a lifetime: to repeat the senior year of high school. All it takes is one pill, and the 27-year-old will transform externally ten years younger.
Ryō works for a company called ReLife Project, which gives adults the chance to redo their final year in high school in order to better themselves in society. Thinking it'll be a breeze, Arata dives into his second senior year without hesitation. That's when reality hits him, and sees that current high school studies aren't like what they were years ago. It's a good thing, then, that he does better socially, making close friends with the likes of Rena Kariu (Haruka Tomatsu), Kazuomi Ōga (Yūma Uchida), and the class rep Chizuru Hishiro (Ai Kayano).
There have been Hollywood productions that have played with something something similar (17 Again) and even in reverse (Big, 13 Going on 30). The advantage ReLIFE has compared to these films is that -- being a series rather than a movie -- it gives the opportunity for the characters to grow and earn a third dimension. An issue that would take an impossible five minutes to explain is instead given an entire episode, leaving plenty of room for these characters to grow and become more relatable to the viewer. It also helps, too, that the show's got a knack for some well-timed humor.
Case in point, the first episode has Arata facing his first hurdle, as he has forgotten his pencil case. Upon looking in his backpack for assistance, the teacher comes across a pack of cigarettes. Arata shrugs off the discovery, saying that he buys them all the time and that no one should make a big deal about it. It takes him quite a few moments for it to click in that he now has the appearance of a 17-year-old, leading him to react in one of the funniest eye-popping gags around.
Outside of the comedic realm, the series can even show a good serious side. Upon learning the back story of Arata, you realize that he's not just some NEET down on his luck. His reason behind not having a current job becomes not only understandable, it makes you realize that you'd probably have done the same thing in his shoes.
ReLIFE also does a fine job with taking the focus off of Arata and bringing the other students into the picture. An academic rivalry between Rena and Chizuru leads to an altercation that results in a bad decision made. The end result is a touching moment of misunderstanding, leading towards one of the show's best running gags involving Chizuru's smile.
It's very hard to talk about this anime without giving too much away. Let's just say that there are some students that are more than meets the eye, going so far to being connected with ReLife Project in some way or form. These twists will come out of nowhere, and it's best to not say when these moments will occur. However, it should be noted that the series ends on one hell of a cliffhanger, one that will hopefully get many others to jump up and demand a second season. (Until that time comes, be thankful that Crunchyroll licensed the manga to read.)
The cast of ReLIFE nail their performances out of the ballpark, with Ono's Arata leading the pack with both a very funny and sympathetic performance. Kayano's Chizuru is wonderfully monotonous and air-headed, but brings out the right dose of emotion when the time calls for it. As Ryō, Kimura plays his part down nicely as he watches the experiment occur right in front of him (or, at times, via hacking into Arata's cell phone). Tomatsu's Rena does start off rather hot-headed, but her back story brings forth a level of relatable context.
TMS Entertainment's animation hits the right marks when it comes to the anime's funnier moments. Visual gags are very much in the same vein as Showa-era comedies, only much nicer-looking here thanks to the advances of the animation industry. Characters and scenery are presented in the same quality as past works Gugure! Kokkuri-san and their Phantasy Star Online 2 adaptation, looking clean and crisp throughout the show's run.
Masayasu Tsuboguchi's score is one of this year's best, with its free-flowing and improvisational jazz style being akin to Antonio Sánchez's soundtrack to the Oscar-winning Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It almost becomes its own character in the more dramatic moments of the series, and acting as some well-timed fodder when something comedic occurs. PENGUIN RESEARCH's "Button" opener gracefully opens up each episode with a fun pop rock melody that sets the show's lighthearted mood right. The show's end theme changes each episode, with classic songs by PUFFY, T.M.Revolution, L'arc~en~Ciel, CHEMISTRY, and Porno Graffiti feeding upon this J-POP lover's nostalgia.
ReLIFE is a fun and touching anime that plays strongly with the what-if scenario of redoing high school again. While it's clear that diving into such a situation would be a lot tougher than one may think, at the very least this anime did a fine task at balancing its pros and cons. ReLIFE shows that every person deserves a second chance at bettering themselves, and while the outcome of Arata's time has yet to be seen, what is presented here is good enough to warrant a golden seal of approval on such an experiment.
Now be a good production company, TMS Entertainment, and get a second season of ReLIFE in motion.
Final Grade (not an average):
ReLIFE can be viewed on Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-13 were observed for this review.