Review/discussion about: ReLIFE
I’m happy with the life I have.
My family is wonderful, I’m in relatively good health, and my interests are rewarding to me on many different levels. Sure, some aspects could be better, but I don’t like to think negatively. Instead, I tend to think with my eyes on the future and what I can do right here, right now.
ReLIFE provides a shot at such happiness, but, for the here-and-now, it does not quite succeed.
ReLIFE begins with the depressed and downtrodden Kaizaki. With no job, no friends, and no prospects, his life is in shambles. Yet, one day, a strange man by the name of Ryou offers him a chance at a new life. Or rather a do-over (hence the title). Kaizaki accepts, sending him down a path he never knew he wanted – let alone needed.
Like many anime, ReLIFE is a mixture of comedy and drama. Arguably, the anime begins as a comedy and slowly transitions into a drama. But it’s fair to say that both sides exist simultaneously throughout its run.
Comparing the two, the comedy reigns supreme. Especially early on where Kaizaki’s newfound situation leads to many antics. Nonchalance about cigarettes, his physical weakness, and the awkwardness of being around high-school girls lends itself easily to hijinks.
Of course, it’s all amplified by the supporting cast. Oga’s denseness when it comes to love. Ryo and An teasing Kaizaki for the umpteenth time. Hishiro’s “infectious smile.” It’s a playful anime, one whose exaggerated character reactions make it more fun than heavy.
Again, comedy persists in the second half of the anime as well, but it’s not as prominent. Not just because Kaizaki has (for the most part) gotten used to his “new” life but also because the drama itself takes priority.
And that’s where the anime encounters a large problem.
To be fair, a lot of the drama is a non-issue. Take, for instance, Kariu’s jealousy and Ryou’s failure. The former has nice build-up through Hishiro’s friendly attempts and showcases ideas on letting others learn through failure. The latter was an entire episode dedicated to establishing Ryou’s character and providing some background information.
Where ReLIFE messes up is with the volleyball arc.
To start, it takes up too much time. Giving three whole episodes to an arc that has nothing (directly) to do with either Kaizaki or Hishiro is a bad move. Hishiro’s reduction in screen time actually started in episode six, so it came off even worse for her.
Furthermore, it shifts the focus. The anime is carried quite a bit by Kaizaki’s leveled attitude and Hishiro’s deadpan delivery. So, when they aren’t the focus, as is the case during this arc, everything feels less interesting.
Who they choose to focus on is also a problem. Kariu already had her scenes from earlier in the season, and her jealousy being the issue again is repetitive and even belittles the change she had before. As for Tamarai, she is largely unimportant until this arc, and, even afterwards, she rarely seems like anything more than a background character.
And the drama is simply lackluster. Kariu quitting the team, listening through the locker-room door twice, and needing to get dragged to the tournament does not have enough weight to feel meaningful.
The whole arc is only three episodes, but, since it cuts into the comedy and the momentum that the first half started, it hurts the narrative more than it would otherwise.
However, the anime does make smart, if not correct, writing choices elsewhere.
It explores Kaizaki’s past. The audience knows something is up from the first episode, so the show taking the time to divulge what happened – even going so far as to include its effects in the present – was smart.
It has a couple of plot twists. An being a Support was unexpected. And, while Hishiro being a ReLIFEr like Kaizaki was no surprise (due to hints from Hishiro about this being her “last year” and Ryo’s nothing-happened report on the first subject), it makes narrative sense. Having someone else going through the same situation, who is both similar (and not), leads to many parallels and outcomes ripe with drama and meaning. Plus, they made it clear. For a time, it was hard to say whether the anime would unveil this secret before the conclusion to the season.
Perhaps its best trait, though, is the theme that literally defines the show.
ReLIFE. Re, life. In essence, the anime is about a do-over. Not a Groundhog-Day situation where the affected gets multiple shots. And not a complete redo either. Kaizaki receives another chance at gaining a life he always wished he had through trying out his final year of high-school again.
In other words, he gets a second chance. That’s something a surprising amount of people don’t get to have when, as the show argues, they deserve it.
Take, for instance, Kariu. She steals Hishiro’s bag, but Kaizaki and even Hishiro don’t ostracize her for it. Instead, they talk with her and come to an understanding. They don’t let one moment of weakness tarnish the progress they have made between one another. Because, despite what she did, she deserves a second chance.
It’s a direction that can be seen in almost every event. Ryou fails as his first time as a Support, but he gets another go at it with Kaizaki. Kariu gives up on the tournament, but Tamarai and the others persuade her to come back again. Hishiro’s first attempt at a ReLIFE didn’t work out, but the powers that be (and more importantly she herself) want her to succeed.
Even the show’s running gag – Kaizaki in a perpetual state of taking make-up exams – demonstrates that, sometimes, people need that second chance. To try it a different way, to get it right the next time, and to ultimately improve themselves when all is said and done (again).
So, while the anime may not officially end its story, leaving it open for a continuation (should there be one), it begins mostly with a solid start due in part to this theme and its other, smarter writing choices.
Unfortunately for ReLIFE, its art and animation worsens as the season progresses.
Near the start, they are both at least passable. The comedic reaction faces that have larger eyes and squatter heads achieve laughs with ease. And the characters take part in gym events, hang out after school, and eat food. Nothing mind-blowing but also nothing egregious.
At about the halfway mark, though, it all starts to go downhill. Characters are drawn off-model. The dramatic events understandably reduce the comedic reactions but don’t replace them with anything too nuanced or at least interesting. A lot more talking and sitting and general lack of movement.
All the while, the background art isn’t helping. The typical school and apartment settings make sense for the show, but they don’t attract the eye. The same can be said for the lighting and the cinematography. At most, the show will have a sunset, and the shots keep focus on the characters. But, for the most part, ReLIFE tries next to nothing fancy.
The character designs are perhaps the art’s only positive constant. The female students’ beige cardigans with black skirts and black socks, and the male students’ long-sleeve grey coats with black ties, give them a more adult look. Fitting considering the anime’s content. Plus, all the important characters appear realistic enough. I.e., no uncommon hair colors or quirky accessories.
On a more specific level, Hishiro’s design, with her soft green eyes and front-and-back twin tails, is simplistic yet refined, working well with her character’s personality. Kariu’s side ponytail and red hair go with her tomboy, fiery self. And Kaizaki’s design, while arguably plain, is handsome without making him overly dull.
The only complaint in the designs is Tamarai and her eyebrows. Three horizontal lines above each of her eyes looks more like she has an unnaturally creased forehead.
ReLIFE is technically Kaizaki’s story, so he gets most of the focus.
He was a man shown to be down on his luck. Pretending to hold a job, earning a stipend from his mother, and lacking any grand direction. While he was drunk, Ryou’s proposition came as an opportunity that would not come around again.
When he takes the drug and starts reliving his teenage years once more, he starts to reevaluate himself. He quits smoking, he finds new friends in Oga, An, and Kariu, and he gets out of his apartment more so than he ever has before.
The anime also takes time to investigate his past. Once during the middle of the season and once at around the three-quarters mark. While nice that ReLIFE divulged Kaizaki’s background, it almost ends up hurting his character.
The first time shows him as a convenience-store cashier; his way of earning cash. Ryou secretly leaves behind his wallet for Kaizaki to find. Which he does, returning it to his soon-to-be (but unbeknownst to him) Supporter.
Sadly, the anime doesn’t show much else besides this, making it hard to grasp Kaizaki’s character before he became a shut-in. Did he have a lot of friends? He graduated from college, so what kinds of interests did he have? Were there any personal conflicts growing up that prevented him from changing his lifestyle?
In other words, the anime’s inability to showcase more of his life, especially when this anime is about a new one, does not give him much of a foundation.
The second time his past is brought up brings yet another problem. ReLIFE kept Kaizaki’s trauma hidden for most of the season, alluding to it only on occasion (as early as episode one). Eventually, it all gets revealed: his mentor’s bravery, the unfair treatment she received, and the eventual suicide she committed from all the bullying.
His response? Quitting his company. A righteous, noble move. Something that should be commended (and, indeed, that’s what happens). But his subsequent redo then is based on something positive (relative to his actions and not his mentor’s passing). It’s not as though he was a mean alcoholic or that he failed at whatever he set out do. Rather, he’s always been sociable, and he clearly has the right mindset when dealing with others.
Compare his scenario to Hishiro. While the anime doesn’t say too much about her (which is perhaps an issue as well), her ReLIFE is more reasonable. Transferring schools constantly desensitized her relationships with others to the point that she deemed them worthless since they would be gone within the year. That’s something that can be fixed. But Kaizaki’s goodness that is carried over across all parts of himself? Not so much.
To put it differently, Kaizaki being a good guy forced him into solitude, but Kaizaki being a good guy saves him from solitude. A weird paradox because the anime gave him the best of both worlds (per se) on all character fronts.
To play devil’s advocate, the anime does try to make his speaking out against his mentor’s bullies as a negative. Since he butted in, that only encouraged the men to harp on her more. This idea ties into the show’s thoughts on letting others sometimes handle their own problems.
And, arguably, this direction leads to what he must overcome. Namely, striking a balance between staying quiet and reaching out to others when they need it most. He failed his mentor, but his actions in befriending Hishiro, persuading Kariu, and supporting Oga demonstrate that he does not wish to make the same mistake again. That he is making the most out of this second chance he has received.
Speaking of the rest of the cast, the anime does give them attention. Hishiro, slowly but surely, gains a social circle. Kariu and Oga finally form a romantic relationship. Tamarai likes volleyball again. Nothing groundbreaking, but ReLIFE obviously allows almost all its characters to grow in a meaningful manner.
However, what they represent is arguably more important, for each character has a certain representation when it comes to reclusion, to reaching out.
Kaizaki’s mentor highlights how dire it can get keeping everything to one’s self.
Ryou champions the let-others-help-themselves ideology.
Tamarai teaches what ignoring somebody can lead to.
Oga reveals that, sometimes, people can reach out in the “wrong” way.
Kariu shows that active avoidance of others is arguably worse than never trying at all.
Hishiro proves that some people absolutely need help from outside themselves.
Kaizaki demonstrates just how easy helping others can be and how wonderful such help is.
Altogether, their thematic relevance, how they each embody or relate to a reaching-out lifestyle, drives their purpose home. For, as they show, the most prosperous of lives are ones surrounded by those friends and those loved ones that a person holds most dear.
The music of ReLIFE is a whole lot of noise without much pleasure.
For each episode, a new ending track plays. They are usually the same type: pop songs or light-rock ensembles. To be fair, it’s a nice sentiment. It takes a lot of effort to get this many different pieces, and the creators deserve at least some praise for trying to make the anime more special. Unfortunately, almost all the tracks are forgettable since their quantity is their downfall, for none of them ever stick let alone stand out from one another.
(Kaizaki’s balcony door cutting off the music when he closed it, though, was a nice touch.)
On the other side, the anime has practically one track in its original soundtrack. It contains a couple of clunky piano notes that are meant to come off as lonely. Instead, it sounds like a sorry excuse for a semi-sad piece. Even disregarding this piece and focusing on the others, they either come off as too corny or too erratic, pushing the OST down the same weak path as the set of EDs.
At least the opening track comes out feeling somewhat worthwhile. The vocalist, piano, and drum beat work well together, but the track’s tone is more important. Its transition from somewhat slow and melancholic to faster and filled with energy reflects the journey that Kaizaki (and Hishiro) goes through. Plus, the ending few notes symbolizes how all journeys – even this ReLIFE – must come to an end.
Lastly, voice acting sees no notable performances.
While the drama was neither emotional nor impactful to me, I liked this one.
The anime shined brightest whenever Hishiro was on-screen. Her unintentional smirk and sincerity at trying to be friends with the others had me smiling a lot. Also, her naivety. Doing an unnecessarily excited team cheer or being overly straightforward in a situation that perhaps required more tact added to her appeal as a fun yet serious character.
Kaizaki was entertaining, too. He wasn’t a complex person, but his general friendliness with everyone, such as the teasing that went on or his insistence that he leave his cashier job formally, made him a cool guy to root for.
I didn’t like how they failed to follow through on the romance between the these two, though. Too much almost-there and not enough commitment. I get that he has a moral and rational basis for why he doesn’t pursue Hishiro (at this time). But it’s so obvious, and the anime is considered of the romance genre. So not getting anything between them is a big bummer.
Thankfully, Oga and Kariu make up for this frustration by getting together. It was a cute scene on that bridge, the two focusing only on their held hands. They are awesome for each other. It’s just a shame that the show had to end before showing them as a full-fledged couple.
ReLIFE isn’t a subpar anime, but it’s not a shining one either. The story has ineffectual drama but a strong theme on second chances. The characters aren’t stellar but themes on reclusion exist. And the comedy and relationships are entertaining, but the visuals and the music fail to appeal. Right here, right now, this one is just all right.
Story: Good, while a certain volleyball arc detracts the narrative, some smarter writing choices and plot points, as well as a strong comedic first half and a theme on second chances throughout, create a strong start
Animation: Bad, noticeably worsens over time, boring artistic direction, below average actual animation, and nice character designs
Characters: Good, while Kaizaki may not be the most interesting or well-written of characters, he has arguable strengths, and his and the others reclusive representations coincide well with the overall themes at play
Sound: Bad, okay OP, bad OST, bad EDs, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, fun characters and some nice side romance yet unemotional drama and no main romance
Final Score: 5/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3