The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Minato is a boy who stopped playing water polo due to a certain incident in the winter of his third middle school year. He picks the sport back up again with a new team when he starts in high school, but the fledgling team runs into many problems.
How was the first episode?
RE-MAIN is the story of Minato, a middle school water polo star player who ends up in a coma for more than half a year due to a car accident. However, even after he wakes up, he realizes he has no memories of his middle school years—including those of the sport that was the center of his young life. Between rehabilitation and study, he spends the next 8 months preparing to enter high school, only to find out that everyone seems to want him to get back into water polo despite his total lack of interest.
There are some things I really liked about this first episode—namely everything to do with his rehabilitation. Being in a coma wreaks havoc upon the human body and being able to even walk again takes serious time and effort. Seeing him use a crutch, have to use the walls in his house for support, and notice his body has lost all its former muscle mass are all great little details that make his situation feel real.
I also liked the focus on family in the episode. His mother is trying to be supportive despite feeling that his injury was her fault (as she was the one driving). Likewise, his sister is trying to put up a brave front despite having night terrors of watching her brother take the brunt of the accident instead of her. It's heartbreaking and I do feel for him and the powerlessness he feels when it comes to helping his family in this situation.
But unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the above aspects of the story, I'm unable to get past its central conceit: Minato's memory loss. In the meta-sense, his memory loss is a plot device—one that allows Minato to act as the viewpoint character to all of us who know nothing about water polo. The problem is that Minato hasn't just lost his memories of water polo, but all memories over three years of his life.
What this means is that we have an elementary schooler's mind in a high schooler's body. He is missing three years of emotional, physical, and intellectual growth. There is a huge difference between the life of a 12-year-old and that of a 16-year-old—especially in Japan. As a person who spent 10 years teaching in the Japanese public school system, let me tell you that elementary school in Japan is largely just playing around. It's in middle school that students learn to study and build the basics needed to survive high school.
Even if we're to believe he obtained three years of book knowledge in eight months, he would still lack the emotional maturity and social skills needed for high school. If anything, he should do middle school again, likely in his city's local “free school” (where kids who have been bullied or otherwise don't fit in normal schools can study in a low pressure environment). The idea of him going straight into high school completely shatters my suspension of disbelief and kills any real interest I had in this show—especially once romance enters the equation.
Wow! Going into what I assumed to be this season's “niche high-school sport" show, I was kind of floored when RE-MAIN actually turned out to be the “compelling and thoughtfully-written character drama about a young man suffering from post-traumatic amnesia after waking up from a year-and-a-half-long coma" show. Yes, I'm sure water polo is going to become one of the main focuses of the story very soon, but it's just another sign of how good this premiere was that it managed to make me kind of give a damn about water polo!
It would have been really easy to make Minato Kiyomizu's plight into a source of cheap melodrama – or worse, a font of lame jokes. Instead, RE-MAIN opts to simply take its premise seriously and tell its story well, and that allows for naturalistic drama to flourish without ever getting too dour. As someone who has always been deeply afraid of things like memory loss and brain damage that alters your personality, Minato's situation is honestly kind of horrifying. RE-MAIN is smart enough to avoid dancing around the tougher issues, though it remains entertaining and touching throughout.
Minato hasn't just lost the lazy three years' worth of water polo memories, specifically — he's lost everything from that period of time, which basically makes him a 12-year-old trapped in a 15-year-old's body. His sister is twelve now too, which makes him feel like they're peers, though he later learns that she's spent the last three years reliving the trauma of the car accident he no longer even remembers. His mother and father put on calm, brave faces, but they're clearly shouldering a lot of guilt and anxiety of their own. Minato's body is weak compared to the pictures of the buff stranger he sees in photos of himself from his water polo championship days; he doesn't even remember the rules of the sport, and he can barely keep up with all of the schoolwork he's forgotten (which basically amounts his entire middle-school education). But he decides to forge a new path and try to regain ground in his life, not just for himself, but for his family.
This is incredibly interesting and engaging stuff, and I'd honestly be fine if the rest of the show was just about the trials and tribulations that Minato experiences going into high school. Writer Masafumi Nishida clearly knows the story he wants to tell, and the MAPPA crew is doing unsurprisingly well at making that story come to vivid life on screen. I also have to commend Yūto Uemura for the stellar job he does at capturing the childish yet melancholy dichotomy of Minato's character in his vocal performance. Will RE-MAIN remain to be so good that I could even find myself warming up to the water polo of it all? I have no clue, but I'm more than happy to give it time enough to prove itself, one way or the other.
Somehow, I completely missed the fact that RE-MAIN's premise hinged on the main character having traumatic amnesia. When the series was first announced, I just saw that it was a Water Polo sports series from the writer of Tiger & Bunny and figured I'd check it out when it eventually aired. So egg on my face for being blindsided by our protagonist starting this episode waking up from a 200-day coma. Though some of that face omelet should be saved for the show itself, since that rather large monkey wrench throws this whole premiere out of whack.
RE-MAIN's first episode is essentially two different stories duct-taped together in a way that is novel, but also so tonally dissonant that it threatens to put its own audience in the hospital from whiplash. On the one side, you have a surprisingly grounded personal drama following Minato trying to piece his life back together after a car accident nearly tore his family apart. There's still some comedy to keep things light enough, but it's tempered with serious and somber moments that remind us that even as our hero is trying to move forward regardless of his missing memories, the stress and hurt his family has been living with for the past year are still there. Scenes like Minato seeing his parents comfort his sister after she wakes up from a nightmare about the accident, then creeping back to bed because he doesn't know how to relate over something he can't even remember, make the drama feel genuinely earned where most other amnesiac stories feel contrived.
Then on the other side there's a loud, wacky sports story about a down on its luck high school water polo club trying to recruit our reluctant hero. He spends the last several minutes of the premiere running from the members, comically begging them to leave him alone because he literally doesn't remember how to play the damn game. It's extremely jarring, and shows why this particular combination of story ideas might just be a mistake. Not only do we have to skip over an entire year of Minato's recovery to get to that point – we're told he studied, did physical rehab, and read manga the whole time – it's just uncomfortable to see somebody suffering from some serious mental and emotional stress just get thrown into these shenanigans like it's nothing. He runs into at least one person who knew him in middle school and knows about his accident, but the guy just keeps pushing him to re-join water polo because by god, that's what you do in a sports series!
There are certainly ways you can make a sports-centered story that isn't just about the game. Plenty of great series – anime and live-action – have managed to tell compelling and dramatic stories based around a pastime without limiting themselves to tournaments and matches. But there needs to be a balance between the two halves, and RE-MAIN has so far failed to achieve that. Heck, we don't even see a second of water polo this episode, which should tell you something. Maybe this can get better, but it's on very unreliable ground right now.
One of the wonderful things I have learned over a lifetime of excessive reading is that you don't need to know or care anything about a story's subject as long as the story itself is good enough. Since I know nothing beyond the name “water polo” and now realize that it does not involve horses, I can say that RE-MAIN may not be off to a great start, but it does have potential. It's certainly taking a different approach to its story than your average sports anime; Minato was a champion water polo player in middle school, winning a major competition with his team, only to be in a car accident on the way home that left him in a coma for 203 days. When he wakes up, not only is he not burning to get back in the pool, he doesn't even remember that he was a water polo champ. In fact, the past three years have been totally erased from his mind.
Interestingly enough, the episode plays this as if other people are more traumatized by this than Minato himself. As far as he knows, he's just getting ready to start middle school, but the truth is that he's about to enter high school. That means that he's never been a water polo player – good, bad, or indifferent. He can see the pictures, meet the old teammates, and stare at the mark on his wall where he was obviously bouncing a ball, but none of that translates into “I play this sport” for him. Were it not the theme of the series, I'd say that this is probably just as well, because he's got a lot more to catch up on than just that one piece of his life.
But this is a sports anime, so that's not going to be the endpoint. Even when Minato decides that he's best off just letting that aspect of his past go, other people are determined to rope him back into it. This is where I have the biggest issue with the episode: Minato's very clear that he's done with the sport. He's trying to move on with his life; it's not a situation like in the rugby show Number 24. His family is supportive of this decision – as his parents say, they have him back and now they just want him to be happy, making them some of the best parents in all anime. (I also love how different from the norm his dad looks.) But his underclassman Eitaro just can't take a hint, and neither can the captain of the water polo team at the high school Minato manages to get into, the awesomely named Jojima Jo. Just let Minato make his own decisions, for crying out loud – he just woke up from a coma!
Obviously, he's going to get back into the sport. That's a given. Presumably Chinu, the attractive girl swimmer, is going to have a role in that as well. Fortunately, I'm positive that his family, still dealing with the trauma of the accident themselves (sister Asumi still has nightmares), will do their best to support him no matter what he does. That could give this show the structure it needs to work, so if you're missing the boys in speedo-equivalents from Fairy Ranmaru (or you know more about water polo than me), this is worth checking out.
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