Almost two years after it first aired, Crunchyroll has released the final four episodes of the heartwarming high school drama, ReLIFE. This week, Nick and Jacob return to this underrated gem to share their thoughts on the full journey.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nick D Jake, we are in the middle of a got-damn fire hose of anime. We've got sequels to huge shows, new adaptations of beloved source material, and even some intriguing original stories coming out!
So what better way to start off this new season than talking about a show from 2 years ago?
Yup, Crunchyroll put up the final four episodes of ReLIFE a few weeks ago (the series came to a nice enough conclusion in 13 episodes, but these extra four give it a good final stamp of closure), and the transition between seasons seemed like the best time to give this little series a second look.
I couldn't be happier honestly. While I liked ReLIFE when I first watched it, revisiting the series now I came to the conclusion that I really friggin love this show.
Yeah it had the same impact on me. Second time really is the charm! To be fair, it came in like 10th or 11th best anime out of the whole year in our year-end poll of 2016, which is pretty unusual for a show with this modest of production values and this simple a premise. So I should have suspected there was some hidden treasure there.
Here's a refresher for folks who understandably don't remember everything about something that aired eight seasons of anime ago: Arata Kaizaki is a down-on-his-luck 27-year-old stuck in a dead end part time job and spinning his wheels trying to get any direction in life. He's got no real prospects, no real friends because he's too embarrassed to admit his situation to his 9-to-5 buddies, so he's just about at the end of his rope.
Basically he's The Millennial Experience in a nutshell.
Lemme tell ya, it's weird watching an anime with a guy my exact age, where most of the show is about the exact emotions you feel at that exact age.
BUT THEN, a mysterious man offers him a chance to change things. All Arata has to do is take a mysterious pill that will make him appear 17 and attend a year of high school to be observed. If he's successful, they'll fix him up with a job and pay his living expenses to boot. And in perhaps the biggest twist ever, this guy's telling the truth instead of getting Arata hooked on Bathsalts.
Always take drugs offered by strangers in the dead of night y'all. It'll work out fine.
There are about a million and two ways this premise could have gone Horribly Wrong or become Terribly Boring, but ReLIFE beats the odds in a way that felt extremely cathartic to me. I have seen very few anime with dialogue and characterization and emotional honesty this naturalistic, and most of them do not take place in high school.
Going in, I totally expected the series to wallow in nostalgia for the simple joys of youth or turn into a story of an adult dude using his Super Special Adult Charm to prey on teenage girls. But the series manages to avoid both really easily.
Partly through the culture gap Arata has to handle - even 10 years can make a big difference between generational experiences.
His immediate sense of feeling like a creepy imposter was hilariously relatable if you've ever had to step into a high school as an adult.
But as it turns out, a lot of the emotional shit you have to process at 27 first gets introduced to you at 17, so wouldn't you know it, Arata ends up fitting in pretty well and going through many of the same feelings as everybody else!
The main story thread comes from Arata's interactions with Chizuru, who is uh
She's about 10 gallons of awkward in a 2-ounce glass, and it's great.
Once again, this "oddball loner girl learns to make friends" plot is something that I've seen done—well not wrong, but uncreatively in many other anime. Chizuru could have been a moe-moe Rei-clone in her awkwardness, but she's not. She's a lot like I was at that age, too smart for the room with poor social skills to match, brusque and off-putting in her language without knowing why, not interested in fitting in at large, but desperate to connect with others. Her awkwardness is still cute, but it also feels extremely real.
She is, as we millennials are wont to say, a Big Mood.
The series is always careful to make her feel awkward and emotionally unaware without making her feel alien or over-the-top. She's clearly somebody who never grasped how to interact with others, so she often approaches socializing like a test with right or wrong answers. That's pretty damn relatable all-told.
She also has the smile of an angel.
YUP. Who among us hasn't bared their fangs for a picture, completely failing to make "cheese" look like anything less than a threat? :'D
I'm almost 25 and I still don't know what to do with my hands when having my picture taken.
Since Chizuru's super-smart but her development is more arrested than the other high schoolers, Arata feels comfortable around her and they bond over similar feelings of isolation to eventually become close friends. Through their friendship, they help with other high schoolers' problems, and Arata gradually realizes that the seemingly "simple" solutions he offers them about communicating their feelings, understanding others' feelings, and embracing life even when it's scary, are all true for the life he put on hold as well.
Plus he gets a little of that old NOSTALGIA I hear the millennials like so much these days.
I mean jesus, can the whole column just be me saying Big Mood over and over?
It's a really good dynamic. Arata is able to act as a mentor to these kids and help them work through their shit, but it also makes him realize that for all his failures and setbacks, he has gained valuable lessons and grown as a person even if he still feels like a screw-up.
For me, ReLIFE is that iyashikei feeling at its best. I know it's more of a drama than an atmospheric slice of life thing, but every episode is just packed with thoughtful and practical emotional observations that I think everyone needs to hear when they feel adrift in their own lives. And yet none of it is presented like a poetic platitude or a poster in the doctor's office or a means to an end for Arata to get a cute girlfriend. They feel like real conversations you have with a trusted friend when you're at your lowest point.
Chicken Soup for the Motherf***ing Soul, with so much less corn syrup than most high school anime.
It helps that the show is self-aware enough to have a sense of humor about things too. It's invested in Arata's arc and the other characters' growth, but it isn't afraid to take some good-natured jabs at him.
Oh yeah, and it's not just his adult manager. Those teenagers are RUTHLESS and it's funny every time.
The last teen-focused anime I remember being this naturalistic, portraying nice normal everyday kids this believably, was Log Horizon. And they were trapped in a video game, so you know, not exactly as relatable. I related insanely to ReLIFE, both because high school me was so much like Chizuru and because I uh, literally took magical medicine that makes me look like a teenage boy and thus changes my perspective on life like Arata.
Oh wow, that's true. I hadn't made that connection. That's some serendipity.
Teenage girls have flirted with me at Starbucks and in clubs and stuff. It's weird.
But on that note, one of my favorite things about ReLIFE is its "twist," which necessitated those four bonus episodes of closure. Arata and Chizuru connected with one another more than the other students for uh, perhaps obvious-in-hindsight reasons:
Yep, turns out Chizuru was the first ReLIFE subject, and what's more she failed her first year as a student, because it turns out when you're already terrible at talking with others as an adult, the feeling that you're an intrusive outsider only makes things harder.
In another example of ReLIFE's insanely sympathetic perspective, her handler is now taking on Arata's case to make up for failing Chizuru before. He gets involved with Arata's life and pushes him, even if it seems like too much, because he was too hands-off with Chizuru and feels like he let her down.
This criticism of the cruelty that pervades the corporate world in Japan is another huge part of the series' healing angle. I was surprised how raw it could be on the situation without ever feeling like the commentary was too dark or distracting.
It's pretty brutal, especially when we find out the full scope of Arata's past. Without going into too much detail, turns out that nervous tic of touching his neck in the early episodes isn't quite as quirky as it seems.
Right. His inability to hold down a job is explored in-depth, and the way the system chewed him up and spit him out is gradually revealed to be just a harsher version of a process that begins as early as high school, with incentives pitting friends against each other by making them question their own self-worth.
Not to mention this is a rare anime to address Sexism in the Workplace without tiptoeing around shit at all.
Not much is known about the original creator behind ReLIFE's webcomic - she even uses a pseudonym - but I feel pretty confident that a LOT of Arata and Chizuru's stories came at least partly from personal experience. The writing's just Too Real.
also this is literally the only photo of her made available
Either way, both Arata and Chizuru are really well-written characters and, as a total sap for romcom stuff, I was shipping them pretty hard once the the twist happened.
So when I found out we were getting the OVAs to conclude the story and THIS was the first image released I may have shouted so loud it scared my cat.
I'm glad Arata has put more effort into freshening up since we saw him last.
But seriously, with the extra time available for production, these OVAs look much better than the woefully budget-y main series.
They have the time for things like this, for instance.
Hell, that's the only reason I might not recommend ReLIFE to some people. It is very cheap, very low-key, and very slow-paced. It's Real Good Shit, but you need to have a certain degree of patience to pick up what it's putting down.
Yeah the TV series doesn't look great. Lotta talking heads and even a pretty minimalist score - nearly the entire soundtrack is piano pieces that get reused throughout nearly every episode to the point where it become a running joke during Crunchyroll's Twitch marathon.
Though speaking of music, one of my favorite gimmicks in the show is using pop songs from the 90's and early 00's for each episode's ED theme. There's classic songs from L'arc en Ciel, T.M. Revolution, PUFFY, and whatever the hell this is:
It's great! Even with its limited resources, ReLIFE captures a truly refreshing sense of nostalgia that looks back to things as they really were with love. No rose-colored glasses, but just as many warm-fuzzies. It's the kind of show I went into watching for work purposes, but came out feeling grateful just to have seen it just for the emotional rejuvenation it gave me.
(but since it is for work, yanno)
And speaking of warm fuzzies, holy crap the OVAs are adorable and I love them and they're the Anime of the Year don't @ me.
HHNNNNNNG I won't spoil but yeah, if you're looking to marathon a really great understated drama anime this season with a gooey romantic finish (like you don't have enough to watch already), I can't recommend ReLIFE enough.
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