ReLIFE – 06

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With Hishiro and Kariu now friends, and Hishiro looking up her feelings on Google (then scoffing at the result that it’s “love”) I was looking forward to the show pivoting to focus on the third girl in Kaizaki’s circle: Onoya An. This episode certainly did that, but not at all the way I thought.

Things start innocently enough, with the possibility of Kaizaki’s friends visiting his bachelor pad becoming a very abrupt reality when Oga and An arrive for a study session. It’s great to watch him squirm as he hides any evidence of his true age, even as I knew in his haste he’d forget something.

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Two things he missed: his MD player and a calendar with work stuff. The first can be explained away by the simple fact he’s a fan of vintage electronics; the second he sidestepped by using the calendar to “kill a bug.”

The true test for Kaizaki comes when Oga is called away for work, leaving him and An all alone in his apartment (which Oga is too dense/pure to notice could be a problem). Yoake, who has Kaizaki’s phone mic tapped, does, and races to Kaizaki’s aid when he believes his cover is at risk.

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What ensues plays out like a high school version of a spy thriller, with An removing her childish braids and glasses, revealing she fell in love with Kaizaki at first sight back when she saw him working at the convenience store, and starts coming on to him, all while Yoake navigates the busy streets to race to Kaizaki’s place.

The entire premise of ReLIFE seems a little creepy at first, until a scene like this comes around and you realize there’s nothing to be concerned about, because Kaizaki is a good guy who knows his boundaries. Even if An thinks he’s 17 like her, and even if consensual sex with her is legal, he’s not going to do that, and not just because he doesn’t love her.

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At the same time, An’s long look at the MD, probing, knowing questions, and her little hair-and-glasses trick were all clues that she’s not 17 either, but rather another ReLIFE agent like Yoake—a far more reckless and cavalier agent than Yoake, to boot. But this was a legitimate test on how to deal with romantic advances from high school girls, and Kaizaki passed with flying colors.

I liked this reveal, a lot actually, because it was earned. It explains why An was so friendly and close to Kaizaki all this time without ever being the main focus. It explains her equally awful test scores. It eliminates the love triangle with Hishino for the duration of the experiment, while also opening the possibility of Kaizaki and An remaining friends when the experiment is over, since she won’t be losing her memories of him.

Even the show’s poster was a clue about An. And she wasn’t even entirely lying about “love at first sight” either. When she saw Kaizaki’s case file, she knew she had her ReLIFE subject. Only she couldn’t be his support because her training wasn’t quite complete, hence the transfer to Yoake.

While the cat is out of the bag about her identity, the other four members of Kaizaki’s circle are still in the dark, which should make for an interesting new dynamic; it also makes the episodes with An in them worth another watch.

At the same time, a great many cats remain securely in bags, like the details of how Kaizaki was found and selected, why An really isn’t his primary support, and who the heck Sample #001 was, and how and why he failed. Heck, An could be Sample #001, for all I know. And what do you know: the next episode looks to be a prequel of sorts, so those mysteries may not be mysteries for long.

One thing’s for sure: I’m barrelling through ReLIFE like there’s no tomorrow…but I can’t help it. Show’s too damn good!

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ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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ReLIFE – 04

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ReLIFE takes things to the next level by delving deeper than ever before into a character other than Kaizaki, namely Kariu Rena. We’ve been able to infer since we met her that she considered her silver pin more than just a mark of status, with all of its perks and privileges, but a symbol that she was “good enough” to stand beside Oga.

It’s the kind of subject no one dare even bring up in her presence, but we’re privy to it because we’re in her head. She can’t hide how she feels there. But now Hishiro has the silver pin, and Hishiro is beside Oga and calling him “Kazu-kun,” while casting sneering, haughty, and/or victorious smirks at Kariu, as if to rub salt in the wound.

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Obviously, it’s not Hishiro’s intent to antagonize Kariu—quite the contrary; she thinks she’s on the cusp of starting a friendship with her—but all that matters is how Kariu is interpreting Hishiro’s faces and overall behavior, and because Hishiro isn’t aware she’s doing any harm, she can’t stop the vicious cycle that builds and builds like a knot in Kariu’s stomach.

It’s not just Hishiro, either: Kariu would at least have a release valve in athletic greatness, but her friend Honoka beats her on the volleyball court as easily as Hishiro beats her in test scores. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like either girl exerted the slightest effort to best Kariu. They just did it.

When Oga, who is totally tone-deaf when it comes to matters of the heart, tries to invite Hoshino to eat with them, Kaizaki and An read the room and realize what a bad idea that is, since Kariu is right there, already staring daggers into Hoshino.

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While Kaizaki handled that lunch situation about as well as he could, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem of Hishiro not wanting to be a loner but still eating totally alone. Kaizaki has to balance his desire to help Hishiro live a happier high school life while trying to stave off all-out war between Kariu and Hishiro.

All this is to say that Kaizaki cares. These “kids” he shares his life with day to day have become important to him; and thus his life starts to revolve around them. Yoake advises caution—sometimes kids need to fall and feel pain sometimes so they learn something—but welcomes Kaizaki’s newfound concern for his fellow man, something he didn’t really have as a NEET.

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But all of Kaizaki’s progress is put into jeopardy when the tinderbox that is Kariu finally catches. In a moment when Hishiro is simply trying to reach out to her, Kariu storms off, but immediately afterwards sees Hishiro with Oga again, and wonders if she smiles at him like she smiles at Kaizaki.

Kariu’s frustration builds late at night while practicing in the gym, after Honoka leaves with her childhood friends and there’s no one around but herself and her thoughts. When she returns the gym key and finds Hishiro’s bag outside the lounge, she decides to steal it, just to try to get back some semblance of control; to, for once, hurt Hishiro, rather than the other way ’round.

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Her caper doesn’t go so well, because Kaizaki happens to cross paths with her on the way to dropping off the study room key. Kariu tries to lie, but Kaizaki sees and recognizes Hishiro’s bag; the jig is up. Kariu tries to run, Kaizaki tries to stop her, and Kariu starts to fall down the stairs…

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Just when I thought some weird looks from Hishiro were going to end up landing Kariu in the hospital or worse, Kaizaki puts his creaky old body on the line and makes a shoestring catch, only to end up falling with her the rest of the way.

Hishiro hears the crash and goes to investigate, and finds Kaizaki and Kariu huddled together on the bottom of the steps, with her bag in Kariu’s arm. Roll Credits.

While I’d like to think Kaizaki can call a time out and explain all of this, the fact of the matter is, the most logical explanation for what Hishiro sees is that Kaizaki and Kairu conspired to steal her bag together, which means they’ve got it out for her, which means Kaizaki never wanted to be her friend, putting all of his interactions with her in a new light. Hishiro is a bright kid but inexperienced in social skills, and may well believe the worst.

I still hope they can sort it out somehow, but it doesn’t look good. What started out as a sight gag (Hishiro’s funny faces) has turned quite dark and serious. But hey, I’m not complaining: this is some damn good high school drama, de-aging pill or no. Kariu’s seiyu Tomatsu Haruka deserves particular praise for her sympathetic performance.

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ReLIFE – 03

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Kaizaki may be Yoake’s project, but Kaizaki has made Hishiro his, with entertaining results. Her manner of returning 1,000 yen to him is nothing short of inspired, while her attempts to smile at Kariu end up giving the redhead the mistaken impression that Hishiro is looking down on her (figuratively).

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The growing disconnect between Hishiro’s intentions and Kariu’s interpretations ends up being the primary driving force for an episode that’s otherwise pretty light. It goes without saying that despite his youthful looks, Kaizaki’s body is still every bit 27 years old, and his lack of warming up for a ball throw results in a paltry one-meter toss and lots of shoulder pain.

We also meet the childhood friend trio of Tamarai (Kariu’s athletic rival, but also friend), Inukai, and Asaji.

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When trying to be friendly with Kariu, Hishiro only manages to add fuel to the fire that she somehow has it out for Kariu, not remembering her name and failing to shake hands properly, along with that creepy smile that is the envy of anime villains everywhere.

Kaizaki actually gets off to a great start in the 50m dash, but trips and falls hard, prompting health rep Asaji to princess carry him to the nurse; a demoralizing new low for Kaizaki, but thankfully school isn’t all about sports!

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Things look up when Kaizaki learns Hishiro shares his route to school. When they arrive together, Kariu spots Hishiro smiling naturally (because she’s not consciously trying to smile), confirming her belief Hishiro is the type of girl who is mean to other girls but nice to the guys.

All the while, Kaizaki seems resigned to the fact no one will remember him in a year, so it’s not like he’s trying to start a romance with anyone. At home during his log entry, Yoake is glad Kaizaki is making faster progress than “Sample 001” in his first month of his ReLIFE.

At the moment, Yoake is more concerned about the cumulative emotional damage being done to Kariu, for which Kaizaki is indirectly responsible via his suggesting Hishiro smile more. Judging from those dead eyes, it doesn’t look like Kariu’s going to put up with Hishiro’s faces much longer.

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ReLIFE – 02

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The test scores are in, and a great many things become known. In ten years, Kaizaki forgot between 75% and 96% of everything he learned in high school the first time around. Kariu is mad about losing the class rep job to Hishiro not because she can’t get free lunches, but because she has feelings for Ooga. Finally, Onoya has even worse test scores than Kaizaki…and she’s a real high schooler!

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These two need tutoring, and Ooga is happy to serve the role as tutor, but gets more than he bargained for when Kaizaki and An start digging into his relationship with Kariu, including their matching earrings. I’m liking how quickly yet naturally the circle of friends is coming together.

I also liked Kaizaki’s outsize reaction to An whipping out her cell phone; once a capital crime in his day, now students use them with impunity (outside of class, that is). Or how he takes Hishiro’s reaction to his lending her 1000 yen (that he’s like a grown-up) literally; worried the brainy girl is on to him.

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Hishiro comes to dominate the latter half of the episode as Kaizaki makes it his mission to get her to come out of her shell a little more. The fact her forced smiles are so disconcerting is proof of how genuine and straightforward she is; the only smiles she can make are real ones, all of which were triggered by Kaizaki being nice to her.

At the beginning of the episode, Hishiro has no friends; now she has one, and of her own choosing, boldly asking for Kaizaki’s phone number. Hishiro really shines in this episode, greatly aided by her adorable character design…and Kayano Ai’s adorable voice.

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Ryou, who was skulking around corners the whole episode, observing Kaizaki from a distance, not only suggests he try to quit smoking (the smell lingers, plus no one will sell to someone with his new babyface), but also not to get too attached to anyone. Apparently, when the year-long experiment is over, everyone young Kaizaki interacted with will forget him, because he’ll be back to being 27.

Not like that’s something he’ll be able to explain if they every learned, but this still seems like a downer, especially considering Kaizaki will remember them, and will likely not feel so great as a result. When Hishiro told Kaizaki she had to rush things, that this was her last chance, it reminded him how confident he was that his future would go the way he thought it would.

It didn’t, and ReLIFE is ostensibly the path to getting somewhere closer to his ideal future (or even creating a new one). But having to sever all his new bonds at the end of the year seems like a steep price to pay for that future. As I watch the next eleven episodes (at my own pace), it will be interesting to see if he ever tries to haggle over that price. Hishiro—callsign “Sorry Cat”—is someone worth knowing. Could she also be a bond worth preserving, even if it breaks Ryou’s rules?

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ReLIFE – 01 (First Impressions)

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27-year-old NEET Kaizaki Arata meets Yoake Ryou of the ReLIFE Laboratory, and agrees to participate in an experiment aimed at rehabilitating NEETs. Arata takes a pill that makes him look ten years younger and endures a taxing first day as a third-year high school student, with Ryou as his observer.

Anime in which the MC re-lives their life in one form or another are nothing new—ERASED being a recent example—so a new take on it requires good execution. ReLIFE largely succeeds by keeping things light (aside from a couple of dark-ish moments).

The science of Arata’s transformation is thankfully not explained; suffice it to say the pill is a means to an end: a second chance at having a successful adulthood (as measured by Japanese society). Arata has a healthy skepticism initially, but as he’s just been cut off by his parents, he can’t very well turn down job that guarantees a year of living expenses.

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The veneer of seediness inherent in a secretly 27-year-old hanging out with high schoolers is quickly washed away by the exhilaration inherent in an adult being plunged back into the crucible of youth with no manual. Young people don’t just look different, they talk and act different as well, and while settling back into long-forgotten patterns is no cakewalk for Arata, it’s engrossing to watch.

This show has a nice even core of six main characters, including Arata and Ryou, and we get a quick intro of the other four in short order. Three are girls: the aloof brainiac Hishiro, the prickly-yet-kind Kairu, and the peppy Onoya, who takes an instant liking to her fellow transfer student.

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Like I said, the first day doesn’t go so well, with Arata constantly drawing attention to himself and the fact he has no idea what he’s doing yet. This culminates in the teacher, Amatsu Kokoro, finding a pack of cigs in his bag and calling him to the teacher’s lounge after school.

Arata has to write an apology letter, but when he applies his 27-year-old charm and perspective on Amatsu (who in reality is two years younger than him), her initial harsh manner softens considerably. It comes as no surprise the person at school he’s able to interact with most successfully is the one closest to his real age!

Of course, he’ll have to learn how to interact (again) with teenagers and start acting like one himself (at least a very mature teenager). Ryou intends to give him a wide berth in terms of how he’ll spend the year, be it keeping his head down in the background or making a big “Springtime of Life” splash.

But Ryou wants Arata to remember the purpose of the experiment is to reform NEETs (a label Arata dislikes); ending up right back where he started in the beginning of the episode would mean the experiment failed.

Arata’s year will likely fall somewhere in between the two extremes of high school life and exposure, and the credits indicate he’ll befriend all the other four core students one way or another. I for one am excited to see how this experiment shakes out.

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P.S. I am aware the entire 13-episode run is available all at once, Netflix-style, but I won’t be marathoning. That being said, I may well finish reviewing it faster than if it aired once a week. Think Prison School pace.