Would you go back to high school? How about to sweeten the deal, you can get a job if you go back to high school? Arata Kaizaki incoherently decided yes. The ReLife anime takes the typical millenials’ problem of achieving a stable lifestyle and presents an alternative: starting your life over from high school and making things right. Did ReLife prove its point? Did the anime provide a suitable alternative? What comes next is full of spoilers and this is the review of ReLife.
Arata Kaizaki is a 27-year-old male who is having difficulty finding a stable and respectable single-man-lifestyle. After a night at the bar and a giant exaggeration of he truth to some of his colleagues he stumbles home embarrassed, cursing his pride and his lifestyle. As he walks home, a man from a research firm called ReLife presents him with an opportunity to participate in their experiment and Arata accepts on the condition that he would receive a job offer after completing the experiment. He wakes up the next morning surprised at the fact that he looks like his 17-year-old self and is enrolled in a high school by his observer Ryo Yoake (which he met last night). As he is introduced into school life, he befriends a few of his classmates and lives their daily high school lives as (anime) teenagers do. This anime attacks concepts of bullying, jealousy, and friendship from an adult’s and teenager’s perspective. As an adult, problems involving those concepts may seem rather childish when teenagers are involved. But those problems have an impact on Arata, who has lived through an adult-like and more consequential version of those problems. By applying his previous experience, he solves those problems and hence affects those around him to act in a way that proper human beings should.
This story is supplemented by a romance plot that involves Arata and Chizuru Hishiro, a girl who was always socially and emotionally awkward and would be stigmatized by her ability to do anything by herself. Chizuru’s biggest problem was that she had a hard time making friends and consulted Arata for help.
It was this same grin that led to many problems and, later, many friends. It was this same smile that also triggered Arata’s personal justice and eventually became Chizuru’s white knight. But there’s one big problem: Arata falling in love with a teenager is obviously criminal, but he can’t help but have these feelings for her. And on top of that he can only spend one school year with her. As couples form at the series’ finale the only couple left to form is Arata and Chizuru. But Arata’s moral code reminds him that he’s an adult and can’t do things like that to a girl who’s almost half his age (despite Chizuru being the same age). So the two of them just hug and wish the best for each other, leaving the ending as open ended as possible and leaving the audience knowing barely anything about how any of the characters handle their future.
The theme of dealing problems with a mature and responsible mindset is always present and I like how Arata is treated like an outsider to those problems in the audience’s perspective and provides good decisions to them. But hand-in-hand with that is the theme of respect, whether it be to yourself or to someone else. Without respecting anybody, all this series’ problems would end in a fiery mess as big as the Hindenburg. And the last theme the studio wanted to present, and possibly failed them in the end, was the theme of always working hard towards what you want. While it worked for most of the series it doesn’t hold water in the very end where it mattered the most: does Arata’s and Chizuru’s hard work pay off for them in the end and are they rewarded a good start to an adult lifestyle? This question is never answered. The audience has no chance to see their future outside of their high school career and all the audience gets is this message of, “everything will be A-Okay!” Opening up the series with a realistic problem and ending in a fantastical, open-ended and irresponsible fashion is practically shooting yourself in the foot if you message was “hard work means great life ahead” because we don’t see that “great life ahead.” There’s no resolution.
So what’s the real message here? I personally think that while it was ambitious that the animation studio wanted to send a goodwill message about life, they didn’t want to send the wrong message about reality and hence ended the series in typical anime fantasy fashion. It’s unfortunate that most of the series’ drama was well constructed only to end by backfiring on their own goodwill. As the saying goes, “That’s life.” Or in this case, “That’s ReLife.”
In the end, ReLife is a good watch. It portrays some nice and relatively isolated dramatic events that can have an adult reflection and adult perspective to them. But I think there was a struggle to portray the message of hard work leading to what is deserved leading to an unfulfilling ending. I do recommend watching this series, even if this series ended up conceding to escapism to finish this series. C’est la vie.
P.S. There is a manga for this. If you don’t like the ending in the anime, you should check out the manga. It hasn’t ended and goes way past the anime ending. Hopefully it ends with a better constructed ending.