ReLIFE: A Generic Mix of Popular Anime Trends Lacking in Depth and Entertainment Value
The prospect of being able to live part of your life over again and do things differently isn’t a new setup in any media, let alone anime. One of the more memorable attempts at tackling this premise was a 1986 novel called “Replay”, but it was hardly the first. ReLIFE is late to the party, and it makes very little attempt at subverting this familiar premise. But that’s okay; originality isn’t everything. Having an unoriginal narrative that’s executed very well is far more valuable than having an original, poorly-executed narrative. All things considered, ReLIFE seemed to be primed for the former category, but ultimately, it wasn’t to be. There simply isn’t one quality I can recall that this show excels in. Not in pacing, not in characterisation, not in drama, not in art, not in animation, not in sound, not in comedy and not in tone. And for the record, having a poorly-executed *and* unoriginal narrative is the least valuable of the bunch. So before you jump into ReLIFE based solely on the weight of its premise, allow me to tell you just what you’re getting yourself into.
ReLIFE's scenario is likely familiar to anyone who has read their fair share of web novels; it's the "starting life again in another world from zero" premise that has been steadily wedging its way into recent anime adaptations. That said, ReLIFE feels far more reminiscent of Welcome to the NHK!, wherein the series delves into and ultimately seeks to 'solve' hikikomori issues and thought processes with stunning authenticity. However, this similarity only really extends as far as ReLIFE's initial premise. For better or for worse, ReLIFE only ever touches on NEET lifestyles once or twice throughout its 13-episode run, opting instead for an irritating amount of tiresome adolescent melodrama. Now, melodrama in itself isn't an inherently bad thing; if utilised competently, it can explore a particular theme in far greater depth and provoke far greater emotional impact than if it were to attempt to emulate the nuances and confines of reality. Melodrama is an incredibly helpful tool for dealing with hefty themes even if it ultimately cheapens a character's conflict when viewed from a critical outlook. It is unfortunate, then, that ReLIFE's themes are the weakest and most ill-defined element of the show.
ReLIFE began quite promisingly by setting up several intriguing plot and character threads to later be drawn on and building chemistry between characters with genuinely funny ー if largely hollow and repetitive ー humour. It gradually introduced several interesting and entertaining characters, though they never really stray far enough from their established stereotypes. ReLIFE set up its initial premise exceptionally well, held up mostly on the merit of its characters. However, the ultimate tragedy strikes when the show puts on too much weight for the characters to carry. ReLIFE starts to buckle when it first gives its audience a taste of drama though somehow manages to stay afloat just on the merit of its characters, but it falls flat on its face when it ends up shoving too much bad drama into the show.
Bad drama is drama that viewers can't relate to, care about or drags on for far too long. ReLIFE's particular brand of drama takes on the latter form by having the drama revolve around what amounts to side characters given too much screen time while the usual main characters are sidelined. It doesn't help that ReLIFE drags out this melodramatic subplot for an entire quarter of its run time, slowly chipping away at my patience and quickly pushing the focus characters from 'sympathetic' territory into 'irritating-and-just-get-on-with-it' territory. As time wore on, I grew to actively dislike, if not outright hate, most of the characters in ReLIFE as more and more melodrama was piled on in a weak attempt at keeping me on the edge of my seat. Admittedly, I was on the edge of my seat ー I came very close to walking straight out of the room and never looking back several times throughout these four agonisingly slow-paced episodes.
ReLIFE spends too much time on what amounts to meaningless drama with no lasting effect on the characters involved. These are the sorts of problems that I dealt with at the age of 13. In spite of the questionable weight of these issues, I was expecting to find it interesting and relatable, but I instead found it drawn out and ultimately shallow. ReLIFE wastes four episodes on angsty melodrama that has absolutely nothing to do with the protagonists, and it doesn't even have the decency to tackle it in any real depth. Worse than being shallow, it's also boring and lacks any weight because it's incredibly obvious how Kariu's problems are going to be neatly tied up in the end. As for enjoyment, my criticism is as follows: I've seen it done plenty of times before, and I've seen it done a whole lot better. And in ReLIFE's case, the characters that have been shoved into this subplot (such as generic sportsgirl #87408) don't have nearly enough depth for me to latch onto, or they are boring renditions of existing archetypes I've seen a million times over. Do you want good high school melodrama? Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou excels at it. Do you want shallow and inoffensive high school melodrama? Take ReLIFE or Yume Kara, Samenai.
ReLIFE is at odds with itself ー while its premise is designed for exploring its characters in a dramatic and meaningful way, most of its characters are designed primarily for light-hearted comedy and light character drama. It certainly doesn't help that all of the drama is predictable and boring, and when the show empties itself completely of comedy, it becomes a slog. Worse than this, ReLIFE decides that it suddenly wants to revolve around teen melodrama that bears little resemblance to its original themes for a quarter of its length. Not only does ReLIFE almost entirely lose its focus half-way through, but the narrative also becomes dry, boring and predictable. After a certain amount of tiresome melodrama, it becomes impossible to see these characters in a sympathetic light anymore. The more this subplot was dragged out, the more irritating the characters become. In the end, it amounts to nothing more than bad filler in a show that had no room for filler. Aside from the sparse developments for the protagonist and one other character, everything else is ultimately rendered moot after the subplot reaches its conclusion.
Why should I care?
What most bothers me about ReLIFE is all of the wasted potential ー not only in that it doesn't explore any NEET-related problems or the fact that it wasted four episodes piling more melodrama on top of even more melodrama for characters that were never developed enough for me to care about in the first place, but also how ReLIFE doesn't follow any of its more interesting threads. Yoake is an interesting and, as it turns out, flawed character that isn't perfect at his job. ReLIFE spends an episode focusing on him and his past (another one of its subplots), but in spite of this focus, Yoake still remains largely mysterious to both Kaizaki and viewers; we don't really know what makes him tick. I wouldn't have minded if Yoake got four episodes to himself and his character was actually explored in a decent amount of depth; he has the potential to become an interesting AND multi-faceted character. Unfortunately, not only does ReLIFE spend this time on a much more irritating and less interesting character, it also reduces Yoake to gags most of the time, which means we rarely ever get to see the real him.
And it isn't only Yoake, either ー An, another character who *should* be prominent in ReLIFE doesn't get nearly as much screen time as she deserves. In fact, she gets even less time than Yoake. Much like Yoake, she is mysterious and a lot of her qualities feel vague and ill-defined; her personality, her interests, her perspective and also how she feels about the romantic tension she oftentimes finds herself entrapped in. Fortunately, An has a lot more surface personality than Yoake and has a bigger role than gags most of the time, but because she has even less focus than Yoake, it all balances out in the end. We never get a sense of what makes either Yoake or An tick, and most of the focus that could have been directed at clearing up this vagueness is instead used for perpetuating its tiresome melodrama for far too long.
It's also worth mentioning that another good character, Chizuru, gets enough screen time for us to actually understand and care about her, but I often found myself thinking: "can we get back to something more interesting ー you know, like Chizuru?" She gets a decent amount of focus, which is something ReLIFE actually does quite well, but I feel that if the series focused more on her and less on generic insecure sportsgirl #59830 and Kariu's melodrama, it would have been a whole lot less irritating and even entertaining if done well. She disappears for episodes at a time, aside from getting maybe a line or two that don't help to progress the plot in the slightest. Chizuru was a big part of what made the comedy and light-hearted feel of ReLIFE work so well, but she essentially vanished in episodes 7-9; ReLIFE dumbly sidelined one of its best qualities to bring into focus one of its worst subplots.
Oh, and I almost forgot about Kaizaki ー you know, the protagonist? Hey, cut me some slack here, the show seems to forget about him a lot of the time, too! The show rarely decides to focus on the protagonist and his problems, but when it does, it's actually interesting. Kaizaki has so much screen time, yet we see so little of his character. Almost every time he engages with other characters ー and particularly the high school ones ー it's usually quite shallow because Kaizaki needs to stand as a symbol and self-insert for the older audience. None of the more interesting parts of his personality are shown; it's mostly just a way for Kaizaki to crack a joke or reference that the older audience can appreciate. If he showcases too much of his personality, that gets in the way of his status as an easy-to-slip-into pair of trousers. This means that he ends up stuck in a rather odd position as the protagonist ー he's boring, bland and ultimately just feels like an observer. Oh, but he's also an amalgamation of all the 'I'm getting near that age' tropes. Yeahhh, ReLIFE isn't great with handling its characters, but the worst of it is when the show starts dealing with Kaizaki's backstory.
Based off his introduction, one might make the mistake of thinking that Kaizaki is an interesting and flawed character, but this notion is mostly put to rest when Kaizaki's backstory is unveiled. Kaizaki is portrayed as a 'good' person ー the show even uses the term 'hero' to describe him ー with nary a flaw in his personality. It's society that is painted as evil, villainous, wrong, morally reprehensible and just all around dickish while ReLIFE makes every effort to portray Kaizaki as a decent person with no significant flaws. This is ReLIFE's crowning moment of wasted potential. Kaizaki's backstory turns out to be quite interesting, actually, but Kaizaki is still as boring as ever. This has to do with the fact that most of his dark backstory doesn't actually have a lot to do with Kaizaki himself; in it, he mostly plays the supporting role to someone else's main character. The problem with Kaizaki's backstory is that it isn't *his* backstory.
Oddly enough, Kaizaki has rather shallow characterisation in spite of being the protagonist; about his only real character flaw is, as briefly summarised by another character in the show, "a lack of confidence." He has difficulty coming to grips with his past, but there's not a lot else that viewers can find to latch onto Kaizaki as a character. Most of the time, he's simply used as a symbol for the 'approaching middle ages' demographic and plays the role of the counsellor in this high school drama. Unfortunately, Kaizaki turns out to be a phenomenally boring character that never strays far enough from his established archetype to grasp a firm sense of identity. But it almost seems as if he was never meant to develop like that; to Kaizaki, ReLIFE is 'feel good therapy.' By involving himself in and solving these kids problems (i.e. playing the counsellor role), he is expected to gain back some of the confidence that he has lost. Unfortunately, that still doesn't make Kaizaki an interesting ー let alone three-dimensional ー character; instead, it just makes him perfectly suited to overseeing most of the melodrama in this series. At best, it only serves as a justification as to why he sticks so close to his established archetype.
That said, there is some potential to take Kaizaki's character in an interesting direction and give him some depth in the future, but ReLIFE ends before any of this can happen. ReLIFE sets up a great many plot and character elements throughout its run but never draws on the more interesting ones, save for an exception or two with its final two episodes. However, there is some good news: while ReLIFE falls flat as a standalone season, if a sequel airs and actually goes about drawing on the massive amount of setup that ReLIFE has been building up with these 13 episodes, ReLIFE has the potential to become a series with more depth. With enough caution, a second season of ReLIFE could even be enjoyable if it focused a lot more on endearing characters like Chizuru, rather than irritating characters like Kariu. However, this potential certainly doesn't change how poorly-paced and terribly executed the majority of this season was; it only softens the blow. But ReLIFE isn't all bad.
ReLIFE spends its final three episodes attempting to make up for its terrible melodramatic subplot by reverting back to how it was initially, though it still makes a few feeble attempts at meaningful drama. And, surprisingly enough, ReLIFE does actually manage to redeem itself somewhat by its final episode, but it ends up failing on an entirely different level: by the end of its thirteen-episode run, ReLIFE hardly accomplishes anything. ReLIFE is a lot of setup without a lot of execution. Worst of all, ReLIFE doesn't even have a proper conclusion ー it merely cuts off, prompting viewers to pick up the manga if they want more. ReLIFE doesn't end up being much more than a bad advertisement for its parent manga series. When a show doesn't have a firm sense of identity by the end of its run, why would viewers want to delve further into the series? ReLIFE fails not only as a TV series, but also as an extended advertisement.
However, it must be said that the show does have a solid final two episodes that gradually repaired my shattered image of the characters. ReLIFE does follow a predictable flow with its romantic subplot, but it wasn't done poorly. That said, there is one thing that this last arc does quite well: authentic, well-paced and *light* drama. ReLIFE is at its best when it's taking itself seriously, but not ridiculously so. The comedic element is still present here, and it blends well with the drama. Better yet, the characters weren't irritating and it never really felt like the show was dragging on in spite of its undeniably slow pace. I even felt like I could get behind these characters and care about them, their troubles and even their trivialities. This last arc is everything ReLIFE should have been throughout its entire run, but only managed to pull off for half of its episodes.
Unfortunately, ReLIFE's subplot left a fat and ugly scar that wasn't so easily healed, and it ultimately hampered my enjoyment of ReLIFE when it was at its best. It's also regrettable that ReLIFE never truly ends, either. Just when ReLIFE was starting to get into the groove, it was over. On the bright side, that final arc did at least provide some solid setup for a sequel, though that means that this season suffered greatly for it. Had ReLIFE been more focused on what it wanted to achieve throughout its run and stuck more closely to its original premise, it might have ended up as a decent series. Unfortunately, ReLIFE is diluted with too much adolescent melodrama and never quite ends up tackling any issues surrounding NEETs. ReLIFE wastes any potential its initial premise has and resigns itself to being a generic high school drama series with Kaizaki playing the 'lecturer' role, telling these kids how they should go about solving their problems. The final two episodes amount to Kaizaki feeling down in the dumps about the fact that he will one day have to part ways with these kids that he has grown so attached to. It's admittedly executed well (unlike a certain melodramatic subplot), but it doesn't end up accomplishing a whole lot.
To top it all off, ReLIFE doesn't even have decent animation. At a moderate distance, characters lose facial distances. Colour is bland to the point where it could even be called dry. The animation is lacking too; In an attempt to disguise this, there is an excessive usage of what amounts to still frames with characters yapping their faces off. Character designs are mostly generic and boring, but An does have a mildly interesting design. However, the animation does shine in a few choice moments ー episode 4, in particular, has some interesting, creative and even visually appealing animation that does well to visually evoke a certain character's negative emotions. On the whole, though, the artwork and animation are reminiscent of an uninspired low-budget 2011 anime.
ReLIFE doesn't fare too much better in the sound department, either. Something particularly peculiar was the lack of background noise throughout the entire show; it was a rarity to hear crowds clamouring about, and background students make very little noise. This was something I kept noticing every now and again, and while I want to say it was immersion-breaking, the rampant melodrama already did a fine job breaking my immersion. On the non-diegetic side, ReLIFE doesn't sport much variety in its soundtrack. It's chock-full of piano and not much else. In addition to lacking much-needed variety, the tracks that are present are utilised at awkward times, further cheapening character drama. Hearing the same piece played over and over again whenever the show wants to portray drama is not only grating on the ears, but also degrades any emotional impact a scene could have had if it were silent or paired with a better track. ReLIFE's soundtrack is wholly unimpressive and, at its worst, detrimental to the tone this series is trying so hard to pull off.
All of that said, ReLIFE *does* see some mild success by having Kaizaki reflect on his life and his missteps, but it could have been so much more than this if it had actually utilised its premise in a meaningful way. Because of this, ReLIFE ultimately ends up as a bad show with a few redeeming points, rather than a good show with a few flaws. It isn't bad to the point that it's unwatchable, but it even falls below the average high school drama because it throws in too many unnecessary elements that are never properly expanded on. ReLIFE simply doesn't know what it wants to be, and before it can fumble around too much and possibly find some semblance of an identity, it cuts off without accomplishing anything truly meaningful.
What does this make ReLIFE in the end?
ReLIFE is a shallow, semi-funny, melodramatic, endearing, irritating, slow-paced, sentimental, mildly engaging, largely predictable, sometimes boring and sparsely perceptive half-a-show that I don't entirely regret watching. At times, its narrative is a mess. However, at its best, it is funny and endearing in the way it approaches its subject matter. Unfortunately, these good moments are far and few between, and greatly overshadowed by the irritation likely to be incurred by ReLIFE's unhealthy fixation on melodrama. If the premise piqued your interest, I reluctantly recommend giving it a go, and if you are charmed by its first episode, I reluctantly recommend sticking with it for as long as you can. If you feel as if you are forcing yourself through an episode, take a break and come back to it with a clear mind. However, if nothing changes by the next episode, drop it like a hot potato; it's only going to get worse. And if the first episode doesn't impress you, I heartily recommend not bothering with the rest.
[This review was adapted from my MyAnimeList review.]