Good Ol’ Review and Appreciation: The Beautiful, Poignant and Resonant ReLIFE

ReLIFE

TYPE OF REVIEW : GOOD OL’ REVIEW
WARNING! Moderate to major spoilers.

It has been on my to-do list for a while now, but I found some time to finally jump into the amazing world of ReLIFE. I’ve heard many good things about the popular webtoon by Yayoiso and had planned to watch the 13-episode anime last year.

But it wasn’t until this past week that I was able to finally enjoy this amazing story. And it’s just as well as I was able to begin with the 13-episode anime series followed the recently released 4-episode OVA finale. I then was able to read the entire webtoon in its entirety as well, also recently completed. And I capped my ReLIFE experience with the live-action film which featured some familiar faces for me.

Being able to consume everything ReLIFE, basically uninterrupted, this past week really was the best experience I could have hoped for. I don’t know if I could’ve handled having to wait weeks or even years for the next release! Instead, I was able to fully immerse myself with these great characters and impactful story in a way I haven’t with other anime or manga I’ve enjoyed in the past.

ReLIFE

For anyone that isn’t familiar with ReLIFE, the story focuses on 27-year-old Kaizaki Arata who has quit his full-time job at a “black company” and now barely gets by with a part-time job at a convenience store while losing hope continuing to look for more permanent work. One evening, he is approached by Yoake Ryo, a representative of ReLIFE Laboratory, with an offer. That is, to be part of an experiment that turns Arata’s outward appearance back 10 years so he can return to high school as a student for one year. After that year, ReLIFE would help Arata gain full-time employment.

Arata soon takes the pill that makes him 10 years younger and his whirlwind year as a 12th grade student begins. Through the year, the ReLIFE experiment is meant to have a subject like Arata experience youth all over again in an effort to change or fix whatever might be wrong with their (adult) life. For Arata, his presence ends up having an effect on the people around him as well. A positive effect on his new (high school-aged) friends who in turn help Arata’s mental and emotional development as well.

ReLIFE

There is a catch though: at the end of the year when Arata returns to his adult life, all traces of him will be erased from the memories of anyone he interacted with as a 17 (later 18) year old. However, he himself will retain his memories, part of how the year is supposed to help him back in his adult life.

Just that premise alone is intriguing enough. The idea that one can go back and experience childhood (or in this case, high school life) once again is certainly something that many people (myself included) have thought about from time to time. Not only just going back in time, but going through that experience while knowing everything you’ve learned and experienced since you were that age originally.

But ReLIFE is so much more than this magical sci-fi, seemingly high-concept premise.

ReLIFE is best as a slice of life story. Equal parts comedy, drama and romance, ReLIFE excellently tells the story of Arata and his new group of friends during a year in their life. For Arata, it is an especially extraordinary year. For all of them, it is the last year of high school and essentially their last year of childhood. But the experiences they go through during this year are so relatable that anyone can easily see themselves as one of these characters. And that is a sign of a truly great and impactful story.

There is a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality about the “simpler times.” “Adulting” is a term that’s become popular to use in the last few years. Indeed, the responsibilities of being a grown-up, an adult can sometimes be overwhelming or stressful. And that’s what triggers many to reminisce about those simpler times when we were all younger and all we had to worry about was schoolwork and the typical teenage angst.

It is easy to relate to Arata. At least for me. Heck, if someone offered me a ReLIFE, I’d probably sign on the dotted line immediately. Though at the same time, I would probably only swallow that pill if I knew that I’d be meeting and befriending classmates like those Arata met and befriended here. As a 31-year-old guy right now, I’m familiar with American teenagers of 2018 and I’m not sure I really want to be surrounded by the stereotypical 2018 American teen. I don’t know that I’d want to deal with 2005 American teens I actually did grow up with.

Anyway, Arata’s one-year journey really was full of meaning for everyone involved. (The reader or viewer included!) ReLIFE would successively and alternately make you laugh aloud and cry your eyes out. And you truly cared about these characters. Their actions and greater story were sincere and realistic. And again, very realatable and accessible.

Embracing the moment, living life to the fullest, fighting your insecurities, opening yourself up to connect with other people, having confidence; it’s all things that we might not know about while in high school and things that we might forget about when we’re all grown up.

The story also touches upon the harsh and very real societal factors that might trigger those insecurities or prevent us from living life. But ReLIFE shows that despite all that might stand in the way, it is very possible to overcome them. Even without a magic pill.

ReLIFE

Now to the three specific mediums ReLIFE was presented through. I think each has their attractive qualities. But for me, I think I prefer the webtoon/manga the most. The anime series is a close second. And the film is third of the three.

I prefer the webtoon as it obviously has the most room and freedom to go more in depth with the story and characters. Indeed, the anime was produced as the manga was still ongoing. The original 13-episodes convered about half of what would be the finished manga. The four-episode finale heavily truncates more than 100 episodes of the second half of the manga.

Watching the 17 episodes of the anime first, I felt like it was a full series. Even if the series had ended with Episode 13, I think it would have still been a good ending. A little abrupt, perhaps? But we know what will happen at the end of the year. And there was an understanding that both Arata and Chizuru’s ReLIFEs would be considered successes.

At the same time, Episode 13 takes place about halfway through the schoolyear. I actually already had the 13 episodes on my computer ready to go last year. But only decided to starting watching last week. After watching Episode 13, I wondered if there were more episodes that I did not know of. A season 2 perhaps? That’s when I saw that the four-episode finale had only been released last March.

The four episodes definitely felt like they were speeding through the second half of Arata’s schoolyear. And especially as we now know Chizuru’s true identity, her feelings for Arata and the heavily abridged version of Ohga Kazuomi’s older brother. There is a small feeling that the four episodes are mere summaries of a season’s worth of episodes.

What fully redeems the four-episode finale is the pitch perfect final scene. The post-ReLIFE fates of Arata and Chizuru, after all they’ve been through, was truly pitch perfect. Ending the series on that wonderful moment (won’t go into detail here, just in case) was really perfect.

But there’s just something about the manga. (Especially reading it as a webtoon, continuously scrolling down to read.) The episodes of the manga not convered by the anime (or truncated into the four episodes) add so much more to the story and the depth of almost all our main characters. The story of Kazuomi’s older brother especially, really adds so much more meaning to the ending of the series and Arata’s post-ReLIFE decision. It is touched upon in the anime’s ending, but the story and its peripheral effects are definitely more impactful in the manga. It is more fleshed out and helps add so much to the characters.

ReLIFE

Chizuru’s character also gets a huge amount of development in the second half of the manga that also is heavily compressed into the four episodes.

The manga’s ending, meanwhile, is definitely more drawn out. In this sense, I prefer the anime’s ending. That final shot feels more ethereal and ending on such a high gives the viewer an exciting thrill while leaving the rest to our imagination. The final sequence of events in the manga is switched around from how it was presented by the anime. And instead of ending on just that emotional moment between Arata and Chizuru, we get a much clearer view of their post-ReLIFE lives. A more complete and neatly tied up, if not more calm, way to end the story. It is certainly not bad. It’s very good. But I definitely prefer the anime’s ending.

ReLIFE

Now with the live action film, it’s very interesting watching it last of the three. Going into the film knowing the entire ReLIFE story really influenced what I thought while watching the movie and now after I’ve finished. The film too was made before at least the final 60 chapters of the manga. So the film had its own original ending.

If the final 100 or so manga chapters felt compressed and rushed in the four episode finale, then compressing more than 140 chapters into a two hour film seems like an impossible task.

Really, it’s an admirable effort. It speeds through a few distinct events from the manga before spending a good chunk of the film on the graduation trip (which was not animated in the series) and the film-original ending for Arata and his relationship with Chizuru.

Honoka, Akira and Nobu don’t exist in the film, An is not a ReLIFE support supervisor and Ryo’s role is sadly diminished.

I don’t really know how the film plays to someone who hasn’t seen the anime or read the manga. The film leaves out a lot of even the basic explanation (and thus, exposition scenes) about ReLIFE, the effects and the goal of the experiment. Speeding through the different events felt a little disjointed and that means less opportunity to really develop the characters. Only Arata and barely Chizuru get any sort of development. And that’s even with my knowledge from the manga and anime of who all these characters are.

The scene that best illustrates the lack of development and the heavy constraints the film’s plot was under is when Arata invites Ryo to come along for the graduation trip. Ryo is much more integrated into the group of friends in the manga and anime. In the film, the scene felt very contrived as a way to get Ryo onto the trip as well. He is a main character featured on the posters, after all.

It’s just really difficult to compress ReLIFE into a two-hour film. It’s okay for what it is and it has a reasonably good ending.

The cast is pretty good as well. Taishi Nakagawa leads the film very well. And Yuna Taira seems to really be perfect casting for Hishiro.

As for Yudai Chiba and Mahiro Takasugi, it was fun for me to see them in the film as I know them more as Tensou Sentai Goseiger‘s Arata and Kamen Rider Gaim‘s Mitsuzane “Micchi” Kureshima, respectively. Yudai Chiba is also perfectly cast as Ryo, in what little we saw of him. And Mahiro Takasugi brought “flashy Ohga” to life well too.

If anything, I would love a full live-action series with this cast. But even a live-action series would probably be heavily compressed as well.

Another big difference between the film and the manga/anime has to be its lack of comedy. Of course, the anime and manga have more freedom in terms of sight gags and the like, as well as being able to play around with more flashy and outrageous moments. And getting all that inner dialogue. That hilarious comedy was really a huge part of the anime and manga. It was a perfect balance with the more dramatic and many times, emotional, moments.

For the film, I think it tried to be much more straightforward in being nostalgic and more sentimental. Again, it felt rushed. But just focusing on the idea of living life to the fullest and not giving up hope.

My one nitpick of the anime and manga now might be how I wished we saw more of Arata and Ryo’s relationship develop. That is, them becoming good friends. I think we did get that in the end, but it would’ve been nice to see them grow closer in a more direct and outward way through the manga and anime.

ReLIFE

Overall, ReLIFE is truly an amazing story. I don’t know if I would consider myself a NEET per se. But I definitely can relate to and see myself in Arata. He is an endearing character, so it is easy to connect to him and wish him well through his one-year journey. That he had such a positive effect on the people around him was a testament to his character. That he could have a positive effect on a reader or viewer is even more amazing.

But ReLIFE as a whole does that. Through Arata and the rest of the gang, we learn just how much of a positive effect living life to the fullest, enjoying every moment, never giving up, persevering, friendships, working hard and staying strong against insecurities and adversity can have on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

I went into ReLIFE with pretty high expectations from all the positive things I had read about it. To my very pleasant surprise, it exceeded my expectations. And just like Arata and his friends had on each other, ReLIFE certainly has had a meaningful and positive effect on my life as well. For that, I am definitely grateful.

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