Synopsis: Twenty-eight year old Kaizaki is given a second chance at life through the ReLife program, after past traumas leave him in a rut. Thrust back into high school in the body of a seventeen-year-old, he grows past his previous troubles, aided along by good friends and by stiff and serious Hishiro, who carries secrets of her own.
ReLife shoots itself in the foot with the premise alone. A grown man is given a second chance at life through a special program that lets him live as a high schooler once more, for a whole year. This is prime territory for all sorts of creepy, frankly illegal anime shenanigans, the likes of which you’d most likely see in worse shows. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find that ReLife is none of that, instead coming together as a terribly sweet story of recovery.
This show has good production value, I’d say. The animation took me by surprise at first, until I realized I’d been so desensitized to the usual overly-sexualized character designs of other shows that it was a notable change for me to see normal-looking characters with, ahem, body structures that make biological sense given the age of the cast. Once I got past that, I realized the animation is in fact quite good – but never as good as its soundtrack. Smooth lounge jazz punctuates the entirety of this show, as if to remind us that despite the setting, we are in the head of an adult man coming to grips with this new chance at life he’s been given.
Much of the charm of ReLife comes from its characters. Leading man Arata Kaizaki is a genuinely likable guy to follow. He isn’t anything like the usual paper-bland run-of-the-mill self-inserts you’d find in a lot of modern anime, and he isn’t an obnoxious jerk like what you’d find in anime trying not to go the male gratification route. Neither does he take advantage of the fact that he’s an adult man thrust back into high school and surrounded by teenage girls which, thank god, ReLife, for showing restraint on that end. Rather, Kaizaki is a kind-hearted, smooth-talking mature dude trying his best to move on from a traumatic past. He isn’t irritating at all. Between characters like Hayate Ayasaki from Hayate the Combat Butler and Arata Kaizaki from ReLife (I know, strange comparison), I genuinely think anime is better off when they cast likeable, hard-working guys as opposed to the usual empty husks and raging edgelords the medium is synonymous for. It’s just a good time all around watching good people grow and mature.
The same goes for Chizuru Hishiro. Like how Kaizaki hasn’t been written merely as a costume for the audience to wear, Hishiro is far more than just an appendage to latch onto the lead. Most of her interactions are with Kaizaki, sure, but she’s well and truly her own character. In fact, I liked her character arc more. It’s less her unrealistically blossoming into an outgoing, outspoken person and more her finding the drive and motivation to break out of her shell little by little as she builds relationships with the people around her. It was a pleasant thing to see.
Lovable as the cast may be, ReLife disappoints a little toward the latter half of the original season. The plot loses its train of thought for all of, like, three episodes, focusing instead on the melodrama of side-characters Kariu, Ooga and Tamarai as they work out their complicated feelings for and frustrations with one another. While it’s okay to give your side characters growth throughout the story, the amount of focus ReLife gives to this little sidequest is a bit unbalanced, given that this is supposed to be the story of Kaizaki and his experience with the ReLife program. By the end of the original season, much as I liked it, it was a still a little unclear to me how Kaizaki was able to work past his trauma. Had they focused on that instead of gallivanting too far into the side story this might have been less of a problem, and the final episode of the first season would have felt a little more earned.
Then comes the OVA.
I absolutely adore ReLife: Kanketsu-hen. It’s an OVA, so it’s really short at only four episodes long. I do think that this is, in fact, to its benefit – unlike what others may think and probably to the ire of those who have read the webcomic source material – because unlike in the first season, Kanketsu-hen is forced to focus on our leads and their story. And thus we see the story of Kaizaki and Hishiro unfold and by god, is it a lovely little story.
Is the ending a bit of an improbable Deus Ex Machina? Sure, probably, you could look at it that way. If you choose to look at it that way, though, I have to ask – why? So enjoyable was the payoff at the end of Kanketsu-hen that I was totally okay with looking past any of the logical loopholes that they might have blown through to let what had happened, happen. I liked how things played out. I love how side-characters Yoake and Onoya were involved in making that ending come to fruition in a way that matched their characters. I wanted to see Hishiro and Kaizaki find happiness, and ReLife: Kanketsu-hen gave me that in such a wonderful way that I literally smiled myself to sleep the night I watched it. Easily in my top ten anime endings of all time.
ReLife may lose you at the starting block with its dangerous premise. I do highly recommend looking past it and forgiving the original creators for their setting, though – what awaits is a story that, while sometimes lost and sometimes meandering, finds its way back to its beautiful protagonists and the struggles they’ve endured together. ReLife is a sweet ride set to groovy music and book-ended with a wonderful ending, with characters you’d be hard-pressed not to like. Give it a shot, and I hope you have a good ReLife.
(+) Good, lovable, fleshed-out characters always make for an enjoyable story
(+) Jazz music and a subtle art style lends this series a different, somewhat mature feel
(+) Your Name ending
(-) There’s a bit of a side trip towards the end of the original story that might throw you off a little