ANIME REVIEW: “ReLIFE: Season One” – Animation Scoop


At 27, Arata Kaizaki (voice by Micah Solusod), the central character of the school comedy ReLIFE (2016), is a NEET: An acronym that stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training. The term is generally applied to young men who are seen as not contributing to the Japanese economy—or much of anything else.

Although he completed grad school, Kaizaki quit his first full-time job after only three months—something unheard-of in the Japanese business world. He works part-time in a convenience store and lies about how hard he’s laboring to advance his career to his few remaining friends. His parents have been underwriting his expenses, but they’ve announced they’re not supporting him any longer.

As he lurches home from a drinking session, Ryo Yoake (Josh Grelle) offers Kaizaki a bizarre proposition. The ReLIFE Corporation will support him for one year, if he takes a mysterious capsule that will make him look like a 17-year-old and goes back to high school for that year. Kaizaki agrees, thinking a one-year breather will allow him to put his life back in order. He doesn’t realize the ReLIFE company is using him as a guinea pig for a program to turn NEETs into better-adjusted, productive citizens.

Kaizaki isn’t prepared for the problems this new arrangement produces. He may look 17, but he’s really 27: A decade of smoking, drinking and lack of exercise has taken a physical toll. He pulls muscles when he attempts to participate in gym class. He may be older than his home room teacher, but he gets a stern lecture when she catches him with a pack of cigarettes in his book bag. He’s also 10 years older than the often attractive girls in his class: What would be the emotional, social and legal consequences of getting involved with someone?

Back to the Future (1985) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) re-introduced American adults to their own or their parents’ pasts. Kaizaki even more of a fish out of water. He’s at a different school, and the kids he meets are not the ones he knew at 17. It’s also been years since he’s done high school math, and his test scores are disastrous.

Despite academic and social challenges, Kaizaki begins to emerge as a warm, caring guy. The kindness and concern for others were always there, but he’d hidden those qualities in the brutal business world he used to inhabit. He helps brilliant but awkward Chiziru Hishiro (Jeannie Tirado) emerge from her shell and make the first friends she’s ever had. Together, they heal a rift between volleyball stars Rena Kariu (Alexis Tipton) and Honoka Tamarai (Bryn Apprill). Kaizaki succeeds in a bit of matchmaking between Rena and class academic ace Kazuomi Oga (Blake Shepard), and inadvertently makes his own future more promising.

NEETS are a real phenomenon in Japan (and America, although the term isn’t used here yet): Young men who have been cast adrift in a rapidly changing economy that offers them few opportunities. They’re the sons of the overworked salarymen, who sacrificed their lives to their companies in return for lifelong employment and financial security. The new generation may shudder at the toll that system exacted, but they envy the steady paycheck that enabled their fathers to marry and raise families.

Some NEETS are hard-core otaku, nerds who hang around Tokyo’s Akihabara district, clutching life-size pillows of the cartoon girls they adore. Others are hikikomori, the new shut-ins who turn their backs on the world and live in isolation. But most of them are just members of an increasingly marginalized population who have little hope of obtaining anything approaching the middle class life in which they grew up. Unlike their counterparts in America, animation artists in Japan have begun to depict their problems in Eden of the East, [C] – Control—The Money & Soul of Possibility, Welcome to the NHK—and Re-LIFE. Kaizaki’s reformation may feel a bit pat, but his story reflects a very real problem.

ReLIFE: Season One
Crunchyroll/Funimation: $43.49 4 discs, Blu-ray and DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen,The Making of Peanuts Animation, and Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Disney Beauty and the Beast .
Charles Solomon
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