For most people, the idea of redoing even a year of high school sounds like a horrendous idea. But for Arata Kaizaki, 27 and underemployed (therefore a NEET), this strange option is the last one he has left.
After quitting his terrible job, Arata tries to keep up appearances when he goes out drinking with friends. One evening, while he is stumbling home drunk and alone and bemoaning his life, Arata is approached by a rather suspicious person and told that congratulations, he has a chance to redo his life! Or one year of it at least. He will have all of his living expenses covered, and a good chance at a job at the end of the year. All he has to do is take this one little pill that will make him look seventeen again.
Like any sane person, Arata refuses at first, but to his horror he wakes up the next morning to find that he did take the pill before bed. Surprise, he is now Test Subject 002 in the ReLIFE program and had better get cracking, school starts soon!
There are two areas where ReLIFE could have gone terribly wrong: its setting and its tone. There are already dozens of anime titles released every year set in high school, and at first blush it seems like a shame that a story would take an adult character (and not even a barely-20-year old adult) and thrust them back into high school, yet the idea really works. By having the cast be a mixture of teens and adults it frees up the story to go beyond cliched high school drama and romances and have something much more thoughtful.
The story could have gone sour is in its tone as well, especially when the phrase “legal high school girls” is uttered, but ReLIFE neatly avoids this pitfall. Arata is very upright as a character, and is uncomfortable at times with how he is deceiving his new friends and classmates. He’s also aware that at the end of this year, every memory of him will be erased from their minds. This doesn’t stop Arata from socializing, but it does inform his actions to an extent.
Arata has dealt with some very traumatic hardship for a man who hasn’t been in the adult world very long, it’s enough that he’s lost most of his confidence and felt adrift as he lived and worked practically as a NEET. It soon becomes clear that the ReLIFE program placed Arata where they did because they know Arata won’t be able to help himself and will meddle and mentor the high schoolers around him as they deal with stress.
This is where the story’s idea of having both adult and teenaged characters in a school setting truly shines. The teen characters are never looked down upon or seem stupid when they mess up. Instead, they come across like very real, confused people. Arata’s classmate Kairu gets the most focus as everyone around her realizes that she has driven herself into a corner with her constant desire to be the best, and the stress of “losing” has built up inside her. As a teenager, living within that tangled mess it seems like there is no way out, but as someone older, Arata can see the painful yet best way to deal with it while approaching Kairu as a fellow peer to help move her through it.
ReLIFE has some darker moments, but it’s also largely a comedy. Another fun benefit to having the mixed age cast is watching the adult characters talk smack about each other every chance they get! As a manga reader I was worried how well the story would handle these frequent comedic moments. In a manga it’s rather easy to stick to a chibified artstyle but that trick doesn’t always work very well for anime. However, the anime handles it remarkably well and the switches in tone never feel very jolting.
If you have read the manga, there is still something for you here in this adaptation. In fact, the anime goes beyond Crunchyroll’s most recent update (albeit in a slightly changed fashion, but the reordering and compression makes sense given the anime’s runtime and comes off more emotionally impactful in some areas). Likewise, if you have only seen the anime it’s still worth checking out the manga! There are quite a few gags the anime didn’t have time to cover (both in the comic itself and in the extra pages) and I personally think that it’s fun to experience a story with a lot of foreshadowing a second time to see what I missed the first time around. ReLIFE is a great story no matter which format it’s in. It’s a bittersweet story about how easy it can be to do things better when given a second chance, and how few of us ever get that opportunity. Arata may not have intended to give high school a do-over, but it’s turned into a sweet, fun journey that no one expected.