To be honest, I wasn’t expecting ReLIFE to be very good. From the very first episode it was clear that this show wasn’t a powerhouse in terms of visual design/animation. It was almost as if my screen screamed “low budget” the moment I laid eyes on it. This didn’t necessarily have to be a problem, as all it takes is a little creativity and/or skill to work around the confinements of time and money. For one reason or another however, ReLIFE lacked the ingenuity to create any sort of visual spectacle throughout the season’s entirety. The show went with a very basic, but very consistent style. While it was at no point an eyesore, it was also at no point something worthy of awe. Backgrounds were no more than sufficient and background crowds ended up being less appealing due to lack of details/movement.
Character design however, was done quite well. Still not extraordinary, but ReLIFE does manage to create characters with distinct physical properties and overall pleasant appearances. Which I guess is to be expected with any self-respecting show, but whatever. They look good, and they’re memorable. One thing I will call the show out on though is an over-reliance of comical chibi faces. I don’t really consider ReLIFE to be a comedy, it’s certainly not styled or focused like one. Sure, there are obvious jokes and genuine laughs to be had in every episode, but mainly the show seems lean more towards slice of life and drama rather than a constant aim for humor above all else. If ReLIFE were to just cut down a bit on chibi and focus on creating more moments of subtle humor, I feel the show would be better off for it. But perhaps that’s just personal preference.
As for the music of the show, the beginning of the season consisted of the same piano rift played at different paces, in different scenes, to try and match the mood being set. A lot of times this just came off as distracting, and often I’d question whether individual scenes would be better off without any background rhythm whatsoever. Eventually the show evolved from its basic piano rift and by the end it had some actual variety in its soundtrack.
While musically and visually ReLIFE wasn’t much over adequate, it still had a chance to prove itself worthy through its storytelling. ReLIFE starts off as a fairly basic deadline narrative where our 28-year-old protagonist, Kaizaki, is given a chance to take a year off from his depressing NEET life. He’s approached by business man (and soon to be supporter) Ryou with a proposal to take part in an experiment. The corporation (ReLIFE) that he works for has developed a miracle drug that they want to test on Kaizaki, a drug that will turn his body back to its teenage form and give him the chance to re-experience high school. He only has a year however, and everyone he meets and befriends with have their memories wiped clean of existence as he returns to his adult life.
Essentially it feels like ReLIFE traps itself from the beginning, offering what seems like only two outcomes: The show is going to end on a bittersweet note where he gets to remember his friends and everything he’s learned from them, and his friends still remain affected by him but will sadly forget about him as a person OR the show will just break its own rule that it set for itself, copping out for a happy but perhaps ill gained conclusion. In storytelling, if you create your own rule then you better stick to it, because it is in no way clever to go against that rule just to service your shitty, unearned resolution. Luckily, ReLIFE doesn’t do this and actually offers up a plausible and exciting third option, one which I won’t disclose any further because of spoilers.
At the end of the first season, ReLIFE does prove itself to be a plot with a plan, which honestly is quite a relief. The end of the first season isn’t the end of the series however, and that leaves me questioning how there could possibly be a full second season that doesn’t feel prolonged. The first season did feel a bit stretched thin and some characters do seem like they should be squeezed dry of any more dramatic conflict by now. Kariu in particular is used as the center of almost every issue and the season as a whole. There are two problems specifically that are essentially the same lesson being learned twice, which leaves me skeptical as to why she would repeat the same mistakes rather than taking her bad experiences and using them to avoid once again in the future.
Other than Kariu, I’d say the characters themselves are pretty solid. It’s interesting to see the levels of perspective tied to them, with Oga, Honoka, and Kariu being the core and average high schoolers. Then there’s Chizuru and Kaizaki, who are sort of outsiders compared to the “normal” students, followed by An and Ryou who in turn are even further outside the center and watch the others from a distance with Kaizaki as their intended focus as well as his effect on others.
ReLIFE the corporation still remains mysterious by the end of this season and the true purpose behind their experiment is still yet to be revealed. That, plus the romantic entanglements and conclusion to Kaizaki’s ReLIFE experience are probably enough to keep me enticed for future installments. The plot shows that it has an idea of where it’s heading and the characters are likeable. It’s a shame that the show couldn’t come up with more skillful or creative animation, because it seems to be the only big thing that’s holding it back.