I’d really love to marathon ReLIFE, because it’s a pretty riveting watch and that way I could participate in debating its merits. But of course there’s just no time, So I continue to slip an episode into the rotation whenever I can. I still think I’ll finish it long before the end of the season, because I just don’t have the will power to stop myself from watching it.
It’s interesting the way this series tackles new elements of the adolescent experience – and Arata’s perspective on it – with each episode. The focus this time is really on empathy, I think. As a 27 year-old who’s failing at life and coming to dislike himself, I can easily imagine that empathy would be cast aside pretty easily for Arata. But put him back in high school, with a bunch of kids suffering through the experience without the benefit of having survived it once already, and Arata’s empathy sparks back to life. When he sees these kids in pain, he wants to help them – to a degree that surprises him.
Yoake makes an interesting point – is it really helping those kids when you spare them the learning experience of social indoctrination, even if it’s painful? I don’t think the answer is so simple as Yoake makes it out to be – there were certainly times I wish I’d had someone older to warn me off of some especially traumatic paths I was treading without realizing it, and I don’t think I’d be a lesser person if they had. But it’s a balance, and it raises another relevant issue: by subjecting his “volunteers” to this experiment, Yoake is also subjecting their classmates. The Heisenberg principle (if you think Breaking Bad invented that name, please look it up) definitely applies here – you’re inserting an alien presence into the midst of these kids’ social structure. And I sincerely doubt their parents have signed any consent forms for what’s going on.
I hope theses kids end up better off for Arata’s presence (and him too, of course) but for now, good intentions aside it’s looking like a mixed bag. Arata is certainly trying hard to help Hishiro, but he seems to have the blinders on when it comes to Kariu – and she’s the one who’s obviously headed into a very dark place. Kariu’s descent into anger and despair is beautifully portrayed here – its so easy when you’re a teenager to lose yourself to self-pity and victimization syndrome, to surrender to the need to find someone to blame for the unfairness of life. Kariu is basically a good person but she decides to do a very bad thing, and only a random encounter with Arata stops her from doing it (and it’s a pretty safe bet he wouldn’t have noticed the significance of the second bag she was carrying when he was 17 the first go around).
ReLIFE is a seriously thoughtful and insightful piece of work. But not only that, I think it’s of a particular style that we used to see a lot more of in anime but hardly ever do these days – shows that really break down the adolescent psyche into its component parts and treat the high school setting as a real opportunity for exploration rather than simply nostalgia-driven wish fulfilment. It may not be flashy, but it sure packs a lot of substance.