Well, ReLIFE really is abjectly wonderful. The only bad thing about it, really, is stopping – because unlike with other great series I know I could, theoretically, marathon it. But in practical terms I can’t, which sucks. But I guess in the larger schemes of things being too good for its own good is one of the better problems any show could have. And by the way, the ED for Episode 5 (“Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Michi” by PUFFY) is easily my favorite ED of the season so far, even if it wasn’t written for the show specifically – a perfect mid-60’s British invasion standard. So there.
Everything about Episode 5 was pretty wonderful, in fact. Kariu and Hishiro are both deeply flawed, but flawed in such an endearingly human way that it’s impossible not to be heartbroken for them as this ugly incident plays out. And Arata too, especially after he reveals to the audience the reason why he quit his job. It wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough for the adult world – the adult world wasn’t good enough for him. He was thoroughly decent, justifiably furious at what he saw being done to his female sempai (stuff like that is especially gut-wrenching as we watch the State Shinto-driven Abe regime trying to take Japan back to a dark age), but he couldn’t take the heat – so he gave up rather than accept the injustice of the adult world. That’s what a NEET is, really – an adult playing at being a kid because they feel out of place in the world of work.
It’s always easier to give advice than to live by it, and Arata is very much living this out. Of course he’s the pot calling the kettle black as he counsels Kariu to “Fight-o!” and Hishiro to accept herself – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good counsel. Arata hasn’t been able to live the example but he has learned the lesson, and his desire to spare the two girls from suffering is a wholly admirable one. If there’s anything unrealistic about all this it’s that the two girls actually listen – perhaps in the end it’s because they think they’re listening to a fellow teenager rather than a useless adult.
Kariu’s problem is a fairly common one – she desperately competes because she doesn’t want to look at herself, so she measures herself against others. Tomatsu-san is great here as usual, but I actually find Hishiro at least as interesting a character. If you imagine a Sheldon Cooper who’s actually mortified at his social isolation and genuinely wants to change it, that’s a pretty good description of Hishiro. She’s smart, she grasps what it is that’s missing inside her, and credit to her for trying to change. But it’s not such an easy thing to do, when one is born a certain way. In a sense I see a kind of parallel at work between ReLIFE and Orange, because they both deal with an adult in their late 20’s trying to steer teenagers past mistakes and regrets. But as the 16 year-old Naho says, you can’t change your personality just because some adult tells you something that’s going to happen and how to avoid it. But at least Hishiro has taken a couple of baby steps.
As for Episode 6, it takes the story in a sharply different direction, though the topic of Hishiro isn’t entirely off the table. We start with her looking up what those “heart pangs” might mean (as you’d expect, she still turns to Google-sensei for most of her life’s lessons). And it’s Hishiro’s face that pops into Arata’s mind later when An asks him if he’s in love with anyone (though that’s clearly not a reaction he’s comfortable with).
While the Hishiro-Kariu arc is almost enough to make us forget how this scenario got started, these next developments are a good reminder that ReLIFE is a pretty nefarious operation, as far as I’m concerned. These are people’s lives they’re playing with here – not just the test subjects, but the students who become part of the experiment without their knowledge. And what we’re really talking about here is social engineering, plain and simple – a concept that should make anyone with a rasher of common sense very uncomfortable.
On balance, Episode 6 is certainly more heavily weighted towards comedy than the previous few episodes have been. Stuff like the kids not knowing what a MiniDisc was (though one of them was acting of course) is something those of us a little older can surely relate to. But knowing what we know about An – and her behavior early in the episode was enough to raise suspicions – casts everything that happens in a darker light, including her teasing of Ooga about getting a girlfriend. Whatever is going on between she and Yoake, what she put Arata through in the name of “testing” him was pretty unprofessional. He was a lot more forgiving of it than I would have been, even if he passed with flying colors.
We’re apparently going to find out a lot more about what the real story behind ReLIFE is in the next ep, as the series passes the halfway point. It’ll be very interesting to find out what Yoake meant when he said that only half of what he and An explained to Arata was true, and it seems as if the ongoing mystery of Test Subject 001 is finally going to have some light cast upon it. I hope the series doesn’t lost some of its tremendous appeal as it moves away from the really winning school life themes and shifts to the more dramatic stuff underlying the main story, but I have a lot of confidence in the writing and direction based on the first six episodes. However you watch it, ReLIFE is one of the best series of the season.