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Banana Fish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: BANANA FISH

 

Similar: Rainbow

Black Lagoon

91 Days

No. 6

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong protagonist.
  • Great visuals.
  • Doesn’t cringe from the subject matter.

Negatives:

  • Weak villains.
  • Humour doesn’t work.
  • Could use more brains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Banana Fish is an adaptation of a manga by the same name that ended 24 years ago. Once a manga reaches a certain age, it’s often deemed outdated and financially unviable. Should one receive an anime adaptation, even then it could become “old news” and have no second season in favour of a gamble at the next big hit. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see something as old as Banana Fish on the slate. And when a studio does go out of its way for an old licence, they will put the full production effort behind it, as is the case here.

The story centres on young Ash Lynx, a handsome boy adopted by New York City Mafia Don Dino Golzine, who declares that Ash should inherit his empire. The boy is ruthless, resourceful, and charismatic – all the qualities he desires in an heir (and it helps that Ash is just his type). Unfortunately for the Don, the boy is also rebellious and despises him like the devil. Ash becomes hell-bent on destroying his father and abuser, especially once suspicion arises of his involvement in the death of Ash’s brother and a mind control drug called Banana Fish. This dangerous game becomes more personal when he meets Japanese photographer Eiji, with whom he makes fast friends. Eiji has just entered a world of abuse, drugs, and death.

Ash is an interesting character and the strongest element of the story. He is a mix of violence and pain as he hates just about everything in his life, yet has these moments of intense vulnerability like a lost child that has no idea of the world. As a child, people sexually abused him, particularly in the mafia including Dino, which taught him that his most valuable asset to these monsters is his body. He’s so damaged by this, one isn’t sure if he’s actually gay or if he’s willing to use his asset to gain the upper hand. It’s messed up, but it makes for an interesting protagonist.

Banana Fish opens on a song to hype you up for the action and ends on a ballad of sadness to remind you of Ash’s pain. That is the heart of Banana Fish.

Eiji is the opposite: sweet, innocent, doesn’t know how to handle gun, and hasn’t even kissed someone. He’s the only good in Ash’s life. Nothing was free in Ash’s world, until he made a friend.

The rest of the cast is a motley crew of gangsters, street urchins, and forgotten soldiers. They work fine in their roles. Where Banana Fish fails its characters is with the villains. Not one of them is interesting or has any depth. Dino is just a creep obsessed with getting Ash to come back as his heir. His plan to accomplish this? What plan? The Chinese guy with long hair, said to be a master manipulator, only succeeds through plot convenience and his ultimate desire for death is just nonsensical. He’s more whiny cartoon child than evil genius. The rest are run-of-the-mill thugs and henchmen, as normal.

The focus on action over character does lessen the impact of weak villains, since this isn’t a battle of ideologies or wits. However, the action-dominated story does dampen the initial setup with Ash’s background and his friendship with Eiji. It doesn’t stop long enough for us to absorb these characters.

To compound problems further (it’s chain of problems, at this point, one leading into the next), the action isn’t smart like Code Geass or stylised like John Wick or Mad Max: Fury Road, so I don’t feel the action alone can carry the series to greatness. People take life-threatening injuries only to stand up a minute later as if they won’t die of blood loss any moment now. Also, Ash is supposed to have an IQ of 180, yet his plans are far from genius. One hit on Dino involves standing atop a truck to take the shot while speeding past. Really, that’s your plan? Nothing in Banana Fish lends credence to his genius label. If they simply hadn’t mentioned it in that one episode, it would have been irrelevant. He’s of average intelligence with high charisma, which is perfectly fine.

My other problem with Ash is the overuse of certain tropes. For instance, I lost count the number of times he wiled his way out of captivity by seducing his captor/guard. It’s awfully convenient that every single one of them is gay and falls for the oldest trick in the book. It made sense the first time when his captor was a past abuser that still craved him. After that is pushing it. Even the humour, which is often jarringly out of place, uses this trope in a light-hearted manner.

Banana Fish has a much stronger first half than second. The first has all the tension, tough choices, harsh losses, and less to do with weak villains. It’s still a decent anime in the second half, though you have to love it for the action more than anything else. And if you make it to the end, the final scene is the best in the series.

Art – High

One of the better-looking series of the year, Banana Fish has a colourful style with plenty of detail, nice animation, and consistent quality. Distant characters lack detail though.

Sound – High

From OP to ED, main character to supporting, all the audio is great.

Story – Medium

An heir to a criminal empire rebels against the predator that raised him and finds friendship in an unexpected place. Banana Fish has a strong first half, fluctuates up and down for the rest of the way, but ends on a great moment.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. Banana Fish looks great and has plenty of action to keep the crowd busy. Not for children.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog

Naruto, Bleach, One Piece – the trinity, the hotness at one time. It started with Naruto for me and Bleach came not long after. I was in the door early for both, keeping me hooked on a weekly basis. I didn’t need more, so I never tried One Piece. I’m sure that if any of my friends were interested in it, I would have started it to keep up with weekly conversation as I had with the other two.

Years passed, Naruto and Bleach descending into the filler nightmares (Bleach turned to garbage as well, but that wasn’t enough to stop me watching yet). I needed my shounen fix. Twelve years ago, I tried One Piece for the first time. I had heard good things. “If you like Naruto, you’ll like One Piece, for sure.”

Episodes aired: ~250

Five episodes and I couldn’t go any further. The art was just too ugly. I particularly hated the hyper-stretched mouths and expressions. The immature protagonist, the try-hard guy with a sword in his teeth, the screech acting – I couldn’t do it. I was already sick of Naruto’s – the character’s – immaturity. I couldn’t take another such protagonist for hundreds of episodes. Luffy didn’t have the legacy status in my mind to make me look past his issues.

I dropped One Piece.

Leap forward five years. I was talking with a friend about our early anime days and the topic of shounen series came up. I had long since moved past such drawn out, poorly paced stories. When One Piece came up and I told him of how I hadn’t managed to stomach it, he said how he had felt the same, but pushed through and come to love it. He re-recommended it to me with conviction. So I looked it up again.

Episodes aired: ~500

Well, I could get through that eventually, I supposed. And I was willing to try it again. I was just going to get through a bunch of smaller series first, get them out of the way before I sink into the behemoth.

That bunch turned into a field of smaller series, which, coupled with my on-and-off interest in anime, delayed the trial more and more. But I was going to try it. I made certain of that.

We leap another few years forward and my passion for anime has reignited to the point where a desire to write anime reviews for my own enjoyment has started to burn. The idea swims around in my head for a while longer, until I decide to go for it.

Okay, now it’s serious. I couldn’t review anime and not review One Piece. Writing a review would be motivation to watch because now, even if I didn’t like it, I could write about what I thought of this ever-growing monster.

Episodes aired: ~700

Not a problem – I would review a few dozen 13 or 26-episode anime first, likely ones I had seen before and could rewatch quicker, build up a backlog of reviews ready to go before I tackle One Piece. There wasn’t anything to worry about. I had a plan.

“Remember that series Monster you had failed to finish over a decade ago? Yeah, it’s one of the greatest anime, so you have to complete and review it.” Sure, it was only 74 episodes, nothing like the near 750 episodes of One Piece. I could just get that out the way first. Oh, and, of course, I had to review Naruto, at least the classic series, to use as a point of comparison. A mere 136 episodes against One Piece. I could get through Naruto in a month with the Naruto Kai edit. That would add, what, four or five episodes to One Piece? No problem.

What about those sports anime like Ippo? I needed more variety to balance out the action heavy landscape of my anime reviews and sports was a niche in my library. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, how could I leave such a great on the backlog for so long?

“Have you heard of Korean dramas? What about British panel shows? How long has it been since you watched a Bollywood film? And you haven’t rewatched Top Gear in a while.”

Good point. I needed more than just anime or I would burn out. Plus, the gaming backlog was growing ever larger and needed trimming.

“Have you watched your favourite anime, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, yet? That’s only 110 episodes – much quicker to get through than One Piece.”

Episodes aired: ~800

Alright, that was it. I was never going to get around to One Piece! I knew it. My friends knew it. It had become an inside joke for how many small things I would just “get out of the way” first, after which I assured them I would get to One Piece. In truth, it was only on the backlist because it took no effort to keep it. Saying you are going to do something is less meaningful than a fart in the wind until you commit.

A time came about a year or so ago for me to cull the backlog. I went through the list, briefly checking each title to see if there was any hope or even the slightest interest in getting to them in my lifetime. I axed 50 titles with ease. Except, there was still One Piece. I was about to drop it when I saw a video about one of the characters. I was so beyond the fantasy of ever watching this anime that I didn’t care about spoilers. The video was great, and you know what? It made want to watch it, even if it meant skipping through the early content to reach the arc where it “gets good”.

Sadly, and as no surprise to anyone, I am sure, I still haven’t touched the series. It has surpassed 860 episodes (and growing) and I still have no idea when, or even if, I will watch a single episode of One Piece. See, I have it in my mind that it would be more productive and enjoyable for me to get through other, smaller anime instead. Allow me to illustrate.

Following is my complete backlog of anime. Not all titles will be completed, nor do all have equal weight and priority. Everything on this list has a good chance of getting my eyeballs for a few episodes, at least. And yes, the garbage is there intentionally.

In rough alphabetical order (series flagged red are very long):

  1. Angel Beats
  2. Baby Steps
  3. Beast Slayer Erin
  4. Big Order TV
  5. Cells at Work
  6. Code Geass: Akito the Exiled
  7. Cross Game / Ace of Diamond / Major (try all, finish the best one)
  8. Den-noh Coil
  9. Devilman Crybaby
  10. Drifters
  11. Galaxy Express 999
  12. Garzey’s Wing
  13. Ghost in the Shell 2
  14. Ghost in the Shell Arise
  15. Ghost Stories
  16. Gintama
  17. Glassslip
  18. Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions
  19. Gundam Thunderbolt
  20. Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
  21. Gundam: The 08th MS Team
  22. Haikyuu Season 3 (only if truly enjoying it)
  23. Harlock / Cosmo Warrior Zero / Endless Orbit SSX / Harlock Saga / Space Pirate / Battleship Yamato (finish one or more, depending on enjoyment)
  24. Hikaru no Go
  25. JoJo sequels (only if enjoying it)
  26. Katanagatari
  27. Kemonozume
  28. King’s Avatar
  29. K-ON
  30. Last 5 Ghibli movies
  31. Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaidens
  32. Lovely Complex
  33. Macross franchise (finish one or more, depending on enjoyment)
  34. Magi: The Kingdom of Magic
  35. Monogatari sequels (only if enjoying it)
  36. Mononoke
  37. Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit
  38. Mushi-Shi
  39. Naruto Shippuden (finally finish it)
  40. 6
  41. No Game No Life
  42. One Piece ?
  43. Paranoia Agent
  44. Penguindrum
  45. Pet Girl of Sakurasou
  46. Princess Tutu
  47. Qwaser of Stigmata
  48. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
  49. School Days
  50. Skip Beat
  51. Slam Dunk
  52. Slayers sequels (only if enjoying it)
  53. Space Brothers
  54. Striking Daughter
  55. Texhnolyze
  56. Time of Eve
  57. Towards the Terra
  58. Turn A Gundam
  59. Wandering Son
  60. Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
  61. Xam’d: Lost Memories
  62. Yu Yu Hakusho
  63. Various shorts and films

The following are anime I’ve completed (or nearly), but not published the reviews yet (the holidays were good for tackling the backlog):

  • A Certain Magical Index
  • Astro Fighter Sunred
  • Banana Fish
  • Ef – A Tale of Memories
  • Evangelion Rebuild (pending final film)
  • From Me to You
  • Glass Mask
  • Golden Time
  • Gosick
  • House of Five Leaves
  • Jormungand
  • Konosuba
  • Le Chevalier D’Eon
  • Log Horizon Season 2
  • My Hero Academia (ongoing)
  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
  • Nisekoi
  • Persona 4 the Animation
  • Sailor Moon (waiting on final season remaster)
  • Silver Spoon
  • Story of Saiunkoku
  • Sword Art Online 2
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
  • Utawarerumono
  • Yowamushi Pedal

In total, that comes to about 80 unique series and movies with possibly more, depending on how much I want to see of the larger franchises. Let’s not forget any upcoming releases and requests from you, dear readers, either.

As of this article’s writing, One Piece is about to air its 869th episode. If we assume each episode is roughly 20 minutes, skipping OP and ED, it would take over 289 hours to finish the series! Of course, I would skip the 107 filler episodes, bringing the total runtime down to 254 hours. In that same time, I could finish between 40 and 50 of the series listed above.

What would I rather do? Experience a large variety or stick to one long series? Naturally, I’d want to do both if possible. So, what’s the solution?

I probably need to turn to the manga first. I can read volumes at a fast pace, allowing me to clear the same story in a fraction of the time, free of filler and stall tactics to lengthen scenes. However, I prefer anime to manga assuming both are of equal quality, though in the case of shounen, especially once the filler starts, the manga is often better. On the other hand, it’s nice to see key fights in motion. Perhaps I could read the majority and just watch the best arcs? That’s my current thinking.

Oh, but before I can read 91 volumes of One Piece, what about the shorter manga on my backlog? (Here we go again…) Noblesse, Lone Wolf and Cub, Vagabond, and 20th Century Boys, to name a few.

Regardless of what route I take, there are plenty of smaller series I want to finish first. My goal is to complete (or drop) every series in the above list that has 50 episodes or less by the end of the 2019.

One final thing to keep in mind is that I have barely rewatched any media (excluding anime I had to rewatch for their reviews) or replayed any games since I started this site, and I’m getting the strong urge to revisit some favourites, which equates to more delays for One Piece. So will it ever be done? I don’t know… I truly don’t know, but I will try.

(What if it turns out I still can’t stand One Piece a few volumes in, dropping it and rendering all of this redundant? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?)

Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam 0080: Pocket no Naka no Sensou

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Drama

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Moral greyness.
  • Great self-contained story with a satisfying end.
  • Quality animation without sacrificing visual detail.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t start strong.

(Request an anime for review here.)

If there are two things you can rely on with this franchise, it’s that a Gundam will be the centre of all attention and there will be an annoying kid. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket manages to defy expectations by omitting the latter.

10-year-old Alfred lives on a neutral colony in space, where little much happens with the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon rampaging in distant locations. Nevertheless, Alfred has a keen interest in the war, particularly in relation to the mobile suits. Excitement strikes when a skirmish bursts into the colony and a Zaku mobile suit crash lands in the woods nearby. Alfred befriends the pilot Bernie. In exchange for learning all about the war and mobile suits, Alfred provides local knowledge of the land to locate a secret Gundam developed by the Federation in the colony. What starts as a naïve child looking for adventure, will soon turn dire when destruction of the entire colony isn’t beyond reason if it means stopping the Gundam.

The first episode does little to capture your attention. The peaceful start focused on Alfred’s mundane life arguing with friends at school about mobile suits and playing light gun games at home isn’t interesting. It makes you wonder what the aim of the story is. No good stuff mentioned above starts until the final scene of the episode. Setting the scene and ordinary life is worthwhile before upheaval, but it didn’t need to take so long. And it isn’t until episode 3 when we near the mid-point that matters kick into gear and the tension has weight.

Bernie is part of cell embedded in the colony disguised as service workers while they search for the Gundam. It’s interesting how one can’t quite decide on whether they are villains looking to attack the colony, made more difficult by the fact that the Gundam’s pilot is a friend of Alfred’s (unbeknownst to anyone), or heroes acting in preemptive self-defence. This moral greyness is a large contributor to War in the Pocket’s engagement.

Gundam stood out at the time as a shounen anime by, apart from putting effort in the functionality of its mechs, enforcing consequences on its characters. Shounen of the era rarely had death. Whether it was through a dragon ball wish or returning from the dead without explanation, people rarely died. It was too violent for children. Gundam, on the other hand, knew that war had casualties and that a bullet to the head meant death. This realistic approach is well present in War in the Pocket and makes it satisfying. The conflict is meaningful because the consequences matter.

My greatest disappointment with this short series is the lack of screen time for the woman next door, Christina. It’s evident that as the pilot of the Gundam Bernie and Alfred are searching for, she is to generate conflict for the two. A crush/friend is one of the enemy, which will give them pause once unveiled. Because she doesn’t have much screen time, we don’t feel this moment of revelation as strongly as the writer intends. That said, this thread isn’t core to the story, so it doesn’t collapse the house.

The core is Bernie and Alfred. Like the greyness of the infiltration cel, Bernie and Alfred’s friendship also has nuance to it. Is Bernie truly friends with Alfred or just taking advantage of some dumb kid? This thread plays out well.

To top it off, Alfred isn’t annoying like the usual Gundam brats. Yes, he does start annoying, particularly when interacting with some girl at school, but kids are like that. Be around kids for a few hours and they are bound to do something annoying – you know, kids being kids (I used to teach them). What makes Gundam kids so insufferable is that they are never not annoying while also contributing nothing to the story. Alfred becomes endearing over time and proves his purpose in the story. And for that, this anime receives my praise.

War in the Pocket is an unrelated side story of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Apart from the general war from the original, nothing really carries over to here. This is a short story apart from the main conflict of the Gundam universe, which one can enjoy without prior knowledge of the franchise. As such, I would recommend this series to those who have an interest in Gundam yet feel daunted by its scale (for a modern recommendation with easy access, look to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin).

Art – High

War in the Pocket uses a more realistic art style to draw in an older audience. It succeeds in having quality animation throughout the series without sacrificing character and environmental detail.

Sound – Medium

The music is that classic old anime style. As for the acting, stick to the Japanese since the dub is so-so at best.

Story – High

A boy helps a mobile suit pilot uncover the secret of the Gundam project on his space colony. What starts as an unlikely pairing between a rather annoying mobile suit otaku and a pilot ends up as a satisfying Gundam short story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. For Gundam fans, this is an easy recommendation. For non-Gundam fans, War in the Pocket is ideal if you are looking for a taste of the franchise, as it requires no prior knowledge.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

ReLIFE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ReLIFE

 

Similar: Welcome to the NHK

Orange

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 4 OVA (conclusion)

 

Positives:

  • Strong character designs.
  • The light-hearted approach is different.
  • Good use of chibification.
  • Chizuru’s smile.

Negatives:

  • A subplot overshadows main plot for a few episodes.
  • Arata’s backstory is flat.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Anime has a fair number of stories about a character going to the past to fix mistakes in their life. ReLIFE take a different approach by eschewing the time travel element and sending protagonist Arata to present day high school disguised as his young self instead.

This opportunity comes by way of the ReLIFE Research Institute, whose mission statement is to help those that have given up. In the middle of the night, a dimly lit back alley, some random guy comes up to him knowing his full employment history and offers a pill to take a second chance. A 27-year-old man pretending to be a 17-year-old in high school should be easy for him, right? (How many times have you thought, “If I knew everything I know now, I would ace school!”?) Unfortunately for Arata, wasting away in life doesn’t help even if he’s been through high school already, and he fails at everything whether mental or physical. He pulls his shoulder throwing a ball. Fortunately for Arata, the experiment isn’t about achieving better grades.

Upon first seeing this setup, I assumed the story would take the dramatic route along the likes of Orange, where everything in the protagonist’s life went wrong because of one year of high school. I know high school seems like a massive deal when you’re going through it, but in reality, it’s a minor part of life, so I’m glad the writer didn’t overblow it. This light-hearted approach makes ReLIFE something different from similar titles. The only significant element of drama comes from the knowledge that everyone will forget him once the experiment is over. I love this catch for not only making sense as a way to cover up once complete, but also working as a metaphor for how friends drift apart after graduation despite swearing we will all keep in touch.

The heart of ReLIFE is its characters, who are so lovable and enjoyable to be around that they make this journey a pleasure. My favourite character – no contest – is Chizuru, an awkward yet smart girl who has difficulty making friends and has a terrifying smile. Her and Arata’s dynamic is so much fun while their relationship develops – he’s really an adult, so he can’t think further than friendship though! Her smile is perfect.

All these characters feel natural as friends. They avoid the feeling that each is there to fill the token slots of a slice of life cast. Each has a problem to overcome before year’s end. As my readers will know, I’m not a fan of protagonist’s whose job is to solve everyone else’s problems like in Clannad, not least of which is because those character either have no life wisdom to impart or are losers themselves that couldn’t fix a scraped knee. Thankfully, Arata isn’t a problem-solving angel. Progression comes naturally through group effort.

ReLIFE isn’t without its flaws, however. Arata’s backstory on how he came to give up on life is two-dimensional. He worked an office job where everyone was evil except his mentor, who killed herself when bullied by these cartoon villains. Weak. Then there’s a subplot between the two sports girls in the group that halts all main story for a few episodes between the mid-point and act 3.

Lastly, the ending takes place in the 4-episode OVA that suffers from a drop in art quality and feels rushed storywise in parts. The anime series of 13 episodes only adapts about half of the manga, while the OVA hits key points from the remainder. The bittersweet ending is still satisfying, all considered. It has made me consider reading the manga for the full experience, should I ever find the time (I won’t…probably).

ReLIFE was a journey I can easily recommend to anyone. It isn’t as good as the likes of Kids on the Slope or Nodame Cantabile for high school anime, but gets my recommendation nevertheless.

Art – Medium

The character designs and colouring carry ReLIFE’s art department, for there isn’t much in the way of animation, though this isn’t the sort of anime where you can flex. I love the designs – simple yet distinguishable – and funny use of chibification. The OVA really skimps out on the art budget, replacing unnamed characters with silhouettes at school.

Sound – High

Charming music matches the light-hearted approach to reforming one’s life. Great acting in both Japanese and English. I preferred the latter for adding more voice to the dialogue. In an unusual though welcome twist, ReLIFE has a different ending song each episode with some pieces by bands I’ve loved in other anime.

Story – High

Offered a chance at reforming his life, a 27-year-old man goes back to high school transformed into a 17-year-old boy to make friends and live a little. A great group dynamic and fun approach makes this anime enjoyable.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. ReLIFE is such an easy viewing experience with such broad appeal that only the most ardent anti-slice of life crowd won’t enjoy it.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None