High school is tough your first or second time around, but with good friends it's not insurmountable.
Genre: Drama, Realistic Fiction
Publisher: NHN PlayArt (online) (JP) /
Earth Star Entertainment (JP), Crunchyroll (US)
Translation: Andrew Cunningham
Review copy provided by Crunchyroll.
Arata’s second high school life has truly begun now as he becomes stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of retests. Thankfully he’s got some new friends along for the ride! Arata seems to have really settled back into high school life and seems far more comfortable than he ever did as an adult. It’s a bit funny that his “high school life” is a lot like his adult life; the story focuses exclusively on his “work” and the reader gets the impression that Arata doesn’t do much outside of school. Even though Arata comes off as happy I can’t help but think about how lonely this life really is for him. I don’t think the manga will touch on that idea; the story itself has barely touched on how isolated ReLIFE has made Arata, but hints more and more strongly that something went terribly wrong with the first test subject (and how isolated Arata was at the beginning of the story). I do wonder if that loneliness may end up being important after all.
Speaking of the past, Arata’s past is explained almost (if not completely) in a somewhat surprising situation. The story has been focusing on some of the side characters as well as Arata and started with two of his female classmates, top student Hishiro and smart student/good volleyball player Kariu. Kariu is very jealous of Hishiro for taking the top student spot and is also incredibly frustrated that no one seems to notice her efforts in class or on the court. She does get good grades and seems to do well on the volleyball team but Kariu wants her classmates and teammates (especially her captain) to acknowledge her as a rival. Since this isn’t a sports manga (or a shoujo romance) Kariu can’t simply walk up to these girls and say she’s their rival, but wanting to make sure you’re noticed by a “competitor” felt like a very reasonable idea, and the story never made Kariu seem crazy for wanting it. Plus, with Hishiro’s lack of social skills (which, like Arata’s constant test failings, pushes on the suspension of disbelief) it’s no wonder Kariu was getting mixed signals from her and feeling on edge.
This one-sided spat between Kariu and Hishiro climaxes and is then resolved partially by Arata providing some suspiciously mature advice about besting others vs hurting them. Times like this make me wonder how the ReLIFE experiment is supposed to work since this incident makes it very clear that Arata never stops thinking and reacting like an adult. Arata even comments in one of the bonus pages that it’s mean that he’s Kariu cornered to force this conversation with her, but he’s an adult and that’s what adults do (even his poses are more what you’d expect from a salaryman than a teenager). But this isn’t only Arata’s “last” year of high school, it’s everyone’s last year of high school and everyone has a lot of stress riding on it. This incident helps to highlight that it’s a real shame that workplace drama effectively drove Arata out of adult society, since he’s surprisingly compassionate when it comes to picking people back up and might do well in a mentorship position. The story doesn’t absolve Kariu of the mistakes she made but clearly agrees that giving someone a chance to do better and try again is better than only letting them fail.
All of this works since, even though the story still has incredibly short chapters (between fifteen and eight pages a piece), Yayoi seems to have gotten a handle on how to pace the story within such sharp constraints and the volumes flow much more naturally now. There are still chapters where a conversation is cut off part-way through and resumes in the next chapter but now those breaks feel much less awkwardly placed and the bonus pages between each chapter keeps the story from dwelling too much on darkness around the manga’s edges. I’m also a fan of how the manga looks; the characters are simple and the backgrounds are almost non-existent — thank goodness for the full-color artwork which keeps the visuals from being too forgettable — but Yayoi also has a knack for having the characters not only say silly things but setting up the panels and shots to really highlight the goofiness and snark. It seems obvious to say but characters should bounce off of each other both verbally and physically and in ReLIFE the characters always seem to be shifting around. It’s really helped to characterize them more quickly.
The third volume ends with another startling, although foreshadowed, revelation that is sure to drive the next story arc and flesh out a couple more side characters. This series has turned into a fun read. It’s a good mixture of humor and more serious moments and by (so far) staying far away from romance it’s also avoided a number of unpleasant tropes. With the anime coming out later this year (and the manga shooting up in popularity on Crunchyroll) hopefully even more folks will be giving this series a shot!