Monday, February 29, 2016

ReLIFE Vol 1-3

I hadn't tried a new manga series in a while, one that I hadn't been introduced to via an anime, and decided to try ReLIFE, which will be getting an anime adaptation later this year.

I picked ReLIFE by Yayoi Sou because of the twist on the usual manga about high school life. Rather than following yet another teenager through school, ReLIFE focuses on the second chance of Arata Kaizaki.

Arata is twenty-seven years old and at the start of the story he's looking for full time work. He has a few disadvantages. He's a little older than expected for a new worker due to having entered college two years later than normal (even allowing for the fact he attended grad school as well) and his only prior full time job lasted for a mere three months before he quit. Arata looks unfocused and less than ideal for a new employee, but he really needs work, especially since his parents have decided that he's old enough that they're going to stop paying for his apartment. If he wants help, he's going to have to come home to the countryside.

His situation is a frightfully relatable one for anyone in a tough job market. When Arata meets his more successful friends for dinner he pretends he's gainfully employed, dressing in a suit and tie as though he had just come from work, but he can't keep this up while his only income is a part-time job at a convenience store.

On his way home after one of those meetings, he encounters an employee from the company ReLife, who introduces him to a project they run for people like him, for people who have potential but may need a second chance to get it right.

The encounter and Arata's induction into the program is a little contrived, but once that's out of the way, the rest of the first three volumes are a lot of fun.

The ReLife project de-ages Arata to seventeen and sends him back to high school where he will live for a year as a third year high school student (the equivalent to a senior in the US system). While part of the project, ReLife will pay for all his living expenses, and should he graduate successfully from the project he will be offered a job on his return to being an adult.

ReLIFE is told in short vignettes of a few pages, detailing the problems that Arata runs into in trying to hide the fact he's an adult while also getting used to going to school. While most manga have 4-6 chapters per volume, ReLIFE can have 16 or more.

His adjustment going back to school is unsurprisingly rough. He forgets to bring a pencil for schoolwork, and he's shocked by the fact students are allowed to carry cell phones when that was forbidden when he was in school (a sign of the changing standards for technology). Probably the best moment early in the first volume is when his homeroom teacher asks to see his bag and then finds the pack of cigarettes inside.

As an angry teacher might, she asks him "What are these?" and Arata, completely nonplussed, says, "Cigarettes."

It takes him a moment to realize that as a teenager he shouldn't be smoking them, let alone bringing them to school.

When his homeroom teacher talks to him after school about cigarettes and how they'll ruin his health, he realizes that she's actually a little younger than him, and dealing with problematic kids is part and parcel of her job. Arata can see that she honestly cares and is trying to steer him on a good path, which makes him respect her more than he would have had he been the right age.

The chapters are interspersed with notes by Ryo Yoake, the ReLife employee assigned to support him, and are filled with his hopes and concerns. Though Yoake is not front and center in Arata's life, he's always there, since as a supporter he has de-aged himself so he can go to school with Arata and monitor his progress. The two aren't allowed to be close since that would interfere with Arata's school life, but Yoake is far from impartial. He really seems to want Arata to get something out of his experience.

Yoake's notes are also how the passage of time is marked. The first three volumes cover just a little over a month, but it's enough to see and be entertained by Arata's adaptation to school as well as introduce a couple potential wrinkles.

Only three volumes have been released in English so far, and the fifth Japanese one just came out this month. At the pace they're going it will be a while before Arata's year as a seventeen-year-old is up.

The manga's not in paperback format in the US yet, but it can be read by anyone with a premium membership at Crunchyroll. Unusually for manga, it's also in full color.