Friday’s Feature: The Portrayal Of Bullying in Anime

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 31

I’ve really come to hate the word bullying. It isn’t just that acts described as bullying are morally repugnant, it is more that the term gets thrown around to cover everything from excluding someone, minor pranks, staring at them, talking behind their back, openly harassing them, directly sabotaging their person, profession or possessions, to full on violence and acts that most definitely should be classified as criminal assault and never be given the cop out title of ‘bullying’. Bullying has become a catch all phrase to cover all those things we dislike about societal living where we realise that while humans do like to herd together we don’t really like to herd with everyone and while teaching tolerance and acceptance are lovely ideals the evidence strongly suggests they haven’t gone that far in reversing this culture. It has also become the excuse as people try to excuse these vicious and horrendous acts as misguided rather than malicious.

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But that’s all just my personal view on bullying and it is one of those major social issues that most societies need to take a long hard look at the causes and why on earth we allow people to get away with it and tolerate it as ‘a part of growing up’ or part of ‘workplace culture’. And that’s not really within my blog’s scope so instead I want to look at how bullying has been portrayed in anime.

This kind of got inspired by a recent episode of The Master of Ragnarok, of all things, as in this very ancient world our out of time protagonist has decided to develop a school system to educate his population and build skills for the next generation. Such an admirable goal and yet from opening we instantly have a situation where a slave girl is being excluded by the other girls in the class. The reason: the patriarch of the clan, our protagonist himself, took her to school on the first day and dared to pay attention to her. I mean, how dare he. Such an unforgivable act being taken to school by someone who cares about you.

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This episode moved me to title the episode review Create School, Create School Bullying and I realised after writing the episode review how I genuinely believe that these days bullying is ingrained in pretty much every institution despite decades of anti-bullying policies and ‘education’. There are a huge number of societal factors at work that drive this but anyone who has been to a school or workplace knows full well that bullying, in one form or another is prevalent there.

Then I started thinking about how this episode portrayed bullying. Effie, the slave girl, has so far been portrayed as a victim. At no point has she been seen in any other light. We met her when Yuuto, our wonderfully kind protagonist, came across Effie and her mother in the market place being sold as slaves. While creating sweeping social reform like universal education is easily enough done off-screen in the space of an episode, apparently ending institutional slavery isn’t and so rather than address the issue of the people suffering, he buys them and gives them jobs at the palace. At least I assume that’s where the mother is working because we never see her again.

Instead we see Effie getting dragged into the harem even though she does not fit there. They dragged her to the hot springs which sounds nice but then she was subjected to watching all the other girls flaunt their superior relationship with their ‘father’ while she was isolated and fairly uncomfortable with the situation. While she’s invited to eat with them, it is only after she’s delivered the food and after Yuuto has personally requested it. Effie remains on the outside of this harem at every turn separated by a class divide that no amount of ‘kindness’ is going to bridge.

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So by the time we see Effie feeling pretty miserable about being ignored at school we as an audience already have it in our heads that Effie is a victim. And while at first I thought she was being ignored because of her class, it turned out she was being ignored because of Yuuto’s attention and petty jealousy, which was just as bad really. By the time a third party intervened, Albertina, it was obvious that Effie was not going to take any action to resolve the situation, that the other students were happily observing a status quo they themselves had assisted in creating, and the teacher never even got screen time so who knows if they were even aware of the situation.

While it might seem cathartic that in this case Effie’s bullying issue is resolved, this representation of bullying is all kinds of problematic. It almost trivialises the problem. My main issue with it includes the fact that the victim is seen as utterly blameless but without agency. Effie did nothing to deserve being picked on, did not retaliate in any way or do anything to draw attention to herself.  She doesn’t even report the situation or mention being upset and it is only through Yuuto’s super sensitivity that anyone realises something is wrong.

But I also take issue with the very quick and easy resolution Albertina comes up with and how easily she reverses the situation. More importantly, solving one case of bullying through isolation by creating another doesn’t seem like much of an improvement. Maybe there will be some in the audience thinking ‘serve you right’ as the bully gets a taste of being ignored but switching the target from one character we like (or at least are supposed to) to another character isn’t really solving the problem so much as sweeping it under the rug. Then of course Effie does the sickly sweet thing and reaches out her hand to the former bully bringing her back into the group. Effie has just been victimised and hasn’t solved the problem on her own but has had someone else intervene on her behalf. There is no way she’s in a state to reach out to someone else.

Emotionally it just smacks of a desire for the show to finish off with this side show and move on. Which made me wonder why even address the issue at all – only that is all too easy to understand. Bullying is a universal and in Japan particularly it is something that is understood by pretty much anyone. If you ever watch your isekai, military, harem story to ‘relate’ to your audience, throwing in a bullying subplot is one way to do it. Does it give this dire social issue the development it probably deserves? No. But it isn’t the main point of the story. So maybe this shallow dive approach is fine, only I just found it a little annoying.

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I couldn’t help when watching this to compare it to Hina’s arc in March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 from the beginning of the year. While watching that arc I felt it was such a great representation of bullying, and I still believe it is one of the best anime bullying arcs I’ve ever seen. There Hina is given agency as she actively takes steps to minimise the damage to first her friend and then herself. She eventually reaches out for help and while others certainly do play a part, Hina continues to have to stand on her own and fight (not physically).

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We also see a teacher who has been destroyed by the weight of so many instances of bullying where there are no simple solutions that she ultimately has a full emotional collapse, and then we get the comparison to two other teachers. One takes over the class but has experience and a level head and addresses the problem head on. Even then it doesn’t instantly mend the damage but his actions create a space where the students can start to turn things around and at least he holds people accountable for their actions. The other is Rei’s teacher who listens to Rei as he vents about Hina’s situation and outlines the complexities even while feeling frustrated that there is little that he can practically do for either Rei or Hina. I do slightly object to the fact that the female teacher is portrayed as emotionally fragile and breaks under the pressure becoming hysterical where the two male teachers are more level headed about it, though realistically with only three teachers in play it is just nice that there was a mix of approaches to the issue and each one felt real in its own way. As in the audience might remember the teacher who was like A, B or C.

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Bullying in March Comes in Like a Lion is treated with a great deal of respect and the ripples created by it in Hina’s life are observed as every character connected to her is impacted in some way by her situation. This arc is given an enormous amount of screen time and at times you could almost forget that this is Rei’s story as Hina and this situation takes centre stage, but it allows the situation to really be brought to life.

However, on reflection, I have to say that at least at the beginning Hina has the same issue Effie does. Hina is portrayed as the girl who did nothing wrong and just became the target. At all points throughout the arc Hina’s innocence and the unfairness of her situation are made clear to the audience. Where Hina becomes more palatable as a character is that she is given agency (even becoming the victim was a result of her standing up for another student) and that she doesn’t quietly accept it. She gets angry and she gets upset, even if she tries to hold those emotions in there are times when they explode.

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Honestly, I’d love to see more series deal with bullying giving it the time and attention it needed to actually make it feel meaningful. I’d love to see more like March Comes in Like a Lion. I would really love to see bullying tackled by adult characters and more insidious forms of bullying on display rather than the overt cases on display here. Though more than anything, I’d love for societies to actually do something about this problem. What are your thoughts on bullying in anime?


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Karandi James

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Magical Girl Site Episode 2: Shock Factor Done, Set Into Familiar Patterns

Episode 2 of this anime turns down the extreme content, but what do we get instead?

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As much as the first episode of this show flaunted misery for the sake of it and gave us characters that we couldn’t sympathise with because they hadn’t tried to make them real characters, at least there was the potential that maybe, just maybe, this anime was going to do more than just inject death and misery into a magical girl story. Episode 2 kind of dashes those hopes and what we are left with is a protagonist who’s only personality trait is being timid or a punching bag, a mentor type figure who is clearly damaged but not in an interesting way, and a count down to some horrible future event that is about as non-specific as you can get.

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It doesn’t make for terribly compelling viewing. When they’ve frightened half the potential audience off in episode one by hitting us hard and fast with that kind of content, and episode 2 begins with blood rushing from a girl’s sliced throat, to follow that up with walking, talking, and a half-hearted confrontation between yet another unbalanced girl with magical powers and a protagonist we still don’t care about and all and all, it is just kind of dull.

Possibly they’ve given themselves some wiggle room with the oncoming tempest but this feels like they just intend to introduce psycho magic girl, have some kind of show down, at some point there will be a betrayal, and ultimately everyone will be miserable. Just my prediction though.

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Karandi James

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Magical Girl Site First Impressions – Warning on the Content and Images In This Post

In the battle to see which magical girl anime could hit the bottom first for dealing out sensationalist violence without substance, this one is a strong contender for victor unless it actually does have some point other than misery. What did you think of this first episode?

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Other than Killing Stalking and the occasional BL manga, I haven’t had to issue content warnings on most the stuff I cover because I either don’t directly discuss or show the truly horrific parts or because most of the stuff I watch uses the violence and misery it presents for some actual narrative purpose (King’s Game was probably an exception but you really couldn’t take that seriously even if you were trying to). And now we have this ‘Magical Girl Site’ which from start to finish during the first episode manages to be a bottomless pit of the worst attributes of human nature with little to redeem it or to even make you think this has some other point other than the writer was wondering how much suffering he could inflict on his protagonist (maybe the writer was female, I don’t really care).

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I don’t actually mind seeing protagonists put through some horrific events, but usually that is because challenges help them grow, develop, find some hidden talent, make them realise some weakness in themselves, or something. There’s usually something. Even a power of friendship message might have been nice here, trite though that is. But no, we get to see Aya tormented, abused, threatened, assaulted, ignored, and generally treated as sub-human by every single person in her life. Literally every person in this show is scum. That includes every bystander in her classroom and the teacher that openly ignored the harassment that is being carried out.

And Aya herself is horrible. There’s no other way to describe her. She kills two people (accidentally of course as she gains a magical power she has no control over) and her first thoughts are of self-preservation and denial of guilt. Not one instant of actual guilt for killing them. All of her trauma is because she doesn’t want to suffer punishment for their deaths. This is after she’s spent the first however long it was telling us she wants to die. As much as she’s in a horrible situation, and the people who died really don’t deserve much in the way of sympathy, a single moment of thought for them may have helped me care a smidge for protagonist girl. Or, you know, any act that seemed like she was genuinely trying to overcome any of the situation rather than just trudging along and accepting it. This isn’t bullying she is suffering from. These are criminal and violent acts being inflicted upon her.

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So this should probably hit my dropped list and yet part of me really wants to see if this show is going to sink lower or whether all of this misery is actually going to end up serving some narrative purpose other than just seeing how much the audience can endure of watching this.


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Karandi James

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A Silent Voice Movie Review: Almost Nailed It

Overview:

I doubt there are many who haven’t heard of this one. Lucky for me, AnimeLab added it for just one week which gave me a chance to see this much talked about film. Focusing on Ishida, a teenager who in primary school bullied Nishimiya who was deaf and later found himself the target of bullying, the story looks at his life as he tries to find a way to live with himself or to atone for his past acts.

Review:

There was no going into this movie blind. The sheer number of reviews and articles about this anime that have been flung about the internet made that an impossibility. The fact that so many of those were positive set the bar for this movie incredibly high particularly in how it was going to depict disability and bullying. And for the most part, the movie delivers on these aspects phenomenally well. At least, it delivers a recognisable form of both the struggle with hearing impairment and the social aspects of school and life that sometimes fall apart by people not really thinking through their actions.

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The movie is also beautifully constructed. Scenery is almost always flawless and the characters are distinct enough while still mostly being fairly generic school students. The use of the purple crosses to demonstrate Ishida’s disconnect from others and his social isolation was integrated well and used with consistency and purpose. All and all, it is a well put together movie from a visual point of view.

Even though many of the characters are unlikable, that isn’t a drawback to this film. For the most part they are supposed to be. They show us the selfish nature people have and how, even when their actions harms others, they still choose the path that gives them the most satisfaction. Even Nishimiya doesn’t come off as the saint being bullied and abandoned. Her flaws as a character are on display giving us a rare look at bullying that doesn’t paint an innocent victim but presents a situation that no one really likes but no one really knows how to stop or feels really compelled to act differently. Even when the bullying is exposed in primary school, all that does for most of the class is shift the target to Ishida and later on claim innocence.

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And with that in mind, this isn’t exactly a relaxing viewing experience. Despite the soft pastel colour scheme, this movie is hitting hard at social issues and it isn’t point the finger at one cause or perpetrator but rather is painting the entire social construct as complicit with allowing such situations to exist and to continue. Victim, perpetrator, by-stander, parent, teacher, school… everyone is shown to have contributed to the situation and the solution in the 6th grade is no solution as all of these characters are still carrying around the weight of the events many years later which ultimately lead the two characters at the centre of the story to the understanding that they hate themselves.

Ishida attempts suicide at the very start of the movie and it is only after that, and the confrontation by his mother and a rather dramatic (if slightly stupid) burning of some money, that he begins his journey toward looking for atonement or even just a reason to continue living. And he seeks this out by meeting with Nishimiya, who understandably has a fairly mixed reaction to seeing the face of the boy who bullied her so mercilessly again. Despite the progress made throughout the story and the other characters who also come on-board to deal with their own baggage, Nishimiya ultimately also tries to take her own life.

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It is a dramatic story and one that hits hard. It brings the consequences of seemingly ‘innocent’ actions to the forefront and makes you think through the reality that other people might be living due to your words and behaviours. And if the movie had ended on that note I would actually claim this movie was an absolute masterpiece.

And yet, the story continues and leads us by the hand through a redemption sequence and ultimately tries to set up a happily ever after which might make people feel better about what they just watched but kind of shoots the film’s powerful messages and early statements in the foot. While it is lovely these characters get a happy ending, kind of, the far more powerful story is ultimately down-played because of it. While I don’t actually think the suicide should have been successful, leaving us wondering what happened next or seeing just the immediate fall out of the incident where the characters finally feel the full weight of their actions, would have been a much more powerful ending.

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Still, it is a minor criticism and the movie still packs quite a punch. I’m really glad I had the chance to see it and if you haven’t seen it yet, I certainly recommend checking it out.


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Karandi James

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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 34: Hina’s Choice

Review:

Usually when a show makes their protagonist disappear for a whole episode the word filler is the first thing that comes to mind and yet episode 34 of March Comes in Like a Lion shows us how it should be done. Rei makes no appearance in this episode which is largely narrated by Hina and focuses on the events in her classroom after the field trip.

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After the teacher finally gets a taste of the bullying going on in the classroom she loses it and while they might try to justify her previous actions as being worn down by seeing the same pattern over and over, a teacher ignoring bullying (worse, denying it’s existence and blaming the victim) is inexcusable. And yet, Hina once again takes the high ground as she helps the teacher and doesn’t hold a grudge or act like the teacher deserves what she is getting. In fact, Hina reacts with the usual concern we’ve seen her hold for others since the beginning of the series.

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After the teacher leaves the school and the head teacher takes over the class it finally seems like someone is going to acknowledge that there is a problem but that leads to Akari needing to attend the school. This is probably the first time we’ve fully seen the burden Akari is carrying as she tries to be the mother to Hina and Momo. Yet, when Akari buckles under the weight of that burden, Hina is again the one who stands up tall.

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While this isn’t an instant fix to all the issues that are going on in Hina’s class, this episode marks a transition in the events. What is more important than anything that the school or others are doing is Hina’s mindset. She’s determined not to give in and has promised that she will graduate. Someone needs to give this girl a hug, she’s fantastic.

So, Rei’s absence this week wasn’t an issue at all as this episode more than held its place in the story. Also, the new opening and ending songs are fantastic.


 

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March Comes in Like A Lion Episode 28: Fight or Flight

Review:

The bullying saga continues and there are no easy options here. Every step leads to further complications and Hina is caught in a very rough spot. However, once again March Comes in Like a Lion shows us it understands people very well. Hina’s friend fled from bullying and retreated into herself and now is receiving counselling elsewhere. She’s completely withdrawn from school and from everyone she used to know. Rei remarks in a voice over that he thought that if things got bad she could just leave as another advocate for a flight response. One that we see Rei himself has taken many times in his life. Whle he doesn’t always physically flee, he withdraws himself from situations and human connections.

Hina on the other hand… Hina is not just upset. She’s angry. She’s a fighter and one who continues to think of others even while trapped in a cycle of misery. However, just standing up doesn’t solve the issue anymore than running away from it will and it is fantastic for an anime (or any story) to point out that neither response really magically makes the problem disappear.

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Episode 28 is a great episode for building on Rei and Hina’s relationship. We see Rei trying to be the older of the two and trying to be the helping hand for Hina but then struggling to understand how to help her sending himself into a downward spiral of self-doubt and loathing that Hina then rescues him from in true Hina fashion.

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Rei may not realise it, but this is helping Hina. For a little while she has a problem in front of her she can solve and a person she can help. He might feel like he’s useless and making things worse, but I don’t think Hina is ever going to see it that way.

The one thing I have to wonder is whether the teacher will remain in denial, or worse, whether she’ll try to redirect the blame onto Hina. We’ve already seen that this particular anime teacher would rather stick her head in the sand rather than see the reality facing her students and has brushed aside complaints of bullying previously. Though with one student having fled the school entirely and another now being openly targeted you would have to wonder how much longer she can keep that up.

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The other fun part of this episode is where Rei recruits Takahashi (baseball character seen previously) to help out. It actually further complicates the situation but it does give Hina one further companion so at least she knows she isn’t alone even in the school. We also see Rei preparing for and playing in various shogi competitions. It is nice that he is motivated for a change even if he is still a little misguided.

This episode continues to be visually wonderful to watch, emotionally powerful and the story and characters are just fantastic. No complaints at all about how season 2 of this show is progressing.


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Evil or Live Episode 3: I Didn’t Think It Was Possible, But It Is Getting Worse

Review:

This show is not good. It didn’t start well, but at least had an interesting kind of premise even if the execution was questionable, but at episode 3 I just have to admit that this is going to be kind of terrible. I also have to admit I kind of need to know how it ends so here I am condemning myself to another Bloodivores type experience.

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The main problem (there’s a lot of problems but the main one) is that Hibiki is an inconsistent and just plain uninteresting lead. Episode one he was rebellious and jerk of a teen taken away from everything and scared. Since then he has been up, down, and all over the place but this week he tries on cowardly but just minded human. They also attempt to give him some back story with Shiori hinting he used to run but he didn’t really want to talk about that so while that may come back later for now it is just a random point thrown in to a character that makes little sense.

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Even if I choose to ignore his inconsistencies and put those down to the extraordinary circumstances he has been dumped into, he’s still an idiot. He can’t do anything by himself and yet he burns Shin. He continues to think things will be okay like when he goes to collect food for the guys in his room, despite every bit of evidence so far being that nothing will be okay in this place. So far his actions and thoughts have just been too dumb for words.

It doesn’t help that other characters are horrible just for the sake of being horrible so far. Maybe motives and reasons will emerge but at the moment we are just watching horrible people be horrible to other horrible people and the plot isn’t going anywhere fast. This week we see Hibiki promise to save Shiori but he has zero possibility of achieving that and everyone knows it. Even he knows it. So where exactly is this story going?

Anyway, if you haven’t started this train wreck I would recommend avoiding, however should it get better I’ll let you know.


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Interviews With Monster Girls Episode 4

Review:

I’m not totally sold on this show but this episode was quite charming. Instead of letting the gossip go on Hikari decides to take matters into her own hands and while I don’t think this would work in the real world it was kind of fun to watch.

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The rest of this episode seemed to be about bringing all of the cast together given up until now we’ve been seeing fragmented interactions between the demis with Takahashi kind of being the link between them all. Though, what happens next will really determine whether I end up seeing this show through or not. Because if it just becomes a club where the demis hang-out and occasionally flirt with Takahashi I’m going to check out, but it seems like this show wants to be more than that so here is hoping it can find what it wants to be.

Interviews with Monster Girls is available on Crunchyroll.

ReLIFE Series Review

Overview:

Arata Kaizaki’s life has kind of hit a stand still. After quitting his first job three months in he is finding it pretty hard to find employment, or even really face the world and is becoming increasingly isolated. Enter a pill and a contract to go back to being 17 years old for a year and have a chance of a job waiting at the other end of the experiment. Yes, Arata is going back to highschool.

Review:

Firstly, I am going to thank whoever decided to release the 13 episodes of this show on one day. If I’d had to wait week to week to watch this, I would have lost interest. Not because this is bad, but because it is kind of ordinary and there isn’t really enough to make you want to come back to it. However, in a single sitting or split over a couple of days, this is actually quite fun and interesting. So, good decision there.

Secondly, what’s with the title? Why is does LIFE need to be entirely in capital letters? I don’t normally care when anime does weird things to English words but this one kind of just made me wonder whether there was meant to be some greater significance that I just missed.

Alright then, on to the review.

The premise of this anime (that somehow reliving a year of high school will enable you to overcome your adult gained emotional baggage and become a productive member of society again) is complete and utter rubbish. No matter how you look at it, even if magic pills that could make you appear older/younger existed, this is not going to work. Even if you learn to get on with others within the confines of school, this does not directly translate to the workforce. More importantly, in Arata’s case, it isn’t his inability to deal with people that’s the problem. It was the criminal negligence of the company he worked for. So reliving high school, not helpful.

If we ignore this (and if you can’t just don’t bother watching), then what we get is a half-way interesting show about nice guy Arata overcoming the hurdles of being plunged back into a classroom and helping all his new high school friends overcome their emotional angst by giving them pep-talks. Okay, it sounds lame but as I said, it kind of works. It’s sweet and it doesn’t drag and most the characters are likeable.

My biggest complaint would have to be the writer’s inability to let the premise be. He goes to school for a year and then everyone forgets him and he goes back to his adult life. Instead we have a second test subject in the school and a growing romance and you just know that if this story continues they are going to find some ridiculous reason to let at least one person remember what happened. Just commit to your silly premise already. Hey, you already declared you were going to wipe perfectly innocent students’ of their memories of an individual, what worse things could you possibly do?

There’s some genuine humour to be found in this series. Particularly Arata’s difficulties with studying. Yep, even if you made it through school, if you don’t use it you lose it. In addition to studying we get to look at sports, bullying, romances and all the usual anime high school tropes but from the perspective of an adult who has already had their illusions about real life shattered.

Furthermore, the two ‘support’ characters who are working for the group that are incharge of the ReLife experiment are gold. Their back and forth when discussing strategies, their different approaches in the classroom, and just their ‘support’ really work well to keep the plot moving along.

I enjoyed ReLIFE. I started watching it while waiting for someone while I was away and ended up marathoning the entire series. That doesn’t mean it is amazing but it is watchable and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. However, if you aren’t going to let go of the fact that the entire motivation behind the going back to school thing is rubbish, you aren’t going to get into this show.

So, what do you guys think?

ReLIFE is available on Crunchyroll.