ReLIFE is the story of a 27 year old who is given a magic pill that makes him look like a high schooler–though he’s still physically 27–so he can go to high school again. The concept alone is intriguing to many people both East and West. And it should. It’s the perfect amalgamation of major concepts that appeal to both cultures.
In the West, time travel is a great hook. Now, just because a story has time travel in it, that doesn’t mean it’ll be good. But, if you mention that a story has time travel in it, you’re pretty much guaranteed a certain audience will give it a look. Groundhog Day, Back to The Future, Steins;Gate, Doctor Who… These are all beloved works that involve time travel. So why are people in the West so attached to time traveling?
It’s because time travel as a concept involves something that is inherently deeply rooted in Western society: The individual changing the world. Time travel stories are largely about going back in time or going to the future to change something in the present. They are largely focused on the individual and them using time travel as a vehicle to reshape the world around them. Western society–especially American society–strongly emphasizes the importance of the individual. Individual freedoms, individual rights… It’s this focus on the single person that allows Western society to take steps towards giving a voice to minorities. It’s satisfying to see a lone person solve problems and make the world a better place for themselves and those around them.
In the East, another genre is highly prevalent: The extradimensional traveler. Series like Sword Art Online, Overlord, Log Horizon, GATE… Stories about characters who travel to–and are often trapped in–other worlds or dimensions. Where time travel stories tend to be about individuals changing the world, extradimensional traveler stories are about the world changing and the individual’s response to it.
Until very recently–and it could be argued, even now–Eastern cultures have been largely collectivist. There may be a few influential rulers at the top, but for the most part, the individual is seen as part of the whole. The individual is insignificant compared to the whole and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). Knowing this, it’s hardly surprising that most stories in anime tend to be about an insignificant nobody living their everyday life, only to be torn from their comfort zone and being forced to adapt. Extradimensional traveler stories take that concept a step further by literally changing the entire world that surrounds the protagonist.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one kind of story is inherently more Western or Eastern. It also doesn’t mean that one genre is “better” than the other. Both kinds of stories are popular in both societies. However, it does explain a trend for audiences of each culture to gravitate towards a genre or to be willing to get into a certain type of story with little more than a simple description.
As for ReLIFE, as stated before, it is the prefect amalgamation of both concepts. It’s not literally a time travel story. The protagonist, Arata Kaizaki, does not actually travel through time. However, it is conceptually one. Because he retains the knowledge and experience of an adult in a body that appears to be that of a high schooler, it feels the same. Arata has knowledge that no one else in his class has. This gives him a foresight almost like a time traveler. He can face problems that others don’t know how to deal with and is keenly aware of the sort of mental state others are in because he himself has already experienced it before. He’s not a time traveler, and yet, he might as well be.
At the same time, ReLIFE is also an extradimensional traveler story. Arata’s world has completely changed, and while school is a place he’s experienced before, it has radically changed since he’s last been there. In his heart, he knows and feels like he’s an outsider. Also, the entire point of the ReLIFE project is to help an alienated individual reintegrate themselves into society by having them live as a high schooler for one year. It’s the individual changing through a change in their environment.
ReLIFE‘s quality is not a product of its genre. It’s a well written story with both heart and humor that anyone who has been through the drama of high school can relate to. However, it does come prebuilt with the necessary elements to give it appeal to bother Western and Eastern societies. It may not be an intentional engineering, but it certainly doesn’t work against it.
All thirteen episodes of ReLIFE are currently available on comico’s app in Japan. It can also be viewed on Crunchyroll in the US with English subtitles.