27 year old Arata has no full time job or career plan and nobody to tide him over when his parents cut him off financially. When he bumps into a charming man named Ryo who offers him an all expenses paid get out for a whole year Arata instantly agrees, not realising the consequences of his decision until the morning after. Ryo works for ReLIFE laboratory and Arata has taken an experimental drug which makes him physically transform to his 17 year old self. Ryo reveals that ReLIFE is actually a rehabilitation programme for unemployed NEET types like Arata who are sent back to high school for a year to reinvigorate them and help them learn what it means to work hard.

ReLIFE wastes no time setting up an entertaining fish out of water situation in which Arata struggles with the practicalities of being a teenager again. He forgets that he shouldn’t be smoking, scores badly on the high school tests and unthinkingly lends larger sums of money than a student would be expected to have. Interestingly, although Arata seems to be alone at 27 when he becomes a student again he easily connects with the boys and girls around him, making it obvious pretty early on that his time in ReLIFE will have a positive impact on his new friends as much as they will on him.

Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old...
Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old…

I went into this anime expecting the focus to be entirely on Arata’s development but whilst we get his internal monologue throughout during his interactions with his high school peers, the anime sets up most of the drama about his new friends. The first few episodes are deceptively lighthearted, almost to the point of goofiness in places but ReLIFE begins to build emotional investment from the get go as Arata’s new friends struggle with their own insecurities and the impact they have on their relationships with each other. The animation is pretty standard with the odd lapse into chibi style at comedic moments, and the discordant and erratic piano soundtrack works well to support each teenager’s internal conflicts and provide a quirky backdrop to the tension.

Another day, another derp moment
Another day, another derp moment

Although ReLIFE features realistic characters with believable quirks and struggles, I wish that it had done more to give some of the emotional moments greater impact. We’re shown some poignant backstory for Arata’s life as a 27 year old and also for Ryo’s life working on another case in the ReLIFE laboratory but most of this isn’t until the last part of the anime. The focus remains on the melodrama between Arata’s classmates and whilst they are likeable and interesting enough, their characters are never built up enough to provide the right kind of emotional depth to make their conflicts with each other as interesting as they could be.

Arata's backstory plays out to powerful effect
Arata’s backstory plays out to powerful effect

The ending frustrated me most about ReLIFE, this anime offers powerful twist at the end and then just doesn’t do nearly enough with it. It’s a shame that the potential for a real emotionally moving finish fades away in favour of the light humour and fluffiness that has been present throughout, when it would have been easy to provide a strong emotional finish for two of the central characters.

ReLIFE provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments without resorting to lazy stereotypes or over the top fanservice. It also tackles some darker topics, so if you have the patience to stick with it through some predictable drama situations you’ll find some moving scenes towards the end and there are enough touching moments throughout to maintain your interest. It is an easy watch whether you’re relatively new to anime and looking to ease yourself in gently, or just looking for a funny anime with some standard high school drama.

ReLIFE is now available on Crunchyroll.


Everyone’s Getting Married


24 year old Asuka has made a successful career for herself. But she has a secret – she really wants to jack it all in to be a wife and full time homemaker. Her dream is thrown into turmoil when her boyfriend of five years ends their relationship, but Asuka vows to put herself back out there and find Mr. Right. When she meets handsome, charismatic newscaster Ryu he seems like the perfect catch. But Ryu has no interest in ever getting married…

Ryu doesn't pull any punches about his stance on marriage...
Ryu: charming, handsome, extremely blunt about marriage…

Izumi Miyazono’s shoujo manga is a modern romance that closely examines and dissects traditional and non traditional ideas of love and partnership. Miyazono balances the opposing perspectives on marriage across men and women with four central characters – Asuka has a female friend who doesn’t want to get married who falls for a man named Ono who does.

Many adults will find it relatable to see the judgements and misunderstandings that Asuka and Ryu face for their personal choices when it comes to the binary stances on prioritising your career or following a more traditional route of marriage and children as soon as possible. The two have to deal with the outside pressure that colleagues, friends and even strangers place on them to conform to a particular life path, as well as the conflicting desires they face in their own budding relationships when one person is eager to settle down and tie the knot and the other isn’t.

Asuka hopes to find that special guy with marriage in mind

Everyone’s Getting Married isn’t going to win any prizes for subtlety – the characters spend most of their time discussing marriage. In one scene, Asuka is even asked out by a man who says “please go out with me with marriage in mind” which seems excessive even for a traditional nation like Japan. However, it does effectively show how the institution of marriage bleeds into friendships, relationships and careers. This is a good manga if you’re searching for a story about the complications of love in a modern world, and it’s always wonderful to see another manga about adults when so many shoujo stories focus on teen romances. Another pleasing touch is that each chapter includes a quote about love or marriage from a famous person, such as “It is impossible to love and be wise – Sir Francis Bacon”.

If you’re looking for a grown up love story be sure to check out Everyone’s Getting Married!


Until Dawn


Ten teenagers are enjoying a fun getaway at the Washington’s lodge, and decide to play a particularly cruel prank on one of the girls, Hannah. When she runs out into the woods humiliated, her sister Beth goes after her and they go missing. Their distraught brother Josh decides to bring the group back to the lodge a year later in the hopes of healing and reuniting everyone in their grief, but there’s something sinister in the woods…

So begins the interactive horror game Until Dawn. The aim of the game is typical of most horror stories – to make it to the end with as many of your teenagers still alive as possible. Each chapter of the game counts down the remaining hours “until dawn”, when the game will end. You can play as all of the teenagers throughout the game, each with distinct personalities (the jock, the bitchy one, the moral one, the nerd) and differing relationships to each other.

You can monitor how your character's personality and relationships change throughout the game
Your character’s personality and relationships change throughout the game dependent on the choices you make

Until Dawn works as a choice based adventure game. You can decide how your characters should treat each other and how much they should tell each other with each decision. This has a knock-on effect to the kind of relationships they have with each other and their own personalities which creates the long term and sometimes tragic consequences. During the more active game play in which your characters are exploring their surroundings you can also decide whether to run or hide when necessary or which route to take. Sometimes these decisions are timed as your character needs to make a quick decision and you might have as little as five seconds to pick an option that could mean life or death for your character.

Until Dawn™_20151014172050
There’s not always an obvious choice in this game

Until Dawn works well as a horror game because it serves up equal parts intellect and quick reflexes. As well as hunting for clues to help you figure out what is going on in the woods and what really happened to Hannah and Beth, you have to think really carefully about the long term effects your choices could have on each teen and everyone’s survival. The game also encourages you to think about turning horror tropes on their head – do you want to befriend nature or destroy it? Should you risk separating from the group? Is it best to kill someone to save someone else? You have to keep your wits about you at all times, so if you enjoy the horror genre you’ll really enjoy being able to make these choices yourself. It’s a refreshing change from just killing monsters as you go along which some of the more traditional horror games offer.

The reflex quick time event moments also work well to really keep you on edge at all times – you never know when one will pop up so you always need to be completely focused. There are plenty of jump scares (and yes, I jumped at all of them) and they can often be followed by a quick time event in which you need to quickly press a button or make a choice to help ensure your character lives to the next chapter. It’s frustrating but also more realistic to the danger the game aims to portray that one wrong decision or missed button press can mean your character’s death just as easily as making poor long term decisions can. The game play also includes moments in which you have to keep the controller as still as possible to keep characters safe which is a lot harder than it sounds when you’re tense with fear, but all adds to the suspense.

Sensor style gameplay puts the characters’ lives in your hands

Between each chapter are scenes in which a psychiatrist talks to a hidden character in his office. The psychiatrist repeatedly discusses with the hidden character the “game” she/he is playing and the effects it is having, which I thought was a fun little breaking of the fourth wall. The psychiatrist encourages “you” to pick answers for things which scare you the most, and which characters in the game you prefer, which each have small effects on future gameplay (although not on who lives or dies).

Until Dawn is a great game that builds tension well with atmospheric music, dark visuals and jump scares galore. It forces you to live with your choices through auto saves, there’s no way to “redo” a choice without restarting the game, so you have to carry on even when you’re annoyed about making a wrong choice or missing a crucial button press. This makes for a much more compelling and honest horror survival game. Although the characters weren’t always as interesting and sympathetic as they could have been and some of the movement is a little clunky, this is still a definite play for anyone who enjoys choice based games. With so many variants and endings you can easily play it again and again. Just don’t play it on your own in the dark…

Patema Inverted (Sakasama no Patema)


Many years ago, scientists decided to experiment with gravity. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t end well and a portion of society had their gravity reversed and were forced to live in another world underground. Aiga – the society left behind – labelled these people Inverts, and “sinners” and a totalitarian world was created as a result to try and prevent people from having enough original thought to create another disaster. Aiga is now a clonelike world where students are not even allowed to look out of the window and masked military police roam the land. All is overseen by the leader Izamura who embodies the worst of the anti-Invert ideals and has all the foppish dress and crazed eyes of a classic anime villain.

Patema Inverted captures a totalitarian state with eerie effect
Patema Inverted captures a totalitarian state with eerie effect

Teenager Age is weary of living in such a grey, restrictive society, but things change when he meets an Invert called Patema who has fallen into his world by mistake. Both Age and Patema quickly form a bond as she is forced to depend on him in what appears to her a topsy turvy landscape. Their bond is cemented when Age shares the loss of his father with her and Patema consoles him. Patema Inverted shows us that both Age and Patema have really developed from their experiences of pain and loss, Age quietly grieving in a suffocatingly rigid society and Patema also having lost a loved one. Both have had to deal with wanting to see a world beyond their own and having to go against the grain of their society to do so, but their experiences and emotions are never hammed up for dramatic effect and rather quietly resonate through gentle flashbacks and moving imagery.

You spin me right round baby, right round...
You spin me right round baby, right round…

Patema Inverted shows the viewer what it’s like to have your world quite literally turned upside down with continual 180 degree turns throughout to really put the viewer in the shoes of either Age or Patema who feel that they’re about to fall into the “sky” at any moment and have to place their complete trust in the other person to keep them safe. This is a movie that has fun with its sci fi elements, and the scene where Patema and Age have to flee from military police and Age realises he can effectively fly because his gravity changes when he holds Patema is exhilarating to watch. The landscapes are shown as being both terrifying and exciting at any given moment, there’s no particular bias either way, which keeps the film nicely balanced between the wonders and terrors of a world with two gravities.

"Hey Age, wanna try a Spiderman kiss?"
“Hey Age, wanna try a Spiderman kiss?”

The rest of the visuals are also a treat, with incredible attention to light and shadow details during key moments. The music is also excellent, often taking on a pared back mechanical sound but producing more emotional music when required to match up with more intense scenes. I really enjoyed the constant symmetry between the characters from two worlds, and the mirroring of a cold technological state with a mechanical organic one. It’s a shame there wasn’t time for more world building when both worlds were so interesting but it’s possible the four episode series tackles this.

With great visuals, a complementary soundtrack and a fantastic sci fi story, Patema Inverted is definitely one to watch if you’re looking for a great sci fi anime film.



The Princess and the Pilot


Lady Fana Del Moral has been promised to Prince Carlos, and on meeting her he is so struck by her beauty he cannot wait to wed. Nonetheless, he asks that she wait a year for their marriage so that he can fight in the ongoing war against their rival nation. When a year has passed and the war has shown no signs of abating, top pilot Charles is recruited to ensure Fana’s safe passage to Carlos through a sky full of danger.

Charles is a good man who has been treated badly all his life for his lower class “sewer rat” status. Upon meeting Fana, he instantly recognises her from a time when he worked in the gardens of her estate as a child and she sweetly consoled him after he was bullied and beaten yet again for his lower position in society. Fana to begin with is a quiet and obedient lady, and Charles is professional and honourable, so at first all their interactions are polite and restrained, which means it takes longer for the emotional investment to build. The real turning point of the film occurs when Charles and Fana are put increasingly in danger from enemy planes and have to land on a nearby island, and Fana transforms from a demure lady to a more extroverted and active character.

The narrative smoothly balances the tense action moments in the sky with quieter, more intimate interactions between the two when the plane has to land. Although the animation can be on the more static two dimensional side, the plane scenes are impressive with giant looming bodies ominously appearing from the sky. Charles is often forced to make daring and risky manoeuvres while Fana tries to help, and her innocence and his honour and heroism combined with the appearance of the planes created a very Studio Ghibli vibe at times.

"What do you mean we can't be together? I cut my hair for you!"
“What do you mean we can’t be together? I cut my hair for you!”

The Princess and the Pilot takes a little time to really get into the swing of things, but I enjoyed this movie and would definitely recommend it if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and enjoy sweet, chaste love stories. It would have been an even more satisfying ending if more had been made of Fana and Charles’ respective characters and emotions – Fana in particular feels quite two dimensional for too much of the movie. I was also disappointed that the elements of racism against Charles, and the overarching war narrative were not resolved – it is possible that these were addressed in greater detail by the original novel by Koroku Inumura. However, what Charles and Fana mean to each other and what they give each other is still communicated well enough to make the ending a beautiful tribute to two young people torn between obligation or following their heart.