Being an adult is mendokusai.
In my line of work, I have to meet retailers, customers, writers, artists, students, teachers — all of them are prospective customers in my eyes. If they can’t buy the product I’m selling, I mentally cross them out and move on to the next customer. Even when I write reviews and articles for literary magazines, they’re not really my works but products to be sold to customers.
I sometimes forget that my childhood dream is to write novels and make films out of them. But that’s how it is if you’re a professional freelance writer in this world. I didn’t want to be in this position, but I have to get money somehow. Money is living.
So when an anime like ReLIFE became popular in the anime communities I hung around in, I was as skeptical as any ossan would on a child’s dream to be a rocket scientist. A salaryman getting a blue pill to become a teenager and reliving his school days again? Is this desire to return to high school a new trend to the hopeless genre of salaryman fiction like 下町ロケット where the novel lies to its readers about how everyone is going to help you succeed, especially in the stock market? I have very little tolerance when it comes to stories about glorifying how great high school life is, especially if it’s the story of a salaryman lecturing a bunch of kids on how to live. It just reeks of escapism everywhere.
But actually, it’s the complete opposite: ReLIFE is exploring adulthood in the context of the idealism found in high school life. It’s a subtly depressing work that hits you when you realize how hopeless adult life is: the adult life is high school drama but worser, brutish, and cruel — and there’s no idealism in the adult life.
Everyone in the show, regardless of their age, lives with their own nightmares. Kaizaki Arata, the 28 year old protagonist turned teenager, could not stand how fucked up salaryman life is — a dog-eat-dog world where you have no choice but to suck it up. He found it disgusting and left the business world once and for all. Kairu Rena looks like a typical sporty teenager, but she feels oppressed by her rivals and can’t express her feelings toward the boy she likes. No matter how hard she works, she could not succeed in anything. She is always second and she can’t accept it. Hishiro Chizuru, the heroine of the work, is an emotionless being with no sense of social awareness. She has zero friends and has closed her feelings to herself. She fears the future because she knows that this personality of hers won’t let her survive in a salaryman society.
So there is no difference between someone as old as Arata and someone as young as Chizuru. Their problems are ageless, timeless, and more importantly universal. Everyone has been in their situations. You can also make comparisons between school drama and the work life; Arata finds it strange at times that he can understand teenagers and teenagers can understand him as long as he changes the setting of his problems to high school. His work life experience is not at all different from being bullied in high school.
This is why Arata is an interesting character. He has the most experience of the characters and that’s why he is often in a proactive spot. He sometimes tries his best to give advice. All of his advice are based on his experiences and he only knows a bit better than everyone else. So characters often retaliate at him, arguing that he’s no older and wiser than them. But Arata still tries to find a way to indirectly influence the situation because, unlike everyone in his work life, teenagers haven’t dropped their knees to cynicism yet. They can change. And Arata himself refuses to be a cynic. He resigns his job because he doesn’t want to bow down to society yet.
This relationship dynamic suggests then that the idealism of adolescence doesn’t go away when we grow up to be adults. Instead, it’s something Arata has and also why he suffers in the adult world. He finds himself having fun hanging out with high schoolers while he finds it tiring to be with his coworkers drinking beer. He still believes in that glimmer of hope where people can explore and achieve their dreams, no matter their age.
Who cares if people consider him childish and naive for having ideas like this? He doesn’t want to grow up to be the adult society expects out of him — a salaryman. When you have decided to ignore your dreams and problems that affect you as a person, you have become one of them. You have accepted that you can’t do anything about it and move on. Teenagers have the time to face their problems and achieve their dreams. So he encourages people like Kairu to never back down from their feelings. They can’t be the soulless, enslaved adults that society wants. They must be themselves, true to their feelings when they grow up.
This also means Arata has to face the real reason why he left the salaryman life and later, his crush on Chizuru. He is still learning what it means to grow up not as an adult but as himself — just like everyone else in this work.
And that’s a lonely journey to be yourself. It is so easy to succumb to the adult life and give up your individuality to join the comfortable life in society. People in school don’t know what they want to be and that’s why they give up and let themselves be part of society. When people like Arata still hold on to their identity, they become alienated and estranged. They are called weird and childish — for having dreams. People tell them, “Be an adult. Suck it up.”
And yet, they persevere and find a way to make ends meet. Because they think it is right to turn their back from the salaryman life and be themselves. If their behavior is called juvenile by their superiors, then so be it. They are expressing themselves and being who they are.
That’s what makes ReLIFE’s worldview look so appealing to me. Once you get over the charming ending, you realize the implications and consequences if you don’t follow. If you don’t do simple things like confess to someone you like, you’re not being true to yourself — you’re on the path to being a salaryman. It’s depressing because you have to consider your adult life as an extension of your high school life. You still feel insecure and uncertain about your future. You are never satisfied with who you want to be. And you are going to take huge risks and taste failure too many times. Being a salaryman solves all those problems by ignoring them. It is an escapist life because you close your heart and don’t let people inside. You become a robot for the sake of society.
And no one wants that.
I certainly don’t want that. That’s the reason I took an art degree in writing to avoid all of that crap. I want a life that is fulfilling. And yet, I am in a life where I treat everyone not as people but as prospective customers.
I can’t stand what I am doing because I still feel the idealism beating in my heart. It’s fleeting away as the reality of life sinks in deeper into my mind, but I want to keep it.
I can’t leave my job now, but I can at least write about things I care about. I will still be a salaryman, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped resisting. I am still looking for a way out. No one is going to come up to me and offer a blue pill to me and make me a high schooler again. I’ll have to find that blue pill myself.
And that blue pill seems to be writing.
That’s probably why I started editing and writing for Tanoshimi.xyz because I wanted my little own passion project. I’ve seen a lot of people describe my posts there as nonsensical ramblings, but I feel like this is me on the page. I would have never thought I’d be reading myself, not what people expect out of me, when I finished the Sakura no Uta post. I remember telling a friend of mine, “That’s me. That is really me. I can’t believe that’s me on the paper.”
Looking back through my writings not done on Tanoshimi, I can see a clear difference: I was a salaryman adult writing shit after shit that I gave zero shit about. I treated everything I worked on not as a short story I wrote but as someone else’s. And that’s true because that isn’t me at all — the Sakura no Uta post is me, the Mahoyo post is me, even the nonsensical Eustia post is me too. Funny how the works I find most embarrassing shows the real me. Everything I don’t find hesitation in publishing should be seen as another person’s work. The more I have difficulty pressing the Publish button after everything’s done, the more I think how frightening the world is when they read my posts. I feel naked and vulnerable, but I want to write like this. I know I have to because this is me on the page.
It’s funny: I don’t actually like writing. I don’t know how to write proper reviews or even proper English; I just know how to write these creative essays in this antiquated, pop culture-laden English. And my essays are probably perceived as sappy self-help works that are only tangentially related to the work; that’s how I write when I am being myself. It’s part of my growing identity now.
And it’s fine that people call me childish, a 22 year old teenager, and so on. That’s because it’s true: I am just a kid trying to look for himself. I know nothing — except I know that I can’t accept forcing myself into the template that is the salaryman adult life. So I write in my childish, rambling voice to find where I stand in this world.
Till then, I am still a teenager at heart.