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'Re-Main' first impressions: The summer's hottest new...amnesiac water polo anime?

Manga and Anime

‘Re-Main’ first impressions: The summer’s hottest new…amnesiac water polo anime?

What if you were a prodigy in your field…and then forgot everything you knew?

Warning: this article contains spoilers for Re-Main’s first two episodes.

As my past writing has made no secret of, I’m a big fan of sports manga and anime. So when the summer season approached and I started looking into which new shows to give a chance, it’s no wonder that Re-Main made the top of my list. A water polo anime from studio MAPPA, it had the advantage of me not actually knowing anything about water polo going in. I always find it fun to learn about sports from their (admittedly unrealistic) adaptations, especially if they’re relatively minor sports ala last season’s Burning Kabaddi. With Re-Main’s first two episodes out, I’ve now had enough time to think on my first impressions and get a sense of the anime’s general premise. So, is it good?

One consistent aspect of sports series that I love is the focus on internal conflict. Regardless of the nature of external competition, some of the most interesting character development and exploration comes from watching protagonists grapple with their own senses of adequacy and responsibility. With that said, I’ve never seen an internal conflict quite like that of Re-Main’s protagonist Minato Kiyoumizu. Many sports anime figures fit easily into the role of the prodigy (Kagami Taiga, Haruka Nanase) or the novice/underdog (Shoyo Hinata), but Minato occupies both archetypes and thus conversely neither of them. The justification for this? Amnesia.

Yes, Amnesia. Re-Main begins with Minato awakening from a coma he entered after getting into a car accident. Now about to begin high school, he has no memories of his middle school days when, he learns, he was a nationally renowned water polo player. He remembers nothing whatsoever of his time playing, not his teammates nor even the sport’s basic rules. Going in he knows literally as little as I do. Not only that but he was comatose for so long that his muscles atrophied, so he’s not in the kind of physical shape he had trained himself into for previously either. He is as close back to square one as a prodigy could ever conceivably return.

'Re-Main' first impressions: The summer's hottest new...amnesiac water polo anime?

Don’t know these characters? Neither does Minato. (MAPPA)

Now, amnesia might sound like a hyperdramatic plot device to use (and it is), but I don’t mind it. Why? Because the series is already using that devise to explore Minato’s character in compelling ways. Here we have a protagonist who becomes invested in a sport not because it was pushed onto him from a young age or because he sees it being played and is instantly captivated, but because he himself has already achieved success in it to the point of being famous (even if just in the niche world of other water polo players).

There’s certainly something to be said for the idea that being good at something doesn’t mean one is obligated to do it, and that one can change their path and life goals at any point. But truly, what would it be like to have the shadow of your own past self, a self you no longer know, thrust upon you? In a way this sort of pressure is coming from external sources as many characters knew Minato pre-accident and are aware of what he achieved. Some of them, primarily his classmate Chinu Kawakubo, even play a direct role in pressuring him to return to the sport. But it’s Minato’s fractured awareness of his own self that shows the most potential for character exploration. If he has no memory of them, then to what degree are his middle school years and achievements still a meaningful aspect of his current self? Would Minato need to remember those years for them to count, or does their enduring memory in the minds of others around him suffice?

To its credit, Re-Main has thus far preserved the split divide between past Minato and present Minato. Upon agreeing to join the water polo team at his high school, his teammates remark that some intrinsic memory and feeling for the sport might return to him once he hits the water. This possibility is then dangled in front of the viewer as Minato ponders his initial feelings in the pool, which are quickly revealed to simply be shock and cold. The water is freezing, he’s almost naked, and he has no clue what he’s doing. The closest he comes to showing any evidence of his past talent is managing a nice arc on an overhead pass, and even then it’s only while doing so two-handed (which, the team captain remarks, isn’t permitted in actual play). Time will tell if and to what degree Minato will regain past memories, but I personally hope he either doesn’t or only does so minimally and toward the series’ end. The questions raised by the anime’s premise are simply too intriguing to wave away immediately.

Of course water polo is a team sport, so the likability of Minato’s teammates will also play a part in determining the series’ quality. With that said most of said teammates only just debuted in episode two so it’s hard to get a good sense of them just yet. Eitarou Oka, Minato’s teammate who is downright infatuated with him, has thus far been a bit one-dimensional but will hopefully achieve some depth in the future. As is he’s just an overenthusiastic kouhai character, but I suspect we’ll eventually find out why he’s so obsessed with Minato (or, at least, what veneer of plausible deniability is given to him just crushing really hard on his upperclassman).

'Re-Main' first impressions: The summer's hottest new...amnesiac water polo anime?

This anime’s designated “It doesn’t make any sense if he’s not gay” character. (MAPPA)

Captain Jou Joujima has already been made endearing via backstory about his having trained all by his lonesome prior to the new underclassmen arriving, making him all the more eager to form a full team and actually compete. He’s brash and can be a bit thickheaded but shows the ability to own up to his mistakes and move forward. I’m also hopeful about the inclusion of Yutaka Babayaro Inomata. It’s always nice to see black characters included in anime; I just hope that the show will spare him from the racist treatment that has sadly affected so many other black characters in this genre.

The other characters of note are Minato’s family and the previously mentioned Chinu. Chinu is clearly being set up as Minato’s love interest and while I haven’t disliked their scenes together, they’ve done little for me thus far. The pair’s entire relationship is predicated on a bet made between Chinu and Minato’s younger pre-amnesia self, so we’ll just have to wait and see how the issues of self play out within the context of their potential romance. Minato’s family meanwhile has been very understanding of his situation and told him not to feel pressured into anything post-accident, but there’s a dark undercurrent to all their scenes at the dinner table together. While I’m more interested in Minato’s internal understanding of himself, I’m also curious to see how his family’s expectations for him will affect events going forward.

Moving on to its visual and musical aspects, Re-Main is solid though not extraordinary. The opening theme, Enhypen’s “Forget Me Not” has an obvious irony to it and the lyrics are solid but it’s not an instant bop. The animation is also good but there hasn’t been any footage of an actual water polo game yet, just a brief practice drill. Time will tell how exciting the actual water polo in this series is. As of yet, the waters depicted are far from the beautiful waves of Free! (which, admittedly, is a tough standard to be intrinsically held to).

All in all, Re-Main has made a strong first impression on me. I’ve never seen a predicament quite like Minato’s within the context of sports anime, and I’m hopeful that the series will explore it in interesting ways. I also have mostly positive feelings about the rest of the cast, although none of them are immediate favorites. Pretty much every aspect of the anime has been competently handled thus far, and while I’m not absolutely raving about the first two episodes I’m more than invested enough to keep watching. Here’s looking forward to a fun season with a sport I still know nothing about.

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