Re-Main Review: Does MAPPA Sink or Swim?

Studio: MAPPA

Director: Masafumi Nishida

Streaming on: Funimation

For better or worse, MAPPA has become one of the most dominant studios in the anime studio, and a household name in the anime community. After producing popular and well-regarded anime for much of the 2010s, they experienced an explosion in popularity thanks to their high-profile adaptations of The God of High School, Jujutsu Kaisen, and of course, the final season of Attack on Titan. They’ve also been subject to criticism for allegations of poor working conditions, which has been the cause of scrambling from their PR department.

I can’t speak as to whether or not the promised changes will have an impact on the production of projects like the Jujutsu Kaisen 0 film, or the second cour of Attack on Titan The Final Season. Still, whenever I hear that MAPPA is coming out with a new project, I can’t help that twinge of excitement. For all their problems, they’ve produced many of the best and most memorable anime of the last decade, and their name carries weight.

So Re-Main, the new sports anime from MAPPA, has been one of my most anticipated series of the summer season. Centering on water polo, I hoped it would produce the same high stakes competition and endearing characters that make sports anime like Haikyuu and Backflip soar. Whether it has is yet to be totally seen, but I certainly can give you my thoughts on the first few episodes.

If you’re worried my review will come too early, or be misinformed, you are not aware how far in advance I write these. There’s always a risk that a mid-season change in quality will prove me wrong, and there’s enough of a gap between now and publishing that if my mind changes, I’ll update the review. I’m tackling Re-Main as is, and worrying about the later episodes as they come.

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This is going to be one of those anime with a title it’s really hard to find pictures for.

If you’re unfamiliar with water polo, I don’t blame you, as I was disappointed to see that horses are completely absent from the game. That aside, water polo is played between two teams of seven: six outfielders, and a goalie, though the rules vary by league and level of play. The object of the game is to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal, most points at the end of the round wins, simple enough. There are different rules that will be introduced later, like how long someone can hold the ball, how many hands they can hold it with, but that’s unnecessary to get the gist of this review.

Minato is a star player in his final year of middle school, looking forward to dominating the high school water polo scene as a member of his team’s “Elite Four”, when he’s rendered comatose in a car accident. He’s been asleep for nearly seven months, and when he wakes up, he’s lost the last three years of his memory, including his entire experience playing water polo. Alarmed at how much his body atrophied in the coma, he decides to not return to the sport.

Well, if he did that and it was the end of discussion, it wouldn’t be much of a sports anime, would it? He still manages to apply to a high school with a water polo club, funny enough, and his irritating underclassman Eitaro joins him there in the belief that they’ll play together again. Together with the captain of the club, Jou, they chase Minato in a desperate attempt to get him to relent. He manages to slip them, but runs into Chinu, a girl he first saw in a water sports magazine, who seems to recognize him.

It is later revealed that Minato made a bet with Chinu that if he was the best player in Japan in high school, she would have to go out with him, otherwise he’d have to pay her a hefty sum. With that, our, uh, hero is back on track to playing water polo again. Now it’s just a matter of getting a team that will help Minato avoid bankruptcy.

The first episode is pretty much all about establishing Minato’s condition and him deliberating on whether or not to return to water polo, so I can’t summarize better than that. The second episode does a better job of carrying the plot forward, but that’s still not saying much. However, it does buck the trend of using the Haikyuu formula, and if you’ve seen my Backflip review, you know is wearing pretty thin at this point.

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Crippling debt because you made a bet in middle school is a creative character motivation, at least.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to be too critical of a sports anime before they’ve actually started playing the sport, but there’s been basically no action in the water in the first two episodes, except for one brief round of tryouts. Maybe once they hit the water in earnest it will turn into a whole new show, but I’m not confident enough in that to reserve judgement. As we stand right now, the visuals are all pretty…meh.

The character designs are valid, but they don’t pop at all, especially since these are characters you’re going to need to recognize without looking at their hair. I’m critical of anime that use Haikyuu’s precedent as a crutch, but it establishes the team dynamic efficiently. The only established personalities are Jou and Eitaro, who is one of the most grating characters I’ve ever suffered. But I won’t talk about him right now, gotta save that for later.

The compositing and lighting is just okay through out. There are scenes that take place under a tree where the characters’ faces are either completely lit or covered in shade, nothing in between. The characters generally don’t look super well composited, there is a definite gap between the characters and the backgrounds they’re supposed to be in.

I will give Re-Main credit for some sneaky CGI work in the underwater scenes. Considering those sections require the most dynamic and fluid movement, and you have the benefit of water and distortion effects, it’s a lot easier to hide CGI. The movements underwater are good enough to fool you if you’re not looking specifically for tricks like that, you know, like how I do.

However, the bigger problem is that the movement in the show is just clunky. The first episode is very low on action, but the easiest movements to animate are the most crudely done and in the fewest frames possible. I hope they did that to put more of the budget towards the actual water polo scenes, but that’s not an excuse, it’s just me trying to give the benefit of the doubt to a studio that’s made some of my favorite anime. Until I have proof the production values will improve, it’s just lackluster visually.

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We get the addition of one other personality in episode two. Hooray for progress.

On story and characters, they do manage to lay a few interesting plot threads. Minato doesn’t have a clearly defined personality, though you could argue that’s a byproduct of the amnesiac protagonist. You get the idea that before the accident, he was this confident, sincere guy, but it’s hard to get a read on him now. He’s kind of silly, mostly bumbling, and he’s earnest, but that’s not a lot to get me to root for him.

It is intriguing that they depict Minato’s sister struggling with flashbacks to the traumatic car accident, considering most sports anime don’t pay attention to the players’ families. Other than that? The cast is barren. Minato’s struggle with returning to water polo is pointless, as you know it is a given he will. I know he likes manga, but not what kind; other than that, his only other personality trait is that he’s dumb. Not exactly genius writing.

And time for me to eviscerate Eitaro. I’d like to avoid attacking any voice actors, as the problem is usually with the director who instructed them to perform a certain way. I don’t know who exactly pulled the strings behind wringing these cursed sounds from the voice actor, but they probably committed a war crime in the process. His only personality traits are that he doesn’t respect being told no, he’s whiny, and has a voice like a cheese grater.

I usually wouldn’t dedicate a whole segment of a review for one bad character, but the problem is that he’s the most remarkable character in the entire first episode. Everyone except this obnoxious kid is forgettable, and he tanks any enjoyment I could get from a scene that he’s in. When you consider that the show has so little else going for it, Re-Main can’t afford to spend this much time on one atrocious character.

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This one visual got more care and attention than the first two episodes combined.

Re-Main is a thorough disappointment. In its first outing, it only succeeded in alienating the audience, even someone who went in wanting to like it. In order for a sports anime to succeed, it has to have likable characters and solid production values. Re-Main has fallen short where it matters the most.

I won’t hesitate to amend my review if my opinion were to change, and I try to finish every show I review in case it does, but if you’re seeing this, then my mind didn’t change. In order to make a niche sport accessible to general anime-watching audiences, you have to be aware of the pitfalls that come when trying to make people care about a sport. When you waste your first two episodes without any actual water polo, can you expect anyone to make it to episode 3?

Well, you can expect me to, but that’s just because I feel a creative obligation to ensure my review remains accurate. Other than that, I can’t promise I’d have any reason to finish Re-Main. It forces me to brand Re-Main with the unfortunate Boring Egregious.

EgregiousRe-MainGirlfriend, Girlfriend
MediocreHow A Realist Hero…
PleasingThe Detective is Already Dead
FantasticRemake Our Life!The Case Study of Vanitas

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