Guess who just binge-watched a J-Pop star vehicle show on Netflix! Me. Guess who’s going to review it for the masses now. Me. Let’s go.
Re:Mind is a thirteen episode long 2018 Japanese television show (released on Netflix) that stars J-Pop group Hiragana Keyakizaka46. For a basic, no spoilers plot summary: Eleven high school girls are kidnapped the day before their graduation, waking up in a dining room with their feet locked beneath the floor and no way to escape. They eventually realize that the clues scattered throughout the room are there to help remind (get it?) them of past events and dirty laundry that they must all air out if any of them wants the chance of escaping.
Re:Mind is, in many ways, what a laymen would expect out of a Japanese television show: Cute girls in high school uniforms, squeally acting, weird settings, and general creepiness. For the more seasoning viewer of Japanese media, it’s riddled with far more specific and uniquely Japanese narrative and character tropes. Sociopathic, cut-throat highschoolers? Check. Romantic two-girl friendships? Check. Beach/festival symbolism? Check. It being weirdly okay for high schoolers to date people way older than them? Cheeeeck. Creepy dark-haired girls being creepy? Check. Random references to American media/Western philosophy? Check.
Re:Mind is, in a word, cliche. In more words, it is a narratively rambling, poorly-acted mess of a show plagued by repetition, and plot holes that you’re forced to notice, and characters prone to getting real annoying real fast. That may sound like I dislike this show. It sounds like I’m not going to recommend it. If we’re talking pure, objective quality of television making, I cannot honestly give this show a good review. It’s bad. But, boy, do I love it anyway. And not just because it helped me brush up on my Japanese.
Spoilers ahoy. Ikimashou!
While watching Re:Mind, I was consistently Re:minded of two other stories. The first is Another, an anime series where a bunch of cursed high schoolers desperately try to uncover who among them is the supernatural source of all the violent deaths plaguing their class. The second is And Then There Were None, a classic Agatha Christie murder story wherein a bunch of people with shady pasts on an isolated aisle start dying one by one . . . until there are none. You can see the similarities. All are mysteries. All feature groups of people who need to uncover and admit to their pasts if they want to save themselves from dying. All are caused by a villain with a twisted sense of balance/justice. All are sufficiently creepy and symbolism laden.
The thing all three of these stories have the most in common, though, is there ability to keep you intrigued to the last minute with the sheer mystery of it all. You want to know what the hell is happening. You want to know why these people are here and why this is happening to them in particular. You want to know how they get out of this situation. You want to know how it’s going to end. For all of it’s very apparent faults, Re:Mind strings you, the viewer, along very well. There are mysteries that don’t do this, that fail to grab and hold your attention. So Re:Mind deserves credit where it’s due. If you’re like me, you may find a lot of the revelations very underwhelming, but there are enough of them to keep you going to the batshit ending.
The core twelve episodes (episode thirteen is supplementary prequel fare) are only around 20 minutes long, which certainly helps. The actual pacing of individual episodes can be pretty bad, which I’ll get into very soon, but once you’re hooked on the formula, the episode-to-episode pacing is done impressively well. The formula is this: a new topic in need of remembering is sussed out, drama happens, one of the girls disappears–but only probably. This is an ingenious formula for this kind of show. There are eleven girls and eleven episodes (excluding the introduction and prequel). Once you realize that the premise centers around them getting picked off one-by-one, it has you anticipating who it will be by the end, and why. And when that doesn’t happen–as is sometimes the case–it has you anticipating how things will progress. Is more than one of them going to get picked off in the next episode? Will multiple girls escape? It’s a formula, and the well-orchestrated breaks from it, that keeps you watching.
And that’s a very good thing for this show, because fuck can these girls get tedious. They are locked to the floor of this dining room, and we are locked there with them, excluding the occasional flashback episode opener. Remember what I said about the pacing within individual episodes being bad? By the time you get to episode 5, you will get very tired of Mirei explaining the basic plot to the others at the beginning of every episode, and you will get very tired of them insisting that something is “just a coincidence” even though they are literally locked in a room where everything is intended to mean something, and they know that. I get that it’s a bottle show with one set and they have to fill the twenty minutes somehow, but constantly repeating the two same points of mind-boggling obliviousness over and over on the parts of the girls gets really annoying and makes them look like idiots.
Speaking of the characters, there are eleven of them. And they get killed off periodically. Some of them are going to be more well-developed than others, and some of them are going to be much better acted than others. This is a J-Pop group, after all, not trained actors. I cannot recommend this show to you if you don’t like campy overacting, by Re:Mind is right up your alley if that’s something you like and/or can tolerate. Some of them get some genuinely good moments, usually crying and confessing something. The kinda main character Mirei (aka the only one who fucking remembers the plot from episode to episode) gets a good self-reflective moment. There’s a scene where two girls revealed to be a couple talk about how they wanted to move in together after graduating, then one of them dies, and it’s all very sad. Then the other one has a genuinely well-acted sad speech. There are some nice moments in this show that make the repetitive bickering worth getting through, and those are just a few examples.
The best episodes are mid-series, following the appearance of a bag-headed man with a suit and a severe limp who adds a level of tension and malice that the show was lacking beforehand. It also helps that he’s literally there to force these girls to move the plot along. They have a very irritating tendency to not mention things and be secretive and cagey even when they know their lives depend upon airing the truth. And right around the time that gets super annoying, bag man shows up and uses the sheer power of creepiness, intimidation, and baseball bats to make them go around the table and admit to shit they should have admitted to immediately. I emphasize so much with your violent, impatient finger tapping, bag man. His sudden disappearance also marks a new point for the show, wherein the remaining characters get some much-needed development and backstory that spurns on the following episodes. Like I said, the overarching plot works great. That character was introduced at just the right time, served the right purpose, and exited when he had to.
And, now I shall segue into a new section just as abruptly as bag man’s death.
I call this section Re:Mind Plot Holes and All the Questions Left Unanswered
1.) How are they disappearing? They are locked into the floor. There are two holes in the floor that their ankles go in, and they can’t get out. Yet they somehow manage to get spirited away in literally a second whenever the lights go out, and no one sees what happens to them. One of them was holding someone’s hand, breathing directly into her face, and she still disappeared in a second with the person she was grabbing onto not having any idea of what happened. That doesn’t even touch upon the issue of bag man, who disappears in literally a second without even the half-assed excuse of a trapdoor being underneath his feet. The most logical answer is literally “A wizard did it.” Spoilers. There is nothing magical about this situation. A normal person is doing this. Somehow.
2.) Speaking of the sudden disappearing acts: Why did none of those girls keep their camera flashlights on when that happened so they could see wtf was going on? I get why they didn’t in the beginning–they didn’t know who was going to be taken. But after a while, they know who’s gonna get spirited away next; and instead of training their flashlights and cameras on that person as soon as the lights start flickering, no one seems interested in finding out how this is happening.
3.) Speaking of phones, I have a very hard time believing that not a single one of these well-off high school girls has mobile data on their cellphone. It’s a huge plot point that they can’t get a signal and can’t connect to wi-fi so can’t call for help. It’s like the writers just forgot that there are other options. What if one of their phones was a wi-fi hotspot? That would ruin this entire plot. Speaking of . . .
4.) How did this entire plot even happen? Spoilers: the perp is just some high school girl who up and decided to be Jigsaw one day. I’m willing to buy that she got a rich guy to cover the finances of her implied-to-be-on-a-boat, lavishly decorated floor-to-ceiling with highly symbolic ornamentation psychological torture dining room. But how did she even get all of her classmates there to begin with? Was she using the same power she apparently has to spirit people away from locked rooms?
5.) Speaking of powers, this plot required omniscience on the part of the villain. It’s not as bad as Jigsaw, but we’re still left in awe of the fact that the exact right topics get brought up in the exact right order so that the exact right people will be in the room for symbolic purposes. Thank god Mirei noticed the clues in the exact order necessary to knock people off as symbolically as possible. What if the girls had done what any rational person would do and just go around the table to talk about bad shit they did?
6.) Wtf was the ending? I wanna say the boat exploded and they all went to a Heaven Beach after their Heaven Graduation, but who knows? Also the girl being revenged is still alive, I guess. But also knew about the whole revenge plot enough to send a symbolic picture. But also was obviously not involved in the revenge plot because Jigsaw schoolgirl didn’t even know she was alive. So . . . Questions.
I call this section Re:Mind Me of Random Things I Actually Like
1.) The aesthetic. Questions about how this all got put together aside, the torture dining room we spend this series locked in is one cool-ass, intricate set piece with subtle details hinting at where they are and at future plot points. A+.
2.) The atmosphere. From the second the show starts with a girl slowly waking up and removing a velvet sack from her head to find that she’s chained to the floor, to the creepy wheelchair dinner scene ending, this show has the foreboding atmosphere down to a T.
3.) The stupid, over-the-top high school drama. First, Miho is just missing because they were mean to her. Then, you figure out it was a consorted bullying effort on the part of their whole friend group. Then, you figure out that their bullying put her in a wheelchair. Then you figure out that her best friend died, sending her into depression. Then you figure out that her boyfriend was a scumbag who kinda cheated on her. Then you figure out through the new girlfriend that said scumbag boyfriend was the one who killed Miho’s best friend. Then you figure out that she committed suicide. Then you figure out that they ruined her dad’s career. Then you figure out that was just an accident. Then you figure out it kind of wasn’t. Then you figure out she had a secret illegitimate sister. Then you figure out she didn’t die at all, but was just in hiding by a beach somewhere. It just keeps ramping up. It’s glorious.
Re:Mind is a fun and campy, if occasionally tedious, show that is utterly binge watchable for all of its good and bad parts. If you want an actually good Japanese mystery show, I’d point you in the direction of Erased or Death Note. But if you have a weekend and nothing better to do, Re:Mind isn’t the worst way to spend your time, especially if some part in you deep down still loves Days of Our Lives.