What does "being perfect" mean to you? To Hashidate Yuuto, it means everything. All his life long he strived for perfectness until a single incident occured in middle school that ruined his plans of being perfect: He pooped in front of the whole class and parents. Believing, that his reputation was destroyed and that he would never be able to reach perfectness anymore, he wished that the incident never occured. This is when a mysterious Goddess named Maki offers him a button that allows him to go back in time.
Jinsei Reset Button asks just one simple question:
"If you had the opportunity to relive a past moment at the cost of having one of your past experiences blanked from your mind, would you do it?"
Hashidate Yuuto needn't mull over this proposition for long ー if he had a reset button for life, then overcoming his potent inferiority complex toward his brother would no longer be a childish fantasy. While it's certainly true that everyone makes mistakes in life, Yuuto's brother seems to be an exception to this law ー a perfect existence. If Yuuto could erase all of his mistakes, then it follows logically that
he, too, could become an existence that rivals his brother's perfection. With the aid of the life reset button, Yuuto could lead the clean and tidy existence that he has always wanted to. For Hashidate Yuuto, the life reset button is an absolutely necessary tool for both his life in the future and to undo his most recent ー and most costly ー mistake. Thus begins Jinsei Reset Button and Yuuto's journey to redemption.
In the years since Groundhog Day popularised the concept of time loops, many shows, movies and literature pieces alike have been using and abusing time loops, usually as a component for a one-off episode that has little to no bearing on the overarching narrative. In spite of how widely used time loops are in media nowadays, it's surprisingly rare to find a narrative that revolves around time loops. I, for one, can count on two hands in the past two decades how many of these I've watched or read. Jinsei Reset Button is one of those rare few with a narrative that revolves exclusively around some variation of time loops. What sets Jinsei apart from the standard time loop shenanigans is how time travel is initiated solely on the whims of Yuuto, the protagonist. Instead of forcing the protagonist to repeat the same closed loop of time over and over again until a solution is found, Yuuto has the freedom to choose whether to travel back in time or not, allocating a wider area of time to explore throughout the narrative.
Jinsei has a solid setup, and it doesn't get too ambitious with its themes. Unfortunately, this also means that Jinsei's plot is fairly predictable for the most part ー it's blatantly obvious where Yuuto's character is going to be taken and what the moral at the end of the story is going to be. To counteract this, Jinsei throws in other plot elements to make things more intricate and add an unpredictability factor. This extra layer isn't especially complex or masterfully planned, but it's certainly well-woven and does its job fine. Ultimately, Jinsei is a character-driven narrative at heart.
Jinsei's characters are what make or break the novel in the end, because even though the narrative employs quite an interesting time travel device, it is ultimately at the mercy of Yuuto's whims. Whether he decides to redo his graduation ceremony, his class introduction or tries to chat up some girl, it's all up to him to decide where the narrative goes. It's worth noting that Yuuto is a perfectionist, but for all the wrong reasons. Understandably, his brother's massive, endless trail of success in everything he attempts takes a stab at Yuuto's pride. Rather than resent him for this, however, Yuuto aspires to be like his brother ー he admires him and feels worthless in comparison. This broken admiration he has for his brother is dutifully summed up in the first few paragraphs of the novel and is explored at length throughout the narrative. Yuuto is logical and likes to believe that he's intelligent, but he makes remarkably stupid decisions more than once throughout Jinsei. His inner voice also gets grating rather quickly, to the point where I had to put Jinsei down every time I hit a scene break just to get a breather from Yuuto. He isn't an easy guy to like because of his irritating personality and musings, and he hardly redeems himself by the end.
Aside from Yuuto, Maki-chan also plays a lead role in the novel. She is the mysterious entity that offers Yuuto the reset button in the first place. Her personality is easily the most organic and free-flowing of all the characters in the novel, and is always entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, most of details surrounding her existence remain shrouded in darkness by the Jinsei's conclusion. Makii-chan appears regularly throughout, sponsoring, supporting and mocking Yuuto both playfully and maliciously. To reiterate, it's unfortunate that her character is never fully fleshed out.
Two other characters also fall into lead roles in Jinsei, but they seem to be more important to Yuuto than readers. Through the use of its time travel mechanic, Jinsei fleshes out these character's personalities quite well, but for the majority of the novel, they remain stuck in time with only some mild development coming near the climax. As an unfortunate side effect of Jinsei's time loop mechanic, these two characters feel the most stiff of all.
With characters in tow, Jinsei powers through its narrative at an agonisingly slow pace that is only righted half-way through the story. To put it bluntly, Jinsei takes too long to really get started after its initially solid ignition, and when it actually does, the events are too silly to take seriously. Fortunately, Jinsei plasters its serious face back on when it reaches a third of the way through the story. From here on, the plot progresses smoothly and Yuuto becomes less annoying...until it gets to the climax. It's at this point where Jinsei ties up the loose ends in its narrative in a completely unremarkable, almost impassionate way. In spite of starting off so well, Jinsei seemed to shave off most of its good elements by its conclusion.
While Jinsei has a solid setup and well-grounded themes, it may be difficult to read due to the quality of the protagonist and the immaturity of the narrative at some points. However, the narrative is tied up well in the end and Jinsei never crosses over into 'horrible' territory. On the other hand, it doesn't do anything groundbreaking either and seems to be rather content with the mediocrity it upholds most of the way through the narrative. Jinsei Reset Button is worth a try if you're interested in the concept, but just don't set your expectations too high. It does some character drama well, but all the good it does seems to be almost neutralised by Yuuto's irritating factor. If you aren't a fan of time loops or time travel in any representation, certainly give it a miss. Otherwise, there's nothing particularly bad about Jinsei, though there's nothing remarkable about it, either.