Making your mark on the world and being remembered is something people spend their entire lives trying to accomplish. But if all your efforts only benefit others, can you say that you’ve left a mark at all?
Title: ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)
Original airing: Jan 8, 2016 to Mar 25, 2016
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Duration: 23 mins per episode
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Seinen, Supernatural
Source: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Without Me) manga by Kei Sanbe
Where I watched: Crunchyroll (English subtitles)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
When tragedy is about to strike, Satoru Fujinuma finds himself sent back several minutes before the accident occurs. The detached, 29-year-old manga artist has taken advantage of this powerful yet mysterious phenomenon, which he calls “Revival,” to save many lives.
However, when he is wrongfully accused of murdering someone close to him, Satoru is sent back to the past once again, but this time to 1988, 18 years in the past. Soon, he realizes that the murder may be connected to the abduction and killing of one of his classmates, the solitary and mysterious Kayo Hinazuki, that took place when he was a child. This is his chance to make things right.
Boku dake ga Inai Machi follows Satoru in his mission to uncover what truly transpired 18 years ago and prevent the death of his classmate while protecting those he cares about in the present.
One of the side effects of watching relatively current anime is the the amount of talk surrounding it, especially if it’s really good or really popular. Despite this, I managed to miss a lot of the hype surrounding Boku dake ga Inai Machi, or ERASED for English audiences. No, the anime I managed to pick up from Winter 2016 was Myriad Colors Phantom World. Don’t judge me.
I really didn’t know much about ERASED until I started researching shows to put on my 2nd poll. As the results show, its fame made itself known quickly. It easily won the first place, but I didn’t get around to watching it until around the second week of October. Of course, those of you who have watched the series might understand when I say I got through it pretty quickly. I can say now that while I can appreciate the hype, I might have a more critical outlook than much of the fan base.
The series Orange (two reviews ago) looked at what a group of friends would do if they had a chance to change the past. In ERASED, Satoru searches for what he must do whenever a mysterious ability, which he names ‘Revival,’ projects him into the past. The basic premise of the story is based around this phenomenon where Satoru unwittingly relives moments of his life, usually from a few minutes prior, to prevent tragedies and save lives. A sense of deja vu signals Satoru that a Revival is occurring. Additionally, a visual cue in the form of an inconspicuous blue butterfly passes by on screen whenever this phenomenon takes place.
The significance of this Revival and its visual presentation is twofold. Given that this series involves time travel, the most obvious connection is the Butterfly Effect. Simply stated, chaos theory suggests that even small alterations in a system can produce unintended future consequences. The assumption that Satoru’s actions will alter the future, in order to prevent a tragedy from occurring, is the entire premise of this series. The fear of how his actions might unintentionally alter the future, however, doesn’t really mesh with the direction of the story. Since anime is primarily a Japanese art form, the image of a butterfly can then take on a variety of other meanings. The most telling, given the premise of the series, is the belief that following a butterfly will help unlock a mystery in life or solve a persistent problem (ref).
Because Satoru does not seem able to control when and how this ability takes place, viewers may wonder why he was given this ‘gift.’ The answer is soon revealed when, in 2006, Satoru finds himself the target of a serial kidnapper/killer’s ire. During a Revival, he prevents a child’s abduction but is unable to pinpoint who the culprit is, though the kidnapper seems uniquely equipped to identify him. Looking to remove this obstacle, the killer lures Satoru to the scene of a murder with the police closing in. In trying to escape, Satoru’s special ability manifests more strongly than ever and sends him back 18 years. In addition to going back further than he was capable of before, the exact time he travels to is significant. This is because there was a string of child abductions and murders that took place in his home town in 1989 that are connected to the murder he encounters in the present day. Not only must Satoru try to piece together the clues and find a way to stop the killer, who frames him in the future, but he must do so in the body of his fifth grade self.
Going about the series from this point of view is an interesting narrative choice, as it allows Satoru to approach situations with an adult’s sensibility, while forcing him to deal with the same challenges and limitations a child would have. While navigating through his adolescence a second time, (which would be a personal hell in itself for many), Satoru begins to recognize parallels between the events of this time and that of his ‘native’ timeline: a mysterious disappearance, a person wrongly accused, and a failure on his part to set things right. Determining that the best course of action is to try to prevent the kidnappings from ever taking place, he focuses on the first child to go missing: a young girl name Kayo Hinazuki.
Satoru’s efforts to save Kayo make up most of the story and is captivating to watch. Being a sensible adult within a child’s body, Satoru does his best to blend in and try not to inadvertently change the past. His efforts are thus focused towards preventing Kayo’s death in hopes that it will either reveal the killer or otherwise alter history enough to avoid the terrible outcome of the future. To this end he forges a friendship with her that hadn’t otherwise existed; discovering several unsettling things about her childhood and the reasons she may have been targeted. His logical and methodical approach toward his task lull the viewer into a sense of security, but ERASED has a way of keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with cliffhanger endings and twists.
Like any good murder mystery, the series tosses several red herrings in the viewers’ direction, some of which point suspicion toward people that Satoru is close to (though not all of them are convincing). Discovering that he can’t do this entirely on his own, Satoru cautiously involves his closest childhood friends and a couple trusted adults to assist him. Despite the risk of discovery, his desperation intensifies as the date of Kayo’s original abduction looms closer. This drives Satoru to undertake every necessary measure to ensure that she, and the others, survive.
The series thus follows Satoru and his friends as they become wrapped up in his quest to try to outmaneuver the killer. The pacing and development of the story is well done in the first half, revealing an engaging narrative that keeps viewers eagerly anticipating the next move. The latter half feels bit more rushed, perhaps due to the challenges in adapting the manga, and lacks the same captivating feel.
The gripping build up throughout the series leads to a thoroughly surprisingly conclusion. While shock over the reveal of the mysterious child murderer would be a thrilling note to end on, it was the abrupt shift in direction that likely left viewers bewildered. Not to spoil the ending, I will leave you to discover this on your own. Regardless, ERASED takes an entirely different approach to exploring the dangers of trying to change the past, not by showing the unintended future consequences, but rather the perils associated with the very act of trying to do it.
ERASED uses the characters like moving pieces of a murder mystery game, placing great emphasis on where they are at any given time and how that affects the other pieces. That said, they are far from one-dimensional personalities in the same vein that a game like Clue features. These characters are given understandable motivations and react to events in a way that drives their development. Shown primarily from Satoru Fujinuma’s point of view, they are introduced and developed based on his perceptions, which leaves the viewer open to all the same assumptions and misjudgments that Satoru himself makes.
A good frame of reference for Satoru’s mindset is mapped out early on. His lackluster life in 2006 (present day) shows him working at a pizza place to make ends meet while he struggles to get his manga writing career off the ground. Unaccomplished and alone, his only special quality appears to be the Revival ability which, for a few brief moments, gives him a chance to save lives. In this sense he relates himself to a Sentai character he idolized as a child; making himself feel a little bit heroic, even if no one else recognizes his efforts. Though his humdrum life and lack of success clearly bother him, those moments of self pity overshadow the fact that he is highly motivated to be a force of good.
The first victim in this story, chronologically, is Satoru’s former classmate Kayo Hinazuki. His vague memory of her comes with good reason, as Kayo was very detached from the rest of the students and would often seek solitude in the park. Distrustful of adults due to her troubled home life and wary of friendships that might bring attention to her situation, Kayo spends most of her time alone. It’s not until Satoru’s attempts to get close to her that viewers see the personalty beneath her loner façade. Kayo is a vulnerable child who longs for some sense of normalcy. Her growth and development as a result of Satoru efforts is perhaps the strongest of the series, as the faith she places in him brings about significant changes in her life. Kayo becomes an active agent in her own salvation, uncertain as it remains, keeping the hopes of Satoru, and viewers alike, alive.
Though identifying the victims is easy enough, Satoru makes several missteps both as an adult and as a child, in identifying who his allies are. Among his truest allies is his mother Sachiko Fujinuma, who stands out in this series as one of the few parents in anime that isn’t absent, useless, or opposed to the male protagonist. While somewhat detached from her son at her present age of 52, her 34 year old self is shown to be a doting, compassionate mother who goes to great lengths to help Satoru with any problem he is dealing with. Her relaxed approach to parenting allows him the freedom he needs to investigate and act, but her preternatural tendency to see past Satoru’s attempt to hide things also allows her to aid him in ways that he can’t manage as a child. Her assistance therefore becomes indispensable in both preventing the murders as well as bringing the killer to justice.
The killer himself proves to be a rather complex character once his motivations are made known. The series points out several possible culprits, including the man originally booked for the murders. This socially challenged young adult, Jun Shiratori, has remained a vivid memory in young Satoru’s life. Satoru never believed him to be the killer, but certain encounters create suspicion all over again during the Revival. There is also the somewhat obvious suspect in Kayo’s mother; due to her abusive treatment of her daughter. Even Satoru’s best friend, Kenya, draws some suspicion because of his overly mature attitude and exceptional intellect. But because viewers have little knowledge of what is going on outside of Satoru’s direct experience, it isn’t until later on that the series shows where he went wrong.
One of the most common complaints regarding characterization in this series is in its consistency and logical progression. Since Satoru is the hero of this series, it’s reasonable to expect some measure of success on his part, but his uncanny ability in working around the killer make him seem like a deductive genius. This goes double for Kenya, who seems to understand Satoru and Kayo’s situation with a mentality hardly fitting a ten year old. Another oddity is the inconsistency of the killer’s agenda. He has numerous opportunities to carry out his abductions or do something about Satoru himself, but doesn’t. The conclusion offers an (admittedly weak) explanation for all this, but during the course of the series viewers may be left wondering why the murderer doesn’t seem to act in his own best interests.
As an A-1 Pictures series, ERASED was certain to have a level of quality that the studio is known for. What did pose something of a challenge, however, was the fact that A-1 created two other shows for Winter 2016 in the form of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash and the second season of GATE as well. Fortunately for ERASED viewers, it was the best animated of the three and one of the better animated works of the season. Despite an absence of the sort of special effects in Grimgar, the smooth flowing animation style and widescreen effect help it stand out among its contemporaries. Though I’ll still contend that Phantom World gives plenty of shows a run for their money in the animation department 😉
The widescreen format used for the portions of the series that take place in the past time period makes the series look like a cinematic production, and not only because of the black bars that showed up when I watched it on my TV. Everything from the framing of certain shots to the choices of camera angles gives the sense that the work is feature film quality. Furthermore, the effect illustrates a visual theme that the series employs in showing memories or flashbacks as if they appear on a film reel. As if the past is playing out for the viewer like a film, Satoru’s quest to save Kayo and become a hero appears more like a story that he is rewriting with his actions.
Atmospherically, the series is on point in accenting the various emotions the series portrays by using the scenery, colors, and lighting to maximum effect. The 1989 time period takes place in winter, and the frequently overcast sky bathes everything in a subdued light which sets the tone for the grim events to come. Light sources are carefully considered when coloring a scene, whether it’s a lamplight illuminating an otherwise unlit room or light from a window filling a classroom, everything is done to look natural and fitting for the mood.
The character designs are lifted from the manga, but improved upon by the studio to look cleaner and better proportioned. There were a couple of initially distracting features, like the thicker lips on Sachiko and the other adult women, but those came from the manga as well. Of particular note in the anime was the decision to show characters with red eyes when they act maliciously. It came off as a blatant tactic to point a villain out to the viewer or obscure who the killer really is. Overall, it seems like a cheap effect that otherwise dulls the mystery aspect of the series.
This series has a unique musical direction compared to what I’ve found in the other anime I viewed this year. Making strong use of percussion instruments where other series stuck primarily to pianos and violins, the music frequently aims toward building emotion rather than acting as a soothing backdrop. It’s hard to describe without listening to it, but the slight air of mystery that lingered through most of the themes gave the series that extra bit of polish and really helped to build the feeling of suspense.
The opening and ending themes depart from this style, however, and are musically quite different from one another. I hadn’t heard anything from Asian Kung Fu Generation since the popular Fullmetal Alchemist opening, Rewrite, but the energetic style of Re:Re is reminiscent of their earlier work. The ending contrasts as a beautiful and flowing piece, starting off mysteriously but swelling into a hopeful and melodic song. Just be careful not to watch the opening too closely because it strongly suggests who the killer is.
The voice acting for this series was quite good, which is remarkable because of the casting choice for Satoru.Though Shinnosuke Mitsushima (adult Satoru) and Tao Tsuchiya (child Satoru) had no seiyuu experience prior to ERASED, they had starred in movies and drama series. It was a bold choice to cast them in main roles, but the practice isn’t all too uncommon considering how often film actors are cast to do voices for animated movies (and anime Dubs) in the US.
Adult Satoru served as a narrator for much of the series, which was good considering Shinnosuke’s smooth voice. During the scenes where he had to play the character, he was still able to pull away from the narrative tone to portray the emotional weight of Satoru’s feelings. While Shinnosuke also voiced the inner thoughts of young Satoru, Tao did a great job of capturing the difficult vocal patterns of what was essentially an adult speaking through the voice of a child and trying to sound convincingly childish. The far more experienced Aoi Yuuki (Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magika) played the part of Kayo, portraying a soft spoken child who was all too often afraid to voice her thoughts.
The series appears to have an English dub as well. I can’t comment on its quality as I haven’t seen it, but Benjamin Diskin (Joseph Joestar in Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure), Michelle Ruff (Rukia in Bleach), and Stephanie Sheh (Orihime in Bleach) are all experienced actors so I can’t imagine it’s bad.
Beneath the dark themes of murder and tragedy (that are appealing to some audiences) is a story about finding a light in that darkness. Satoru’s actions are aimed toward giving three people a second chance at life. The characters involved, especially Kayo, make it a heartwarming story about the importance of reaching out to others and being heroic no matter what stands in you way. Humorous dialogue, along with touching moments of friendship and familial bonds, are peppered in to balance the more tragic aspects of the story, and remind viewers of the brightness that is possible when people strive to make a difference in each others’ lives. It’s all set against the backdrop of a gripping narrative that doesn’t let up even when things seem to be going well.
The suspense element is what ERASED executes best of all, if not a little too often. Ending almost every episode on a cliffhanger, the series creates anticipation well for those who aren’t incredibly annoyed by such tactics. The viewer is almost never left without a sense of impending dread, due to having to follow the story through Satoru’s eyes. Since he isn’t completely safe until the killer is caught, the viewer is made to share this sentiment. The dire circumstances behind Satoru’s actions are always looming in the background, leading viewers to become invested in his plight.
The other elements that the series strives to incorporate, however, are decidedly weaker. Satoru’s shifting motivations change the direction of the story from actually solving the case and catching the killer to protecting three children from his past, with no real indication that he has any plan after he’s accomplished that. His growing romantic feelings toward Kayo feel misplaced, and Satoru even chides himself for thinking of her that way. The improbability of the relationship, because of the difference in their true age, makes the entire attempt to inject a romance angle fall flat. Additionally the somewhat predictable twists and huge hints as to the identity of the killer severely dampen any sense of mystery (My wife humorously called the culprit at first sight). These issues make it difficult for viewers to place exactly what sort of genre the anime is trying to fit itself into, and add a lot of confusion by pursuing half measures.
For nitpicky sci-fi fans, the time travel aspect is woefully inadequate. Just as I said when I reviewed Orange, it serves as nothing more than a plot device to place Satoru in the year 1989 and have him solve this mystery as a child. Though it ends up facilitating the theme of the series’ title, “a town without me,” the lack of rules and inconsistent mechanics behind the phenomenon will frustrate viewers trying to logically follow the story. I dislike comparing it to the excellent treatment of time travel in Steins;Gate, but ERASED fails to overcome even a low bar in terms of explaining itself and being internally consistent.
The truly beautiful presentation, from both and animation and musical standpoint, buffer the poor execution of a lot of the story elements, but doesn’t fully distract viewers from glaring weaknesses. While Kayo’s story is thoroughly engaging and well paced, but the following arc is rushed toward the climax of Satoru’s rivalry with the killer. It is here, in the series’ conclusion, that it goes back to the supernatural/symbolic aspect that it hinted at in the beginning. It weaves a tale about a spider’s thread (inspired by a Akutagawa Ryunosuke story) that may very well make sense upon closer examination, but has a weak impact from the failure to weave the mythology through the rest of the story. I have seen varied claims that some of these weaker points are better addressed in the manga, but as I’ve stated in several of my other reviews, I’m not reviewing the manga here so it doesn’t have any bearing for this review.
Summary and Recommendations
Erased is one of the most popular series of 2016 about a struggling manga artist named Satoru who has the ability to accidentally travel back a few minutes in time in order to do heroic things. When a tragedy befalls someone close to him after he stops a kidnapping, he is projected back 18 years to stop the tragedy from where it all began: three abductions that took place when he was in fifth grade.
The story focuses mostly one his attempts to save Kayo, an abused outcast who he didn’t pay much attention to when he was a kid. Satoru does his best to save her, but protecting Kayo and unraveling the plot is not so simple as he thinks at first. His resolve never wavers though, and finding out the terrible circumstances surrounding Kayo makes him want to save her that much more.
The series builds up the suspense in every episode, only letting the viewer relax so that it can be built up again. By keeping the risk of danger ever present, the series compels viewers to watch episode after episode just to find out what happens.
Following Satoru through the story builds emotional investment in his quest and his overwhelming desire to save Kayo and the others is a heartwarming element in an otherwise dark story. Viewers will cheer on his successes and identify with his fears, hoping that the cunning killer doesn’t catch on before it’s too late.
An incredible presentation makes the series a joy to watch, using colors and sound to convey the emotional tone and otherwise paint each scene. The present and past are presented differently, with the widescreen format of the earlier timeline giving off a cinematic quality.
A number of unexplained plot elements, stretches in characterization, and a sloppy conclusion may bring down enjoyment, but there the series has plenty that will appeal to viewers otherwise. The series is popular for good reason, and anyone looking for a thrilling story will be glad they watched this.
Watch if you:
Love suspenseful stories
Appreciate good animation
Like serious themed anime
Don’t watch if you:
Want an intricate mystery plot
Are sensitive to depictions of abuse
Think the Supernatural tag means anything
With a lot going for it in terms of content and presentation, the execution could have been better. My score is still a favorable 4 out of 5 Satorus.
There is a tabletop game called Tragedy Looper where a group of players cooperate against the game master to prevent a murder/tragedy plot that can trigger in a number of different ways. Players can move characters around and gain clues from them on their turn, or take measures to protect a certain character from the game master’s manipulation. Each round consists of a day in the game’s timeline, and the players can travel back in time to day zero after each failed attempt, using the clues they have learned to try a different method. The players can travel back a limited number of times before their ability to do so runs out and they lose. If they last an arbitrary number days without the tragedy taking place, then the plot is foiled and they win. It’s a really fun and rewarding game, if not a little confusing for first timers and frustrating when the GM outwits you.
ERASED is actually a lot like Tragedy Looper, but with Satoru as the only real player. It’s minor spoiling to say that he doesn’t succeed during his first 18 year Revival, but one of the most enjoyable arcs of the series is in how Satoru uses the information he learned from the first one (and the subsequent brief interlude in 2006) to do better the next time. The excitement comes from seeing how the tragedy can still happen despite his avoiding the pitfalls he ran into the first time.
I think it’s this sense of thrill that worked so well in this series’ favor. It got people excited, and when people are excited they want to watch. Without that, viewers might have become more annoyed by the issues it had. It is perhaps telling, then, that the last two episodes are considered by many to be the weakest of the series. In addition to being a thematic mismatch with the rest of the series, they had none of the suspenseful draw the rest of the episodes had. It’s somewhat expected that a story’s conclusion would work this way, but when the rest of the series thrived so well under one particular aspect, it seems an odd choice to drop that tension for the psychological philosophy lesson that it pursued.
In the end though, the thrill alone wasn’t what made the series enjoyable for a lot of people. As a character driven drama, that part of it was perhaps what drew interest the most. Watching Satoru fight to overcome loneliness and the dangers associated with it was certainly the core of the series. The suspense and the excitement it generated kept people interested enough to see the story unfold, but maybe that’s not what left a lasting impression in their minds. Perhaps the trick was in getting people to stick around long enough to show them where the anime really shines.
Experiencing a Revival because you haven’t read enough about this series? Check out these reviews from other great bloggers:
ERASED Anime TV Series by Raistlin0903
A great spoiler free review by someone who loved the series, explaining what makes it a masterpiece in his eyes.
Anime Review: Erased by simpleek
Another great spoiler free review (if you avoid the comments :)) that goes into detail about Satoru’s development and why it made the series great.
Hanging by a Moment: Thoughts on ERASED by LynLynSays
A very insightful post covering many of the thematic elements that also explores the different viewpoints on the series’ ending (spoilers).
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.