Apr 01

Anime Review – Erased

Kayo-ing your heart

Kayo-ing your heart

Winter’s almost over for another year. The clocks have leapt forward, the temperature’s increasing, and the weather is… okay, it’s just as crap as ever up here, but close enough. Which means it won’t be long until I get to drown under a deluge of new first episodes, yay!

But before that, there’s time to reflect on one of this season’s most noteworthy shows, Boku Dake no Inai Machi… or “Erased” as everyone calls it, because that’s a far simpler name. Even way back in January you could tell this one was gonna be special, but did it live up to that potential or implode on itself? Read on…

The Town With Only Me Erased, by Hinazuki Kayo

When I grow older, old enough to go wherever I want by myself, I want to go to a faraway country. I want to go to a faraway island. I want to go to an island with nobody around. I want to go to an island with no sorrow or suffering. An island without adults, children, classmates, teachers or Mom.

On that island, I’ll climb trees when I want, swim in the ocean when I want, and sleep when I want. And on that island, I’ll think about the town from which only I’ve been erased. Kids will go to school as always, adults will go to work as always, and Mom will eat as always.

When I think about the town from which I’ve been erased, I feel lighthearted.

I want to go far, far away.

That short story, written by one of the main cast, helps explain the direction of the series, but not the premise. Satoru, our lead male, is an almost 30-year-old guy in somewhat of a rut. His manga is good but lacks soul, and he has a fairly mediocre life otherwise, delivering pizzas and living alone. Except he also has the ability (or curse) of Revival, which rewinds time by a minute or so when calamity strikes, letting him avert disasters and save lives, albeit sometimes with bad consequences to himself. The how and why is never explained, but it doesn’t really matter, they’re just a thing that can happen, and are there more to support the narrative than be a plot point in themselves.

As we’re learning about Satoru, we also start to delve into some of the events of his past, including a traumatic serial murder kidnapping that he’s done his best to forget. But when he returns home one day to discover his mother murdered in his apartment, the shock triggers the Revival to end all Revivals, as he warps back to 1988 and his elementary school days.

Given this chance, and with those once forgotten memories fresh in his mind, he decides to right what he sees as his biggest wrong – not reaching out to Kayo (one of the aforementioned victims), to try and save her from the future he knows all too well. And so over the course of the series we see Satoru evolve from being eternally apathetic to a modern hero, with the man who arrives back in the present much removed from the one who starts the series.

The rest of the cast is just as interesting, with both present and past having their own tight-knit cast of characters, with a couple of overlaps. The modern day cast includes Airi, one of Satoru’s co-workers from the pizzeria, and… his mother! I mentioned this when talking about the first episode back in January, but a parent! In anime! With an actual role! This shouldn’t be this big a surprise! What’s more, she’s actually pretty dang cool, using her intuition and dedication to help Satoru out more than once.

As for the childhood crew, there’s his school friends, Kenya, Hiromi, Osamu and Kazu. Some of them take on more active roles than others, but they all have their parts to play. Then there’s their teacher, Yashiro, looking out for all of them, and lastly, the focal point of a lot of the show, Kayo, a child often left alone and without any real friends to speak of, who also has her own home problems to deal with.

Friendship is one of the strong theme’s running throughout Erased, with Satoru’s goal being to do whatever he can to reach out to the soon-to-be victims, making sure the culprit never even has a chance to isolate or kill them, shifting from lethargic loner to everybodies hero. That absolute certainty and passion to help others influences his friends too, as they become inspired by his actions, and more sociable as a result. They’re not the only ones to evolve either, all the characters past and present change believably as the series progresses, and I loved watching them all transform with Satoru at the center as the catalyst.

The show does a great job of pacing itself too, with each leap between the past and present increasing the tension and intensity of what takes place. I’m not gonna spoil the events of the series, but there are notable “oh shit” moments just when you’ve been lulled into a sense of calm. And while the murder mystery is never really a mystery, the show still has more than a few surprises throughout that kept me oooooh-ing, even in the closing moments.

That final arc is certainly cool to watch too, and while manga readers will lament some missing scenes that provide more backstory, you probably wouldn’t even realise stuff was missing unless you were told beforehand. The anime does a great job of cutting the last few episodes down to just what’s needed, albeit with a small but notable increase in pace, but that doesn’t stop it being brilliant to watch unfold. And while the ending can be a little bit too “happily ever after” in some respects, sacrifices are still made to reach that conclusion, and it’s full of tiny little nods to those who’ve been paying attention throughout.

Meanwhile, A-1 Pictures have done a great job of bringing the world of Erased to life. While they’ll never be renowned as a studio that makes the most beautiful or visually distinctive of shows, there’s never a poorly directed scene or piece of sloppy art throughout. Some moments are just brilliant to behold, including the winterscape scene that ends an early episode, and there’s some great directorial choices too, such as using the letterbox aspect for all scenes set in the past, providing a clear distinction for viewers, and one I won’t spoil in the penultimate episode which is a small but powerful change.

Then there’s the soundtrack. None of the OST sticks out as songs to listen to on their own, but as part of the product it all adds to the mood, builds tension and sets the scene, which is exactly what a good score should do. The real standout though is the opening song. Eschewing the usual J-pop, we get Re:Re by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, a remix of their 2004 rock song which is both dang catchy and suits the series to a tee. The ending theme by Sayuri (it has a very Japanese name) is solid too, but it’s not as memorable after the fact.

So overall, I have almost nothing but positive things to say about this show. It’s one of the most compelling viewing experiences I’ve had out of modern anime in a while. Characters evolve, the plot progresses in a natural and intriguing manner, and the presentation is never lacking. I never felt bored or unsatisfied watching it, and unlike some of my other Winter picks, it never fell off the rails either (hi Phantom World).

Heck, while we’re talking about other Winter shows, the only real competition Erased had this season was a) Rakugo, a similarly great show but one that goes old school Japanese culture and runs at double length, requiring a lot of investment from its audience, and b) the final arc of Durarara, a cool as heck series… but which needs you to have seen 50+ episodes prior.

Compare those to Erased, which is a simple drop-in, enthrall yourself for 20 minutes, then walk away show, it’s definitely the one to recommend out of this season. Heck, I already have done. And I’m doing it again right now. I don’t foresee it being Anime of the Year, there’s a lot of stiff competition on the way in Spring, Summer and Fall, but I’m confident it’ll appear on a lot of Top Tens come year’s end. Time shall tell. And hey, if I’m wrong,  I can always trigger a Revival, rewrite this, and you’ll be none the wiser, heh.

The calm before the storm, as I prepare for the Spring season, which is meant to have a bunch of potential classics. There’s certainly a few shows I’m interested in, but stay tuned for thoughts on all the first episodes in the next fortnight or so… if I can cope! And as always, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest society updates over Easter and beyond.

Oh, and if you want more from myself of Reaf, why not check out our other stuff? Head over to The Reaf Debrief where he’s currently re(af)watching all of Young Justice, or Retro Remastered for me writing and talking about games!