When you think of anime, what do you think of? A number of people could answer with “Dragon Ball Z,” “Sailor Moon,” “Naruto,” “Cowboy Bebop,” or even simply “porn.” However, there are a number of different genres that anime fall under, and the most highly rated on accompanying anime sites tend to be those not always acknowledged as media darlings. Take the case of Monster, which is regarded as one of the best titles that anime has to offer, yet has never made it to English mainstream audiences. Who’s ever heard of Monster? Boku dake ga Inai Machi, or Erased, is another anime that isn’t exactly like the rest of the class, and doesn’t benefit from having hundreds of episodes to exploit or colorful and expressive characters. Erased is an entity of its own—an entity that has taken on the world by storm.
Just from its synopsis, Erased immediately differentiates itself from most anime. It deals with time travel, mystery, and traumatic themes such as child abuse, murder, and struggling to quell the regrets of one’s past. It’s the type of anime that people can cling to as a breath of fresh air from the likes of anime that follows trends and clichés. It’s the type of anime that many can see as a story for any audience, rather than a “typical anime.” Erased can (and will undoubtedly) be used as an example to show those keen on looking down on anime as a trump card. It has that sense of intrigue to it that makes it immediately appealing. After all, it shot through the top 100 ranked anime on MyAnimeList after the first episode. Most of all, it’s an anime I didn’t care to discover.
I was pulled into viewing Erased out of sheer curiosity. The top 100 after a single episode? There’s got to be a catch. Upon seeing the first episode, I could feel that sense of intrigue and immersion begin to settle in. I found myself anticipating the next episode, which I went to without any hesitation. I could understand then that this series wouldn’t be “just another anime.” The presentation was interesting, the characters were in a non-typical setting, and the whole process of setting the scene was executed phenomenally. If there is one thing that this anime has that many anime don’t, it’s a hook; a hook that can withstand even the biggest and rowdiest fish in the ocean. Unfortunately, a powerful hook is nothing without a sturdy line.
The series stars Satoru, a 29-year-old pizza delivery driver with an uncanny power: the ability to relive events prior to an accident that would cause one’s death or misfortune. Because of this power, Satoru is constantly finding himself in situations where he must go out of his way to save those in danger, without knowing who or what with certainty. After showing this ability for the first time, the anime showcases his normal, miserable life, complete with his overbearing mother and odd co-workers. However, his life is thrown upside-down when a terrible tragedy befalls him, only to have his power transport him back to 1988, a few weeks before a string of murders occurs in his quiet (and seemingly always snowing) hometown.
The first and immediate issue I had with Erased was the use of his superpower. It had twelve episodes to explain why or how it occurs, but it never does. This breaks some of the suspense possible with the anime seeing as if Satoru were to ever fail in his mission or face something detrimental to his life, the writer could simply have his power transport him back to a point prior without hesitation. In fact, this happens twice in the anime past episode one. It doesn’t seem entirely apparent that Satoru has any control over his ability, but it provides a scapegoat for a prolonged path to a goal or a safety net for any degree of failure. Along with no explanation as to why it happens or where it originated—not to mention the multiple timelines left abandoned when it happens and no feedback because of it—it feels like a lazy way for the writer to reset the story for the sake of getting it right.
If one were to ignore his ability, one could find enjoyment in the progression of his growing relationship with Kayo, a girl who is the victim of abuse from her mother and an eventual victim of murder in later timelines. Erased does a good job of taking its time developing the bond between a young Satoru and Kayo, who is hesitant to open up due to her own grim situation. It seems on the cusp of self-insert in regards to the amount of leniency Satoru has as the main character with all of the intelligence of a 29-year-old in an eleven-year-old’s body, but in terms of the story, it works, so it’s excusable. Still, with as much charm as a 29-year-old can muster up to a child (which is made into comedy), it feels almost like a hunt, with one side having all the tools to succeed against one without any comprehensive capabilities. That being said, Kayo herself seems older than that of ten. Perhaps the abuse has forced her to mature beyond her years, but I hesitate to believe that physical, mental, or a combination of both abuses is enough to cause a girl to become completely quiet and philosophical. Some of the conversations between Satoru and Kayo, along with another kid named Kenya, are ridiculously dark for children’s dialogue. It almost sets them up as pieces to the story’s overall puzzle rather than actual kids (not including Satoru).
The characters in general are vapid, especially the side-characters. Many only exist to take up screentime or offer support as a “friend of Satoru or Kayo,” while others exist only to play a role. Take the case of Kayo’s mother, who is a drunk, insane, violent psychopath who’s incredibly aggressive and seems to enjoy inflicting pain upon her daughter. Doesn’t she sound like an interesting character? Rather, she sounds like a villain, someone that any logical person would root against for the sake of siding with Satoru’s holy crusade to save everyone from harm. She’s a poor and unequivocally one-dimensional excuse for a “parent figure” that the author uses only to create trauma for the sake of trauma. However, there are some likable members of the cast, though it only relates to those within the main cast. As is typical with most stories, the main characters get all of the development, while the side-characters act as a crutch to make the main characters look better or develop faster. I can hardly remember what most of the side characters look like. There was even one character I thought was a girl up until the final episode. Personal observations aside, I found Satoru and Kayo as characters to be likable, albeit not entirely realistic. I was also fond of Satoru’s mother, but she felt more overflowing with shounen justice than her son at times. Otherwise, the cast can either be forgotten by the audience or even forgotten by the anime.
Aside from the hook of the series and the intrigue of mystery that follows, Erased‘s biggest asset is its animation and style of presentation. It feels as though it tries to be as immersive and as stylish with its angles than most series would even care to. Its animation is smooth (though there isn’t many fast-paced examples) and has a distinguishable look to it. Characters’ heads all seem to be a different shape and their eyes vary from person to person. Satoru’s mother even has protruding lips that I’ve only ever seen on fat or snobby women. That made me incorrectly assume the type of person she’d be. The emphasis on scenery and background is especially apparent, but I would argue not exactly creative. The anime is dark and dreary so the characters are placed in a town where the sun never seems to shine. How fitting. I suppose that could be the best word to describe the atmosphere of the show: fitting. Otherwise, I have no complaints about the visuals.
I spoke of my first and immediate issue with Erased earlier, but now it’s come time to let dam fall. This anime has so many plotholes that by series’ end, one couldn’t even make out a story at all. Not only are there many plotholes, but the situations that the anime chooses to resolve are done in such a ridiculous and laughable way that one has to question if the writer was inebriated halfway through. There is a scene where a character from present time is telling Satoru about her family’s situation. Her mother and father had separated long before and the town in which she was raised looks down on her family name due to her father’s grave mistake. That grave mistake: a candy bar. A candy bar? A candy bar? Of all the things the writer could have used as a catalyst to support that claim and the object chosen was a candy bar? Horribly enough, this is just one example. Erased is full of these instances. Events that come to fruition with unreasonable claims of trauma and resolved equally as absurd, if at all! The final episode was the proverbial nail in the coffin, as the killer’s motivation for everything and the reason for keeping Satoru alive throughout the series was some of the most batshit reasoning I’ve seen in any anime, or in any story for that matter. It’s almost convenient to have characters so irrationally insane, because no logical person would come up with the excuses found in Erased.
Even as a mystery, Erased is somewhat lacking. By the halfway point in the series, any reasonable person could assume who the killer is. The series doesn’t entirely hide the identity of the killer either: they appear in almost every important scene. It’s almost as if the series is mocking the viewer with how easy it is to think “Wait, why are they always there?” They have certain scenes where they shift the blame to any number of people, which I appreciate, but I feel they don’t do it enough. They stop doing it after episode six, when one has already gotten a good guess as to who it is. In one scene, they shift suspicion towards one character, but then never explain the situation that they were in, as if it never happened. False ends leave a bad taste when everything begins to unravel, especially when they’re used as bait rather than a genuine area to explore. It just feels rushed, especially near the end of the series.
It is true that Erased is different. It’s an anime that sticks out for the type of atmosphere it presents and the grandeur of its “complex” storyline. It’s one that people can use to showcase the variety that anime has as a “culture” of sorts. However, one thing it cannot be used as is a standard of anime’s elite. Its plotholes are innumerable and sewn shut with peanut butter. The characters are so deep within their own role that one could identify their importance with chess pieces. The world of Erased is a confusing mess of black and white and unexplained miracles. The characters do all they can, but the “complexity” of the environment that they inhabit brings them into a world they cannot hope to understand. So when you think of anime, what do you think of? If Erased was the standard, maybe viewing all anime as food-loving justice machines and rainbow harems wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Nevermind. Yes, it would.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.