Before I start on this, I want to thank fellow anime blogger Raislin for finally convincing me to give this show a try. As a general rule of thumb, any time a show gets massive hype, I tend to avoid it until that hype dies down. Mostly, I do this because I find that hype tends to be just that, hype. It is rare for a series to be able to actually live up to its own hype.
Still, because I find I have a lot of similar tastes to Raistlin, and he spoke very highly of the series, I decided to give it a go. Does it live up to the hype? Well, that depends, I guess.
After I finished the series, I went around a checked out a variety of reviews, and in general, what most people thought was the best and worst part of the show were totally opposite of what I thought they were. In that sense, no, it didn’t live up to the hype at all.
That said, I found Erased to be really good. So, from my viewing perspective, it surpassed the hype and managed to exceed my expectations. Which leaves me with the realization that hype is just as subjective as anything else. It all depends on just what it is you expect going in.
When I talked about SAO and Log Horizon, this was a big thing. The hype surrounding Log Horizon left me expecting a mind blowing story, and I got a crappy harem anime instead. With Erased, I walked in expecting to see a time travel story, and got something way more character driven, nuanced, and significant than I ever imagined it’d be.
For starters, let’s cover the basics for the folks who don’t know anything about Erased, shall we? Then I’ll get into the more complex bits.
Erased is a 2016, 12 episode series from A-1 Pictures, that is based on a manga of the same title, by Kei Sanbe. Besides proving once again that A-1 is capable of doing much more diverse work than their critics like to admit, it’s also got a genuinely intriguing story.
Satoru Fujinuma is a struggling manga author who works as a pizza delivery driver while trying to get his first project launched. His skill and style are all good, but he keeps getting his work rejected because it’s missing some key element. This would be passion, as Satoru has none.
No, really, the dude has no passion at all. He’s all but sleep walking through life, avoiding any kind of real involvement with people, and barely has an interest in anything but being a mangaka. His characters, while solid, still manage to feel flat, because he himself is flat.
Despite this, Satoru has a weird ability he calls Revival, which allows him to jump back in time a few minutes to prevent a tragedy from occurring. How he got this ability, he has no idea, and he has no control over it. It just happens. It isn’t flashy, either, and begins with simple deja vu. He’s experienced it enough times when we meet him that he knows what it means, and instantly begins looking for what’s wrong.
As an introduction to his Revival ability, we see him manage to grasp the wheel of a truck after the driver suddenly dies from a massive heart attack, which prevents the truck from hitting a grade school student. Satoru himself ends up in the hospital for his efforts, but the child lived, where before, he wouldn’t have.
Then Al shows up and tells him Ziggy has figured out… no… wait… sorry… wrong show.
Satoru has actually drawn the interest of a high school student co-worker of his, Airi Katagari, who saw his heroic actions. While she’s a bit flirty, mostly she seems to just want to be friends with the kind of person who’d risk his own life the way Satoru did. Unfortunately, Satoru is kind of an asshole, and more or less blows her off.
Until his Mom shows up and sort of takes over his life, including inviting Airi over for dinner. Sachiko, Satoru’s mom, is that kind of person.
A bit later, while coming out of a grocery store, Satrou experiences Revival again. Since his mom is with him, he asks her to help him look for anything that’s out of place. They don’t find it, however, Sachiko did see something that made a light bulb go off in her brain. She just isn’t sure what it means.
Turns out, when Satoru was a kid in grade school, about ten years old, three of his fellow students went missing and were later found dead. The police ended up arresting Jun Shiratori, a young food service worker with a stutter who frequently hung out with Satoru and other young kids at the park. Since then, Jun has rotted in prison, though Satoru always maintained Jun’s innocence.
Sachiko digs into this story again, and quickly discovers that Satrou was right. Jun was innocent, because what she saw outside the store was the real killer, someone she recognized from back then, and recognized her as well. Because of that, the child the killer was abducting, didn’t get taken. Because she use to be a reporter, Sachiko quickly pieces it together, as well as the real identity of the killer.
Before she can hand this info over to a former college, however, she is murdered as well. Satoru comes home to find his mother dead, and before he knows what’s happening, the police have arrived. He panics, making them think he killed his own mother.
Then, suddenly, Revival. Only, this time it isn’t a few minutes. It’s 18 years. Satoru is back in the body of his ten year old self. To save his mother, he must save the three victims from back then, as well as discover the identity of the man who would one day murder his mother.
On the surface, Erased is a mystery thriller, but this isn’t what the story is actually about, and where my first major divergence from the critic community starts. The mystery is just the catalyst that sets the real story into motion. That story, Satoru’s journey to understanding what it is to have passion and be engaged with others, is the real story, and it is damn good.
Remember, a lot is made in the first episode of Satoru’s disconnect from others. He isn’t close to anyone save his mom, has no friends, and isn’t even interested in making any. His life is just a void of going to work so he can eat, and trying to make a manga with lifeless characters. All of that exists in the story for a reason.
Once he’s back to his ten year old self, we learn that the few friends he has are people he has modified his own outward persona in order to gain, for the sole purpose of not being utterly alone. It isn’t even that he genuinely likes, knows, or cares about them. He just doesn’t want to be that weird friendless kid. So, he lies, and pretends to be someone he isn’t.
All of that, that’s the real story. The murder mystery is just the framework that story hangs on. This matters because one of the major complaints against Erased is that it isn’t a very good murder mystery. After watching it, I realized that a lot of people had just missed the fact that it wasn’t trying to be.
The mystery is only relevant in how it forces Satoru to act rather than continue to be dispassionate. That’s it. That’s the only purpose it serves. Outside of that, the mystery is almost a sub-plot to the real story, which is Satoru discovering how to be an actual damn person.
Oh, and from here on, there will be some spoilers, cause you can’t talk about this show effectively without them. So, ya know, avert your virgin eyes, or something.
Because Satoru has the mind of an adult in his ten year old body, he quickly sorts out that in order to prevent his mother’s murder, he first must prevent the three murders from his childhood, starting with anti-social student Kayo Hinazuki, the first victim. Prevent the murders, and he can prevent his mother from discovering the very thing that got her killed.
To be incredibly blunt, Satoru isn’t trying to find the killer. He’s trying to prevent the killings. If nobody dies, Jun will never got to prison, and his mom will not get killed. That’s logic. The identity of the killer in this approach is irrelevant, and the mystery instantly takes a back seat because of his decision to handle things in this way.
In his original time line, Satoru was the last person to see Kayo alive. They weren’t friends or anything, he just happened to see her before she disappeared. He started to talk to her, but didn’t, and has always regretted that, because he felt he might could have saved her life if he had.
Given a second chance, he does exactly that, and learns that she really is very anti-social. He also sees things he didn’t when he was a child, like the bruises she tries to hide. From this, he realizes Kayo is suffering abuse at home from her mother, and through a bit of logic, realizes this likely made her a prime target for the killer. She was frequently alone, afraid to make friends for fear they’d learn the truth, and this made her easy to pick off.
As he begins building a relationship with Kayo, which is far from easy, since she is so closed off, he gets to know her, and the heavy burden she carries. While all of this is to save his mom, he soon finds he really, truly, wants to save this girl from her horribly situation, and the cruel fate that awaits her.
Big spoiler, he fails.
The story here is about Satoru learning to come out his own self induced dispassionate life. This isn’t something you do easily. Despite his growing desire to save Kayo, he fumbles it all, because he’s still the same closed off person he is as an adult. He fails, and Kayo dies, as do the two other students, and he returns to the present, still a suspect in his mothers murder.
On the run, he ends up getting help from Airi, who then is almost a victim to the killer as well, before Satoru is captured and, being lead away in handcuffs, forces Revival to activate, sending him back.
Oh, and Airi is a super badass, by the way. Like, the kind somebody like me instantly falls in love with super badass.
On his second trip, Satoru realizes something very important. Airi helped him, not because she had to, but because she believed in him. She believed in him, because she saw him save that kid back at the beginning, even though it almost got him killed himself. There is no way, in her mind, he could kill his own mother, because she knows who he really is, and what he’s really like.
This is a major turning point for Satoru, because for the first time, he realizes that the real him, not the fake persona he projects, is someone others may actually like and want to be friends with. So, given one last chance, he brings in his small group of friends to help him save Kayo.
That is where everything really starts to change. Faced with Satoru’s actual personality, these casual friends, become real friends. People who care, and will move heaven and earth for him, and for Kayo. More than that, for the first time in her life, Kayo has friends, as well, and the small group quickly bonds, in ways Satrou had never experienced before.
That’s the real story of Erased. It isn’t erasing murders, it’s erasing a wasted life.
Yea, that was a lot of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the show, my apologies, but it is really hard to talk about this series without giving away at least this much. The rest, I’ll leave to you to see for yourself, except to say one last thing.
Erased has the most perfect ending I’ve seen in anime in years. Seriously. That ending, it’s fucking amazing.
Other people disagree, and I’d love to talk more about it, but it’ll have to wait, as what I have to say about Erased and how it ends could easily fill an entire blog post on its own, especially if I take the anime critic community to task for their dismissal of it all, which I will.
Erased has the best ending since Cowboy Bebop. Hands down.
It isn’t just Satoru and Kayo’s lives that are changed by his actions, either, but the two friends he relies on the most, Kenya and Horomi. His third friend, Kazu, does as well, but in a completely different way. For now, I just want to focus on Kenya and Horomi.
In the original timeline, Horomi was the second victim of the killer. As Satoru changes things, we see how these changes affect him, and how he is drawn out of his own shy personality. In order to protect Kayo, Horomi displays bravery, cunning, and a sharp intellect, which comes back into play during that perfect ending. It’s done in a subtle, but incredibly believable way.
Kenya, while never in any danger, is the first to figure out that Satoru is up to something much bigger and more daring than he had first thought. The most mature and intelligent of Satoru’s friends, it is Kenya who begins to understand just what is at stake, and the first to accept that Satrou isn’t who he thought.
All of that matters, because Horomi and Kenya both accept Satoru for who he is, rather than who he pretends to be. That is the story. That’s the whole entire story of Erased. It’s about acceptance, friendship, and how far those things can take someone.
How those things can change not just a life, but a world.
Go on, tell me that’s not a better story than a cliched murder mystery.
Erased was directed by Tomohiko Ito, probably best known as the director of none other than this blogs favorite topic, Sword Art Online. He was also the scriptwriter for Death Note, was involved in Kurozuko, did storyboards for Anohanna, and served as the director for Silver Spoon, just to name a few of his credits.
With Erased, Ito shows his real skill. Mind you, I thought he did that with SAO, but Erased is probably a better display of his talent as a director. There are no wasted scenes, and his use of lighting is beyond excellent. The camera frames everything to the maximum emotional impact, which is a lot harder to pull off than you’d think. Basically, Erased is beautifully directed, and sells the real story with what you see, rather than what the characters say.
Speaking of what they say, the writing was handled by Taku Kishimoto, who has done script work for shows like 91 Days, Gintama, Haikuu!!, Joker Game, Magi, Prince of Stride Alternative, and Usagi Drop. While some may say that his work is hit and miss, I’d say that everything he’s worked on is pretty well known, so obviously the guy knows what he’s doing.
With Erased, his handling of dialogue especially is just brilliant. Everyone talks like real people talk, and he brings out the inner nature of the characters in surprising ways through both what they say, and what they do. Since he had an excellent mangaka to work off, that no doubt made it easier, but I think Kishimoto deserves some credit here for helping Ito bring this story to life by balancing scenes and dialogue in a really amazing way.
The music was handled by Yuki Kajiura. So, yeah. The music was freaking awesome. Cause Yuki Kajiura. If you don’t know what that means, I really feel for you. Just go look her up. She’s arranged the soundtracks to at least half the animes you love. Cause she’s Yuki Kajiura, and she is awesome beyond the ability of mere words to convey.
As a series, Erased tackles a lot of heavy material. Child abuse, loss, grief, and a ton of other things that can heavily influence what kind of an adult a child becomes. Mostly, though, it focuses on how important it is to be true to yourself, and that real friends, the kind who will stand by you through anything, can only be found by doing that, and how doing that can alter the world in ways you can’t know or predict.
Erased is about so much more than time travel, or a murder mystery. It’s an exploration of life, the choices we make, and how who we are is a choice we all make.
On Friday, I plan to talk a bit about the OP for Erased, and how clever it is in regards to how it basically spoils every major plot point in the series. Probably next month some time, I intend to tackle a spoiler filled post concerning just why the murder mystery doesn’t matter, and why the ending is so insanely perfect.
So, thanks, Raistlin. Erased just became my new SAO. It offers so much to talk about, and with this being my 400th post, it all feels kinda fitting, for a lot of reasons, ya know?