Quick Anime Review: ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)

Erased Kayo Smile Anime

“Baka na no?”

I started ERASED (or, as it was originally in the Japanese, “Boku dake ga Inai Machi”, “The Town Where Only I Am Missing”) because Matt had seen it advertised through Crunchyroll. Being that I’m the resident Anime of the Catholic Geeks, he kicked it over to me for a perusal. It looked interesting enough for a new show–a cool premise that could allow for some good storytelling.

It’s a 12-episode drama about a protagonist who has the ability to relive the moments just before something tragic happens, and therefore can intervene to change things. I’ve seen shows like that before–anime with an interesting premise that ultimately don’t stand out too much. When I started actually watching the show, I found something much stronger…

I waited for you
I waited for you
I had so many chances I could never go through
I pause and look back
And then I lose track
I spent so much time I can never get back

Where These Shows Go Wrong
Much of the time, when an anime has a cool premise like that, it becomes overly fascinated with ways to explore the premise as a plot device. I’ll be the first to say that this can be an immensely satisfying thing to see in the story, and it’s often very nice to see the protagonist not just being savvy, but being gamer-level savvy. At the same time, this cleverness often sacrifices the heart of the story. It can ultimately become a story where the protagonist is just too busy showing off their cleverness. You forget why you cared in the first place. In the end, it often leads to a story that had some cool ideas, but which is ultimately forgettable.

ERASED feels like a show that knows this. By the end of the first episode, they send you a very loud and clear signal that they’re doing something entirely different. “I’m scared to get to the heart of my own mind,” the protagonist muses. It sounds simultaneously odd and poetic, but it also perfectly describes where the show is aimed. That line is what hooked me. From there on out, the show does a deep dive into what the protagonist wants and, more importantly, needs. He’s a soul seeking direction and identity, and this show is about his search for that in an unlikely place: rediscovering a child-abduction case that happened 18 years earlier in his hometown.

Could wait forever
But then I won’t learn
That memories fade no matter how much it hurts
And on the inside
I feel my heart cry
I’m tearing at the walls in the corners of my mind

Characters Without Direction
Satoru is a directionless character. He’s 29, works at a pizza delivery shop, and tries to get into manga-authoring, but hasn’t gotten any luck. He has a void in his life, and he doesn’t know how to fill it. And yet, we know he’s a good person: when we first see him use his ability (which he calls “Revival”), he’s putting his own life at great risk in order to save another life. There’s definitely people in his life who have things more or less together (like his mom, who is awesome), but he hasn’t worked things out yet. That changes when circumstances bring an old child abduction (and murder) case into his life.

The show is about exploring how having a “mission” gives Satoru insight and fulfillment, but it’s also about how digging into the past brings out things he’d long since forgotten. In some ways, his past holds the answer to his present. He learned some important lessons back then that he’s left behind, and the show watches him struggling to relearn those lessons after all these years. The show also depicts other characters who are similarly directionless and empty; it’s a major theme. Instead of giving us a pat answer about what it means to find fulfillment, it shows us what it means by letting the characters live it.

Wanna tell you just to
Hold on
To nights we spent so long
Hold on
I still regret every word that day I never said

A Show That Connects
A few episodes in, I had the realization that this show was doing something that many shows (especially anime) don’t do: it was connecting with me. To be sure, I find a lot of media engaging and entertaining. “Connection” is something different. ERASED hits hard, because its characters feel human, their wants and needs feel real, and it’s one of the few shows I’ve gotten attached to. It’s not that you can tell the show wants you to connect with it, but that it’s hard not to. You can feel joy for the successes of the characters, and fear at their failures and the things which threaten them. I was feeling that by the second episode.

It largely manages this because, despite the unique premise, the story is heavily grounded. It has physical details that make it feel grounded in the real world, and its characters are filled with emotional and psychological details that bring them to life. The protagonists are people you can like, and root for, and it’s pretty easy to share in their joy and suffering, especially if you find that you care about people easily. That’s what drives the plot, and that’s the soul of the show. You watch it because of the characters, and because the stakes are so high for those characters. It’s a small, intimate, even slice-of-life sort of show mixed with the suspense of a neo-noir crime thriller.

And sometimes, you get these wonderful little moments of heartbreaking joy and beauty, and you realize that’s why you’re watching the show.

I waited for you
I waited for you
I had so many chances I could never go through
I pause and look back
And then I lose track
I spent so much time that I’m never getting back

Production, etc.
There’s nothing incredibly distinctive about the visual style of the show, but the caliber of the animation is very strong. It’s a grounded, realistic style that immerses you in a modern setting, and there’s definitely some truly spectacular scenes that get saved for the most emotionally-powerful moments in the show. Also, these animators absolutely nail emotional expressions, which is kinda important for key moments in the show. That’s a no-brainer, but it really does contribute. The characters feel normal, not over-exaggerated, and the emotions you see meld perfectly with what you can sense they’re feeling, based on the story.

The voice-acting on this show is also fantastic. The characters are often complex, and their voice actors deliver appropriately-layered performances. This even includes child characters, who many anime viewers tend to stereotype as having particularly annoying voices–and who are very easy to voice with one-dimensional characterizations. Not so in this show; everyone’s vocal direction is on-point.

Finally, the music is just right. It’s composed by Yuki Kajiura (whose directing credits include a number of prestigious series, including Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online, .hack, and Fate/Zero), and it manages to sound incredibly different from much of her usual work. Instead of being grand and melodramatic, it’s powerful, sometimes small, and it’s sensitive. It draws you into the world instead of giving you a spectacle to behold. It’s humble.

Now I will never get the chance
To tell you…

The Final Take
ERASED is definitely the best show from last year that I saw, and it might be the best anime I’ve seen, period. It’s twelve potent episodes of character discovery and action, and there’s even a little side dose of mystery. (The mystery’s not terribly complicated, so you might be disappointed if that’s the main reason you’re watching.) It’s smart, it has tons of heart, and it’s powerful. It’s rare that I find a show that attaches itself so thoroughly to me, but there you have it.

You can watch ERASED on Crunchyroll or Hulu, subtitled.
Content advisory: brief scenes of bloody violence, implied (and obliquely-depicted) domestic abuse, violence towards children

(Song lyrics from Nathan Sharp’s fan-translated cover of the show’s opening song, “Re:Re:”.)

This entry was posted in Mystery, Thriller and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Quick Anime Review: ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)

  1. JD Cowan says:

    Excellent review. Erased was the best anime last season (with an ending among the most satisfying I’ve seen in a good while) with only Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju coming close. The mystery wasn’t terribly complex, but that wasn’t what made it so engaging. The characters and how they learn and grow makes it as good as it is.

    If anyone is looking for a good character-based show, this is definitely one to watch.

    Like

  2. dancingcrane says:

    Thank you for this! I have loved anime for 40 years, and am always looking for shows just like this! Character growth, depth, heart. Yuki Kajiura, my favorite composer, is a nice touch. Hope you do more anime reviews. There seems to be quite a Christian subculture among anime creators.

    Like

    • Andy says:

      I definitely plan on it! I’m definitely considering which shows to watch next in preparation for review, and there’s quite a few I have in the queue.

      Like

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