Japanese Title: Boku dake ga Inai Machi
Watched in: Japanese
Genre: Supernatural Psychological Mystery
Length: 12 episodes
- Great concept.
- Tough subject matter.
- Good audio design.
- Squandered present day plot.
- Weak red herrings.
- Post-mystery episodes.
With Erased being the most talked of new winter 2016 anime, I felt compelled to watch it now rather than add to the backlog for later. So, does Erased warrant the attention? Let’s find out.
Satoru is a grown man living a dour life inhibited by traumas from his past. Oddly enough, whenever near tragedy, he jumps back a few minutes to prevent the incident. However, after the murderer from his childhood strikes once more, he jumps again, eighteen years into the past, back to primary school, where he has a second chance to prevent the deaths of his three classmates and uncover the real killer.
With Erased, the concept is excellent, a sharp hook that sinks deep. And for the first few episodes, it delivers. It opens in the present, until the killer’s return forces Satoru into the past, and the conflict of how to avert the first girl’s death in mere days had me engaged 100%. A kid with the mind of an adult, preventing crimes in primary school – you can’t get much more intriguing than that.
Unfortunately, once the story reverts to the present, the pace crawls, for the present day plot lines are neither interesting nor very relevant to the case. The present largely explores characters not from the past, which makes them distractions, rather than add layers to the mystery. In fact, Erased’s failures boil down to the lack of mystery escalation. That is, everything we can know about the case emerges within a few episodes. Scant new clues appear after that. Look at Death Note, where every episode adds to the mystery, whether it is a hidden ploy or an unexpected turn. Death Note keeps us guessing, and that’s with a disclosed opponent. Not that Erased hides its villain well.
I had the villain figured out in three episodes, and not because of my considerable experience with the genre, but because they do a poor job using other suspects. The red herrings are weak, dismissed with basic cross-referencing to the facts of the case. Those who recommended Erased to me talked of how it kept them guessing, regularly changing their minds about whom the villain was, but I don’t see how. Erased barely tries to deceive you.
In some mysteries, knowing the villain’s identity isn’t an issue (Death Note, Monster), as it can be about overcoming villains rather than uncovering them. Erased is an ‘uncovering’ type mystery, yet doesn’t hide its villain well enough. The only question I had was whether the crimes involved someone else. Furthermore, after the mystery is revealed, the plot drags for another two episodes, only to end on a wet noodle of a confrontation. Erased peaked two episodes too early.
To fix these issues, the team needed another pass at the story planning. They created a mystery at intensity level 7-8 and should have asked, “Alright, what can we do to step it up, go from good to great?” More relevant present day events would have been a good start. Actually, have more in the present altogether; Satoru should travel back and forth more often, looking at post-murder evidence to uncover pre-murder clues. Victims 2 and 3 should receive more attention as well (the first victim took almost all the airtime). Weave red herrings, past and present against multiple characters, widening the pool of suspects. This would increase tension, as it shrinks the children’s circle of trust – more looking over the shoulder.
Despite these issues, Erased is worth watching. It handles the subject matter, child abuse, with the gravitas it deserves, not softening it for the audience. Past era episodes are engaging and Satoru’s strategies to thwart the killer have good tension. His mother makes for a fantastic support character (mothers rarely get to participate in anime) and Satoru himself is a strong protagonist, balanced well between desire for heroism and personal fear.
Erased is simply a good anime that could have achieved much more, suffering from a great idea untapped of its full potential. What Erased gets right, draws the attention and makes one want to watch through to the end. I enjoyed its short, twelve-episode run.
Art – High
Sound – High
The use of Satoru’s adult voice for thoughts while in child form works, adding to the character and it reminds us of his unusual situation (would have liked accidental adult behavioural traits – adult slang, referencing thing 18 years too early, etc.). The music adds tension, timed well with the breath-holding moments.
Story – Medium
A man accidentally jumps back to his childhood, giving him a second chance at preventing the deaths of classmates and catching the killer. Starts strong, but fluctuates along the way and wilts in the end.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For mystery fans. Despite Erased’s faults, it is an engaging mystery worth your time. Go in with tempered expectations against the hype; falling for it will hurt your experience. Do note, Erased is not for kids, contrary to the cast’s average age.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)