Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) – Potential gone down the drain

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Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) has been the most popular anime of the season for pretty much its entire run.

Its sleek visual presentation and thriller elements immediately grabbed the audience’s attention and dragged us in. It’s also currently one of the highest rated anime on MAL at this point; however, that seems to be rapidly changing, as the dissatisfaction with the series grows over the poorly paced and generally awkward final episodes. But how is the show on the whole?

Our story follow Satoru, a 29-year-old failing manga artist working at a dead-end job, with no direction in his life.

However, he is also burdened by a strange phenomenon called “Revival,” where he is looped back several minutes in time in order to stop someone from dying. One day, when someone close to him is murdered and Satoru becomes the prime suspect, he suddenly gets sent all the way back to his grade school days, when a series of child kidnappings and murders plagued his neighborhood. Satoru realizes that the two events are linked somehow and he must stop the kidnappings at all costs.

Back when I wrote Part 2 of my preview guide for this season, I named Erased as a potential candidate for Anime of the Season, and I don’t take back what I said given what I knew at the time.

It could have been an extremely compelling mystery thriller, and for part of the series, it is. Even when the plot falters, I did feel the hype during the first half of the series, and I was genuinely interested in how things would turn out. However, I also said that it was very close to ruining what it had by trimming too much of the fat from its source material, as A-1 Pictures anime have a tendency to do this, and that’s one of my major complaints about this show. While trimming the fat does keep the story streamlined and as intense as possible to keep the pace hot, it may have also cut some significant character building moments. I haven’t read the manga myself, but the signs are definitely there.

Character building moments are very few and far between in Erased, and they're often not well-executed when they do appear. Image provided by twitter.com
Character building moments are very few and far between in Erased, and they’re often not well-executed when they do appear.
Image provided by twitter.com

This brings us to my biggest problem with Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi): the characters.

These are some of the blandest and most poorly-written characters I’ve seen from an anime with this much hype around it. Satoru is a down-on-his-luck, apathetic loser at the beginning, which is fine as a starting point for a character. Lots of famous protagonists start with this exact same setup. However, those protagonists usually get more endearing as the story goes on, so that we end up liking them by the end. Satoru stays mostly the same until the very end, and his motivations comes more from not wanting to be thrown in prison rather than him growing as a person. I also have a problem with making him an aspiring manga artist because people who want to have careers centered around the arts typical have a huge fascination with them, but Satoru shows almost zero interest in manga or any kind of entertainment at all. He’s bland and tiresome to follow as an adult, making a good portion of Erased very difficult to watch. I do enjoy child Satoru to some degree though, as he at least has people that he can have varied emotions around.

The rest of the main cast isn’t much to write home about either.

Hinazuki, one of the girls that he has to save in the past, isn’t necessarily a bad character, but she feels more like she’s designed to have us feel sorry for her rather than stand on her own as a character, and the borderline pretentious dialogue that she and the rest of the children spill out constantly is fairly unrealistic. I kind of get why Hinazuki and Satoru talk like this, since Satoru has the mind of an adult and Hinazuki is a victim of child abuse, but there’s no reason for the rest of the kids to talk in such a ponderous and bleak manner. This and the abuse elements turn Hinazuki into a tool for plot development and psychological discussion rather than allow her to become a memorable and likable character, and even those developments don’t really amount to much in the end. We haven’t really learned anything about the tortures of child abuse, and her abusive mother is almost cartoonishly evil.

And then there’s Airi, Satoru’s co-worker in the present time who I struggle to speak about without spewing forth a series of expletives.

This is, hands down, one of the worst-written anime characters I’ve ever seen, period. They play her up like she’s going to be important to the story, but as soon as Satoru makes his first jump back in time, she’s entirely irrelevant. Then when he jumps back forward for a few episodes (we’ll come back to that little nugget of stupid later), they try to reintroduce her like she’s supposed to be relevant and how she’s going to turn Satoru into a good person by giving her a back story that vaguely connects Satoru to her father, a back story that was so asinine and contrived that I wanted to stop watching right there. I feel like I shouldn’t spend so much time on a character that gets so little screen time, but Airi is the perfect example of my biggest problem with this series. Anything remotely resembling character development is thrown out the window to push the mystery/thriller narrative forward, which will get you through the first run of a series, but completely destroys any rewatch value once you know all the twists.

Despite her cute design and upbeat personality, Airi became the intense focus of my ire while watching this series. Image provided by nerdmuch.com
Despite her cute design and upbeat personality, Airi became the intense focus of my ire while watching this series.
Image provided by nerdmuch.com

Even without the character development issues, some of the plot elements are pretty flimsy at times.

The fact that I was able to figure out the killer with definitive certainty only a third of the way through the series was a massive disappointment because it wasn’t even that hard to figure out. They clearly show us his general appearance in the first episode, so by the time you get a few more scenes with his true identity, it’s far too obvious to be interesting and ruins the entire mystery. While I initially praised the time loop mechanic, it began to break its own rules by sending him forward in time after he failed once, before sending him back again. There’s never a precedent for this, and it only feels like he went back to the present time to get “motivated” before going back again. In other shows with time loop mechanics like Steins;Gate and Higurashi, a lot of the focus is placed on multiple failures and a sense of helplessness, making the emotional weight of these loops much more meaningful. In Erased, he fails once, gets a pep talk, then goes back again and does things only slightly differently, without being noticeably affected as a person. Then the final episode comes and they have the gall to pin a “power of friendship” speech of all things as the final philosophical note, and I actually gagged a little bit.

All of this bad storytelling really is a shame.

Especially considering that the animation is exceptional, with some of the best animation that A-1 Pictures has ever done outside of Your Lie in April, which happens to be my favorite anime of all time. Character designs, camerawork, backgrounds: everything is really solid on the whole, and the letterboxing of the past time scenes added a really nice cinematic element and seemed to increase the urgency of Satoru’s task. A lot of praise has been thrown to director Tomohiko Itou for his work on this series, and I do think he deserves some credit for this with being generally competent. However, I wouldn’t call it amazing work. It feels more like they actually had the time, talent, and budget to go above the standard look of anime to produce something that is visually engaging. There are some faults and bumps here and there, but they don’t become noticeable until the story unravels and my attention span goes out the window.

The "Christmas" Tree scene in episode 3 showcased some of the best animation to air this entire season. Image provided by otakotaku.com
The “Christmas” Tree scene in episode 3 showcased some of the best animation to air this entire season.
Image provided by otakotaku.com

As for the soundtrack, normally I’d be all aboard the hype train for whatever Yuki Kajiura composes, as her work on Madoka Magica and Pandora Hearts make up some of my favorite anime soundtracks, and while I will say that her work on Erased definitely did its job with pushing the pace forward, there’s nothing really remarkable about it. It sounds like a Yuki Kajiura soundtrack but without the epic choirs and intense melodies; hype derailed.

I wouldn’t say that I hate Erased, and I might suggest it to those who are just starting out with their anime experience, but as someone who’s seen all the concepts in this anime done better elsewhere, I find it rather difficult to recommend. I hate using this phrase because it tries to excuse bad writing, but this is definitely a “turn your brain off and get engrossed in the atmosphere” kind of story. In any case, it is definitely not Anime of the Season, especially compared to other anime I’ll be talking about in the future.

Erased is currently available for streaming on both Crunchyroll and FUNimation.

Final Score: 6/10

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