Disclaimer: This post contains some very, very minor spoilers. Also in case you need a brief plot summary, I’ve linked one in the opening paragraph. Just click on the first mention of the show’s title and that should take you to it’s MAL page.
Last season I covered a show called The Perfect Insider: A Noitamina block mystery anime produced by A-1 Pictures that was a fascinating character drama with a downplayed mystery– at least until the ending came around and ruined everything. And today I’ll be covering ERASED (otherwise known as Boku dake ga Inai Machi): A Noitamina block mystery anime produced by A-1 Pictures that is a fascinating character drama throughout a majority of its short runtime– at least until it’s tenth episode where it stumbles and then disappoints a majority of its audience… Huh. That’s weirdly similar.
Now I only bring up this up here because I’ve come to realize that, even if you’re mystery show has a solid base narrative with good characters and intrigue, it’s pretty much impossible to execute it in a way that’s satisfying. We won’t be talking about the Perfect Insider today; it’s already had it’s moment in the spotlight and comparing it to ERASED would be pointless. ERASED is the better show by a country mile. But I mention it because I hope that will help clarify how ERASED’s narrative priorities and strengths ended up clashing against each other, and why mystery stories really can’t focus on the actual mystery.
Before I start to really dive into the negatives of ERASED though, I feel like I should really make it clear that I really do like this show. ERASED is, without a doubt, one of my favorite shows of this season. I love the direction, art style, and a good 3/4ths of the series would get a solid grade from me. At no point did I think the series truly bombed, not in the way most other Noitamina shows due anyways, and if you look at the final score I gave this thing on my MAL page, you’ll see that I really do think this is a good show (Not that my score is in any way an indicator of actual quality. It’s definitely not.). My review of it may be cynical, but I really believe that even with it’s problems, ERASED is still a pretty solid watch that I would recommend to a lot of people.
And I think that’s because ERASED’s strengths really are that great. I may have ragged on SAO II back when I was covering it in 2014, but after watching ERASED I can safely say that Tomohiko Ito is a good director (He just needs better material to work with). The whole show features some nice direction, with great visuals and shot compositions littering every episode. Some episodes are better than others, with the outsourced episodes 5 and 6 looking particularly janky, but what it lacks in pure consistency it makes up for in artistic ambition. With dream sequences on tropical islands and simple descriptions lavished over with silhouette animations, this show’s use of style is quite diverse.
It’s also backed up by a generally solid, but forgettable Yuki Kajura soundtrack. Weirdly enough it’s probably the least Yuki Kajura-esque soundtrack I’ve heard from her in a while, but considering this is a more downplayed mystery show that makes a lot of sense. Having every track be a Kalafina violin opera jam wouldn’t suit the series’ tone all too well.
Speaking of tone, I think that’s what makes ERASED work overall. It walks this fine line between intense melodrama and subtlety, and it does so pretty well for the most part. For example, there’s a scene with main character Kayo Hinazuki in episode 8 where she cries over a hot breakfast. This sounds ridiculous (mostly because I’m not giving you any context), but the execution really helps keep this scene from falling apart. Instead of having her collapse into tears with some dramatic swooping angles like an Araki show, it has a simple juxtaposition between her past meals and the one sitting before her. It’s this simple but powerful execution that really helps sell the strong emotions in the story, without having it become too overwrought and hammy. In the hands someone else this could have easily been a trainwreck.
So it shouldn’t come as much a surprise when I say that this emotional style doesn’t gel well when the script starts to focus on the main murder mystery near the end. The reveal of the killer in episode 10 has got to be the most over the top villain scenes I’ve watched in awhile. The way the antagonist constantly smirks at the camera with glowing red eyes makes the scene absolutely painful to watch. I had always thought the violent red eye motif was probably the shakiest directorial choice in the entire show, and this scene really proved my point. Unlike a lot of other scenes in ERASED, which were genuinely intense without going too far over the edge, this reveal feels like someone hitting you over the head with a blunt hammer saying, “I BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING, DID YA?” Which sadly isn’t the case. Not only are the hints in previous episodes way too obvious, but even the one’s that were subtle become incredibly dumb in retrospect. And while the final two episodes are good, the effect episode 10 has on the series as a whole is negative. It turns out Tomohiko Ito’s leniency toward dramatization does not gel well when the script gets too cartoony, which happens whenever the show delves into its weaker crime hunting elements.
So what should have ERASED ended on? Well, the answer is surprisingly simple: End it with Kayo’s story. At first when I heard the show was going to adapt the manga’s at the time unpublished ending I was excited; but now that I’ve taken a good look at the series as a whole, I’ve come to realize that the core time travel mystery with leading man Satoru isn’t what makes this show compelling. The parts where he bonds with Kayo and his other friends, and the resolution of her storyline are by far the best moments the show has to offer. Not only are they ones that really nail a sense of emotional depth, but they’re also the ones that have the most obvious effort and talent behind them. It’s clear from the way the show rushes through the manga’s last twenty chapters in final three episodes that the creators here weren’t in love with Satoru’s intense hunt for the killer, but his relationship with the lonely little girl in the yellow scarf.
Having her narrative end off the story would also make a lot more sense dramatically considering she has a majority of the show’s screentime. Instead though the series’ major strengths ends up ruining the plot’s mystery elements. The harsh emotions that were used to help elevate scenes now feel forced and way too extreme in the context of a crazed sociopath, it’s hard to care about the villain’s reveal when everyone else in the cast is more interesting (Except Airi. She’s kind of lame), and this ultimately leaves us with a show that’s good but not spectacular.
Still, that’s better than nothing. Say what you want about ERASED’s disappointing reveal, but at least it tried. For a good portion of its twelve episode runtime, it can be considered a really solid thriller. The mystery’s main twist may make it harder to broadly recommend it to people, but if you’re looking for something that’s pretty well directed and filled with some well executed ideas, then you can’t really go wrong with ERASED. It may not be the masterpiece people wanted it to be, but that doesn’t stop its good moments from shining through.