Erased is an anime series based on the Japanese manga ‘The City Where Only I Am Missing’. It follows Satoru Fujinuma, a failed manga artist working as a pizza delivery boy. However, Satoru has an inexplicable gift. When tragedy strikes nearby he inadvertently rewinds time a few minutes and gets a chance to stop events before they take place. Yet when his mother is suddenly murdered he jumps back to his own childhood and has to face events that shaped his life over 18 years ago.
Whilst Erased plays fast and loose with how these time jumps work (think more Quantum Leap than Doctor Who), the narrative device of being able to explore a long-buried mystery is a good one. Satoru’s adult mind occupies his 11-year-old body and he is returned to a point in time where a spate of child kidnappings took place. The bodies of three of his classmates have haunted him his entire life, and so he jumps at a chance to prevent that from happening this time around.
The murder mystery plays a central core throughout the 12 episode run, but within this is a mature presentation of child abuse. The first of his classmates to die back then was Kayo Hinazuki. As she was preyed on due to being alone at a playground, Satoru goes out of his way to befriend and protect her. In doing so he discovers she is constantly hungry and covered in bruises, and that her withdrawn and defensive nature is due to the violence she suffers at home.
Anime can often go overboard with making each element an overly dramatic ‘moment’. Thankfully, with such painful material to work with, Erased treats its subject with respect. The abuse is never presented glibly, and the development of Kayo’s character is realistic and believable. She goes from dismissive, distrustful, hopeful, and feeling betrayed and proud before finally becoming willing to accept help and friendship. Her relationship with Satoru and the rest of the cast make for many touching moments.
As the plot unfurls Satoru jumps back and forth another time or two, with minimal changes showing that his efforts are having an effect. Yet in the present day, he has been framed for his mother’s murder. It is clear that the killer has been at this for many years and excels in staying in the shadows. Whilst different viewers may put the pieces together as to the killer's identity at different speeds, there is wonderful skill in how the show unwraps its layers to Satoru as his investigations reveal the dark truth.
As Erased is primarily set in Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan) the animation revels in the theme of cold, and being frozen out. Symbolic weight is given to the gift of gloves and huddled blinkered characters must be warmed up to the lives around them to make a difference. Gathering around warm food keeps the darkness at bay. Crisp white blankets the screen only to be beaten back by enclosed but loving inside spaces. The animators have brought great attention to ensuring that the setting perfectly matches the show’s themes.
Erased was a joy to watch. At 12 episodes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The limited amount of characters means that you get genuinely invested in their fates. As a protagonist Satoru starts off somewhat obtuse and the excessive voice-over narration may grate a little. But as a child (with his adult mind) his sincerity and warmth of feeling is infectious. Who of us doesn’t want to go back to our childhood and right wrongs?
Words by Michael Record