Erased Anime

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Everyone wishes they could rewind time and fix their mistakes, hoping that by fixing just one thing, your entire life would be better. What if you could actually do it? What if you could pinpoint the exact moment things started to go wrong for you and your friends, and you could go back and prevent it all from happening?

That’s the life of Satoru, a 29-year-old manga artist and pizza delivery driver who’s at the center of an anime called Erased. He also possesses a special ability he calls “revival.” When tragedy is about to strike, Satoru is sent back a few minutes before the accident, which he’s used to save many lives — think Final Destination without the Death-coming-back-for-payback part. 

The problem comes when Satoru is wrongfully accused of murdering a person close to him. This prompts him to be sent back to the past again, this time 18 years to the past — to 1988. Here, Satoru realizes the murder is connected to a series of child kidnappings and killings that terrorized his hometown, and he’ll do everything he can to prevent the death of one of his classmates. From there, Erased becomes as much a sci-fi murder-mystery as it is an exploration of trauma, child abuse, and loneliness, and it is one hell of a nail-biting thriller.

What Makes It Great

Though technically a time travel show, Erased doesn’t really focus on the time travel, and it’s used only a handful of times. That being said, the way the show uses time travel is interesting, and handled well by the plot. Satoru’s “revival” is only an intuition. He begins to feel a discomfort before finding himself a few seconds or minutes before some kind of incident, but he has no idea what the incident is or what causes it. Instead, he has to be on the lookout, rushing to try and discover what the accident is, and how to prevent its consequences. This allows the time travel to be a bit easier to believe than an actual reset button.

It also makes for the core tension of the story. When Satoru goes back in time, he’s a 29-year-old in the body of an 11-year-old. The show plays with the wish most people have had of wanting to go back in time to fix things, but the problem is that Satoru doesn’t remember exact series of events, and constantly finds himself realizing he’s acting just like he did the first time, even if he’s actively trying to do things differently. This dynamic allows the show to confront ideas of regret and loneliness, as Satoru has an awareness no traditional 11-year-old has, and he’s quick to notice things like his classmate having bruises all over her body being an obvious sign that she’s abused at home.

Erased seems like the perfect fit for Netflix, designed to make you want to binge the entire show in one sitting due to its fast pace and intriguing story. Unfortunately, the show can be overly predictable for some audiences, and the villain isn’t particularly well-hidden. That said, the mystery itself, and the tension of seeing Satoru trying to keep the victims safe, is gripping enough to forgive its predictability.

The show is not the flashiest of stories. It doesn’t feature action scenes or tons of sci-fi creatures. Yet Erased looks like a big-budget feature film worthy of the big screen. Director Tomohiko Itou uses letterboxing and widescreen to frame the scenes set in 1988, shifting Satoru’s view of things as he steps back into his younger self. The use of widescreen allows the world to seem wider, bigger, and full of possibilities that 11-year-old Satoru doesn’t know of yet, while at the same time filling the foreground with Satoru’s friends and classmates, making it feel like his viewpoint is narrower due to his age.

One thing that instantly separates Erased from most anime out there is the way it treats Satoru’s mom, Sachiko Fujinuma. Since most anime focus on teenagers or adults, the parents are often either not in the picture or they’re absolute jerks (of course, this isn’t limited to anime). But Sachiko is a fully fleshed-out character who has more going on than only supporting Satoru. She’s not just a support system for the show’s characters, but an independent character with her own agenda who takes proactive action in the story.

What It Brings to the Conversation

The bulk of the 1988 story focuses on Satoru trying to rescue a girl named Kayo, whose problems don’t end with a potential kidnapping. From the moment we first meet her, the show all but pauses the threat of the kidnapping and killing to explore horrors much closer to home and highlight just how much child abuse is largely ignored in the world of the show. Though every adult character we meet knows Kayo is constantly abused by her mother, they don’t do anything for fear Kayo will be bullied by her classmates. And even when Child Services gets involved, it is surprisingly easy for Kayo’s mother to avoid any kind of inspection. 

If you’re interested in exploring some of the themes of the show, keep an eye on how it focuses on how isolation and not trusting others can be damaging for a person and a community. We constantly see how Kayo’s home life has turned her into a lonely child, incapable of trusting anyone – which makes her the perfect target for the child killer.

This extends to Satoru, too. When we first meet him, he’s a broken character passing himself off as “normal.” He’s a talented manga artist, but his boss constantly tells him he fails to make an emotional connection with his work and readers. As a child, he was a loner without friends. Even though we do see him hang out with other classmates, one of the other kids tells Satoru that he knows he’s always faked his relationships with the other kids. Through the course of the story, Satoru starts making real emotional connections with the people around him, and it is not until he starts opening up to people and trusting them that he starts finding success in his time traveling mission. His immediate mission may be to stop a series of kidnappings and murders, but the show argues that the real way to save them is to make the would-be victims less lonely and shut out from the world.

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

If there’s one anime that seems perfectly suited for Netflix’s binge-watch and true-crime heavy model, it’s Erased. This show is so perfectly designed to be consumed on Netflix that the streaming platform even produced and released their own live-action version of the series (which is very good, for different reasons).

If you’ve never seen an anime before, Erased is a good way to experience the medium without feeling alienated by the more outlandish elements and tropes of anime. This is like watching a big-budget sci-fi thriller, but animated. With any luck, this show will allow you to take your first step into a larger world.

Watch This If You Like: 13 Reasons Why, The Butterfly Effect, Silence of the Lambs, Making a Murderer

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Erased is now streaming on Netflix and Hulu.

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