ERASED (僕だけがいない街, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi or The Town Where Only I am Missing)
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Created By: Kei Sanbe
A couple of readers and friends requested that I should watch ERASED for quite a while now, and so I finally got the chance to. I watched it with my sister because I thought it would be something that she’d be interested in and she was. ERASED is a serious and thought-provoking show, but can also traumatize viewers as well for the dark issues presented.
A Mystery Right from the Start
Right from the very beginning, the setting and story easily captivated viewers’ attention. We are introduced to a 29-year-old, Satoru Fujinuma, who has a special gift called REVIVAL. We don’t question the origin of this gift but we accept it as a factual detail. With REVIVAL, Satoru has the ability to go back in time and prevent some sort of tragedy from happening. Gifts, talents, and natural abilities are things we don’t take for granted and use them to help others or benefit society; thus, REVIVAL could be considered something of that nature.
In my opinion, the pacing of the anime is well-done: the plot doesn’t slow down as each episode provided clues to unraveling the mystery—who is the murderer of Satoru’s three elementary classmates as well as his mother? However, the ending of each episode left viewers with anticipation and anxiety that it gave the audience mild heart attacks …figuratively speaking. One moment where I felt tense was when the murderer entered the abandoned bus angry and frustrated without knowing that Kayo Hinazuki was hiding there. We soon found out later that the bus was his hideout for his kidnapping and murder tools.
Life is Like a Slideshow
One unique aspect that I like about ERASED is the use of film strips to represent snippets of memory within a person’s life. The format of each episode provides viewers with some understanding of time. In present-day, you see the animation in full screen, but when the setting is in Satoru’s past, the anime is in a widescreen perspective. Satoru’s memories are shown as strips of film and as he recalls his memories, viewers are watching it as if it was a movie in a theater. I found this structure of presenting time sequences thought-provoking and it really brought to life the metaphor that people’s lives are like a story told on screen or on paper.
Not-At-All a Children’s Anime
Anime isn’t just for kids. It’s for adults too, and ERASED is no exception.
There’s a good majority of anime that focus on controversial and hard-hitting themes, but ERASED takes this to a whole new level. ERASED explores the injustices that happen to children by tackling sensitive and traumatic issues such as kidnapping and child abuse. As a frequent anime viewer, never have I encountered an anime that truly heightens the level of anger and frustration until I watched ERASED. When violence is done against an innocent and defenseless child, it’s natural for audience members to react so emotionally.
I couldn’t help but feel disdain towards Kayo’s mother, Akemi Hinazuki. It seems that the abuse in Kayo’s household is a chain reaction. Akemi’s first husband abused her and then after their divorce, she takes it out on her daughter, Kayo. In addition, Akemi continues to make poor life decisions as her current boyfriend seems to be a selfish lazy bum. He doesn’t seem to care for the well-being of Kayo and consents to the beatings of her.
Despite it being an anime, it is as real as it gets when it comes to child abuse. Kayo’s story arc truly shows the child’s psyche as to what’s goes on when dealing with an abusive parent. For example, when Satoru reads Kayo’s composition story, she hints at her desire to “disappear from the world.” This is a clear red flag of a child screaming for help: she wants to be completely alone and she may have already contemplated suicide. There’s also physical evidence of abuse on her body, and she remains cold and distant from those around her. However, this all changes when Satoru decides to be friendly towards her.
I’m not sure if it bothered anyone else, but it did bother my sister and me that none of the adults actively did anything about Kayo’s situation when they first heard or saw it happened. For instance, their school teacher, Gaku Yashiro, is aware of Kayo’s home situation and seems to passively report it to the authorities, but every time child protective services visits Akemi, she avoids them. Another incident is when Satoru visits Kayo’s home and invites her to an outing. Akemi was about to hit Kayo when she expressed her desire to hang out with Satoru, but Satoru’s mother, Sachiko Fujinuma, intervenes and stops Akemi. Although I praised Sachiko’s action, I still found it annoying that Sachiko doesn’t report Akemi despite witnessing a child abuse attempt. It is obvious that abuse is happening in the household, but she doesn’t do anything to stop it. It isn’t until Satoru comes up with a plan to rescue Kayo from her mother’s clutches that the adults start to seriously take action. This made me question the adults’ mindsets in this anime because a child shouldn’t be fighting to protect another child. The adults should be the ones responsible and do what’s right.
It seems that the adults in ERASED turn a blind eye towards issues and problems that are a private family matter. However, ERASED conveys child abuse as not a private matter, but a public one. If one suspects a child is being abused at home, it is morally right for an individual to report it. We must actively address such problems and build a better community for children and families.
A Very Anti-Climatic Ending or Not?
So one would assume that an anime like ERASED would have more of a dramatic ending due to the amount of suspense and build-up it had in episodes. However, we are left with a more subtle conclusion that we didn’t expect and was a big letdown for viewers. I understand where the audience is coming from, but personally, I felt that the anime didn’t really need an epic and dramatic action-packed conclusion between Satoru and Yashiro. I felt that the psychological warfare between the two was enough drama for me.
Later on, we learn the origin of Yashiro’s murderous instinct: it started at a young age when he purposely drowned some hamsters and only one of them survived. He found it amusing that one hamster was so desperate to survive that it stepped on his fellow kind in order to live, which is an allusion to the “The Spider’s Thread” by Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Yashiro enjoyed the idea that he can act like a destructive God, and is able to snap the thread of a person’s life just by killing him or her. His sociopathic ways reached its peak when he finally met an equal opponent. Satoru spoiled Yashiro’s plans of murder that resulted in Satoru waking up from a coma fifteen years later. Satoru and Yashiro played a cat-and-mouse game for fifteen years; in which Satoru realized that Yashiro is unable to truly kill him because once he does, Yashiro has no purpose to live anymore. Satoru is Yashiro’s ultimate prey because he outsmarted all of Yashiro’s murderous plans, and as a result, Yashiro wasn’t able to kill anymore since no other murder would be able to satisfy his hunger than the murder of Satoru.
Like I said before, I understand where the viewers are coming from when seeing that the ending wasn’t as dramatic in comparison to the build-up of suspension during the entire series. Now I read a lot of Japanese literature and watched a lot of Japanese film and anime that this wasn’t much of a let down for me. I think as westerners or foreign viewers, we were hoping for a more epic conclusion just like you would see in a Hollywood action thriller film. Yet like most Japanese films and literature, this isn’t the case for ERASED. The drama is through the dialogue between Yashiro and Satoru; in which Satoru commits the ultimate act of revenge: Yashiro finally met his match and had to wait fifteen years until he can finally kill him—imagine all the anxiety Yashiro must have felt not being able to kill Satoru by his own hands. The fact that their lives are forever intertwined is as dramatic as it can get in my opinion.
And on a side note, it’s interesting how the sociopathic serial killer became a politician. With everything that has happened, I questioned why that was his next career choice because one bad move can lead to a tarnish reputation and everything crumbling down. Or one could consider that with power and money, you can keep your dirty laundry hidden from the public’s eye. Yet some negative traits of politicians are manipulation and compulsive lying so this could be seen as an appropriate career for Yashiro. Henceforth, would it be a far stretch to assume that some politicians are sociopathic individuals because it seems that we can interpret it as that?
If you are a fan of Criminal Minds or Law & Order, I think ERASED would be a great anime for you to watch. It’s a mystery/psychological thriller that keeps the audience in suspense, but also explores deep issues that viewers should be aware of.