Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange.
– Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu
Erased is a show that thrives off twists and turns and subtly placed hints and red herrings. So the fact that its biggest mystery — the identity of the would-be murderer — turning out to be a remarkably obvious solution might be its biggest twist so far. Yes, Yashiro-sensei, the seemingly benevolent homeroom teacher, revealed himself as the would-be perpetrator and faceless councilman Nishizono-san. His reveal was somehow blindingly obvious and shockingly unexpected at the same time, and the reason it worked has been thanks to Yashiro’s dichotomous portrayal. His character portrayal’s been a beautiful example of dramatic irony: the deliberate camera work and frames of shot to the cagey music and atmosphere — Erased’s cinematography and narrative had been pointing its fingers at Yashiro from the moment he was introduced, and Yashiro himself was the biggest red herring because he had done absolutely nothing but show that he was a seemingly good man and responsible teacher. All the other potential suspects, from Sachiko’s former colleague Sawada, to Kayo’s mother, Yuuki, and Yuuki’s father — each of them had acted suspiciously at some point in the story, but none of them had been portrayed as suspiciously as Yashiro had been through the story. So I’m not mad at all with this non-twist; Erased clearly had this whole reveal planned from the very beginning, and its execution was a lot more suspenseful than I thought it would be. What I was less happy about was Yashiro’s character development; the psychopathic monster reveal felt like a cheap trick stolen from an episode of Criminal Minds, and it only underlined Yashiro’s role as nothing more than a plot device in Erased’s overarching story.
The greater and more tragically ironic twist is this tale is, of course, Satoru’s fate. Satoru ended up being Yashiro’s first victim, who set a trap that played right into Satoru’s desire to constantly play the hero. Yanagihara Misato, the girl who’d accused Kayo of stealing lunch money and was now ostracized because of her actions, was a perfect red herring because we’d seen this play out before with Kayo’s story arc. But the foreboding in this episode was also heavier than an Antarctic blizzard — there was Satoru saying goodbye to his friends as though he wouldn’t be seeing them again, as well as pretty much every moment after Satoru got into a vehicle with Yashiro.
After all the lives he’d saved with his ability to change the past, it was as though Erased’s universe was punishing Satoru for possessing that ability and actually daring to use it. Satoru actually dying was a non-option, but Satoru nearly drowning and falling into a fifteen-year coma was still a risky move. It was a direction that was completely unexpected and somehow completely worked, mainly because it was a direction that felt oddly both mundane and refreshing for a show that uses time travel as plot element, but also because it brought Satoru full circle with his mission to change the past. Fifteen years into the future, Sachiko again proved that she is the world’s best mom, Yashiro got married and somehow ingratiated himself as a local councilman, and in yet another slap in the face from fate, Kayo and Hiromi got married and had a baby.
But many, many questions remain about Satoru’s Revival. Why didn’t it work when he was nearly drowned? How did he even gain that ability in the first place? How does it actually works? I was wondering these same questions some episodes ago, and my feelings about them haven’t changed: I wouldn’t be mad if Erased never gets those questions answered. This episode made pretty clear that Erased’s focus was never on the origins and mechanics of his ability, but the implications and consequences of possessing such an ability, and these two episodes certainly provided much symbolism and metaphors for discussion on that front.
Erased also wrapped up the Nakanishi Aya storyline quickly and albeit somewhat conveniently, which I was actually more thankful than annoyed for. Kayo’s story was the emotional center of Satoru’s story, and with her arc complete, it made a lot more narrative sense to shift the story to the would-be killer’s reveal. The fifteen-year time jump also introduced a lot more questions than answers — do Airi and pizza place manager exist in this timeline? Did Yashiro continue on his predatory path after getting Satoru out of his way? Does Satoru even remember his time-bending ability after his memory loss? Satoru was also remarkably good-natured despite being asleep for fifteen years, and there’s a boatload of issues that the episode didn’t get into, and not just his memory loss; there’s his identity crisis as a former 29-year-old who was in the body of his 11-year-old self who is now 25-years-old in a brand new timeline separate from his 29-year-old self. Even if you could wrap your head around that psychological conundrum, it’s pretty unlikely that Erased will delve into his mental state with only one episode remaining, but I’ll reserve judgment until I get to that final episode of what’s been an extremely enjoyable, if occasionally bumpy, but often emotional ride.
Other random thoughts:
- The montage of Sachiko going about her daily routine before returning home to her comatose son pretty much killed me.
- The scene of Kayo visiting Satoru with her baby came close to killing me a second time.
- Satoru hiding his sketch of Kayo from his mother hurt slightly more than I thought it would.
- In this timeline, it seems that Kenya took over Satoru’s investigative role alongside Sawada-san. I wouldn’t mind seeing an entire series devoted to Kenya investigating Satoru’s attempted murder for the past fifteen years.
- It seems that the biggest insult to an 11-year-old Kenya was to call him childish.
- Satoru was completely absent from the OP in the eleventh episode.
- 11-year-old Satoru doing the voiceover for 25-year-old Satoru was a nice touch.
- It’s not unexpected that Satoru would have such severe memory loss, but man, Yashiro visiting him in the hospital was horrific and audacious and terrifying on so many levels.
- The attention to detail is what makes the strengths of this show, like Yashiro’s finger-tapping habit that sparked Satoru’s memories, which had been hinted at several times in past episodes.