And here’s part 3! This ended up being longer than anticipated, since I was reviewing the excellent Boku Dake ga Inai Michi for this part. Part 4 will be the last; I would have liked to have done more write-ups for more premiere episodes, but I had to be realistic with my goals and actual free time. But anyway, cheers till next time!
Boku Dake ga Inai Michi (Erased)
It’s been said that it isn’t matter what story you tell; what matters is how you tell that story.
Fujinuma Satoru is a washed-out manga artist who works as a pizza delivery guy, and happens to possess the ability to go back in time by about five minutes. He retains his memories for every “Revival”, as the show calls his time jumps, and each Revival has a tiny inconsistency that his memories recognize as an indicator for a potential tragedy. After an accident, his mother, Sachiko, moves in with him to act as his caregiver, but her presence vaguely reminds him of a traumatic childhood experience when three of his classmates were kidnapped and brutally murdered. Satoru’s memories of the incident are suspiciously fuzzy, but what Satoru remembers that the accused was a young man named Yuuki, a friend of Satoru’s whom he always believed to be innocent.
Eighteen years later, after one of Satoru’s Revivals, Sachiko inadvertently witnesses a child being discreetly courted away by a man she recognized from an old memory. Sachiko is a smart cookie, and quickly realizes that her son may have been right after all. But before she can share her suspicions with anyone, she is attacked at home and killed by the man whom she finally realized was the actual murderer from eighteen years ago. Satoru returns home to discover his mother’s body, freaks out, and freaks out even more when the mess of circumstances places him as the prime suspect of his mother’s murder. When the police arrives, he makes a desperate bid to escape, and unintentionally Revives himself to eighteen years before — the year of the original abductions and murders of his childhood classmates.
So that first episode was a TRIP, and given the hype that I’d read about the original material coming into this series, I’m extremely glad it turned to be as trippy as it was. The individual story elements of Erased aren’t terribly novel, but the combination of those elements made this first episode a real treat. Satoru isn’t really a likable lead, but he is incredibly sympathetic — his apathetic nature and drone-like speech show him as a man completely defeated by life, but is still at heart a good guy. His dynamic with his mother is an interesting one. Satoru doesn’t seem to harbor any ill will toward his mother, but subtle moments, like Satoru remarking that his mother is still the same, or the fact that it took a near-death accident for Sachiko to visit her son, hints at a complex mother-son relationship that possibly went through some tough times. It’s a very real, genuine relationship that’s being presented here — there’s equal ease and exasperation between the mother and son that is so synonymous with a typical family. Throughout the whole episode, Sachiko seems to harboring a regret, at times showing glimpses of remorse but more often puts up a façade of consigned resignation. They have a pretty telling, but brief, conversation about Satoru not being able to recall key memories of his childhood trauma — pretty anvil-sized hints that this storyline will play out in the next few episodes. The other major character introduced here is Katagiri Airi, a teenage girl who also works at the pizza place, and looks like that she’ll serve as a key supporting player even if we don’t know much about her yet.
Clearly there’s so much going on in terms of plot and character dynamics, and the way this whole episode is shot and directed adds so much more to the atmosphere of dread and foreboding that permeated through the episode. I loved how the cheerful color palette of the present day contrasted with Satoru’s monotonous narration and the dark, grainy flashbacks. Choice camera shots and angles in the flashback scenes to Yuuki and Kayo (Satoru’s childhood friend who was kidnapped) really accentuate both Satoru’s mental state and the mood of the episode. During every Revival, the camera switches to Satoru’s perspective and this is so great in the final scene when Satoru goes back in time by eighteen years — the shaky camera movement as we watch, through the Satoru’s eyes, running through a grey, somber neighborhood street, until he comes up to building that he realizes is his grade school from eighteen years ago. And then the camera flashes back outward and we see Satoru’s as a confused eleven-year-old boy.
So if you couldn’t tell, this premiere was pretty great and I’m already hooked. This show has so much potential, but it could easily go off the rails with the combination of the unwieldiest of story elements — a murder mystery combined with time travel. But with the acclaim that the manga has gotten, I’m going to bet that Erased will show up at the train station with maybe some slight scratches instead of crashing and burning off a cliff.
- The character designs are great. They’re pretty atypical from what we usually see, and I like how each character seems to be molded from its own cast, as opposed from very similar facial structures that we see in character in other shows.
- It took me a while to get used to Satoru’s VA. I couldn’t really decide if the monotone was too much or just right.
Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is this year’s iteration of Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, No Game No Life, and a bunch of other virtual-reality-come-to-life shows that’s been really booming the past few years. Out of those shows, I’ve only watched Sword Art Online (which I had mixed feelings about, but that’s a story for another blog post), and Grimgar manages to distinguish itself pretty well from its very first scene. It’s a scene where we see our heroes bumbling to defeat a humble goblin, and by gosh, it really was a struggle to get through if it wasn’t for the outstanding animation that made being bad look really good. Having characters who are just realistically dreadful in combat is a refreshing change, and already there’s potential here to watch these characters develop.
Info-dumps are pretty inevitable with this kind of show, but Grimgar handles the potentially clunky exposition fairly gracefully even as the pacing of the episode was a little slow. A gaggle of eclectic individuals wake up one day in the medieval world of Grimgar with no recollection of how they got there or where they came from. They can remember words like “game” or “cell phone” but have no idea what they mean. Eventually they realize that they would each need to harness a combat skill to survive in their new fantasy world, and the characters split up to form respective parties to slay various monsters for their survival.
Having the characters lose all memories of their lives prior to entering the game is a clever twist, even if it was a little bit convenient for the plot. The characters themselves, however, are nothing more than tropes: the affable leading man, the loud-mouthed show-off, the calm and collected leader, the gentle giant, the shy and big-breasted damsel, and the rambunctious tomboy. Even the chosen roles in the world (hunter, thief, priest, and the like) are about as unoriginal as they come. The monsters (at least the goblins, who are the only monsters we’ve seen so far), actually seem like sentient beings with a sense of community, and it’d be interesting to see if the show decides to tackle the ethics of murdering thinking, feeling beings.
What I do think that makes Grimgar stand out from its peers is the art and animation. The world of Grimgar doesn’t look anything like the inside of a game, but an incredibly detailed medieval world with gorgeously drawn backgrounds and realistic interactions. The art reminded me a little of Owari no Seraph, which had beautiful background art that looked an oil painting in a museum. The world of Grimgar, on the other hand, looks like it was painted entirely in watercolors, with its smooth lines and lush, flowing colors that extend from the backgrounds to the character designs. No speed lines or overuse of CG here! Even if the story goes to the shits, the art and animation should be enough to keep me hanging around. Interestingly, I got more of a slice-of-life feel than action/adventure with this premiere, which won’t necessarily be a bad thing if they’re aim to keep showing off their animation chops with more world-building.
- I’m appreciating the detail expended toward the characters’ bodies. For instance, Haruhiro (the affable leading man) is rocking some seriously muscular calves. I also liked the curvature in their bodies; I remember being slightly put off by how angular the boys’ bodies in Free! looked, so it was nice the boys of Grimgar showing some flesh on their muscles.
- If they’re going to indulge in girl-on-girl fanservice (that went on for too long between the big-breasted magician and the rambunctious tomboy archer), at least we get some shirtless scenes with the well-toned boys. Equal-opportunity fanservice for the win!
- That being said, it was at least commendable that any female gazing was seen through Haruhiro’s heavy-lidded, pubescent eyes, and not the very male gaze of the camera.
- I didn’t like the rock track that was used in the opening scene, but the acoustic guitar music in the rest of the episode was pretty nice on the ears.
- Ranta (the loud-mouthed show-off) is already getting to be too much. How is it that nobody gave him a smack in the face for aggrandizing the boob size of the rambunctious tomboy archer’s boobs?
- I will do my best to remember everyone’s names for next episode.