Erased Eps. 10 & 11

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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.

Erased Eps. 8 & 9

I’ve been having a hard time writing about Erased lately. This isn’t because it’s doing its thing badly — on the contrary, it’s been consistently entertaining and suspenseful — but it seems to have settled into a formula with very little room left to grow for its characters. The big takeaway from these two episodes was that Satoru FINALLY catches a break and saves Kayo from death’s scythe, and what we’re left with is for Satoru to do the same with the other two potential victims: his childhood friend Hiromi, and Nakanishi Aya from the school next door. We’re now moving into uncharted territory, which should technically be exciting, but Erased had invested so much into Kayo’s story that her redemption felt like the actual conclusion to this story. We just don’t know enough about Hiromi or Aya to care as much about their story arcs as we did with Kayo. With only three episodes left, I’m not sure if Erased will be able to do the justice to their characters while also wrapping the many questions that linger from the past and the future.

Those are all gripes that I can live with, but what’s more worrying is the lack of clues to the identity and motivations of the would-be murderer. Probably the most compelling aspect of this time-travel murder mystery was that the perpetrator was hinted to be someone whom Sachiko knew from her past, but there are too many questions, too few answers, and too little clues that paint Erased’s primary antagonist as nothing more than a villainous trope, and I don’t know if the inevitable reveal will bear as much emotional catharsis as Erased hopes it will. Yashiro-sensei remains the only real suspect, but the guy has had so many red herrings painted on his back that I’d be disappointed if he did turn out to be the villain, though I’d be even more disappointed if the bad guy turned out to be someone whom we’d never met before. Erased has been so effective at using its cinematography, music, and animation at consistently misdirecting its audience, but its own cleverness might have backed its narrative into a corner.

Erased’s lack of emotional catharsis was also most apparent with Kayo’s mother: the reveal that she was also a victim of domestic abuse made narrative sense but did little to sympathize her character since we hadn’t seen anything other than an abusive mother over the course of the season. The sudden introduction of Kayo’s grandmother was way too convenient, and it was clear that she was there as a device to help wrap up Kayo’s character arc.

But there were some pretty great moments in these two episodes, particularly with the wrap-up of Kayo’s character arc. The flashback to Kayo’s mother past didn’t work as well as it could have, but it worked much better for Kayo; seeing a time when Kayo was once protective of her mother made her subsequent abuse much harder to stomach. Kayo’s words and actions, from her apathetic ‘nothing could make me happier’ when told that she would soon be free from her mother’s abuse, to her looking away from her mother’s pitiful sobbing, and her breakdown at seeing a home-made breakfast — Erased has made us feel for Kayo without falling to heavily into excessive melodrama. While Erased still has a lot of ground to cover before its conclusion, here’s hoping that it remembers that its characters are what keeps its story grounded and relatable.

Other random thoughts:

  • Kenya and Sachiko also continue to be best friend and mother of the year respectively.
  • Hiromi grabbing Satoru’s hand could be interpreted in many ways, but I’ll reserve judgment until more is revealed.
  • Yashiro-sensei being revealed as a candy hoarder was a pretty great moment.
  • I can’t help but wonder how much about Satoru’s life would be different if he’d ever told someone about his Revival ability.
  • One of the bigger questions remaining is how this permanently altered past changes the future. Did everything we see with Airi and company from the future still happen in that new alternative timeline? Or will nothing change at all, with the murderer’s deeds averted but not completely thwarted?

ERASED Eps. 6 & 7

“Keep your cool, Satoru. It’d be really bad if she died. It’d be even worse if you were put away for it, unable to help anyone.”

– Kenya is smart. Be like Kenya.

Do you believe in second chances? Satoru certainly believes so, and he got a second shot at changing history when he somehow willed himself back in time this week. Even amidst the intricate web of murder, arson, and pizza delivery schedules, the mystery of Satoru’s Revival ability remains Erased‘s most intriguing and unpredictable element. I predicted that his ability to jump back in time is linked to his emotional state and circumstances, but that still doesn’t answer the bigger question: how and why did Satoru gain his ability in the first place? Erased is a show that discusses the utilities of a supernatural ability, much less so with the metaphysical origins of such an ability, and Satoru’s Revival ability is essentially a plot device — a timeworn narrative tool that is being used to add a creative spin to the traditional murder mystery. This isn’t a bad thing at all — especially when Erased is killing it (ha) in the storytelling department right now — but I can’t help but wonder how much of Erased’s core themes might benefit if it managed to get to the philosophical implications of Satoru’s Revival. But I can’t be mad if Erased never got to the essence of those questions — Erased is a character-driven piece that deals with much more human concepts of regret and missed opportunities; the time travel aspect is just a manifestation of those themes.

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But I digress, even before getting into the nitty-gritty of these two episodes. Erased up the ante with more clues, red herrings, and plot developments this week, and what we got was a tightly plotted weave of intrigue interlocking between the past and present. In the present, we get properly introduced to two characters: Sachiko’s former colleague Sawada, and Airi’s mother. Sawada was more prominently featured, and a lot of the episode was him and Satoru simply discussing the show’s plot in Sawada’s office. This could have gotten dry really quickly, but Erased did well at converging the different theories and injecting some urgency into its narrative, including Satoru and Sawada’s burgeoning realization of the parallels between the past exploits of the perpetrator and his current machinations to frame Satoru for his mother’s murder. Airi’s mother played a much smaller role, but her unwavering belief in Airi’s conviction and sanity spoke plenty about her character. Airi’s sanity was an important point in the episode, and it was framed most prominently by the hushed talk among the police officers and the fish-eye camera work in a scene with her nurturing but patronizing aunt and uncle.

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But of course Satoru gets caught by the police when meeting up with Airi, but not before they came to the chilling realization that the murderer had been closely watching their movements for a long time. The puzzle pieces of the murderer is slowly coming together, and with some reveals as to his M.O., I’m hoping we eventually get some development regarding his motivations. Meanwhile, Satoru’s Revival at the end of the sixth episode gives me the chance to talk about Kenya, who was easily the biggest revelation of both episodes. Kenya is ridiculously observant and self-aware for an 11-year-old boy, and Satoru cluing in an increasingly suspicious Kenya on to his plans was probably the best thing he could have done, even if Kenya doesn’t seem to be completely in the know with Satoru’s ability. With his second chance at changing the past, Satoru grew bolder and more desperate, even coming within a hair of pushing Kayo’s mother down a set of stairs before Kenya stepped in. Kenya’s more prominent presence in this second scheme of things also provides a nice contrast to Satoru’s character — the adult Satoru is an idealist at heart, with his hero-inspired parting words and bold proclamations of affection, whose emotionally repressed self is audaciously spontaneous and unafraid to take action with little regard to the consequences. It makes sense that someone with childlike ideals and slight delusions of grandeur could be beaten so heavily into apathy when his childhood dreams failed to coalesce as an adult. On the other side of the spectrum is Kenya — grounded, cautious, and thoughtful, who had long noticed Kayo’s cuts and bruises but had never taken action because he felt it wasn’t his place. Kenya’s been portrayed as the smart, stoic friend, and his envy of Satoru’s reckless drive to help Kayo was a refreshingly vulnerable moment.

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At this point, the identity and motivations of the perpetrator might even be murkier than what we started out with. Plenty of hints have been dropped, but the most important clue might be that the murderer is someone whom Satoru recognizes but doesn’t quite remember from his past life. Erased doesn’t skimp on cinematography and art direction, and it was all on display when in the final scene of the sixth episode — the slow motion, the unnerving shift to black-and-white, the absence of music, and jarring sounds of footsteps and falling rain, and Satoru recognizing the baleful eyes of his mother’s murderer watching him from under an umbrella. Erased also has carefully crafted imagery, most prominently with the eyes of characters that become an inky red that sell the characters’ malevolent motivations. There was a lot reveals and questions thrown at the audience during these two episodes, but Erased seems to have its twisting plot threads under rapt control so far.

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Other random thoughts:

  • The pizza manager comes to Satoru and Airi’s rescue and immediately tells Satoru that he would be taking credit for saving Airi, which should have set off many alarms in Satoru’s head.

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  • Nishizono-sensei has to be a red herring. His yet-to-be-seen face and suspicious behavior makes him far too obvious a suspect.
  • But beyond Nishizono-sensei, there really isn’t a list of suspects among the current cast of characters. The only clue is that her murderer was someone whom Sachiko knew, which narrows it down to either Sawada or Yashiro-sensei.
  • Yuuki’s father was brought up as a potential suspect, which seems a bit out there since we know close to nothing about him to begin with. Meanwhile, Yuuki keeps being presented as nothing more than a gangly twenty-something whose social awkwardness endeared him to trusting children.

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  • The circumstances of Kayo’s death is making increasingly less sense. We know that her mother presumably beat her at least unconscious, and her body was then hidden in the outdoor tool shed. But how did the murderer know that Kayo’s body was in that shed? It had to have been someone who had been closely watching the Hinazuki household that night, which would fit with our knowledge of the murderer’s M.O. Or was Kayo’s mother the actual murderer and used the other child abductions as a smokescreen for her own crimes? Was Yuuki simply at the wrong place at the wrong time with regards to Kayo’s disappearance, but was purposefully framed for Hiromi and Nakanishi Aya’s deaths?

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  • Satoru roping Hiromi into his plan was a nice touch; what was most notable was Hiromi telling his friends that he is usually home alone until 8 pm.
  • You could see that cliffhanger at the end of the seventh episode coming from a mile away. Having Kayo camp in an empty school bus wasn’t a great idea to begin with; leaving her alone in the empty bus for through most hours of the night was just a terrible idea.

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ERASED Eps. 4 & 5

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It really shows how well Erased has crafted its characters that I’ve to care so much about what happens to them. I wasn’t Satoru’s biggest fan in the first episode, but those sentiments have changed after watching him struggle to alter a seemingly unchangeable past. Erased continues to raise even more questions and answer even less of them, so I’m going to follow last week’s format and run down the questions that stuck in my mind after getting my heart shattered several times over these two episodes.

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What else could Satoru have done to save Kayo’s life?

For about fifteen minutes into the fourth episode, it seemed that Satoru had accomplished the impossible. The fourth episode was the most upbeat Erased had ever been — Satoru slowly but surely breaking down Kayo’s emotional walls, their heartwarming date to the science museum, their unaffected happiness at their shared birthday party— but there was a dark sense of foreboding and déjà vu underlying that innocent optimism. Most tellingly, Kayo’s mother appeared less as a violent figure, but more of a silent, malefic presence. Kayo’s mother, sitting stolidly in a corner, watching her daughter’s battered, lifeless body on the kitchen floor, was the most distressing scene Erased has dared to animate so far.

But did the abuse on the night of Kayo’s birthday lead to her death? That seems to be what Erased was trying to present, but the circumstances don’t add up — Kayo’s mother was unlikely to have anything to do with Nakanishi Aya or Sugito Hiromi’s disappearances, and we know have no information on what happened to Kayo after that disquieting scene. We can only go on that unsettling smile as she threw out her daughter’s gift to Satoru in the trash. Neither have there been any scenes that imply that the serial killer was in any way affiliated with Kayo’s mother.

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There’s a bigger theme at work here, one that’s well-trodden in the realm of science fiction but yet to be explicitly conferred in Erased: is the past set in stone, or can it be changed? No matter what he changed, Satoru could never permanently diverge from the original path that led to Kayo’s death. Satoru wasn’t preventing Kayo’s death as much as he was delaying it. I’d be a little disappointed if this turns out to be Erased’s thematic resolution; I’d really need quite a bit of emotional payoff if I had to sit through that many episodes of emotional trauma.

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What about the other murders?

Following Kayo’s death, Nakanishi Aya also met her demise, and we can also assume that Hiromi was also murdered, and his death presumably came after Satoru transported himself back to the present day. The abductions abruptly stopped after Yuuki was taken into custody, and in the present day, Satoru reads about a more recent child abduction where the accused refused to plead guilty. Satoru notices an emerging pattern — an extremely calculative and observant individual who scouts out both victim and scapegoat to carry out his heinous crimes, which fits with the vigilant individual who didn’t hesitate to dispose of Sachiko after she caught on to him . Of course, this is all speculative — we don’t even know the manner in which the children were killed, in which case we’d know if those children had been murdered by the same person — but the signs are there that this person may have had a very specific M.O. in carrying out these horrible deeds over many years.

Are Yashiro-sensei, Kenya, or Sachiko hiding anything else?

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So Erased actually provided some answers to questions this week! Yashiro-sensei’s after-hours conversation with Kenya turned out to be nothing more than a party-planning consultation (the reveal was so subtly done that it didn’t hit me until the episode was over), and Satoru’s missing memories were the result of the adults deliberately concealing the details of the crimes from the then 11-year-olds. Yashiro-sensei still fits the role of the perfect teacher way too snugly, and that alone makes me suspicious of his every action. Sachiko continued to prove that she was a pretty awesome mother, which continues to beg the question of how her relationship with her son deteriorated. But Kenya intrigued me the most these two episodes — he was smart enough to realize that the truth was being concealed, and I continually got a feeling that Kenya knew more about Satoru’s motives than he let on. Or it could be Erased using its smart direction to plant red herrings in my already paranoid mind. I do wonder if grown-up Kenya will make an appearance —  Satoru could definitely use another canny ally at this point in the series.

What’s with the pizza place manager and Nishizono-sensei? Who’s trying to murder kill Airi? Does she survive?!

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Back in the present day, Airi remains the only person who believes that Satoru is innocent of matricide. Airi’s reasons for believing Satoru are a little contrived — chocolate theft from a grocery store just doesn’t have the same heft as matricide by stabbing. Hiding Satoru in her room at her uncle’s house was also rather implausible — is her uncle’s family also out of the country? In any case, Satoru finally had a much-needed ally, at least until the final scene of fifth episode. I’m willing to bet that Airi survives the arson attempt, if only because she seems too important a character to be knocked off this quickly. The text message she received from the killer right before smoke started filling her room was much more worrying. The purpose behind this text is a chillingly crafty move — if Airi is indeed killed, and her final text from Satoru, sent from his dead mother’s phone, telling her to stay where she was, further incriminates Satoru for crimes he didn’t commit. Whoever this invisible puppeteer is, he knows exactly what he is doing.

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Meanwhile, the pizza place manager (whose name I don’t know and whom I shall call “the Manager” until I find out his actual name) has vaulted into most-suspicious-character territory. Him amiably keeping Satoru occupied in his home so he could call the police seemed very planned out, but became very flustered when Airi told him that she was getting takeout pizza for a friend. It also didn’t make sense that he didn’t call the police on Airi (notwithstanding Airi’s full-on punch to his nose), not to mention his blushing reaction to Airi’s takeout order might hint at a more perverse nature. The Manager certainly didn’t kill Sachiko (Satoru would have recognized him outside his apartment immediately), but it’s very possible that he’s working with the murderer, either out of money, blackmail, or something more twisted. On the other hand, Nishizono-sensei practically reeks of suspicion, and not only because his face was kept deliberately hidden the entire episode. Nishizono-sensei seems to be some kind of politician, and while his conversation with the Manager mainly seemed to be about business, it might have been a guise for something more sinister. Either way, the way the camera lingered on Nishizono-sensei watching Airi walk away has some significance; whether that significance is malevolent is up for debate.

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Other random thoughts:

  • Satoru seems to activate his Revival ability in times of great emotional distress. The sooner he realizes this, the quicker he’ll be to changing the past.
  • I genuinely believed Yashiro-sensei’s lie when he told the class that Kayo had transferred schools. That’s how much I was invested in Satoru and Kayo.
  • I know I said that Airi is definitely not going to die, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if she did. Her death would definitely up the stakes, not that it wasn’t high enough already.
  • How was Satoru able to walk into a public library amidst his own public manhunt?
  • The Manager has a pretty fancy apartment despite his profession as a pizza place manager.
  • Sachiko’s old co-worker at the TV station made a brief but important appearance, and I think he might play a significant role in future episodes.
  • Speaking of Sachiko, her profession certainly helps explain her street smarts and guile.
  • Will Kayo’s mother make a reappearance in the present day?
  • Flip phones were all the rage in 2006.

Playing catch-up: ERASED Eps. 2 & 3

It’s a testimony to Erased’s careful storytelling and artful cinematography that I watched both these episodes with my senses acutely heightened. Episodes 2 and 3 introduced new characters, dug up buried memories, and prefaced more questions than I can answer. Given the mystery nature of this anime, I’m going to try something a bit different with my write-up — I’ll ask questions that cropped up in my mind while watching these episodes try to provide a coherent theory/review hybrid for each of them.

What does Hinazuki Kayo’s abuse have to do with her eventual murder?

So we finally meet the object of this mystery: the stoic and unemotional Hinazuki Kayo. But Kayo is suppressing her feelings for a reason — she is being physically abused by her mother, who in turn might also be the victim of an abusive lover. Satoru catching on to Kayo’s abuse felt very gradual and realistic; he sees bruises all about Kayo’s body that she tries to hide, and read an essay that she submitted for the class’s student composition collection that was practically a plea for help. The abuse scenes were painful to watch — the shadows of Kayo being assaulted by her mother behind a sliding door, Kayo’s mother dunking her head in icy water while her sleazy boyfriend loitered in a room next door — it sold the gravity of Kayo’s tragedy without steering too far into melodrama.

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The bigger question is how Kayo’s abuse ties into her eventual murder. Satoru is adamant that both tragedies are related, and if he is right, that would mean someone with intimate knowledge of Kayo’s family problems had to have been involved with her abduction. But a more plausible theory would be that the kidnapper was someone who knew nothing of Kayo’s home situation; after all, Kayo would avoid returning home by always lingering in the local playground until dark, making her an easy kidnapping target just by watching her daily routine. But there was someone who had definitely been watching both Kayo and Satoru — Yuuki, whose actions only made him look guiltier in the aftermath of the murders.

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Erased spend a fair amount of time developing the relationship between Satoru and Kayo, but what’s interesting is that they seemed nothing more than classroom acquaintances during the pre-Revival sequence of events. This time around, Satoru makes a conscious decision to become Kayo’s friend, and seeing Satoru body struggle to knock down the emotional wall Kayo had built around herself was both endearing and heartbreaking. Kayo’s current life is built around a lie — a mask made to hide the marks of abuse. That degree of emotional trauma on a mere ten-year-old had caused her to doubt the happy faces that surround her, and those concepts of honesty and deceit forced Satoru to contemplate his own ideas of authenticity, realizing that his disconsolate twenty-nine-year-old self wasn’t much different from Kayo’s disenchantment with life. But Satoru manages to go beyond what his old self would have done, and he manages to make some important steps forward toward possibly saving Kayo’s life. Inviting Kayo to his birthday party and bringing Kayo to the Christmas tree on the hill are two things that did not occur in the pre-Revival sequence of events; how much has Satoru already changed of the future, or is Kayo’s death already an inevitability?

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What happened between him and his mother?

Satoru seeing his mother for the first time since finding her lifeless body was one of the more emotional moments of the series. There aren’t any hints to an absent father, but Satoru and Sachiko seemed to share a pretty loving mother-son relationship, even if they weren’t terribly affluent and lived in tiny one-bedroom apartment. From the first episode, we know something had changed drastically between them, and the obvious reason was probably emotional fallout from the murders. But I keep getting a feeling that there’s something else going on that isn’t being discussed in the open; I think it seems pretty likely the murders and its aftermath further drove an already-present wedge between mother and son and pushing them permanently apart.

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How will the other potential victims fit into the story?

So we know that Kayo is potentially the first of three victims in the story. What we didn’t know was that one of the other victims, Sugita Hiromi, was a member of the group of friends that Satoru used to hang out with. It makes sense that Satoru has been focusing exclusively on Kayo, but the potential murder someone who was actually much closer to Satoru adds an intriguing dimension to the story. Hiromi was only passingly mentioned in the first episode; were future Satoru’s hazy memories, hinted at by Sachiko, somehow related to Hiromi’s disappearance? If Satoru manages to prevent Kayo’s death, will Hiromi and Aya also be saved?

The future Satoru in ten-year-old Satoru’s body seemed quite unaffected to see his old friend alive and well, and it doesn’t make much sense that Satoru doesn’t any kind of emotional reaction. Erased’s storytelling has been too tight to allow for such an obvious incongruity, so I’m certain there’s something more to Hiromi’s story that hasn’t been told. We know from Sachiko that Satoru suffered some kind of memory loss, and I have a feeling that Hiromi’s story might have something to do with Satoru’s amnesia, and even his Revival ability.

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Who framed Yuuki, and is he truly as innocent as he claims?

Yuuki is definitely not being portrayed as an innocent man. He watches Satoru and Kayo from afar, invites young children into his bedroom, and keeps porn hidden behind a drape on his bookshelf (which, for a twenty-three-year-old man, is probably the least suspicious thing). We already know, from future events, that he is innocent of the crime that he would eventually be accused of, but I don’t think he is as innocent as he claims to be. Maybe he really was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but his character seems far too convenient to make for the perfect scapegoat. Maybe he was an accomplice, or at unwittingly complicit to those crimes, but the murderer threw Yuuki under the bus so he could make his escape. Satoru does seem convinced of Yuuki’s innocence, and his biased conviction certainly warrants some suspicion — why is he so adamant when his other memories of the murders are so ambivalent?

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What is Yashiro-sensei hiding?

On the other hand, Erased is giving the opposite treatment to Yashiro Gaku, Satoru’s homeroom teacher. Yashiro-sensei seems nothing if not a kind and conscientious teacher, but the cinematography (and I haven’t talked much about the cinematography, which is really what makes Erased such a thrill to watch) paints Yashiro-sensei in a less benevolent light. The slow, deliberate way the camera pans up to Yashiro-sensei when he first walks into Satoru’s classroom, the acute, discomfiting angle at which the camera abruptly focuses to Yashiro-sensei when he catches Satoru at his desk — it goes about in portraying Yashiro-sensei as a sinister, imposing figure that contrasts with his apparent persona of a friendly, affable teacher. And then there’s that sinister final scene with Kenya with Yashiro-sensei in the staffroom after hours, which could mean a dozen different things.

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Satoru also finds out that Yashiro-sensei had long known that Kayo was abused by her mother, and I feel very distrustful of the fact that Yashiro-sensei was quite willing to fully disclose the facts of the case to an eleven-year-old boy. We also know that the real murderer was a man whom Sachiko knew personally and someone whom Satoru might have recognized, but that doesn’t necessarily point to Yashiro-sensei. It could all be smoke and mirrors — Yashiro-sensei could just be a good teacher and a really great judge of character, but I’m keeping my eye on him.

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What does Kenya know that Satoru doesn’t?

Kenya is the smart one in Satoru’s group of friends because he reads a lot and wears turtlenecks and peacoat jackets. But beyond his sartorial choices, Kenya definitely has a sharp mind — he was the first to lead Satoru to Kayo’s distressing essay, and is the only one among his group of friends who suspects something beyond a crush is motivating Satoru to befriend Kayo. I’m pretty certain that Kenya has also noticed Kayo’s bruises, and like Satoru, probably went to Yashiro-sensei to voice his suspicious. I’m guessing that’s what went down in that after-hours meeting with Yashiro-sensei — it’s the one explanation that’s the most mundane and therefore makes the most sense. Kenya being involved in any kind of leery activity is quite unlikely — he is only eleven years old — so I’m willing to chance that Kenya is nothing more than prodigiously astute kid.

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How long will Satoru be stuck in his Revival state?

Every time Satoru has experienced a Revival, he went back five seconds in time and relived those five seconds with his memories intact. So does this mean that Satoru will relive the next eighteen years of his life with his twenty-nine-year-old self making cynical remarks in his head? I doubt that this will be the case, mainly because we know absolutely nothing about the nature of Satoru’s Revival ability. As an adult, his Revivals seemingly happened at random, and the exception was when Satoru essentially willed himself eighteen years back in time when his present day was looking dire. There could be easily be loopholes and tricks to his Revival ability that Satoru just hasn’t learned to harness yet.

Meanwhile, Katagiri Airi — Satoru’s teenaged coworker — is still being hinted at as a major character, and we can safely bet that she won’t be appearing anywhere in Satoru’s past since she hadn’t even been born yet. Satoru will, at some point, probably be transported back to present day, and Airi will become his only ally and confidante. I’ll be slightly disappointed, though not annoyed, if that happens — right now that seems to be the most logical assumption, but I have a feeling that Erased won’t be doing something that predictable with its story.

Other random thoughts:

  • I will say that the animation is solid but unexceptional. BUT. That cinematography. That deliberate camera work and art direction. Those sharp, shifting angles, those wide view shots, those facial close-ups. The use of symmetry and empty space. Erased has created an immersive and cinematic experience that perfectly complements the story it’s trying to tell.
  • I’m loving the continued use of the film roll metaphor.
  • Satoru had also never asked for a birthday party before, which says something about what he was like as a kid.
  • Adult Satoru and Kid Satoru thinking things out loud has provided Erased some of its funniest and most genuine moments so far.
  • Sachiko’s assailant was wearing a suit when he killed her. Who is the only notable person in Satoru’s past who wears a suit on a regular basis? Yashiro-sensei.
  • Satoru’s missing gloves seem totally innocuous, but it was mentioned enough times to spark my curiosity.
  • Also mentioned multiple times: the boys’ hideout.
  • I have my eyes and ears peeled for any discussion of Dragon Quest — it’s all we hear everyone talking about whenever we enter that classroom.

 

First impressions, part 3

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!

 

77957Boku 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.

Random observations:

  • 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 no77976 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.

Random observations:

  • 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.