Erased crafts its own special type of time travel that sits somewhere between Steins;Gate, Life is Strange and, Groundhog Day. It tells a story spilt between two timelines, and whilst it partially delivers as an exciting and intense thriller, what also stands out is how frequently Erased does something that feels weird and disjointed.
Whilst the show doesn’t fully capitalise on the ambitious storytelling that’s initially promises, Erased both begins and ends on a strong note. I was lured in by an engaging first episode that showcases the anime’s greatest asset; protagonist Satoru Fujinuma. At twenty nine he’s notably older than your average anime hero, and his jaded and bleak view of life is a nice contrast to the overly energetic copy-and-paste lead that frequently compromises the potential of comparable shows.
Satoru is pretty grumpy, and that’s in spite of the fact that he has a moderately useful superpower called ‘Revival’, which is essentially a combination of déjà vu and Spider-Sense. Watching him use this skill to prevent calamities five minutes into the future is not only reminiscent of the main mechanic in Life is Strange, but is also oddly distracting when compared to what happens next.
The same power abruptly sends Saturo back to 1988, giving him the chance to prevent the impending murder of his classmate Kayo Hinazuki and stop a string of serial murders that carry on right into the 2006/present day timeline. Of course jumping so far back gives Revival a different quality, and results in the same body swap dilemma that’s the crux of the film 17 Again. Saturo is now a twenty nine year old trapped in his eleven year old body, and whilst what follows is never quite as ridiculous as Chandler Bing falling off a bridge and into a portal, the unspecified power of Revival hangs like a dark shadow over the narrative.
Timeline hopping does however have a few advantages. It allows for variety in both the setting and tone of the anime, and links together a support cast that covers a wide age range. However Saturo’s drastic age change engineers a variety of oddly creepy scenarios, especially as his desire to befriend and protect the girl who’s about to get murdered is misinterpreted as romantic interest by every other character in the show.
From here the story jumps between timelines, following Saturo on his mission to stop the killer – which would actually be pretty cool if it wasn’t for some key flaws. Not only are the laws of what Revival does left only partially established, but the conditions of how it can be used are vague. Saturo essentially wills himself back in time using his mind and this sometimes works. To some extent he can relive the same period multiple times, but after doing so twice he declares that this will be the last chance he gets. The power is used up or something. Contrasted with Bill Murray’s 10,000+ estimated Groundhog Days, or Rintarō Okabe’s descent into madness in the second half of Steins;Gate, it’s a little underwhelming.
Overall almost all of time travel’s best qualities are underused. When using Revival a blue butterfly flies past because, y’know, the butterfly effect, but altering the past doesn’t carry with it any of the crazy repercussions you’d usually expect. For the most part the timelines don’t interact in any meaningful way, and 2006 is needlessly padded out with an unconvincing chase episode that ends up being ‘Erased’ (get it) as soon as it’s over.
Then there’s the mystery, but again the potential here is ruined by poor execution. It’s pretty obvious from the beginning who the killer is, but if you’re in doubt there are clues, lots of clues. It’s not going to be one of the eleven-year-olds so you can discard them. No one who gets murdered in one of the timelines either, and probably not the innocent looking guy the police arrest and send to prison. Maybe it’s Airi Katagiri from Oasi Pizza, although I guess she’d have only been one year old in 1988? Could it be anyone else…
Many other parts of the story feel clumsy. At one point Saturo and his friend Kenya hide Kayo away from her abusive mother but the hiding place turns out to also be a hiding place the killer is also using! I guess this is meant to make things more exciting, but it’s an odd coincidence that doesn’t really do anything to the plot other than to make Saturo more certain that the killer – who he’s already certain is about to do some murdering – will do some murdering very soon.
And yes, ‘abusive mother’, you read that right. Erased may not be fully competent at telling its story, but that doesn’t stop the narrative from covering some difficult issues that it isn’t properly equipped to deal with. I guess it’s good not to shy away from such serious subject matters, but here more than anywhere else the show feels notably out of its depth.
Whilst the identity of the killer is an underwhelming twist, there’s still a surprise following the reveal, and that’s how much better the plot gets for the final two episodes. Halfway through I was expecting to have fully lost interest in Erased by the end of its twelve episode run, but the series’ climax is a surprisingly conclusive and satisfying finish. Yes, the finale’s confrontation is a little implausible, but this only really stands out as the rest of the ending is great.
What this means is that overall I’d still recommend Erased, and in spite of a long list of flaws it’s ultimately worth watching through. For those looking for a satisfying mystery, or clever time travel mechanics, it largely disappoints, but as an exciting thriller it’s one of the more distinct shows in recent memory.