Erased Is a Satisfying Blend of Time Travel, Murder Mystery, and Coming of Age Melodrama (Review)

Tomohiko Itō’s latest anime is rooted in tragedy, loss, and a search for restoration and redemption… and time travel.

One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day. Not only is it a comedic masterpiece, thanks to Bill Murray’s performance and a clever script, but it uses comedy to explore some surprisingly existential questions about life’s meaning and futility. What would you do if you lived the same events over and over again? What would you change, and why? What’s the point in doing anything if you know how things are going to turn out? What’s the point of anything at all?

Erased, the latest anime from Tomohiko Itō (Silver Spoon, Sword Art Online), explores similar questions. But rather than do so in a darkly offbeat manner, Erased’s story is rooted in tragedy, loss, and a search for restoration and redemption. All of which makes it one of most satisfying anime series I’ve watched in quite some time.

Satoru Fujinuma just drifts through life. He’s an unsuccessful manga artist who delivers pizza to make ends meet. He seems distant and uncaring but his apathy is rooted in a childhood tragedy: when he was eleven, several children in his town were kidnapped and murdered, including two of his classmates. He’s since forgotten many of the details but still experiences guilt over not befriending one of the victims, a girl named Kayo Hinazuki, when he was the last one to see her before she disappeared.

However, the past isn’t finished with Satoru: by the end of the first episode, the serial killer has struck again and killed his mom. When Satoru becomes a suspect, he’s suddenly transported back in time to when the original murders occurred — but as his eleven-year-old self. Though Erased never explains how or why, Satoru can travel back in time to prevent accidents and tragedies from happening, an ability he calls “Revival.” This time, “Revival” gives him a chance, not only to save his mom, but to prevent the kidnappings and murders from ever happening in the first place.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Erased is a sci-fi show because of the time travel aspect. In reality, it’s more of a suspense/crime thriller mixed with coming of age melodrama. Using his knowledge of the future, Satoru immediately sets out to befriend Kayo and prevent her from becoming a target. Kayo has a tragic life herself as the victim of physical and mental abuse, but despite her outcast status, Satoru slowly brings her into his circle of friends. This makes for some of the series’ most endearing and poignant moments. Though Satoru’s attempts seem self-serving at first, the two gradually warm up to each other, and she experiences genuine friendship for the first time in years.

Erased does a fine job of blending such delightful moments as Satoru and Kayo sharing a birthday party or going for long winter walks, with the central mystery as Satoru tries to thwart the unknown kidnapper. Erased kept me guessing as to the kidnapper’s identity up until the very end; there are at least three suspects whose plausibility waxes and wanes during the dozen episodes. But even though Erased contains plenty of twists and turns, and the time travel adds some non-linearity to the narrative, the final revelations are both satisfying and believable.

There were some minor aspects in the finale for which I found it difficult to suspend disbelief. When all is said and done, however, Erased wraps up everything quite adroitly, and even throws in a couple of nice, heartstring-tugging codas for good measure. Indeed, it seems like there’s nothing that writer Taku Kishimoto, who adapted Kei Sanbe’s original manga, overlooked when penning the final episodes.

I don’t want to say too much more because much of the pleasure of watching Erased is just experiencing the twists, turns, and resolutions for yourself. But I will say this: unlike some thrillers, which can seem like their entire purpose is to deliver a single, mind-blowing twist — I’m looking in your general direction, M. Night Shyamalan — Erased is just as focused on the relationships and development of its characters. Watching their stories develop and intertwine is just as satisfying as any murder mystery twist, if not moreso.

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