Rewriting the Past to Rewrite the Future, Anime Style: A Review of Erased
I don't consider myself to be a die-hard anime fan, but I understand anime enough to know--and appreciate--that it can be the go-to medium for stories that won't be found in U.S. movies and television. Case in point: Erased, a 12 episode sci-fi/mystery anime series that was released earlier this year and can currently be watched on Crunchyroll.
Erased begins in 2006 and it centers on the character of Satoru Fujinuma. A former manga artist in his late 20s, Satoru has a unique ability that he calls "Revival": an ability that allows him to relive small moments in time (a few minutes at most) to prevent fatal incidents from happening. After he finds his mother stabbed to death in his apartment and the police identify him as the prime suspect, Satoru experiences a Revival that sends him all the way back to 1988, when he was still in elementary school. During that year, three of his classmates were kidnapped and murdered, so Satoru becomes convinced that if can keep his classmates alive in 1988 he can prevent his mother's murder in 2006. But how does one prevent a series of murders if the identity of the killer is still unknown?
Even though it uses the outlandish sci-fi concept of time travel as the foundation for its plot, Erased is a very poignant and personal story. The kind of changes that Satoru seeks to make in time are not momentous and will go unnoticed by most of the people around him, yet he remains resolute in his determination to save the lives of people that he lost in his original timeline. As such, Erased is not so much a sci-fi thriller as it is a slice of life drama that takes place in small town Japan during the late '80s (albeit through the eyes of a child who has the knowledge and experience of an adult from the future). The topic of child abuse plays a dominant role, and it provides many heartbreaking moments as the story progresses. Furthermore, changing the past to change the future is never easy for Satoru, since the changes he sets in motion provide new outcomes that Satoru doesn't anticipate. Even in Erased, no good deed goes unpunished.
The once and future Revivalist: Satoru as a child (left) and as an adult (right).
Some sci-fi fans might be bothered by the series' time travel logic, while some mystery fans might be disappointed in how this particular mystery is solved (and not solved, so to speak). But what makes Erased worthwhile is that is uses plot conventions from sci-fi and murder mysteries to tell a moving parable about the values of compassion and devotion when pushing back against cruelty. Many heroes in the sci-fi genre have traveled through time to save the world, but Erased emphasizes that the most heroic deed of all is to simply be there for others who have no one else.