#1 It’s a time-travel murder mystery
Satoru Fujinama has a peculiar ability. When this 29-year-old pizza delivery guy has someone near him die, time itself reverses to a few moments prior and he has an opportunity to prevent it. While this has often helped him stop small accidents from happening, it takes on a whole new form when his mother begins investigating a string of murders from his childhood and winds up murdered herself soon after. Moments later Satoru finds himself back in the body of his 10-year-old self, warped back to 1988 where he has a chance to save not only his mother, but also the kids that fell victim to the serial killer who remains at large in his present time.
His primary goal is saving the life of Kayo Hinazuki, a lonely girl who was his classmate, and who he may have saved if he hadn’t ignored her on the day of her disappearance. While it isn’t the best mystery involving time travel in anime, it certainly ranks highly and having the main character resolve it as a slightly cynical adult trapped in the body of his younger self is a fun twist indeed. It’s a story I found hard to put down and which kept me up at night when I did, putting together clues and thoughts about it in my head.
#2 It gets you interested in the characters first
We often speak of a 3-episode rule where any anime has to get 3 episodes to impress the viewer, but more often than not I find that a single episode should be plenty. With a mystery anime like this, that applies even more: the story may be good, but I am not going to care much if you don’t also interest me in the characters as soon as possible. It’s what separates the likes of Steins;Gate and Higurashi from Vatican Miracle Examiners and Switch.
ERASED gets this right. Satoru is a character that quickly earned my sympathies, as he is a self-sacrificing person that uses his powers to save others, even as it puts him at risk instead. He is, however, detached and it’s clear there is some emotional hurt he has never quite overcome. This gets interesting when he becomes a child again and we get to see a less jaded Satoru with a more energetic personality, but the same values. His mother also ended up being a favorite character of mine, thanks to her go-getter, no-nonsense personality, causing Satoru himself to refer to her as a Yokai from time to time. She is a chill lady that develops into an absolute badass.
It was the initial hook of wanting to see who murdered his mother that got me to immediately fire up episode 2, which is where the story then introduces Kayo, and when I took a liking to her I quickly powered through the rest of the mystery.
#3 The heavy-hitting subject
Speaking of Kayo, another element that makes ERASED so engrossing is the subject matter. A murderer that specifically targets young kids is already quite dark, yet even before that Kayo wasn’t doing too well. She was bullied in class, abused at home, and she didn’t have any friends either. Watching some of the scenes depicting this abuse made my stomach churn and it’s possibly some of the finest director work that Tomohiko Ito (Sword Art Online, Silver Spoon, Occult Academy) has displayed so far.
I am approaching Satoru’s age myself and watching a little kid like that all bruised up or being shouted at by adults, that was honestly hard to bear. On the flipside, her hardships and stoic nature make it all the more powerful when her life begins to improve due to Satoru and his buddies befriending and including her, when you actually get to see her smile or even laugh from time to time.
While you need to see the sad to appreciate the happy, I do have to say that those who are particularly sensitive may have to mentally prepare for some of the show’s more shocking content.
#4 The music
I feel it’s cheating to award points to an anime every time the composer turns out to be Yuki Kajiura, but there is a darn good reason for why she is such a recognizable artist and why so many anime are eager to include her soundtracks. ERASED is no exception and has a mighty enjoyable OST with many surprising tracks in it. It’s a delight to listen to and while it’s not a favorite of mine, I could certainly see myself getting the soundtrack CD.
Supporting Kajiura’s usual skill are the opening and ending songs: Re:Re by Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna by Sayuri. These songs alone were enough to get me to watch the opening and ending sequences every time, but they are supported by some strong animation and directing. Re:Re just feels like it’s a part of the show, it’s an opening that gets you pumped to resume Satoru’s quest and Sayuri’s song is just such a delight you want to give it a listen, like a dessert after a good meal.
#5 The devious killer
A common complaint I heard towards this show prior to watching it is that it’s not hard to figure out the actual murderer. This, regrettably, is kind of true and I had a good idea of who it would turn out to be long before the actual reveal. Still I kept watching, not to figure out the culprit, but to see how he could be caught and what his motives were all along.
A fun dynamic is that the story switches back and forth between Satoru’s present time and his past. In 1988 he works on saving the day by protecting Kayo together with his friends and in 2006 he is on the run from the police after he himself becomes the sole suspect of his mother’s murder. Watching this monster from his childhood haunt him in the present was a neat way to handle the story, and it made an already scary murderer even more menacing. Having the villain plot against our main character and turn his allies and the cops against him is thrilling to watch, even if it does keep the story in 1988 from progressing for a few episodes.
The final reveal is also excellently handled and was enjoyable to watch, even though I had already guessed (correctly) who the bad guy would be. Again, this is thanks to the fantastic work of Tomohiko Ito. An issue, perhaps, is that the reveal comes a long time before the actual final showdown, and while the space between those two moments was filled with many surprises and twists, it’s fair to say that the tension the show was generating throughout takes a bit of a dive as it waits for the climactic showdown. When it does come, the ending is fulfilling and provides all the closure I wanted, so overall I left the show feeling satisfied.