#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, only to wind 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 whose death he could have prevented if he hadn’t ignored her on the day of her disappearance.
Mystery stories involving time-travel are a staple of anime and ERASED ranks highly in this regard compared to its contemporaries. In particular, I was fond of the idea of having a cynical, older dude get trapped in the body of his younger self. Both because it’s fun watching him struggle with effectively roleplaying as himself, but also because he sometimes gets a little too into it.
#2 It gets you interested in the characters first
With a mystery anime like this, first impressions count for a lot; 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 Examiner and Switch.
ERASED gets this right. Satoru is a character that quickly earned my sympathies. He is a traumatized person, whose life has been shaped entirely by his sense of guilt over Kayo’s death caused him to close off his emotions. He is abrasive and detached, but in a way that seems tragic rather than cool. It’s captivating and episode 1 shows off so much of his depth, only to then conclude with the jump back to 1988 where you get to see a very different side of him entirely.
Similar praise applies to several other characters, most prominently Satoru’s mother who is a real go-getter and a force to be reckoned with. 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 didn’t have any friends to speak of either. Seeing the full extent of what she’s going through made my stomach churn and it’s possibly some of the most harrowing directing work that Tomohiko Ito (Sword Art Online, Silver Spoon, Occult Academy) has displayed so far.
I am approaching Satoru’s age myself, so watching a little kid like Kayo 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.
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. Both of them fantastic songs from wildly different genres, which form a neat pair to respectively open and close out this anime with. My preference does go out to Sayuri in this regard, as the emotional tone of her voice is just beautiful and I like how Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna starts off slow and sad, only to pick up the pace and turn into a loud, defiant song. It’s a perfect match for the flow of the anime itself.
#5 The devious killer
A common complaint I heard towards ERASED prior to watching it myself 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 ERASED 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 frightening 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.