Erased – or Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (translated to English as “The Town Where Only I Am Missing”) – tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, a 29-year-old pizza deliveryman who aspires of becoming a full-time manga artist. He has the talent for it, but his creations lack the emotion which readers can connect to. This is due to his own “artificial” personality – something he obtained and honed as a child and carried towards adulthood – which he utilizes to have people like him. However, this approach never allowed him to have meaningful connections with them.
In addition, he has a supernatural ability that he calls “revival.” It activates whenever someone nearby is in grave danger. It sends him a few minutes in the past, giving him the time to save the person’s life. He takes no real joy or pride from this, but he considers it a duty, and thus, he always makes the effort to do right.
One day, something from the past resulted to the murder of his mother. Worse, the murderer sets him up to take the fall for the crime. On the run, he has a “revival” that takes him eighteen years into the past. Trapped in the body of his ten-year-old self, he realizes what needs to be done: to prevent his mother’s murder, he needs to stop a string of child murders that happened during that time – murders that were committed by the same person that killed (or will kill) his mother.
The first victim was Kayo Hinazuki, a girl classmate of his, and growing up, he regrets much that he wasn’t able to do anything for her – thinking that she wouldn’t have been vulnerable if she wasn’t alone, if he befriended her. Given this second chance, Satoru makes the effort to connect with her.
As he relives his childhood and works determinedly to save lives, he learns along the way the value of making true friends and building meaningful emotional bonds with them.
Satoru is no Detective Conan (an anime character that nearly has the same circumstance as his). He’s no genius crime-solver. In fact, he makes critical mistakes all throughout the story. Nevertheless, his value as a hero isn’t in his intellect, but in his selflessness and resolve to do the right thing when given a second chance. Though finding the identity of the serial killer is part of his gameplan, it’s not necessarily his ultimate goal. His ultimate goal is always about keeping his friends and mother from being murdered – even at the cost of his own life. And this makes him a great, laudable main character.
Erased is extremely well-written. Its fantastic premise – the blend of time travel and murder mystery – is brilliantly employed to make a smart, thoroughly absorbing, and thematically rich 12-episode anime series. Moreover, above its grisly details and continuous suspense – for it’s a thriller that involves a child serial killer after all – it has heart. It has several touching moments that made me teary-eyed. It’s as moving as it is thought-provoking.
My only nitpick – very minor – is that the identity of the killer is predictable. Not enough available options are presented, thus, there aren’t enough red herrings to make an eventual startling reveal possible. But I understand the story isn’t probably going for such mindblower anyway. Hence, this isn’t really a legitimate flaw. It’s just an element about the story that I kind of didn’t like.
In the end, as what it should be, Erased is probably perfect. It completely blew me away. Thus, it’s very likely that it’ll eventually become my pick as best anime of 2016 – or, if not, definitely among the year’s best.