Erased: Crafting a Mystery Story That’s Deeply Personal

Image: via Crunchyroll

Genre: Mystery/Supernatural

Synopsis: When Satoru was a child, a kidnapper and killer went after several of his classmates. Those kids were never heard from again, and the case remained unsolved thereafter. Later, he learned he had an odd ability. Sometimes, something bad would happen, then he’d travel backwards in time just far enough that he could prevent it from happening. Then one day, something terrible happens. And he travels so far back in time, that he’s in elementary school again. Which can only mean one thing–whatever happens twenty years later can only be prevented if Satoru solves the mystery of his childhood, and saves his classmates. (Warning: This series has child abuse.)

Series: One season, twelve episodes.

I’ve Watched: Season one.

Verdict: Mostly quite poignant, though it isn’t as strong at the end.

Available: On Hulu or Crunchyroll.

This show does a number of impressive things that make it a far deeper story than I was expecting. It makes everything so personal. It’s committed to its characterization and psychological aspects. The way that the protagonists devoted themselves to doing the right thing, and the moments that came of it, were really touching. And the show included a certain amount of complexity that changed the focus from making the heroes feel good about being good, to the impact that their actions actually have. Because it wasn’t easy.

When Satoru tries to save his classmate Kayo, he finds that it isn’t as easy as being in the right place at the right time to prevent this one bad thing from happening. And that’s something that I really appreciate–he can’t just breeze through someone’s life and change it. He has to stick around and become a part of her life. He has to learn about her. She can’t be some random person to him in order for him to save her. He has to know who she is, and care about what she wants.

This show could so easily have been a case of the week, with Satoru saving a new person each episode. But instead, most of show is focused upon saving one person, and becoming embedded in her life in order to do it. That makes it more powerful. It makes the character work more intricate.

Obviously it’s be easy to nitpick plot holes, starting with the general implausibility that a 29 year old could pretend to be his elementary school self. I’m not sure if, when he flashes back to his past self, he’s supposed to fully have his adult mind, or if there’s some unexplained mixture. The latter could happen–if he’s physically a child, then his brain should also be that of a child, possibly making him neurologically different despite having the memories of his adult self. (I’m certainly confused–I find myself constantly referring to him as a kid when he’s mentally but not physically older than me.)  And there are also plot holes and flaws to go around besides that.

But those things aren’t the point here. The point is the mystery of the story, and what it means for the people in it. The point is Satoru trying to fix his past mistakes. The point is unraveling twenty years of history built on lies.

But most of all, the point is Kayo. This show makes me care about her so much. There was one simple scene–literally all it did was contrast the meals she’d had before and after coming somewhere–and it had me tearing up. The small things are demonstrated in a way that makes them powerful in this show.

I like most of the characters, even besides Satoru and Kayo, who get the most development. A few examples:

  • Satoru’s childhood friend Kenya is cool–he’s smart, and he’s observant. He maneuvers himself into the middle of the action because even though he couldn’t figure out what to do before, now that someone’s doing something, he wants to help.
  • Satoru’s mom is awesome, too. She knows everything he’s up to and handles it in such a laid-back, trusting way, despite his (supposedly) young age.
  • Then there’s Aya, who’s a super minor character with only a few scenes. Yet even in those she manages to convey a full-fledged personality unlike any of the other characters on the show.

A few caveats. One is a facet of Japanese media–the show does have some “playful” violence which is codified in-story as different from actual violence or abuse. But given that the distinction doesn’t translate to real life, it’s especially weird to have codified “playful” adult-on-child violence happen in a series which is partially about the horrors of child abuse. Maybe this is just me being a Westerner,  but because it’s something I’m sensitive to, I figured I should mention it in case anyone else is, as well.

The other is that the story got weird and melodramatic towards the end, in ways that stopped making sense. Or at least weren’t built up enough. It’s hard to tell. That said, for the first ten episodes or so, it was a powerful story, and I’m still glad I’ve seen it to the end.

One thought on “Erased: Crafting a Mystery Story That’s Deeply Personal

  1. I have to agree that Erased works beautfiully (despite plot holes) until those last two episodes. While the ending is satisfying enough, it doesn’t fit with the way the rest of the show feels. The tone and pacing just fall apart. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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