Erased (originally 僕だけがいない街1) is a story of a man who falls back in time to his childhood and realizes he has a chance to save his middle-school friends from a serial killer who preys on lonely children.
Heck of a conceit, right? Don’t worry, that’s only a spoiler for the first episode.
The anime presents itself as a thriller and mystery, but it’s soon taken over by awkward but touching interactions as Satoru, the main character, tries to save his classmates by being a better friend. We learn that some of these lonely children have actually had really terrible lives, and it was very poignant to watch them change for the better. At least for me.
Unfortunately, the show just isn’t structured very well. I have a litany of complaints below for the heck of it, but the upshot is that I feel like writing off everything that wasn’t the “improve the lives of lonely children” parts. The premise and worldbuilding was just flawed in ways that made me unable to look for any deeper meaning, and it meant that I didn’t end up caring as much about the high-level story arc.
My go-to reference for this kind of time-travel story is the movie Frequency, but I haven’t seen Frequency in a while, so maybe it’s not as good as I remember. Still, one thing that makes Frequency work well is that when something changes in the “past”, we pretty quickly see its effects in the “present”. That wasn’t true for Erased, and while that’s reasonable it just fed into the not-caring about the present day. It was clear that what happens in the present is not an acceptable state of affairs, so the only interesting action with uncertain outcomes is what happens in the past.
Still, like Madoka, Erased is only a season, and I certainly don’t feel like I wasted my time! (No pun intended.) The show really did a good job making the sentimental moments feel appropriately bittersweet. I’ve also heard the live-action series is good (possibly better?), and there was also a movie, and of course it was originally a manga. So you could also consider picking up one of those instead. And on the flip side, if you liked Erased and can also handle more violent and gory stuff, you’d probably like Higurashi: When They Cry.
Erased is available on Hulu.
Okay, spoiler section. Let’s start with “Revival”. My guess is that this gets expanded upon more in the manga, but it served basically no purpose in the anime. It’s clear that Satoru’s 18-year Revival is something new, so not bothering to make up a term for it would have been fine. He could still have a sixth sense for knowing how to save people, if they wanted to keep that trait.
Saving people. I completely forgot that Hiromi was one of the victims in the first few episodes because they were so focused on Kayo. Because Satoru was so focused on Kayo, even in Episode 1. In retrospect, isn’t that weird? Yeah, maybe he was the last one to see Kayo alive, but Hiromi was actually in his group of friends.
Friends. It was kind of a big thing in Episode 1 that Satoru didn’t have any friends, and so he remembered hanging out with the older Yuuki instead. But then he did have friends from the point that we see him, and only hung out with Yuuki once or twice. Despite growing up to be a loner. (But okay, he was an outsider originally, before the reset. I just expected to see more Yuuki.)
Yuuki. The stutter was interesting. I wonder if it was supposed to make us think it was more or less likely that he was the killer, since they didn’t compelety eliminate the possibility. But it was pretty unlikely.
Yashiro. I wanted to say “CALLED IT” when the official reveal came, but honestly there was nothing to call, because there were no other adult male characters. That’s not something Satoru can know from within the story, but it was almost painfully obvious from outside. (Although I did get to like him at the same time, which might have been more what they were going for, and I appreciated that they actually made Kenya a little suspicious.) I think I actually suspected him even before it was obvious there were no other adult male characters, though. Maybe it’s the name. *cough*Higurashi*cough*
I’m not sure I exactly understood the whole hamster thing. It sounds like there was more going on in the manga.
Airi. I liked her, but I think that was just a generic penchant for spunky female characters. It was weird that Satoru started off considering her annoying and then immediately had to change his opinion. But as I said above, the way the show was set up made it feel like the present wasn’t important, even though Airi did a lot for Satoru, and even had her own backstory. Maybe it’s a little too clever, but I would have been happier if Airi had been the sister or cousin of Kumi (the girl who needed the operation) rather than just popping up randomly by the end. I did enjoy her third-person speech pattern, though, which is a Japanese-ism that comes off (non-derogatorily) as a bit girly to me.
Wikipedia makes it sound like there’s more of a connection between Airi and Kayo in the manga; for the most part, the only piece of that that survived into the anime was the shared “Baka na no?”. Meanwhile, there’s the whole bizarre thing of Satoru’s mom trying to set them up when he’s 29 and she’s still in high school. Although that does make me wonder how cross-stage-in-life friendships are supposed to work. (There were a few in my Korean class, I guess.)
Kayo. Obviously this is the part of the story I had the most attachment to, represented most strongly by the acutely bittersweet breakfast scene in Episode 8. It was also good that she actually started out not just a loner but kind of annoying to be around, both because that’s how it works to be socially awkward and because it makes Satoru’s goal actually take effort. But the problem was that everything was so built around her that once she was saved in Episode 9 I felt like the show was already over. Okay, the murderer is still out there, and the other two victims aren’t automatically safe, but…
(I did like her short story, 私だけがいない街, but at the same time it wasn’t exactly tied into the rest of the show. As for the time skip, I guess it would have been a little too easy if she had ended up with Satoru, but it’s interesting that she married Hiromi rather than Kenya, who’s definitely the most charismatic of the group. I’m in favor on principle on things that foil my expectations without actually being a problem, so good job there.)
The show did a lot to get us attached to Kayo, but I’m still surprised out how much I felt it, even if I have been more into casual happy close friendship stories of late. My situation growing up would have been closer to Satoru’s if it was either of them, but it wasn’t really either of them. Maybe I wish I could have paid more attention or helped people more the way Satoru does. Maybe I could be doing that now.
I don’t want to say “if there’s anything I got out of the show, it’s that”, because it’s nothing so active. But the scenes where Satoru or Sachiko was able to do something for Kayo, and she was able to accept it…those were the ones that got to me, and those are the ones that’ll stick with me.
The manga thing. In the beginning, we’re presented with the idea that Satoru isn’t a successful manga writer because he doesn’t put enough of himself into his work. But that’s at best “I have lingering guilt because I was murder-adjacent in my childhood”, which, yeah, he should work out, but which isn’t really where the story ends up going. He ends up a more confident person in the new timeline, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. Though I did appreciate the reunion scene, though I was surprised it included Misato.
Misato. What is she doing there at the end? Seems to violate show-don’t-tell to have her there just because she raised money for Satoru’s hospital bills. I get that Satoru manages to protect everybody, but…isn’t it better if that includes people not directly in his group? Like Kumi?
Okay, the whole hospital thing. This is what the title is referring to, the coma, not Kayo’s short story, but we don’t know that until Episode 11. (Which makes me not so impressed with the title either.) It’s weird that Satoru wakes up at 25 instead of his original 29 (or that he wasn’t 25 to begin with), because that would have had some nice symmetry. But then it’s not really a surprise how the rest of it goes, I guess. It doesn’t really make sense that Satoru understands Yashiro that well, but just catching him in another murder would probably be an even less satisfying way to wrap things up. Though it was a very risky plan.
(And it is creepy to see Yashiro just walking around and being friendly to kids, so I guess the show succeeded in what it was doing there. I would have liked some explicit confirmation that he was the one who pulled Satoru out of the river, though.)
Oh, one cool thing: the opening credits for Episode 11—and just Episode 11—actually have Satoru taken out. Nothing else changes, just any child or adult appearances of Satoru are missing, and the rest of the scenes go on as they did before. I’m not sure what deeper meaning to read into this, but it was a nifty effect for while he was presumed dead at the end of the last episode. (The other change that happens in the opening credits is that the blacked-out eyes of the various suspects are revealed. Some of them aren’t antagonists, but some of them were.)
I guess that’s enough. I feel like I’m being more negative than the show deserves, too—it’s just that the positives aren’t as much things I can expound upon. There were a lot of things I liked: most of the interactions with Kayo, many of the scenes with Sachiko (Satoru’s mom), and even a fair amount of Yashiro (his good side and his evil side). But ultimately the structure was kind of a mess: bringing up a few too many things, not getting me invested in the present day despite liking Airi, and not exactly wrapping things up so cleanly with Yashiro.
This is typically translated as “The Town Without Me”, but that’s missing quite a bit of nuance. If given a bit more rein, I’d go with “The Town With Everyone But Me”. That wouldn’t translate back as 僕だけがいない街 but I feel like it’s a better match in meaning. ↩︎