“Flashing Before My Eyes”
The view from Igirisu:
“I’m scared. Scared to dig too deep into myself.”
Mike and I started this blog with the initial purpose of writing about every Doctor Who story, in a dual-review format. For each story my article would be accompanied by his “view from across the pond” (Mike is based in the USA, and I am in the UK). We then moved on to Babylon 5, which is Mike’s favourite television series but I had never seen it; the “across the pond” roles were reversed, and that is an ongoing project. Last year Mike returned the favour and we looked at something that’s more my thing than his, and started exploring the world of anime. I am an anime fan, but Mike is not. We started with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was a deliberately challenging and slightly provocative first choice to show to a non-fan of anime, and that proved to be a qualified success, so now we’re moving on to what I consider to be probably the best anime series ever made, certainly the best I’ve seen so far: Erased. I have already written an overview of the series, but now we’re going to both be writing about it on an episode by episode basis.
This time I don’t quite have the advantage over Mike that I did with Haruhi. I am a huge fan of that, but Erased is something that I have watched once, thought was brilliant, but only now have I got round to watching it again, so I’m not an expert. My only advantage is that I’m re-watching, and I have watched a lot more anime than Mike. Before we get going, just a quick word about spoilers. As with our Haruhi articles, I will be going out of my way to avoid spoiling future episodes, but will be making no attempt to avoid spoilers for the episode in question. I am sure Mike will have the same approach. So please make sure you have watched each episode yourself before you read our articles, but you may enjoy coming on this journey with us and watching along with us. We’re going to be watching one a week. There’s nothing wrong with binge-viewing if that’s your thing, but there is also a lot of pleasure to be had by not eating all your sweets at once, especially with a mystery series like Erased.
So we start with a creditless opening, and we will have to wait until next week to see the opening and closing title sequences, although the opening music is actually showcased at the end of this episode. We are initially introduced to the main character, Satoru and his love interest and co-worker Airi. There’s an issue here in that Airi is still in school and Satoru is 29, and straight away that is being explored by the cultural differences between them. Satoru doesn’t quite understand the way Airi speaks and acts.
We immediately know that we are watching a series with a sci-fi element, with Satoru’s “Revival” to save a life. He jumps back into the past by somewhere between one and five minutes, feels like something is wrong, and has to find the person in danger and save them.
“Sometimes, like this time, things go bad for me.”
Before he regains consciousness we get our first brief flashback, and our first look at murder victim #1: Kayo. Before we have even reached the halfway point of the episode we have been introduced to our fourth major character: Satoru’s mum Sachiko. Her calm reaction to his homecoming after the accident shows what a cool customer she is. The character design is a little unrealistic for a 52 year old, which is lampshaded by Satoru mentioning she looks the same as she did when he was a child. At a guess this might have been a time/cost issue to save animating two different versions of one character, although it is a reasonably valid creative decision as well. After all, Sachiko is young at heart, and immediately is having fun trying to matchmake between Satoru and Airi.
Then we come to our second Revival, and the confusing one for Satoru, as he can’t find the source of the problem. Sachiko is being observed by a man in the car, and this sequence is accompanied by some wonderfully creepy music. The possibility of a child being snatched during this Revivial brings up memories of the past, and we get our first bit of information about 10 year old murder victim Kayo, and Satoru’s guilt about failing to save her. Many viewers will be able to identify with the guilt of looking back on one’s childhood and maybe thinking about that kid in school who didn’t have many friends and could have been helped if you had only learnt how to be a better person a bit quicker, but for Satoru these feelings are intensified by what happened to Kayo. The flashback is beautiful, haunting and atmospheric, with Kayo alone in the cold.
Then we get to the big dramatic moment of the episode: the murder of Sachiko, who has just figured out at last who murdered Kayo (and it wasn’t the guy who was arrested for it, Jun Shiratori) and she knows he is still around. We now know we have caught our first glimpse of the killer and we know it’s a man. On his way to discover the body, Satoru catches a glimpse of him too, and recognises his eyes, so that tells us he is somebody from Satoru’s past. Anime can get away with this kind of thing much better than live-action, because showing part of the murderer’s face would generally be too great a risk for live-action. Human race recognition can be very powerful and you risk revealing the killer too soon by mistake. But animation is rarely detailed enough that you can’t get away with showing a partially obscured face, especially as the original murders happened 18 years before. My first guess on first viewing was that the killer perhaps bore a resemblance to Satoru himself, so maybe there was something timey wimey going on there.
Finally we have our big Revival, with Satoru travelling right back to 1988, cleverly shown quite literally through his eyes.
It’s remarkable how much is packed into this first episode. The efficiency and economy of storytelling is phenomenal. In 20 minutes we are introduced to Satoru, his mother and his love interest, the premise of Revival is established, we learn about the original murders and are briefly shown the first victim, the wrongly accused man who went to prison for the crimes, and the murderer. By the end of the episode Satoru’s mum is dead, he is on the run as the assumed killer, and he is thrown back into the past. Phew! None of it feels rushed, and it all makes sense and is easy to understand and follow. It’s a masterclass in structuring a plot. And we now know that what we are watching is a whodunit. The sci-fi element is a vehicle towards that end: ultimately the point of this is going to be finding out who the killer is. But the Revival adds an extra layer that would normally be absent in a whodunit. Satoru is against the clock, and has an opportunity to prevent any of the murders from happening at all. He has a second chance. He needs to find out who the murderer is, and stop him. For somebody trapped in the body of a 10 year old kid, that’s not going to be easy… RP
The view from Amerika:
Roger and I are guilty of peddling this drug we call “good stories” to one another. He introduced me to a great video game, some interesting anime (3 to date) and a handful of good audio dramas as well. I have sent some his way with The Prisoner, Classic Star Trek and of course Babylon 5. When he suggested the very strange Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya, I was fairly convinced that anime was a strange drug indeed which could flip effortlessly between science fiction, comedy, and drama, all the while hitting us with cute artwork and the occasional bit of sexy fan service. I liked it, but I wasn’t sold. The stories were fun, but nothing that … deep. Then he suggest Erased. The nice thing is, unlike what I subjected him to with Babylon 5 (110 episodes at 40+ minutes apiece), Erased required a much lower investment. It’s a 12-episode series, with each episode coming in at about 22 minutes. Translation: 3 episodes is about an hour so sitting for 3 back to back is easy. For the purposes of writing a weekly blog, though, this is not effective so obviously…. It was exactly what I did, which meant I needed to re-watch it later. But that was alright because when a story is as engrossing as this one, you are much more willing to be open minded with it. And I’ll tell you this on my second viewing of episode 1… I’m glad I did rewatch.
Erased opens with a monologue that caught my attention both times: “I’m scared to dig too deeply into myself”. This is a deep idea all by itself and it’s said in the first minute of the series, letting me know from the outset that I’m not going to be watching a lightweight show. Unfortunately for the lead character, Satoru Fujinuma, he’s going to have to dig very deep indeed. We’re introduced to Fujinuma, who is 29 years old and works as a pizza delivery boy. He’s not a very vibrant guy but he does offer internal monologue for the viewer’s benefit. High school student Airi is his coworker and she seems to like him but perhaps only as a friend. As it happens, Fujinuma has a power which he calls Revival. It allows him to relive a period of 1 to 5 minutes, usually to put something right. (Visually, the series is exceptionally well done: when we first see him talking about this ability, there is a massive coil of film and it starts to unwind, at which point we are watching the anime with film borders at the upper and lower ends of the screen. It’s a visual treat!) The revival is presaged by a glowing blue butterfly, which I think I missed completely on the first viewing. While delivering pizza, we get a glimpse of what Revival is; he sees the same images repeated and he has to figure out what’s wrong in order to save the day. He pulls it off, saving a pedestrian, but ends up in the hospital. As he recovers, Airi visits him before he is allowed to go home, only to find his mom is in town to visit him and help him recover. The pieces are on the board now; the viewer is ready to play.
Satoru is leaving a grocery store with his mom when the blue butterfly goes by and another revival happens. His sudden awareness may have stopped a kidnapping, but the kidnapper notices Satoru and Sachiko, his mother. This kicks off a discussion with his mom, and she mentions that when he was a child, a classmate of his went missing, probably kidnapped. This also prompts her to do some research into the kidnappings from all those years ago. Unfortunately, she is followed home and stabbed, rather brutally, and left to die. Satoru comes home moments later to see a man leaving the apartment complex, walks into his home and finds his mother dead on the floor. When a neighbor sees what’s going on, Satoru makes a run for it… straight back in time, 18 years in the past, to 1988. Things just got interesting…
And with that, I am hooked. Complaints? Well, Sachiko is said to be 52, but looks like she’s 30… but she’s a smoker. I’d comment on the believability of this but I’m watching a show about a guy who can go back in time when a stressful situation arises. I could perhaps talk about the high school girl with the short dress, but I didn’t take issue with that because, unlike a 52 year old smoker looking good, that is believable. There’s a mild use of comedy throughout, proving without a doubt that even drama needs an occasional laugh, but the best is when Satoru calls his mom a witch for knowing what he’s thinking (as mom’s often do!)
Will Satoru get out of this situation? How will being in 1988 help him? We’ve seen that he never snaps back to the present, he just relives the last few minutes, but when 18 years have to go by… will he be able to change the events of his original school mate’s disappearance? And can he escape the inevitable death of his mother, 18 years from now? We’ll have to watch on to find out. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Erased Episode 2