I can’t believe it took me two years to finish Erased

I watched the first episode of Erased on Crunchyroll when it first aired in January 2016. I’m fucked to believe that it took me two years to continue watching. Not just because I liked what I saw and wanted to keep watching, but because I didn’t realize this series was already two years old. I wish I had an excuse for why it took me this long, like my dog would die if I watched episode two, but I don’t.

Erased, or Boku dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Without Me), is a 12-episode anime series based on a manga by Kei Sanbe (Kamiyadoro). It premiered during the Noitamina block on January 8, 2016. Directed by Tomohiko Ito, who’s been balls deep in Sword Art Online ever since, Erased was very successful when it came out. At points, it even stood next to One Piece in Crunchyroll’s popularity rankings.

This is first demonstrated when he prevents a little boy from being hit by a truck, and again when–with the help of his mom, Sachiko — they prevent a little girl from being abducted from a park.  Sachiko makes eye contact with the would-be kidnapper and they recognize each other. This reminds her of when Satoru was in fifth grade and three of his friends were kidnapped and murdered.

Convinced that the man she saw in the park was the killer from the past, Sachiko contacts…uh…you find out later in the show. But before she’s able to talk to anyone else, the mystery man kills her and frames the murder on Satoru. While running from the police, Revival sends Satoru back, presumably to prevent his mother’s death. However, this time he travels back to 1988, a few weeks before the first child’s body was found.

Erased does a lot of things right. The premise of going back in time to change the future isn’t original–even in anime–but the writer’s approach feels fresh. Satoru is ten years old again. This puts him in a complicated position. He knows what’s going to happen, but he doesn’t have the power to stop it.

Even if he knew who the killer was, it wouldn’t matter. They haven’t killed anyone yet. A child going to the police and saying, “This guy I know is about to kill three of my friends, but I have no way of proving it,” is not going to produce favorable results. These limitations are to the viewers benefit, because Satoru’s creativity in working around these handicaps makes for a compelling story.

This show’s biggest strength is its ability to keep people coming back. I can not imagine trying to watch this week-by-week. With little exception, every episode ends on a cliffhanger. I started where I left off, on episode two at 10pm; at 2am I was bargaining with myself so I could keep watching.

“If we get an Uber in the morning instead of taking the train, we can watch another episode and still get four hours of sleep. They have unlimited free coffee at work, so we’ll be fine.” It wasn’t until I finished the ninth episode, appropriately titled “Closure” that I could comfortably stop watching.

One thing that Erased does poorly–especially considering this show is in the mystery genre–is hide the secret identity of the killer. He’s in the opening credits for fuck’s sake! It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the show, but I had solved the mystery three episodes before the big reveal.

Part of this is because there aren’t many characters in the show. And that’s fair. If the killer was a complete stranger, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. Some fans theorize that Sanbe made it obvious on purpose as a reverse red herring. But that still doesn’t excuse the multiple “HEY LOOK AT ME; I’M THE KILLER” moments.

The end of the series has serious issues with pacing. They spend the  first nine episodes to prevent the first murder. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the story arc, but this means we only have three episodes to save the other two children, officially unmask the killer, and prevent Sachiko’s death.

So much care goes into crafting the first 3/4 of the series, it’s anyone’s guess what happened. Maybe Sanbe felt he’d written himself into a corner and didn’t know how to get out. Maybe he thought it would be boring to keep doing the same thing. I don’t think these episodes ruin the overall experience, but I do think the final confrontation could have been better executed.

I was also bothered by the fact that they never explain why Satoru experiences Revival. It’s fine. I get it. It was the only way to tell the story, and it would have been impossible to explain it in the context of the show. But it bothers me that it’s what triggered the narrative and it magically went away upon its resolution.

There’s also a live-action television series and a film. The series is on Netflix, and I watched the first two episodes. They were nearly identical to the anime, so I’m hesitant to continue watching. The film doesn’t have an official English release, but according to Kotaku, it has a crazy ending.

Despite its flaws, Erased is one of the better shows I’ve seen in years. If you haven’t checked it out, or if you’ve only seen the first episode, I strongly recommend watching it. But make sure you set aside a few hour because you aren’t going to able to watch just one episode.