So the finale of Erased has come and gone, and a lot of people seem to be disappointed with how the show turned out–at least going by all the messages I’ve received on Twitter about how I was right from the very start. I’m honestly less surprised by the fact that the show didn’t turn out to be all that great, than I am by the fact that so many people expected it to be great in the first place, considering how much evidence there was to the contrary. And no, I’m not talking about muh A1 Pictures and muh director of Sword Art Online, though honestly those are perfectly reasonable sources of suspicion; but rather, how I never really got what about this series was supposed to be impressive in the first place.
One of the first things that put me off about ERASED was the voice of the main character, Satoru, who is played by an actor named Shinnosuke Mitsushima. Satoru is Mitsushima’s first voice acting role, and it’s pretty obvious that he was chosen for the part so that he wouldn’t sound like a typical anime character. After all, Satoru is a jaded twenty-nine year-old man who finds himself perplexed by the attitudes and lingo of the younger people around him. What bothers me about Mitsushima’s performance, though, is that he’s the only character in the show who doesn’t sound like an anime character. Everyone else is played by regular voice actors who all sound like they’re probably around the same age as Mitsushima, but playing characters all over the age spectrum. In fact, the voice actress who plays Airi, the seventeen year-old girl by whom Satoru is so flummoxed, is actually two years older than Mitsushima–whom, himself, isn’t even twenty-nine years old.
If the goal of giving Satoru such a non-anime-sounding voice was to make the show feel more grounded and realistic, then the series immediately falls short by not giving the same types of voices to all of the other characters. Other shows like FLCL and Kare Kano have reached wonderful results by going out of their way to hire non-voice actors and child actors to give a more natural feel to the dialog, so it’s not like there isn’t a precedent for this. But I think it’s more likely that Satoru was given this voice specifically to make him stand out from everyone else. After all, the show is called “a town where only I don’t exist,” and since Satoru’s adult voice mostly ends up narrating over the story of his child self, having such a distinct voice helps with separating the narration from the dialog. But this just brings me to an even bigger issue which permeates every element of the show’s design–and that is, beating the viewer over the head with the point.
Erased does not like to assume much on the part of the viewer’s intelligence. Not to say that it necessarily thinks you’re stupid, but it definitely wants to make sure that as many people as possible will get the point of what’s going on, and therefore overexerts itself with making everything as overt as possible. It feels like the director was constantly asking himself, how can I make this point in a way that you’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb, not to get it?
How do we represent the main character’s time travelling powers activating? Have the screen go weird for a second and blast this obnoxious Transformers sound effect over it. How will the viewer be able to distinguish the parts that are in the past from the parts in the present? Letterbox all the scenes from the past–it’ll look cool and cinematic that way too. How do we codify the various themes of violence throughout the show? Make sure that everything related to violence is spot-colored red–the universal representation of violence. How can we clue the audience into who the villain is going to be, so that they can feel smart for figuring out before the big reveal? Make him blatantly creepy and hide his face in the shadows every time he comes on-screen.
Now, I’m not saying that every single viewer was definitely going to catch all of these things, but I have to wonder what the point is of loading a show with symbolism if none of that symbolism is going to be remotely subtle. At some point it all stops being subtext and comes around to just being the text itself–and maybe that’s not a bad thing, but what I want you all to really ask yourselves is just, what is any of this in service of?
Erased doesn’t really do anything with its themes of abuse. Its characters don’t realistically act like victims of abuse, and it doesn’t really comment on the topic of abuse in any meaningful way. The whole time travel power barely matters outside of the setup for what kind of mystery story this is, and it doesn’t have very clearly defined mechanics, nor is it played with in any interesting ways. Satoru being a failed manga author turned jaded pizza delivery boy doesn’t contribute anything to his ability to navigate this murder mystery, and his arc is completely uninteresting. I don’t think anyone was impressed with how that murder mystery actually turned out, either, considering how let-down everyone was once the big reveal actually happened. So what in god’s name was the appeal of this show, anyways?
Over the course of the Winter season, I’ve seen a lot of talk about how Erased is “well-directed,” and I just can’t get behind that notion. Erased has cool shots in it, yes, like this shot where Satoru first enters the classroom in episode two. It has cool transitions, like this one where Satoru gets shoved out of frame in the classroom, and then reappears in the frame out on a riverbed. But are these little moments of stuff looking kind of cool the same thing as good directing? Does any of this really contribute to the narrative in any meaningful way?
When people talk about director Tomohiko Itou, they tend to bring up the fact that he worked as an assistant director on Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, which are fantastic–and fantastically directed–films. There’s a bit in Erased when Satoru first gets sent back into his childhood, which is visually represented in a way that’s nearly identical to how Makoto would travel through time in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Now I’m not saying it’s inherently bad that this scene in Erased uses something so clearly influenced by Mamoru Hosoda’s work, but I can’t help but feel like its use is significantly less meaningful in the context of this series. If you were to compare, say, the stuff that Mother’s Basement has broken down in his What’s In A Scene videos for this show against the stuff that Every Frame A Painting broke down in his analysis of a scene from Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children, you can really get a sense of what excellent directing looks like in comparison to directing which is merely a step above functional. No offense Geoff, I still love you.
Erased is far from a bad-looking show, and I’d even say that it’s one of the better-looking things to ever come out of A1 Pictures. It has moments of really exemplary animation, like when Satoru’s mom is making dinner for him in the second episode; and, again, some of the shot compositions are pretty cool looking. But there’s also plenty of shots that are just kind of stilted and awkward, or don’t seem to have the same level of thought put into them. There’s even weird inconsistencies, like how the place where Satoru’s mom gets stabbed is different from the place where her wound appears to be in the proceeding shots. Erased is hardly some kind of masterpiece of visual design, and, while, again, I’d never call it ugly, I don’t even think it’s as well-directed or visually impressive as better shows from the same season, like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.
But all of this is kind of skirting around the issue at the heart of this series, and the reason that so many people got so excited about it in the first place. After all, the main driving force behind the popularity of this series is its premise. It’s a time travel murder mystery with an atypical main character for anime, and that’s more than enough to grab a lot of people’s attention. But if you ask me, you only need to look a few notches up on that “Top Anime” list over there on MAL to find a show that did the same thing exponentially better from the very beginning: Steins;Gate.
In the first episode of Erased, we’re introduced to this mopey, boring guy in his late twenties named Satoru, who may have been emotionally stunted by some kind of traumatic event from his childhood; and, on an unrelated note, has a power that forces him to repeat moments in time in order to prevent fatal accidents. We meet his coworker, Airi, whose personality is that she’s a seventeen year-old girl, as well as Satoru’s hot-ass mom, who apparently hasn’t aged in twenty years for some reason. Satoru’s mom gets stabbed, so he gets sent back in time to when he was a little kid in order to prevent that from happening. All of this is all fine and good as the premise for a show, but what none of it tells me is whether or not this show is going to be any good.
Am I eventually going to care about Satoru? Is he going to undergo some kind of emotional arc that will make him a likable or relatable character? I can’t tell. Is Airi going to be relevant in the long run, or was focusing on her so much just a total waste of time? Hard to say. Will I eventually really want Satoru to solve this mystery because his mom is the only character who seems like she might be kind of cool? Maybe. But for now, I’m really running on blind faith in the fact that this premise is capable of working, in the hopes that at some point, everything is going to have a big payoff. I’m under the assumption that by the end of the show, all of this is going to be really interesting, or to create some kind of emotional response in me; but I have no real evidence to the idea that any of that is going to be the case. After all, by the end of that episode, I didn’t care about anything that was happening–so why should I assume that I’m going to eventually?
In the first episode of Steins;Gate I was introduced to a bunch of eccentric and highly entertaining characters whom I cared about immediately. I didn’t even care what the premise of the show was–in fact, at first, I wasn’t even sure what it was. This show had such entertaining dialog, such captivating visual quirks and sense of tone, and so much promise in the way that things might eventually turn out, that it seemed impossible for it to be anything but amazing. Steins;Gate was the fastest show that I ever added to my favorites list–after just four episodes–because the show was already so good by that point that the rest of it could have been total shit, and it still would’ve done so many fun and exciting things that it’d be worth remembering. And of course, lo and behold, the story did indeed turn out to be totally great.
It would be kind of unrealistic of me to suggest that I don’t see how anyone could enjoy Erased, even from an early point in the series. The concept of being sent into the body of your younger self is kind of inherently interesting, and the idea of how Satoru’s adult mind and child body effect one another comes up in small ways which might spark the imagination. Plus, Kayo is like a pure distillation of everything that activates a viewer’s desire to protect someone, and she happens to be voiced by one of my favorite actresses, who at some point in history was able to convincingly perform a child character because she actually was a child at the time, but that time has long past.
Honestly, though, I dislike pretty much everything about this show. I can’t stand how the kids often talk like adults, and generally seem to understand themselves and the world around them better than anyone their age should be able to. (I happened to be watching Figure 17 around the same time as this show started, and the portrayal of children in that show just blows this one out of the water with its realism). I hate how cartoonishly sadistic Kayo’s mother is, and how being abused has somehow made Kayo more mature and intelligent than the other students in her class. I hate that Satoru is kind of an idiot, who just falls into the routine of his child self naturally, somehow being at once an amazing actor and a terrible detective. I found it impossible to give a damn about the story, most especially the mystery, and I had no interest in any of the characters. Even more than that, I hated the sound design, and the constant use of loud, annoying dramatic noises every time something slightly important happened. And no, I wasn’t that impressed with the OP or ED, either, nor the soundtrack which is identical to every other Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.
Around the time that Satoru first returned to the present, I felt like all of the dramatic tension completely melted away with the scenario growing more and more difficult to believe; and the pacing of every episode just somehow managed to feel worse than the last. I hesitate to use the word pretentious, since I don’t really know the creator’s intentions, but the fact that this show presents itself as such a serious, adult mystery, but has a primary female character who does little more than be a cute loli whom the supposedly twenty-nine year-old main character keeps hinting at falling for makes me feel like this isn’t all that different from your typical dumbass anime series–it’s just packaged itself in a way that’s less blatant about its stupidity.
I’m sure that for a lot of people, Erased is generally their kind of show, and that it wasn’t difficult for them to maintain interest in the story while waiting to see if it would turn into something exceptional; but for me personally, getting through it was nothing but a slog. I saw no reason to buy into the idea that it was going to be good eventually, and knowing that it didn’t end up amounting to much just made the earlier episodes feel that much worse in retrospect. I put myself through this show even though I knew it wasn’t going to be good, so that I could write this video to show you all how the signs were there from the beginning–so that maybe some of you might change your viewing habits before you get burned by shows like this in the future. If a show’s only selling point is that it has the potential to be interesting in the long run, then there’s not much reason to have faith in it happening. Most of the really great shows tend to be great from the very beginning, and those are the ones that are worth getting excited about. Incidentally, if you want a mystery/suspense thriller that revolves around solving a mystery from the main character’s childhood that’s actually really, really good, I highly recommend the manga 20th Century Boys.
That’s all for now–stick around on my channel if you want to see more videos like this, and consider supporting me via patreon if you want to help me to make those videos. I’ll probably talk about some shows that I actually love in the near future, and the upcoming Spring season actually looks pretty promising, so I’ll be looking forward to the chance to talk about those shows as well. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one.
Mother’s Basement on scenes from ERASED:
Every Frame A Painting on scenes from Wolf Children: