Losing a beloved person would certainly leave any person stricken with grief and confusion: self-condemnation and thoughts of preventing such death are things that would cross anyones mind. Luckily in the case Boku Dake Inai Machi, or Erased in its english title, the protagonist Satoru Fujinuma finds himself able to travel back in time to prevent such tragedy from happening; furthermore, he is set back at the time where a fellow classmate died. This is not everything: the mystery surrounding the death of the girl also seems to be tied to that of his very own family. Erased is a psychological mystery anime that portrays human drama, yet sadly was very disappointing, being the characters and numerous plot holes the main culprits. However, it must be mentioned that it has a great direction in animation and a good buildup in the first few episodes, which arguably was enthralling, pulling viewers into the show.
The main problem in Erased lies in the little problems that become apparent as the show progresses: these ultimately are magnified by many others, which will be depicted. The concept of preventing occurrences through time travelling has been explored in numerous other works, yet a problem with the anime is the fact that these are completely random, allowing the author to make any necessary changes in direction when necessary. This is not bad on its own, yet instead of using it as means to develop the characters in the story, it utilizes it purely to change the direction in the narrative, which was not done in a subtle manner. Regardless of said issue, it managed to create some tension in the story as viewers never really could correctly anticipate the course of the narrative.
As mentioned earlier, the protagonist is able to travel back in time to his 11-year-old self to prevent a certain death from happening, in a time in which one of his classmates died. However, it becomes soon apparent that the protagonist does not explore said option at all, and instead of going to the root of the problem, investigating the possible murder, he decides to protect Hinazuki, his classmate. Another complication is also associated with the mystery surrounding the murderer: it is very clear who it is, which is not a great issue on its own, but the anime does not offer any alternative that may leave viewers in doubt. In essence, this anime fails at being a good "mystery". The anime also presents human drama, yet was rather poorly portrayed because of the characters actions and all the events tied to those. These were often of very simple nature, such as parents beating their own child, deaths or betrayal just to name some. The main problem with these are that they're cheap, without ever sufficiently expanding on it in a satisfying manner. It must be said that it uses this to its advantage to create tension, but it is just that, tension and shock factor without any strong meaning behind it. In addition, the anime sets up a lot of things, time-travelling, possible consequences of his own actions, yet just never explores them in-depth.
The problems are further magnified by the pacing of the work, which is rather lackluster as well. The introductionary episodes are satisfying, yet as the show progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that important segments that contribute to the overall plot are either too rushed or information is omitted, whereas the more "mundane" moments are too much focused upon. In fact, the majority of the show is centered around Hinazuki and her problems - but to this later. This actually brings into play the positive aspect of the anime, the interludes between the different occurrences, which are generally well executed portraying insight into the characters and their emotional state: however, this doesn't affect the important points of the story. There are just so many improbable events in the story that it just looses any credibility it has, going from nonsensical behaviour of the characters, or just the sheer amount of centering on the violence exerted by a second party - victimizing for the sake of it is not good writing.
The major issue that brought the whole series down were its cast of characters: they didn't act according to their age, their motives/goals were either very lackluster or were just a mess, and ultimately the abrupt changes in behaviour to accommodate the direction in story. There is the 29-year-old Satoru, a typical otaku protagonist being mostly indifferent to society, and has the power to prevent deaths by sneakpeaking into the future. The main problem with this character is his incomprehensible and irrational behaviour he displays throughout the series, such as fleeing from a crime scene he didn't commit or even attempt on murder. In addition, his main goal of seeking the killer just shifts from finding the murderer to protecting his classmate - which in turn brings up the pedophilic tendencies the protagonist displays towards the minor. The anime develops a light romance, which includes Satoru constantly thinking of either being together with said person, or even imagining things when in the bathroom. This came out of nowhere, and just felt very off-putting for obvious reasons. Character development is present, yet is lackluster and limited by the actions of the character himself; rather than resolving the issues on his own, it gets resolved by a second party, which is understandable due to his physical appearance, yet could have been expanded on.
Then there is Hinazuki, a victim of child abuse, which throughout almost the whole series is treated as a mere plot device, rather than human being - it could be compared to seeing a soulless robot. Luckily enough, she gets fleshed out in which through subtle scenes her human side is displayed. Which is a nice change to the constant unnecessary abuse scenes. Other character of interest is the super intelligent psychoanalyst Kenya, who possesses an intellect far superior to that of Satoru despite being only 11 years old. He aids the main character in many instances, yet his motives behind why he supports the protagonist are rather lacking as well, as he apparently was smart enough to solve various issues. Finally, the last character of interest is the murderer: although he is portrayed to be a mastermind behind the scenes, avoiding detection over the span of several decades, he makes tremendous mistakes when the main character is concerned. He ultimately degrades to a simple one-dimensional villain with no convincing motive at all: furthermore, this also raises the question why said person took so many poor decisions and why he just didn't switch his killing target(s) when things became too heated and unfavourable.
The various interactions between the cast are handled poorly in most cases, be it the one dimensional evil parent or perverted manager, or the supporting cast whose poor choices leads viewers questioning their mental age; or just the fact that most act as passive observers. Because of the stale personalities of the cast and their changes in behaviour, the interactions between them feel unnatural: however, this mainly affects the main plot points. For the slice of life moments, these were often well handled by the studio - those were often the most enjoyable parts of the anime, which is a huge disappointment, as it is not the main purpose of the show.
~Animation and sound~
One thing that can be given credit to the studio is its direction and use of animation: this was well done, displaying the various themes the anime had to offer such as loneliness, isolation, happiness, you name it. Through the art it is able to portray the different emotional states as well as physical conditions of the characters; despite executing this well, it is rendered useless when the narrative constantly shows constant abuse, making these little detail utterly pointless, which is a waste of resources. An example would be the focussing upon the bruises of Hinazuki. As for the art style itself, I personally didn't like it and found it off in some situations, be it in the character design or the different facial expressions. The anime also tried to mitigate the problem regarding the mystery behind the killer by applying red eyes to suspects, yet this is a cheap alternative to creating tension, and when everyone is can have those eyes, it loses its purpose.
Concerning the soundtrack of Erased, it often uses the different compositions to its advantage to correctly portray the various atmospheres of the show, intertwining with the dialogue: piano, violins, xylophones, gloomy tones, you name it. There is fact a huge preference to classical instruments, which was a good choice. The opening and endings were equally well crafted, presenting the themes the anime had to offer with some pop tunes to it. As for the voice actors, these generally performed their tasks well, complying with the different personalities of the cast. This wasn't entirely the case with the protagonists, where no significant difference could be appreciated from his various emotional states.
Erased had some potential, yet failed in executing the basic elements of the show, which was due to the little issues that ultimately snowballed into bigger ones - which is a shame, as its direction and usage of animation was befitting and well executed. I quite honestly did not enjoy the series at all, despite being intrigued by the first batch of episodes: the characters, lack of expansion upon key elements as the villain or time travelling gimmick are just a few of the many issues that made it a bad anime. It fails in providing a good mystery with cheap cliffhangers and shock factor to accomplish tension. It praises itself on being a human drama, but it equally lacks in said theme. Now I will admit I never have been a fan of drama, which made it more difficult to enjoy that genre. I personally do not recommend this anime, unless you aren't bothered by the above mentioned problems - which in turn, can make for an intriguing ride. Boku Dake Inai Machi is ultimately a show that feeds itself on cheap emotions and thrills.
Thank you for reading.