Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 24th 2017
Twenty-nine-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is living trapped by the past, although he doesn't know it. Eighteen years ago three elementary school students, two of whom he knew, were kidnapped and murdered, and despite his mother's efforts, he's never been able to get over it due to lingering feelings of guilt. Now a struggling manga artist and part-time pizza delivery guy, Satoru's life seems destined to go nowhere – except for a strange power his has called “Revival.” It allows him to go back in time, albeit briefly, to prevent a tragedy from happening. When a major one occurs in his life, Satoru wishes for Revival to allow him to go back and prevent it – only to wake up eighteen years in the past, on the eve of the first of the kidnappings. Now an adult in a child's body, Satoru must figure out what needs to be changed to ensure a safe future for everyone.
We all have that incident, the one we wish we could change. It might be a tiny little statement or a major catastrophe; whatever it is, there's a vague wish that we could relive the moment in order to prevent it from happening, a certainty that if that one thing changed, everything would be, if not better, then at least it'll be different. For Satoru Fujinuma, that incident isn't something he can quite put his finger on. At twenty-nine, he's run up against a wall in his life. His manga career isn't going well, he's delivering pizza, and he's cursed with a weird ability he calls Revival, able to travel moments into the past to figure out and prevent a tragedy. He isn't quite able to connect this with his own incident that he wishes he could change, and so he looks on the power as something of an inconvenience, something he has to do, sort of like emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash.
This inability to understand why he can Revive and what in his past is hampering his future is the central point of volume one, the first half of Yen Press' two-volume omnibus release of Kei Sanbe's original manga, which became the base for the 2016 anime of the same name. (Those who have seen the anime will notice that volume one was condensed into episode one.) Satoru has vague memories of a series of kidnappings and murders of elementary schoolers in 1988, when he was ten, but the incidents were so traumatic that his mother, in an effort to protect him, encouraged him to forget about them, or at least not dwell on them, especially since two children from his class were victims. This has left Satoru unmoored emotionally, something a manga editor comments on in the first pages of the book: Satoru leaves himself out of his work, which therefore lacks an emotional core. Essentially he's stunted, unable to move forward because he can't cope with the events of the past. This becomes clear when, at the end of volume one, his mother is murdered and Satoru begs Revival to send him back to fix this incident, the death of the one person left who matters to him…and opens his eyes in 1988, just before the first victim was taken. While Satoru is initially confused, we readers can recognize that the events of 1988 hold the key to fixing Satoru's life in 2006 (when the rest of the story takes place). He has to remember and deal with the past before the present can come to order.
It's an interesting metaphor for life in general, that we're all tied to our pasts in unhealthy ways, but Sanbe ultimately (and wisely) decides not to take that particular route. Instead volume two introduces us to Satoru's group of friends in the fifth grade and to Kayo, the girl who will be the killer's first victim. The story becomes a murder mystery before the murders ever happen as Satoru learns to interact with people in a different way than he did when he was actually ten in the hopes of preventing later tragedy. This makes him really look at and think about the people in his life, which leads to some dark revelations.
Erased is a fairly dark story, arguably darker in its original manga form than in the anime. For example, we see toddler Satoru running after his father's car when the man leaves his family and learn that his mother, the inimitable Sachiko Fujinuma, was physically assaulted (and possibly sexually) by her boss, which caused her to quit her job. While Satoru was aware of these things in a nebulous way as a child, reliving his fifth grade winter with his adult consciousness allows him to put those things in a different sort of context, so when he notices bruising on Kayo, he immediately understands what that means. Satoru's new awareness of Kayo's domestic situation enables him to begin to put the pieces together, and his mother's help takes on a more personal tone as a survivor of abuse herself.
At this point in the story, Satoru is less focused on finding out who the killer is than he is on saving Kayo, and later Hiromi, from becoming the killer's victims. Interestingly enough it is Hiromi's death that he has forgotten as an adult (or rather, blocked out), and Hiromi is the one he is convinced he could have saved, not Kayo. This makes more sense, since he and Hiromi were actual friends whereas Kayo was simply a classmate he never talked to. In order to prevent Hiromi's death, he has to start with Kayo, the first to be killed, hence his immediate focus on her.
Some readers may recognize Sanbe as the author of two other works released in English, Kamiyadori and Testarotho. Erased is definitely a departure from those two, being much lighter on the violence and fanservice and more grounded in its storyline. Sanbe's art is a bit rougher than the story needs, giving everyone a vaguely craggy look, but he sets a great tone and feel of a northern winter setting, and as the omnibus progresses, his children begin to look more childlike, although Kayo in her slip looks unsettlingly older than ten. The translation reads nicely, and we do get a slightly better sense of Airi in 2006 than we did in the anime, although that's likely due to the fact that we simply see her interacting with Satoru more.
Erased's first omnibus volume takes a slightly slower pace than its animated counterpart, and that works to set up Satoru has a character and his emotional stake in fixing the past more firmly. From Kayo's haunting cry-for-help essay about a town without her (the origin of the Japanese title, A Town Without Me) to Satoru coming to understand himself and his emotional stake in everything, this is a solid start to the mystery. Even if you've seen the show, it's worth reading the source material to get a fuller, more detailed sense of what's really at stake and the incident Satoru truly needs to prevent.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ Details really help us to understand the story and characters better, great sense of time and place.
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