Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Live Action TV Series
Satoru Fujinuma, a twenty-nine-year-old struggling manga artist, has always had a strange power to travel to the past he terms “revival.” Typically he will go several minutes into the past in order to prevent or correct an event. It's not a skill he can control, but at least it takes his mind off his otherwise unexciting life—until the day his mother is murdered and he's framed as the culprit. Suddenly he's reviving in 1988, the year he was a fifth grader when a series of child murders rocked his Hokkaido town. Has Satoru been sent back to the past to prevent his classmates from dying?
This live-action TV series is the third adaptation of Kei Sanbe's original manga, originally titled “Bokudake ga Inai Machi,” or “A Town Without Me.” It's also the only one written by the original mangaka, which means that if you were dissatisfied with the way the ending was handled in the 2015 anime, this one is likely to suit you better. It has more space to tell the story than the 2016 live-action film, making this the most satisfying retelling of the manga in terms of how the story plays out, and it's readily available on Netflix unlike many recent Japanese live-action productions.
The plot is largely the same as in the anime version, which is likely to be the one most people are familiar with as the manga is still being released in English at this time. Satoru Fujinuma is living a sort of half-life, balancing a failed career as a manga creator with work at a pizza delivery place. From time to time, he experiences a strange phenomenon known as “revival”, where he will be sent back in time in order to prevent something bad from happening. When he's injured saving a child during a revival, his mother comes down from Hokkaido to stay with him, and she makes a fatal observation regarding the series of child murders that occurred in their town when Satoru was ten in 1988. This leads to her own death, for which Satoru is framed. As he tries to escape the police, he once again experiences revival—only to find himself once again ten years old attending elementary school in Hokkaido, just before the murders begin. Satoru realizes that in order to change the future where his mom dies, he'll have to prevent these murders from happening as well.
The time-travel conceit is interesting, and the actual plot of the series handles it well. As an adult in a child's body, Satoru is uniquely suited to infiltrate the children's world and figure out what the common denominator is between the victims. When he sees the first victim, Kayo Hinazuki, with bruises all over her body, he realizes that she's being beaten at home—in other words, she's a child who may not be missed if she vanishes. That makes her easy prey for the killer and sets Satoru up to figure out that kids who spend a lot of time alone are most likely to be targeted. Most of the 1988 episodes focus on rescuing Kayo, whose situation is much more desperate than the other two potential victims, and this works well to highlight how the problem of child abuse is largely ignored in the story's world. (Teachers, at least in 1988, are apparently not mandated reporters in Japan.) It also gives the series the chance to develop one of the most neglected characters in many anime and manga stories: the mother. Satoru's mom, Sachiko Fujinuma, is an incredibly strong woman, and the way that she not only helps her son and his friends without needing to fully understand the situation speaks volumes about the trust and love in their family. She's not just a random adult in a kid's story, she's a fully realized and important character whose role as a support system for not only Satoru, but for many of the series' characters, is necessary for the story to finish properly.
Fortunately, her actress Tomoka Kurotani does a credible job, and even the horrible bobbed wig she wears during the parts set in 2006 can't take too much away from the role. Most of the cast does a good job, with newcomer Rinka Kakihara pulling off Kayo's role very well—it's arguably one of the most difficult parts to play, not only because of her importance, but also because of the emotions she needs to evoke, and it's impressive that this is Kakihara's first role. Likewise young Satoru, Reo Uchikawa, who some viewers may have seen in his role as Ciel in the Black Butler film, does a good job with acting like an adult in a child's body. Adult Satoru, played by Yuki Furukawa, who was also in the High School Debut movie, has great body language, particularly when Satoru looks lost in the 2006 timeline.
The visuals are something of a mixed bag. Along with the unfortunate wig on Sachiko, there are also two hideous chin-beards in 2006, and the effects for Satoru's revival are plasticky and awkward, with him falling through a sort of softened reality accompanied by a warp sound. On the other hand, the homes are far more natural and lived-in-looking than we often see in dramas and anime, and some of the costuming for 1988 is spot on, from Satoru's puffy beige coat and wardrobe of jeans and T-shirts to Kayo's red jacket, which stands out starkly like the blood on the snow in the Snow White fairy tale.
Kayo herself gets more time with the rest of the crew back in 1988, which is markedly different from the anime but also helps to balance out that two members of Satoru's friend group, Osamu and Kazu, are largely eliminated from the main plot. The most striking change to the story, however, is the villain's background. While the anime relies on a (disturbing) story about them seeing which hamster would survive their attempts to drown them, this TV series instead tries to give them a more nuanced backstory, involving an abusive older brother. This has the effect of making them a more tragic individual rather than simply evil. That does make for a more compelling character, but it also doesn't give us as much leeway to despise them. Both versions have their merits, so this really boils down to a question of how you prefer your monsters: born or made.
The live-action series of ERASED is generally a well-done story. It does suffer from less-than-stellar effects and visual choices, but the core plot is strong and much closer to the source material. It may not be perfect, but it's still a good series in its own right.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Music : C+
+ Good presentation of the story, several nice visual choices, closer to the source material
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