The thing about time travel stories is that there are infinite implications in even the basic premise–far more than could ever be covered in a single feature. Time, ironically, limits the possibilities. There’s only so much you can get into within two hours.
Erased, though, an enthralling work of magical realism, shows all the deeper depths TV can explore with more time. It follows a twenty-something cartoonist, Satoru, whose mind transfers back into his 11-year-old self. What’s the reason for this most peculiar do-over? Well, as a boy, Satoru may have been witness to key details of a murder mystery that’s remained unsolved since the late 80s.
Aspects of the premise should be familiar to genre fans; recalling the time travel plots of Peggy Sue Got Married and Frequency, among others. However, Erased gets to live in its premise far more, really showing how strange reliving childhood would feel. Being an anime, it’s actually even freer with its fantasy. Often, the conventional wisdom for genre TV is that a premise can’t have too many “buys.” If the story is set in a realer world, the audience can’t be expected to wrap their heads around more than one fantastical concept. That would simply stretch their suspension of disbelief too far. Taking full advantage of the “buys” animation already affords, though, Erased adds an intriguing wrinkle to Satoru’s situation.
The hero’s jaunt into the past is actually a much bigger demonstration of a strange ability he’s already had (albeit on more of a parlor trick level). In these “revivals,” he can rewind time by a few moments and prevent little catastrophes just after they’ve occurred. The contrast of these little fixes with his journey to yesteryear seems to make a more impactful point about how our histories are really just comprised of many little moments which can hold major significance, even decades later.
The catalyst for this chronological crisscross comes when a visit from Satoru’s mother, Sachiko, leads them both to realize a man who was convicted of killing Satoru’s classmates 18 years ago may have been framed. Just when they think they’ve discovered the true culprit’s identity, though, Sachiko is mysteriously murdered, and Satoru is himself framed for the crime. It’s at this most shocking moment that the cartoonist’s biggest-ever revival occurs.
With a patient pace, the show takes proper time to linger on all the details one would have to deal with, suddenly living 18 years in the past. Satoru adjusts to his changed body, and the reality that he has to rely on car rides to get around because he isn’t old enough to drive, anymore. And he is incredibly elated to see his mother again–alive, well, and much younger. His adult mind’s eye for detail allows him to notice things he totally missed before, like the telltale bruises on his classmate, Kenya; a troubled girl he knows will eventually disappear.
It later turns out that Satoru can go back and forth between the past and present. Changes he makes to events in his childhood turn out to have profound effects on his adult life. Facts he learns at age 29 then enlighten his 11-year-old self about what’s happening around him. Neighbors who seemed trustworthy turn out to have frightening motivations, and vice versa.
As with any time travel story, trying to explain all the twists and turns in a brief summary can make it sound rather convoluted. However, the added space of a full-length series truly allows for some rich, subtle complexity; all while always keeping things clear. Erased asks pointed questions about regret, memory, and destiny, and it’s allowed to address those questions with answers that are just as thought-provoking.
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Image Credits: Aniplex of America