1st March 1988: Kayo Hinazuki, a 10-year old elementary school student, went missing. Her body was found the following spring. Eighteen years later, 52-year old Sachiko Fujinuma is stabbed to death. Their fates tied together by a cruel string of fate and a young man taking on the gulf of time to protect them. This is Erased – a toe-curling thriller and one of the greatest anime of our era.
Satoru Fujinuma, age 29, is a struggling manga artist and part-time deliveryman possessing an unusual gift. Dubbed “Revival”, this unexplained trait throws Satoru back one to five minutes before a life-threatening incident, giving him an opportunity to prevent it.
When she realises an old crime is still unsolved, Sachiko is murdered by the true culprit. On the run from an unjust justice system, Satoru’s “Revival” kicks in – throwing him back in time to 1988, just before Kayo Hinazuki went missing. To save is mother in the future, Satoru must save Kayo and stop a serial killer in their tracks.
Erased is a powerful, personal series dealing with sensitive themes even live-action oft shies from. It doesn’t take Satoru long to deduce that Kayo is a victim of child abuse. We often catch glances of bruises in hard-to-see places like her upper thigh and the base of her neck and she’s regularly late on Monday’s – a result of her mother water-boarding her in ice-cold water to accelerate the healing process. This leaves Kayo a quiet girl outcast by her peers, who frequents a lonely park in the cold snow until the sunset forces her home. With her hurt indifference delivered perfectly by Aoi Yūki, Kayo quickly becomes a character who’s easy to invest in; Satoru’s desire for her to smile, to be safe, is effectively transferred to be the audience so easily that it’s admittedly a little scary. That desire is what drives us to keep watching, even when her situation appears dire, or the teasing cliffhanger episode endings leave us in despair.
While watching Erased, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by a more subtle aspect of the series that reawakened my former life as a psychology student – peoples’ reactions to crimes. More specifically, how Satoru reacted to police attending the scene of his mother’s murder – he ran. Western observers may consider this a major misstep, giving a false sense of guilt. However, given the “guilty until proven innocent” nature of Japanese society, going on the run to prove your innocence isn’t an uncommon theme in anime. It’s also worth pointing out how quickly the police notified Satoru’s place of work, further reducing his chances of returning to a normal life, even if proven innocent.
My interest in the reactions of others also piqued in moments concerning Kayo’s abuse. Namely, how even those convinced of foul play would only do the bare minimum for her. Satoru and Kayo’s homeroom teacher mentions multiple referrals to Japan’s equivalent of social services, which never went anywhere. Even Satoru would leave me baffled when he’d willingly take Kayo home, knowing exactly what awaited her on the other side of the door. Perhaps this could be an example of the “Bystander Effect” noted in famous psychological studies including Latané & Darley (1968) and Piliavin et al (1969). In short, people are less likely to respond to someone in need based on perceived risks to themselves, or the presence of others. Perhaps there’s some societal context I’m missing (please let me know if so), but perhaps more direct interference may be seen as bringing unwanted trouble to one’s doorstep?
When it comes to the quality of their animation, A-1 Pictures’ portfolio ranges from the visually gorgeous Sword Art Online to the disappointment that was Ace Attorney. Erased sets a new gold standard for the studio, with a particularly breathtaking sight coming from Satoru inviting Kayo to see a “Christmas tree” illuminated by the abundance of stars in the night sky.
Keigo Sasaki does wonderful work as a character designer, bringing a softer, rounder cuteness to the sharper design of Kayo Hinazuki seen in Kei Sanbe’s original manga (I’ve become known in certain circles for comparing her original design to a snake).
My favourite aspect of Erased‘s visual design is without a doubt the reaction faces. One particular example, is when Satoru accidentally verbalises thoughts of going on a date with Hinazuki – to her face. The result, are a pair of hilarious yet adorable looks on their faces.
While this release includes both Japanese and English audio options, the subtlety Aoi Yūki brings to the role of Kayo Hinazuki is without competition. I would go as far to state my disappointment in the dub performance of Stephanie Sheh, a voice actress I am usually fond of. The tone of voice Kayo carries in the dub sounds far beyond her years; an unnatural voice for a primary school aged girl to have. Similarly, something feels off about the quality of Ben Diskin’s performance as adult Satoru. Ultimately, the original Japanese audio is my preferred method of watching Erased and the one I would recommend the most.
Now, I feel as though I would be doing a disservice if I were to review Anime Limited’s first Erased release without bringing up the price-tag, which has already proven a popular debate topic in some circles. With an SRP of £59.99, the Collector’s Edition (currently the only UK blu-ray release) is ridiculously expensive – especially as it only contains the first 6 episodes and lacks the wonderful soundtrack by my favourite composer, Yuki Kajiura.
A quick search reveals that, at time of writing, Base.com are selling the set for £40.09 – but that’s still only just short of say, the £44.99 asking price for Animatsu Entertainment’s upcoming Food Wars 24 episode collection (£4 more for 4x the episodes!). So the question then naturally becomes, about the contents of the release.
Animatsu’s Food Wars release contains the entire first series on Blu-ray disc only, advertised with art cards and a bonus poster inside a rigid case. On the other hand, included in the Erased Part 1 Collector’s Edition are the first 6 episodes on both DVD and Blu-ray disc and a 92-page book, housed in a rigid case and digipak. Unfortunately, we were only supplied with the discs for review, so I cannot vouch for the quality of the booklet or packaging – although if previous precedent from Anime Limited hold true, they should be high quality.
If you’ve yet to move into the world of high definition or simply want a cheaper alternative, Erased Part 1 is also available from Anime Limited as a disc-only DVD release, retailing for a more comfortable £16.89 (at time of writing). If you’re set on owning the series in glorious HD however, the Collector’s Edition is currently your only option (it is worth mentioning however, that the Blu-ray Collector’s Edition for Part 2 is a far more pleasing £24.99).
One of the hardest pills to swallow as an anime fan is one distributors often have to remind us of: strenuous licensor approvals covering everything from episode counts, packaging designs and pricing. This becomes especially notable with titles involving Japanese licensor Aniplex and notably, its North American subsidiary, who like to emphasis expensive Collector’s Editions and price-tags closer to the generally higher Japanese home video market. It is worth noting that I’m not mentioning this in defence of anime’s higher-than-average pricing, but more, as an explanation of why this is the case.
It should go without saying that I absolutely adore Erased and would recommend the series to absolutely everyone, even non-anime fans – after all, I championed for it to win our inaugural Anime and Character of the Year awards. Whether the price of entry for the blu-ray release is worth it to you will be a personal decision based on your connection to the title, but whether decided by Anime Limited or dictated by Aniplex, perhaps it’s time we had a serious discussion about the price of anime.
Title: Erased Part 1
Production: A-1 Pictures
Distributor: Anime Limited
Platform(s): DVD / Blu-ray Combi-Pack, DVD
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of Erased Part 1 was supplied by Anime Limited, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.