Erased by Kei Sanbe is a seinen, crime thriller manga series that has been adapted into both an anime and a Japanese live-action. I watched the anime first while it was simulcasting a couple of years ago, and then watched the live-action about a month or so ago on Netflix. The story really intrigued me, and I felt it was one of the better crime mysteries that I had seen in a long time. One of my goals for the summer is to re-watch the live-action so that I can do a proper review for it, but in order to give it my very best, I decided to hunt down the original source material, the manga, so that I can do a bit of a comparison for the two.
A couple weeks ago I managed to find Erased Volume 1, which is a two-volume English omnibus for the series, at my local library. Feeling quite shocked and wholly excited, I went ahead and checked it out. After sitting down and reading through it, I can honestly say that even if you have seen the televised adaptations, I think you should give the manga a go as it was rather excellent.
Erased follows 28-year-old Satoru Fujinuma, who is a floundering mangaka that works part-time as a local pizza delivery boy to make ends meet. He has an ability that he refers to as “Revival” that takes him back into time by a handful a moments so that he can detect the calamity or tragedy that is about to occur as a means of preventing it from happening. When one of these “Revivals” inevitably leads to a terrible tragedy of his own, Satoru wishes wholeheartedly for a chance at fixing whatever went wrong. His wish is granted, however, instead of going back into time by minutes or hours, he is taken back 18 years into the past from when he was in grade school. Satoru recognises that the biggest event during his childhood were the abductions and murders of children he went to school with, and in order to save his future, he must solve the case and find the culprit before the kidnappings have a chance to occur… while he’s still a kid.
There are so many wonderful qualities about the manga that had me utterly hooked from the first few pages. One of those things is the character of Satoru himself. Not only is he a great narrator with a mouth that tends to jump into action before his brain has time to process what to say, he’s also quite flawed and a bit goofy, making him sensationally empathetic. He gets irritated with his mom the same way that I do on occasion. He has insecurities that prevent him from recognising when a person has a genuine interest in being his friend, or maybe even something more. He’s apathetic with a lot of things in life, except for his manga, which is something else that I relate to, on a very personal level actually. All of these traits and being able to visualise myself in a character like this, instantly made me invested in his plight, whatever that would turn out to be.
His unique situation of experiencing these hasty treks backwards into time by five to ten minutes was an aspect that I found to be rather original. I have read stories, particularly in manga, where a character can go back into time, but never in this sort of setting or scenario. It’s for super short periods, making it feel virtually impossible to make a difference, and it tends to happen multiple times if need be, depending on what needs changing or fixing. Using this to solve a criminal case is clichéd, I will admit, but I still found it enjoyable rather than tedious.
The only flaws that I could see with Revival specifically is that while you’re reading it’s easy to miss when it happens as it will occur in a small panel at the bottom or top corner of the page. If you read a bit fast, like I tend to with manga that has me addicted, it can be that much easier to notice it. When some of the scenes begin to repeat themselves, and if you don’t catch the Revival bit, or have no idea what’s going on, it can also feel slightly disorienting. The first time it happened, regardless of having seen the shows, I had to stop for a second and flip back a couple of pages to catch the Revival reference.
Because the narrative is so heavily focused on Satoru and his perception of the world around him, as well as the individual interactions that are occurring in the world as he’s trying to figure stuff out, the storytelling is gradual and takes its time getting to the bigger points. It is thorough in laying out the groundwork for the main events to come. Normally, I will confess, I tend to become frustrated or impatient with sluggish progression. But I never had that feeling while reading Erased. Could it have been because of my familiarity? Maybe. Nonetheless, I think it’s just good storytelling technique. My familiarity would actually have further contributed to my impatience, trust me. Instead, I discovered that I appreciated the slowness because it allowed me take in all the details carefully and with great interest.
The suspense and tension follow in the same vein as the plot progression as it’s built steadily, which works superbly to draw you into the manga one page at a time, without you ever realising that you’re becoming so devoted to it. I love a well-crafted building of anticipation, more so when it hits me out of the blue like, “Holy shit, I can’t stop reading this! I must know what will happen next!” Even more so when it is capable of making me forget that I already know what the hell is going to happen. It’s a bloody brilliant feeling.
While there are layers and layers of amazing qualities, there are a couple of things to note that may be off-putting for some people, or at the very least make the manga a bit difficult to stomach. The first one is the more regular of the two things I will mention and that is the relevance of child abuse. There is child abuse in the manga. I can’t really say much beyond that without treading into spoiler territory, but if you are someone (like me) who gets triggered by this subject matter for whatever reason, please be aware of it going in. Some scenes do depict mild to moderate abuse, while others show the results of what happens when abuse is inflicted. It can be quite intense.
The second aspect is how adult women are depicted in the illustrations. Now, the artwork overall is beautiful. On the surface, it’s a bit basic and not at all extravagant, but that compliments the tone and the overall mood of the story exceptionally. It is reminiscent to 1980s Western comics with inherent manga-like aesthetics, which is mostly noticeable in the eyes and the facial expressions, as well as the drawings of the backgrounds and scenery. Yet, the women… they are very exaggerated and heavily cartoony in their portrayals. I didn’t see too much of it in the little girls, just mostly in Satoru’s mother and a co-worker he has at the pizza place. I suspect that one of the reasons they may have been drawn this way is due to their sensationally strong personas and presence on-screen, so to speak. They are independent and self-assured ladies, to say the least. If not that, then maybe this is just the mangaka’s style. It took a bit of getting used to when I initially began reading, but after a while I just laughed it off whenever the ladies popped up. I will say, though, the anime nailed the portrayal of Satoru’s mom marvellously when compared to the original source.
In summation of the long and detailed essay, go read Erased. If you’ve seen any of the shows and feel you may not gain much out of re-living the narrative via reading, trust me, it’s worth it. There are some minor scenes in the manga that weren’t in one or other of the televised serials, yet the main reason I recommend it is a) the artwork and b) the style of narration. It’s fantastic. I plan on hunting down the other currently released volumes so that I can continue with it.