Time to review Life is Strange…er…I mean ERASED.
Let me tell you about A-1 Pictures. It’s a studio that was established back in 2005 by Aniplex in order to oversee some of their productions, but eventually grew into its own big thing. And boy did it grow big, because every time I look at an anime chart, there’s always three or four shows being made by them each season, and not a single one of them is good. They have some talented animators, but they have a tendency to put all their eggs into one basket whilst churning out a bunch of barely animated garbage in order to cover costs (or because they’re oblivious to the fact that churning out so many shows at once is never a good idea for your schedule). They have some neat concepts, but their desire to cater to the mainstream ends up causing them to spread the execution too thin to the point that their shows succeed at nothing. They’re the studio that’s most attached to the noitamina timeslot. And they’re pretty much the main reason why that slot has lost all dignity.
Nevertheless, ever since 2015 became the year of the “surprise hits”, I’ve been trying to keep a more open mind regarding studios and people that I’ve lambasted in the past as long as they’re not adapting a light/visual novel. As such, whilst I had my reservations, I was willing to move on from A-1’s last disastrous attempt at making a mystery anime for the noitamina slot as well as their entire resume in general given how ERASED looked a lot better in terms of source material, and directors seem to be a lot more motivated when they themselves think the source is good. At least, that’s the only reason I can think of why this show looks so much better than either Silver Spoon or Sword Art Online. And it seemed that the rest of the world was just as willing to move on as well, because there is absolutely zero chance of ERASED getting dethroned from its current position as #1 anime of the year for better or worse. It’s getting critically acclaimed everywhere in the community, it’s one of the highest rated shows on MAL and APR, and most of all it’s watchable – which is something I can’t say for the majority of A-1’s stuff.
But as is usual for A-1, this show tries too hard to cater to what the mainstream wants to the point that what should have been excellent ends up being “not bad” at best and “downright ludicrous” at worst. Here’s the premise of this series in case you’re one of the few anime fans that didn’t jump in on this the moment it blew people away: a young man named Satoru with the ability to randomly travel through time and prevent deaths with it at times is suffering from regrets in life due to some people he knew being serial killer victims in elementary school. When his mother ends up getting killed by the same killer and he’s framed for it (somehow), his powers end up sending him back in time to when he was still a kid and the victims were still alive. Determined to prevent their deaths and save his mother, Satoru decides to cut the killer off at the source by protecting his first victim, a little girl named Kayo Hinazuki. How does he choose to do this? By being the cutest little defender of justice that girl has ever seen of course.
ERASED’s combination of time travel, mystery thriller, and school children trying to be adults has the unfortunate problem of being immediately comparable to the hit French video game, Life is Strange, and it doesn’t help that it borrows some of Steins;Gate’s execution as well even if it doesn’t use its time travel premise quite the same way. Whilst the show isn’t written by a visual novel author, it might as well have been, because it’s pretty much a melodramatic “save the girl” story under the pretense of a thriller. You have your male lead who doesn’t have much of a personality and does whatever the plot requires him to do. You’ve got a lot of exposition. You’ve got multiple girls he needs to save – including one trap – but he only focuses on one at a time. You’ve got time-travel. You’ve got multiple set pieces that don’t come together very well. Really, the only thing it doesn’t have in common with a visual novel adaptation is the fact that it actually has decent pacing for the most part. Kudos to the director since his previous stuff moved slower than a mule carrying Paul Bunyan up a canyon.
Where it differs from Steins;Gate and more into Life is Strange territory is that the story treats the time travel thing as an unexplained ability the protagonist actually has because it’s ultimately nothing more than a convenient plot device to get on with the real story, and it goes even further in that it’s never brought up in the narrative at all after the first episode. However, whilst Life is Strange tackled multiple aspects of what it means to be a teenager through Max’s dramatics attempts to save her friend Chloe whilst outwitting a serial killer and averting a giant tornado that threatens to wreck her town, ERASED doesn’t have much to support its drama other than raw emotion. Although the plot involves Satoru saving the victims of a serial killer because somehow that’ll keep his mother alive in his own timeline on paper, in reality, large sections of the series are devoted towards the twenty-something year old stuck in an elementary-school body getting friendly with one of the girls whilst the others are mostly just an afterthought. And to make matters worse, there’s nothing much to draw from the relationship between the two besides acknowledging that parental abuse exists and it’s hard to gain support to avert it – which wasn’t even really an intriguing story when Higurashi did it ten years ago.
To be fair, I did enjoy the relationship parts quite a bit because they did a decent job of capturing what it means to be young and in love, even if they weren’t doing anything all that interesting with it. But mostly, I liked them because they were a hell of a lot better than the actual mystery elements. Now in Life is Strange, the mystery/time travel stuff were kind of meh, especially next to all the teenage social issue stuff. But they were definitely easier to swallow than ERASED’s thriller elements, which are so by-the-books and so divorced from the majority of the show that you can see the writer struggling to mesh the two in the background before giving up altogether after Kayo’s arc ends.
For starters, it is incredibly obvious who the killer is by the halfway point – not helped by the fact that the credits show he has the same voice actor as a major established character – and yet the show persists on dragging the reveal out for another few episodes. Secondly, by the time it comes to reveal the dude, there’s only one possible suspect it could be and no amount of denial from Satoru’s side of things change the fact that the foreshadowing was so obvious the guy might as well have been wearing a T-shirt saying “I am the murderer” the entire time. Whilst I was spoiled the identity of the murderer in Life is Strange beforehand, at least the game had the decency to distract us from figuring out his identity with genuine red herrings. And whilst they both turned kind of cartoon-y upon the reveal, ERASED really overdoes the theatrics in regards to him – and that’s saying a lot considering the show’s overall direction is about as unsubtle as a giant dog playing bagpipes in the middle of an ice-skating competition.
Now both series do have things that happen after the reveal of the murderer, and this is where ERASED really falls apart by comparison. Of course, Life is Strange’s ending is controversial in of itself and I stand by that the decision to let Tampa Bay die should have been excluded from the narrative entirely, but you can’t deny that both final choices focus on the characterization and how the chase affected Max. ERASED decides to give closure to the characters that Satoru grew up with, which is fine in of itself, but then it tries to give closure to Satoru and that’s when it fully hits that he never really had a character arc. He never had any interesting flaws. His time-travel powers are so arbitrary they might as well not exist, despite needing to in order for the plot to work. So even if you ignore how silly the final confrontation is by nature, Satoru just isn’t strong enough to support his end of the bargain, nor the epilogue where he makes it big in the manga world. I understand he’s supposed to be a guy who inspires others to develop, but when he’s left to carry things on his own, he’s basically as interesting as Robert Zemeckis’ current career.
If ERASED had ditched all of its mystery thriller aspects and just been a story about a guy trapped in the past falling in love with a girl he knew long ago, only to lose her again and moving on from his life after realizing that changing the past is just not feasible, this show might have been the Shinkai-esque series I’d really support. If it had actually tackled mature topics in a morally ambiguous way through its EMOTIONAL moments and lackluster thriller elements, it might have been the anime equivalent of Life is Strange except more “visual novel-y”. If its main character wasn’t such a reactionary putz who does whatever is most dramatic according to the convenience of the plot, I might have had as much hope for the show’s future as everyone else did when that first episode aired. Seriously guys, the premiere was fine, but I don’t understand what puts it on the same level as the premieres to either of Shinichiro Watanabe’s noitamina anime or Ping Pong or The Tatami Galaxy. Last I remembered, it was mostly prettily-told exposition that set up the concepts and plot, but didn’t establish what the actual story would be about, nor did it do a satisfactory job of making the main lead interesting.
So, final grade?
Want to watch Araki’s new thing?
- Anyone want to take bets on how far ERASED’s MAL ranking will fall until it stops?
- For those of you who don’t have Amazon Prime and thus can’t watch Kabenari without (assumingly) really bad subs, I feel sorry for you.
- Although I guess ripping off Amazon isn’t really a new thing.