|Great story, amazing characters, unpredictable to the end||The individual moments are greater than the whole|
There’s this whole idea of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” and yet one of 2016’s first and best series, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, stands in direct opposition to that concept, by virtue of everything that it is and does right. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (A Town without Me) or ERASED as it’s known in the west, is a series that I can unequivocally recommend to anyone and everyone. If you’re someone who’s reading this after the series has aired, and is even remotely on the fence about watching it, then drop everything, stop reading and go and watch it.
What? You want Clarification? Well Then… The reason I said that, in the very opening statements of the review, is because Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is a show that is best experienced without any preconceived notions. That’s how I got to experience it anyway, and after having seen the series week for week, I’m darn glad it turned out that way. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, the anime series is actually based on the hit award winning manga of the same name by Kei Sanabe. And… As is always the case with adaptations, there are some notable differences between the two versions.
Now… While I can’t comment on which of the two is the better version, what I can say is that regardless of which side you fall on, there shouldn’t be any debate around the fact that Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is one of the best anime series of 2016, if not the anime medium as a whole. Okay… So, I’ve spun my wheels long enough. I’ve given potential viewers enough of a window to exit (and then potentially come back later) if they want a pure, unadulterated experience, so without further ado…
What is Boku Dake ga Inai Machi exactly? I’d say the series is best described as a supernatural, emotionally charged mystery thriller. There’s time travel and supernatural powers in this series, there’s a murderer who’s identity is slowly uncovered, there’s lives that hang in the balance, and with all of that, is a story that constantly twists and turns into new and unexpected directions, while jolting and pumping out surges of emotion throughout.
The story actually follows a 27 year old guy named Fujinuma Satoru. Satoru’s an aspiring mangaka at the start of the series, one who’s not entirely happy with the turn his life took, the decisions he’s made and the guy is barely able to scrape by, by delivering Pizzas. And that’s really all I’m comfortable mentioning, because one of the highlights of this story, is actually in its very first episode. This is a series that just starts out strong, with an exceptional opening episode, and then hardly stunts in quality for the majority of its run time. While I’m tempted to gush about the story and its intricacies, and how darn clever of a scenario it has, I think its a better service to the eventual viewer to know about as much as I’ve left on (Plus I covered the series at length in its weekly episode blog while it was airing).
There’s an unremarkable 27 year old guy, he has some kind of supernatural power, there’s some time travel involved, there’s a series of murders that link back to his own past. That’s about all you really need to know, and even that much is probably letting on too much. Yes, the story for this series is THAT good, and the surprises that important, so yes, I’m being coy and probably annoyingly so.
So If I can’t reveal too much about the story itself, than what can I say about this show? Well for one its a really mature story, one that tackles topics regarding youth, moving forward, child abuse, sacrifice, what it means to be a hero, and a dozen other important and powerful ideas. What’s perhaps really remarkable, however, and even kind of strange, is the fact that none of these ideas serve as the core “concept” of the series. This is a show that’s very much about the journey of discovering every small little bit of information as its slowly revealed to you.
Its a story that’s always unpredictable, and to varying degrees. The show might do something that you kind of half expect, but it’ll do with an added twist, or take it on from a new original angle that is hardly expected at the moment. That degree of unpredictability, that constant sense of wonder and feeling of newness, is perhaps the hallmark of this series and this story.
And alongside that sense of genuine and constant surprise, is an emotional core and a cast of exceedingly likable characters. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi features a cast of characters that will tug at the heart strings, that will make you smile, and that will leave you sobbing in their moments of despair. Since the story features two distinct “locations” in time, there’s characters from Satoru’s past, and then there’s the ones he’s familiar with in the present (with some obvious overlap). These characters, they just do it for the show. They struggle, they feel and they move through events in a way that’s both believable, but more importantly endearing.
A story can be exceptional just because of its plot, but its in its characters that the emotion and the audience attachment really exists. Each character has a central arc that’s interesting to view, with some relegated to supporting roles, while others drive the plot more directly. And of course, at the heart of it all, is Satoru himself, and the rather complex relationship that he develops with his eventual nemesis, the killer. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, just in terms of how deep, and intriguing these characters are and how well done the story really is.
The short version is that this story is great, and the characters compliment it well. The one thing I will mention is that while the ending for this story is satisfying, complete, it is somewhat less “unexpected” or “profound” then the series itself would have you believe or expect. That’s not a knock against the story as a whole, because getting a solid and satisfying ending right is no small feat in itself. Its just worth noting, amidst all the praise, that the ending itself is a bit less exceptional, and more in the realm of “good” than say the opening, which is an instant win from the get go.
And when we’re past the whole idea of “exceptionally engaging story and lovable characters” then the only thing left is the technical execution of it all. To this end, I’d say A-1 Pictures really nails the production and even more so the adaption of this wonderful story. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is one of those rare series that packs just enough content per episode that it feels satisfying, yet it will always end on a note that will have you hungering for more. That balance of story, that immaculate pacing, is something that only some of the best anime series of all time have been able to do.
On the production side, I’d say the animation and art are pretty darn great, even if they’re not particularly show stealing. Everything in this adaption is in service to its real highlight, the story, and so the animation, the small visual touches and uses of color, and even the few slow mo scenes at particular important moments, those things really heighten and amplify whatever the story is trying to do, without overstaying their welcome or feeling odd.
The voice acting, for the most part, is the same level of exceptional that one generally expects from the Anime industry as a whole. There are some growing pains here and there, particularly when we first see Satoru in child form, but small issues like that quickly dispel away, and the series is just able to move away from just being something you watch, and becomes an experience to get lost in. The music and sound work in general follow suit, generally being so good that its hard to notice or pinpoint them in the moment.
The music in particular, creates these amazing moments of hyper immersion, ones where emotions are at an all time high, engagement is through the roof, and anticipation continues to build. Much of the experience of watching Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, is watching a restrained and mature story slowly reveal itself, and its because of the writing, the visuals and the sound work all working in tandem, that it all becomes such a joy to experience.
In the end, the biggest compliment I can give this series and its production is that there is never a moment, a crack in the armor where the series waned in quality enough for me to really notice, or feel even remotely uninterested. Even at its lowest moments, which largely equate to “good” rather than “oh my God Amazing!”, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is a show that is better than most of its peers, both in the past and present, and potentially even in the future.
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