Erased (2017, live action)

3 out of 5

Directed by: Ten Shimoyama

Struggling manga artist Satoru (Yuki Furukawa) is something of a man-child: still very cared for by his mother, working a low-paying job, and lacking in self-confidence. He’s also afflicted by “revivals:” moments in which he’ll essentially rewind into a past moment, with the opportunity to right some grievance. But instead of energizing Satoru, this events tend to weigh him down: sometimes failing at his quest, and even when succeeding, ending up the poorer for it. The rhyme and reason behind revivals is never explored – welcome to Japanese fantasy, not needing a pat explanation behind its plot hooks – but the theme of the past weightily affecting Satoru is clear.

Indeed, an event from ages ago, when Satoru was in grade school – a series of kidnappings, including some of his classmates – seems to have some modern connection. Satoru’s mother, Sachiko (Tomoka Kurotani) , gets involved, and then there’s a murder, and Satoru’s got the blood on his hands. …And then he experiences a revival, all the way back to childhood, a short time before those kidnappings.

Erased spends much of its 12-episode run in this setting: a young Satoru (Reo Uchikawa), with memories of what’s to come, trying to return to his present – which he assumes will be tied to preventing these crimes in his past. And with each adjustment he makes, things change – he’s more aware of how much his single mother cared for him; more aware of the loneliness of the potential victims; more aware of the carelessness of his youth – but still, he’s in the past, the problem not yet solved.

I first saw Erased in anime form, and that’s the main culprit for the rating, as the bulk of the story and writing – and especially the acting of Kurotani and Uchikawa – are very engrossing, and very emotionally rewarding; but, while the two versions mostly follow each other, and while the live action does better the animated one in some respects, I found the overall pacing and some of the more “comic book” elements to work better in the other format. I wish I could not compare them, but it’s difficult: I know that something was more effective when handled another way, and so it’s hard to dismiss that.

Where Erased, the live series, has the upper hand is in its literal realism: having real actors imbue these characters with dimension gives even more value to the series’ study on retrospective – on being able to look back on the ignorance of youth with your modern eyes, first hand. These scenes were already stunning in the anime, but having Uchikawa and Kurotani on the front line ups the ante. However, there’s the whole other side of the story, concerning the mystery of the kidnappings, and when that remains grounded in reality, it works, but when it requires action-adventure bits and mustache-twirling villains to be included, it sticks out. The “heightened” nature of animation allowed these two sides to play together better, and while I think the conclusion in both is a bit of a dodge, even with the live action following the manga more closely, the anime wins out because the dodge is less offensive when it’s compressed down to a single episode, as opposed to the more extended take here; it ends up feeling a bit sillier.

At half hour episodes, though, the show flies by, and the flaws mentioned are easy to forgive, especially when the emotional core of the story is so effective. Noting that I quite loved Erased when I saw the other version, and that the elements I loved are still present here, it’s quite possible that if this is the first one you watch, your opinions on each will be swapped. But perhaps the greater takeaway is that watching both was not a waste of time – this is a good enough tale that it’s worth revisiting from a few different points of view.