Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Town Where Only I am Missing

I realized I cap a lot of my reviews in with a standard "If you enjoy this, you will like this," qualifier. Sometimes it's laziness; a reductive clammy handshake of a recommendation. Other times its because enjoyment of the thing is predicated on a familiarity of a genre or form. Kill La Kill works better if you know a bit about shonen anime. The Unwritten will be better loved by bibliophiles.
But that's not the case with Erased. It's been a while since I can give an unqualified, "everybody should watch this" endorsement, but that's what this show deserves. You should watch it even if you don't give two shits about cartoons. In fact, if you want to convince people that Japanese animation is something more than big eyes, bigger boobs, giant mechs, and magical girls, and people shouting at each other as they fight, you would be hard pressed to find a better example this side of Studio Ghibli.
In fact, its plot is in many ways less ambiguous than many of Miyazaki's films, which may make it more appealing to Western audiences. Many anime emphasize the journey over having a satisfying conclusion or strict continuity, but Erased is immaculately plotted with a very clear arc. Its 12 episodes cut to the credits to deal maximum anxiety damage to the viewer. Waiting week by week to find out what would happen next was torture. A friend described watching the simulcast best when he said "I die every Thursday." That tension was so core to my experience of the show, in fact, that I'm not sure it will have the same impact if you consume it in one go.
So what is it about? Well. It's a contemporary fantasy, but far more grounded than something with lots of swords and dragons. In the first episode, it looks like it's going to rely heavily on a supernatural time loop gimmick, but it quickly morphs into something much more earnest and relevant: a timid man traveling back to his childhood to try and stop a serial killer. But instead of some elaborate mental chess match or physical showdown, the main character tries to beat the bad guy by being a good person. Displaying courage, friendship, and curiosity.
It's a tender, familiar tale to be sure, one that tugs the heartstrings hard enough for a career cynic to balk. The oft-beaten drum of "relying on your friends" gets a couple more dents. But I went in with my knives out, and its intrigue disarmed me by episode 2. After episode 3, the characters had picked away all my jade.
I don't think I've ever seen a stronger cast of female characters in an anime, including the original Full Metal Alchemist and Brotherhood. But I loved all the characters really. They felt real, and ran me through an emotional gauntlet. The voice acting is also fantastic. Putting aside standard sub versus dub snobbery, this is something special in it's native language, and Crunchy Roll's localization is on point.
About midway through the series I encountered a brutal spoiler, the kind of thing that can wound a story, but it wasn't enough to temper my enthusiasm at all. That said, I'm gonna cut this short. Every time I try to talk about something more specific, I worry about giving something away, or warping expectations, when I went in without any myself.
When the show wrapped up last night, I asked my wife why she was crying, and she explained "It's all over and I don't even want any more." Sending someone away in tears while completely satisfying them is a mean feat.

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