On ERASED: comparing the manga and the anime

The town where only I am missing…that is my treasure!

ERASED [BokuMachi] ended this week, mostly to good reviews from anime-only viewers despite a lot of teeth-gnashing by manga readers. Confession time: I actually started reading the manga halfway through the show’s broadcast. In some ways, I’m glad I did, because I’d have been even more frustrated at the manga readers who kept complaining about the anime otherwise. But I also wish I’d had the chance to make it to the end blind, so-to-speak, to see whether director Ito Tomohiko and his team had managed to capture the essence of the story without having confirmed what that essence was through the manga. But what’s done is done, and all of those translations and summaries this week were done in preparation for this post about my thoughts on the anime adaptation.


But before I start, let me recap and surmise the conditions under which the anime team was working. As director Ito mentioned in several interviews, he became interested in adapting Sanbe Kei’s story into an anime early on, after just two volumes had been released. Planning probably began approximately two years ago, around the halfway point of the manga. In those early stages, they’d have decided not only to keep it to a single cour in order to maintain its intensity as a suspense story, but also to have both manga and anime finish around the same time. Going by the imaginary scheduling layout that came with this SHIROBAKO book, at the very latest, Ito and Kishimoto should have started work on the finale’s script about a month or so before the first episode aired. That’s around the time that chapter 41 was released (~ December 7 last year), for those who want to check. I don’t know whether they sorted out ‘series composition’ before they started working on the first script, but that would have been around another 16-20 weeks earlier at least–which corresponds with chapters 35-36. In other words, if we do assume that they had the series plotted out beforehand, Ito and Kishimoto would have been working on series composition–trusting in where Sanbe-sensei had told them he was heading–around or just after the time that the latter had wrapped up Hinazuki’s main storyline.

And with that out of the way, here are my thoughts on five aspects of the transition from page to screen.

(1) The first episode

Bokumachi_02 Bokumachi_03

In the interview I translated in full earlier this week, Director Ito Tomohiko noted that the first episode had to end at the point it did, with Satoru shocked to find himself back in 1988. That’s probably because that was the hook—the first volume of the manga ends in exactly the same way. But with the entire series coming in at 8 volumes, that meant that a lot of material had to be cut. Ito and Kishimoto Taku (Series Composition) worked on it for a long time: in the end, they

  • took out repeat revivals for both the truck incident as well as the kidnapping incident
  • cut an entire incident out (one that involved Airi and kids playing in an old, rickety building)
  • removed a lot of Satoru’s inner dialogue (which emphasise the difficulty he has connecting with others), and
  • made Kayo the trigger for him to remember the past (in the manga, it was Hiromi).

I personally felt that most of these weren’t bad changes. The anime was still able to make Satoru’s interpersonal problems clear and Airi remains the person who inspires him to ‘dig deeper’ (‘jump right in’, ‘take the bull of life by the horns’ etc etc) as a motto of sorts to help him overcome that. The only quibble I really have with this episode was that I had trouble believing that Satoru would have blamed himself that much for Hinazuki’s death—when I read the manga scene later, it felt much more real. But that’s a relatively minor blip, and a small price to pay for the fantastic hook they were able to preserve as a result.

(2) Kayo’s night at the Fujinuma home

Ito proposed an additional scene here—the one where Hinazuki has a bath with Sachiko. The breakfast scene also covered just a page or so, with Satoru narrating. To me, the anime’s way of showing instead of telling how Hinazuki felt was spot on. That was undoubtedly the most powerful moment of the show

Bokumachi_04 Bokumachi_05

(3) Back stories: Kobayashi Kenya and Yashiro Gaku

Both Kenya and Yashiro have backstories that feed into their roles in the story. Losing Kenya’s probably doesn’t make that much of a difference, because his frustration at not being able to do anything about Hinazuki himself still gave him a rounder character (unlike Osamu who really didn’t have much to do). On the other hand, I’m a bit ambivalent about how the anime represented Yashiro’s motivations. One thing that’s easy to surmise is that he gets a kick not only out of committing these murders, but more importantly, out of successfully framing someone else for them. Satoru represents someone who beat him, and the scene in the car in episode 10 suggests that the pleasure Yashiro got was connected to the challenge of outsmarting someone who was trying to stop him. In the manga, this plays out in a similar way: Yashiro sets up an event to try to frame Satoru, who works with Kenya and Sawada to try to keep a step ahead of him, so as to be able to arrest him on the charge of attempted murder.

The anime team, however, had to choose: to go for a physical confrontation played out as a strategic game, or for a psychological confrontation (*). They chose the latter, premised on Satoru’s final words to him in episode 10 — “I know your future!” and it seems to have had mixed results: anime-only viewers seem to be split over whether Yashiro came across as a realistic villain or not. Manga-readers, on the whole, have railed against it, because the way he confronted Satoru seemed to go against the great care he had taking in planning all his previous crimes. Personally, I’m on the side that wishes he’d been fleshed out more, because the reveal in episode 10 and the final confrontation in episode 12 made him feel like a cartoony villain (…I know he IS one, but you get the picture). For example, one thing I did not buy was the idea that he stopped committing these crimes that he’d taken such great pleasure in…

(*) Kishimoto Taku apparently discussed this in his interview for the BokuMachi case files in the Japanese BD release. I read about it on a Japanese blog post.

Bokumachi_06 Bokumachi_07

(4) Airi

I don’t really have much to say about the cuts made to Airi’s screen time. Even if the impact of her presence was lessened, she still had an incredibly important role in inspiring Satoru, and the ending makes clear that he’d really cherished her trust in him in the original timeline. I’d kind of hoped he’d have to ask her about her dream to symbolise how much he’s changed from how he was at the start of the series, but in hindsight, it probably makes more sense for his manga editor to do that. It’s also balanced out by the way they slipped Airi’s keen interest in photography into the show in more subtle ways, one of which suggests that, after he’d gotten back on his feet, Satoru came to that bridge from time-to-time because of her.

Half of the books on Airi’s shelf are related to art and photography.

Bokumachi_11 Bokumachi_10
Can I also see what it is you saw?

(5) Satoru’s essay

The final change I want to discuss involves the story’s main themes of ‘putting yourself out there’ and ‘trust.’ The anime team used Satoru’s essay to drive home the theme of having to “dig deeper,” or, to use the words of his editor at the end, to “take the bull by the horns” in order to really connect with people. I suspect that most anime viewers would appreciate how direct they were about that, but I personally prefer the manga version of the essay:

“My Hero” by Fujinuma Satoru

My favourite manga, “Fight On! Wonder Guy!” has been made into a TV show. When I grow up, I want to become a mangaka and draw stories about a hero like Wonder Guy.

The thing I like about Wonder Guy is that, no matter how many times he loses, he always stands up again and keeps on fighting. I love how he says: “If I stumble and fall, that’s where I start afresh.” It made me realise that, when you start something, there isn’t just one goal, and you don’t have only one chance to get it right.

Though he started fighting all alone, Wonder Guy always said that “My weapon is that I believe in other people.” In saying that, he got many buddies. And together, believing in each other, they combined their strength and defeated the last boss.

I also want to make lots of friends like that, buddies that I can believe in and who will believe in me. Even if I fail, I will never give up. I’ll keep starting again until I succeed.

Wonder Guy’s words make me stronger. One day, I want to draw stories about a hero like that.

To me, this version of the essay comes across as being more childlike, and thus realistic. It’s also not as blatant about the “digging deeper” / “taking the bull of life by the horns” theme—I much prefer subtlety, though I suspect that the anime writers forewent that approach because of time constraints. Additionally, the manga has Sachiko—instead of Satoru—reflecting on the essay, which is a throw back to what he said in episode 2 about how he’d never shown his essay to her because he “couldn’t stand the gaze of her all-seeing eye.” Upon flipping through it again, she notes that he has achieved everything that he’d written about.

And finally, this ‘new’ Satoru is the key to his reunion with Airi. The connection between them in the manga is reestablished because of what I’d mentioned above: Satoru ‘digging deeper’ to find out more about her, with the final implication that he’ll be revealing more about himself in return in the process of filling up the white pages of his future. It’s very Japanese, that concept of en (縁), and the greater intricacy of the connection between them in the manga is one of the reasons I prefer it to what the anime gave us. That said, the very last scene in the anime was very similar, and the final line was just about perfect, if a little sappy.


Overall thoughts

If I’m being honest, I found ERASED more useful as an exhibit for examining how anime are made. Sitting down to work out the timeframe for the planning and production for this show was a really interesting exercise for me, and it shed a lot of light on the constraints that Ito and Kishomoto would have been working under and thus the reasoning behind some of their choices. I’m also tempted to compare what happened with this series to how Ishigoro Kyōhei and Arakawa Naoshi cooperated on Your Lie in April [KimiUso] under incredibly similar circumstances. In contrast to ERASED, that show followed its manga much more closely.

On that note, with this series of posts here and on tumblr, I’m also formally launching my blogging project for the year: On Anime ‘Writing’. I’ll post more details about it next week, so I hope to see you all then.

But to finish off, these are some of my thoughts about how ERASED [BokuMachi] was adapted. I do like the manga better in the end, because it was more subtle and had a more rounded treatment of certain key characters. But despite these weak spots, I felt that the anime team did a pretty good job improving on the pacing and dealing with the most important theme, the “human drama” elements of the story associated with Satoru. How about you? What are your thoughts on how ERASED was presented on the screen?

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

7 Responses to On ERASED: comparing the manga and the anime

  1. Martin Wisse says:

    As an anime only viewer, I thought Erased roughly accomplished what it set out to do, but that the thriller focus was a bit misleading and didn’t serve the series well. The first episode as you said established the hook and from there it seemed that the focus would be on finding and stopping the serial killer in the past, to ultimately prevent his mother’s murder. Instead we mostly got family drama interspersed with thriller elements, to the detriment of the latter. The middle episodes back in the present especially were, though necessary, still the weakest of the series and Airi wasn’t integrated quite well enough with the rest of the story. Nevertheless, as a family drama and an investigation of the love between a mother and her son — rare in anime — it remains a very good story. It’s no coincidence that it’s not just his childhood friends, but his mother too who are there in the finale for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • karice says:

      I find what you’ve said interesting, because after watching four series that could be classified as ‘mystery’ last year, I found myself getting more out of the ones where the mysteries served to tell us about the characters, as opposed to the one that was almost entirely about the mystery itself. Same thing here: I appreciated ERASED more because the mystery served as a gateway for exploring human relationships and what is the basis for strong bonds between people, whether they be family or friends. In fact, one of the reasons I started thinking about ‘what I personally take from mystery stories’ was a conversation I had with a mystery novel fan who doesn’t watch anime. When I asked her why she liked the genre, she said that it’s because she likes finding out about the characters in the story, and the society that they live in. That’s also why I thought the present/Airi episodes in the middle were important, because they dealt with the most important theme(s) of the show.

      That said, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard or read that point (that the ‘back to the present episodes’ were weaker). Admittedly, that was before the last 2 episodes, where the writers put that theme of “believing in someone or something” front and center. But if viewers like yourself think that this show was mostly a family drama, especially one focusing on the bond between parent and child, then it’s possible to say that the anime creators didn’t really succeed in highlighting the theme they wanted to bring to the fore…

      And thanks for dropping by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. sikvod00 says:

    I totally agree with Martin. Part of what makes the story good is the the focus on mother-and-son relationships, and child-parent relationships in general. It’s a breathe of fresh air in anime.

    That was undoubtedly the most powerful moment of the show

    I originally thought the scene in ep. 2 when Satoru reunites with his mom—after her tragic death in ep. 1–was the most powerful, followed by probably this one. But lots of people can relate to fond memories of childhood with their parents, especially when they have passed away. It’s both heartwarming and sad; we tend to take loved ones for granted until they’re out of our lives.

    But Kayo’s scene is just heart-wrenchingly sad! Seeing the poor child briefly experience comfort and love, while knowing she had never received it from home (at least not in a long time) was a terrible feeling. The trigger was the food at the table, but that obviously wasn’t the point. Not all parents can afford the time or money to regularly make a nice breakfast for their kids. It was a symbol. A reminder of the many ways her own mother didn’t care and neglected her. Great display of show, don’t tell.

    On a related note: did the manga also contain material about Kayo’s mom and her own issues with domestic abuse?

    More comments to come.


    • karice says:

      Hm…you’re right. That’s a good scene too–though I think I liked the second one better, the one in episode 7 where he told her “The fact is, you can go to Ueno without changing trains.” I’m not sure why I felt it more then…maybe because we’d had some time seeing just what a wonderful mother Sachiko was. Though as you point out, another difference could be whether we’ve actually lost someone that close to us, because we tend to take them for granted until they’re gone.

      Which makes me wonder, actually, if getting a greater sense of the wall between them in the first episode would have made a difference. Their relationship in the manga appears far more strained than what we saw in the anime.

      And if we think about it, that’s probably why the ‘trust’ incident with her father had such a great impact on Airi. I remember a number of viewers dismissing those two episodes, even suggesting that what Airi had shared was pretty lame. But it seems like they had a pretty good parent-child relationships, so losing her father like that–especially because no one believed her–would have been really traumatic. And it’s a great contrast to what happened with Satoru re: Yuuki in the ‘original’ timeline.

      On a related note: did the manga also contain material about Kayo’s mom and her own issues with domestic abuse?

      Yup. The parts about Kayo and her mother were actually trimmed the least out of everything.


  3. sikvod00 says:

    Thinking back on the theme of “wanting to believe” others, I’m reminded of Anne Frank’s famous quote. “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.” Both Airi and Anne have valid reasons to distrust people (especially Anne, of course), but they fight back against such temptations. I want to have the same type of hope. I don’t want to hold cynical, contemptuous view of others because of bad experiences.


    • karice says:

      Great quote, and so true. Actually, when I reflect on some of the things that have happened in my own life, I’ve seen how detrimental the effects of losing that hope that people are decent, and losing that trust in others can be.

      I think that I still haven’t lost that hope–I think. Though it’s something of a tangent of the idea of ‘trust’ that we’re talking about, I have to thank the culture of a place I worked for a couple of years ago for helping me realise why–we were guided to “assume positive intent.” Whilst that means we might be constructing ‘unbelievable reasons’ to explain the behaviour of others, I find that this attitude helps remind me to look at things from the other person’s perspective; to remember that they, too, are human. I guess the foundation of that, however, is an inherent belief in the goodness of people, in their capacity to do what is right.


  4. Pingback: Seasonal Thoughts: Winter 2016 Recap, Pt 2 | golden realist

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