Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 12 (Fin)

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Well, have egg on my face. Just when I thought the show had already reached its main resolution, just when I wasn’t in love with the direction I thought it was taking with Satoru’s new future, and just when I was a little impatient that last week seemingly ended in the same place as the week before, ERASED didn’t just ignore and then subvert my expectations; it pushed them off a school roof with gusto.

It all starts with a little necessary backtracking. Satoru isn’t calm and cool up on that roof alone with Yashiro because he’s content with the life he’s lived and the good he’s done for those around him. It’s because he has a plan. It’s a plan that we can only speculate about until it happens, but it was made with the help of Kenta and Hiromi, who are committed to helping Satoru again, if that’s what he wants.

They feel that way because when he, the superhero, needed help, he believed in them, and so they believed right back. Without that mutual belief in one another, the amazing things he achieved wouldn’t have happened…and Satoru would have likely been murdered up on the roof.

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Call it “One Last Job” for Satoru & Friends: the job that even their nemesis doesn’t see coming, because he’s so consumed with putting Satoru in a box with either jail or death as the escape routes, like a rat in a maze. He uses a fatal muscle relaxant IV on Kumi (with Satoru’s fingerprints on the bag) to create that awful choice, and keeps grinning with glee about finally besting the one who ruined all his plans.

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This is as superhero-y as you can get: the Villain thinking he has the Hero, his Nemesis, in his clutches and at his mercy, and just when victory as he sees it is in sight, the hero wiggles out. The hero wins, with a move way out of left field and yet deliciously awesome in its precision and timing.

Satoru says Yashiro the one who has lost, not only because he was able to save all those victims from him (including his mother in the future) and thwart all his attempts to frame him (including this one), but because for fifteen years—only an instant for him, but an agonizing crawl for Yashiro—while he slept, Yashiro didn’t kill him.

He couldn’t, because Satoru was the only one who knew who he was; that something that fills the void everyone has and needs to have filled. He can’t kill him because of that.

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And Satoru means that quite literally. Sure, Yashiro could let go, which he does, but if Satoru dies then, so does the one thing in his life that’s made him feel anything. The void returns. But Yashiro doesn’t die even when Yashiro decides to let go, because his friends arranged a cushion for him to land safely on, and they also serve as witnesses for Yashiro’s attempted murder.

Yashiro lost because he was alone; because the only person that could fill his void was someone he was committed to ruining; tormenting; erasing. And yet, Yashiro, who truly took fifteen years of Satoru’s life away from him, may have actually been doing him a favor, for the life Satoru lived when we met him was one of dark repressed memories, dead classmates and friends, and most importantly, a life where he had ceased “taking the bull by the horns”.

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It took more struggle to get there, but Satoru was, with his mom and his buddies, finally able to bring Yashiro to true justice. He was able to live on once his deep sleep had ended, and both his memories of heroic deeds, and the dramatic one he performed on the roof to put Yashiro away, filled a void in him that was present in the original timeline, before any Revivals.

This older Satoru keeps taking the bull by the horns. After being a real hero, he became able to write about heroes, compellingly enough to have anime made about them. He’s by all rights a great success, but when he returns back to the city after visiting all his old friends in Hokkaido (and I liked how they teased Misato as a possible love interest), a void still remains in him: one shaped like Kitagiri Airi, the wonderful soul who got lost in all the time-shifting…

…Or so we and Satoru thought. Or maybe he didn’t think that. Why else would he return to the bridge where he and Airi parted, with him in handcuffs and she in tears? Kayo was never meant to be the girl Satoru ended up with after all. When Airi appears, asking brightly if she could share some shelter from the snow with him, everything comes full circle.

It’s a bit cliche, but it’s true: believing in people leads them to believe in you; that’s how you gain allies and friends. It’s one big loop of believing and void-filling. And there you have it: a very nifty and moving ending to my favorite anime of the Winter! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 11

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Last week really wiped the show’s slate clean, as I truly had no idea what was going to happen after seeing Satoru about to drown in a freezing lake. Part of me expected another time-jump, but unlike the last time it happened, young Satoru was in mortal distress. He couldn’t very well jump back to his future self if his past self was drowning.

But at some point between then and this week, Satoru survived Yashiro’s attempt on his life. In fact, it seems to be Yashiro who saved him, because no one else was around. However, when he presumably returned Satoru to his mother, he was fast asleep, and when we rejoin him, he wakes up for the first time in fifteen years.

Wait…what?

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Satoru’s generally excellent physical condition in spite of that long slumber is credited to his mother, who spend four hours out of every day keeping him clean, well-fed and exercising his joints and muscles, all while making ends meet with a convenience store job. If I didn’t already consider Sachiko a Super-Mom—before this act of selfless devotion and hope absent any indication Satoru would ever wake up—I sure would now.

However, when he wakes up, Satoru’s memories are scrambled, and he has no idea what put him in the comatose state in the first place, though he does remember Kenya and Hiromi, and wastes no time trying to walk again as a young cancer patient watches. However, Satoru can’t shake the feeling (as his older self narrates, suggesting even this isn’t the present day of the show) his old friends are being kept from bringing up certain things, perhaps at his mothers’ request.

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I harbored pretty neutral feelings about this situation, and the fact that Yashiro may have well let Satoru live only to wait for him to wake back up so he can finish what he started. But for some reason, it just didn’t sit right for me when an older Kayo appeared with an infant in her arms, and we later learn she married Hiromi and they started a family while he was asleep.

Satoru takes this a lot better than I do, and I say that knowing it was silly to think Kayo and Hiromi would put their lives on hold—the way Satoru’s mom did—in the off-chance he woke up. But it still stinks—a lot—that Satoru missed his shot with Kayo because he saved her, and that she ended up with one of the other two kids he saved. An unavoidable but still raw and frankly pretty disappointing deal to the shipper in me.

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But Satoru, happy he was able to save Kayo and Hiromi (along with Aya, the older version of whom we don’t see), is content to be the honored hero, and knows he still has vast stores of motivational power for the young cancer patient, Kumi, who is as amazed by everyone else by his quick recovery.

Satoru proves he’s his selfless, loving, heroic mother’s son, by offering Kumi advice on how to have courage: starting with simply picturing the people you care about in your head.

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Then Yashiro shows up, and it’s only a matter of time before he says or does something that triggers Satoru’s memory of who he really is and what he did to him fifteen years ago. I’m not that sure why Yashiro befriended Kumi (another victim?), but he actually seems to enjoy how his relationship with Satoru returns to the way it was, if only briefly.

Satoru seems to recall everything when Yashiro starts tapping the handle of his wheelchair, and now we’re right back where last week left off: a virtually helpless Satoru all alone in the clutches of Yashiro. Only in this timeline, Kayo had no choice but to pass Satoru by and choose someone else. Not saying that will be undone, but I wouldn’t rule out another time-leap back to the past now that Satoru is conscious and knows the score.

Nor would I mind such a development. I know, one shouldn’t push their luck, but surely he could create a future where he (and his mother) don’t have to sacrifice a significant chunk of their lives and happiness so that Kayo, Hiromi and Aya could be saved. But first thing’s first: Satoru has to somehow survive his latest encounter with Yashiro.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 10

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With Kayo safe in her new home and Hiromi hardly ever alone, Satoru has successfully taken two of the serial killer’s potential victims off the board. All that’s left is Aya, who Satoru confronts with Kenta and Hiromi.

When Kazu jumps in to defend boys’ hideouts it only seems to make things worse, but turns out he charmed her enough for her to come visit them not long after their first meeting.

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Aya befriends the boys, Kazu in particular, and suddenly she’sno longer alone, making Satoru 3-for-3. But when Hiromi notices Misato (the girl Satoru blew up on for accusing Kayo of stealing) is now a class pariah and often alone, Satoru catches up with my thinking last week: depriving the killer of his original choice of victims will make him seek out a substitute.

In his thought process, Satoru is careful not to make it the same thing as Yashiro-sensei using candy as a cigarette substitute. Little does he know at the time that he’s on to something with that comparison, and that I was on to something with all those nagging suspicions about the young educator.

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Satoru follows the lonely Misato to the hockey rink, pondering how to approach her (which will be tougher since he’s could be considered partly responsible for her ending up ostracized). When she goes to the bathroom, and takes a little too long, Satoru starts to worry.

Then Yashiro appears from the back door, sucking on a lollipop. And that was it; I knew something was wrong, and there’d be no more explanations that would dissuade me from the truth: Yashiro is the killer. Satoru finds out far too late, after he’s already willingly in Yashiro’s car, having asked him to follow Yuuki’s father’s truck, believing Misato was kidnapped by him.

Before the truth hits Satoru (and boy, does it pack a wallop), he and Yashiro have a somewhat innocuous conversation about the nature of Satoru’s recent acts of heroism, and how they “fill a hole” in the hearts of those he helps, as well as his own. He’s doing—and done—something he’d always yearned to do: fix things from the past that were broken and haunted him since.

The discussion then turns a bit darker when Yashiro says the essence of good and evil deeds is the same, and that he and Satoru share the need to fill a void in their heart; to make up for a defect in himself. But “evil” is the operative word here; Satoru is good; Yashiro is not.

Satoru finally gets it when he sees Yashiro tapping his finger on the steering wheel more and more forcefully, and reaches for the glovebox to get him some candy…only there’s no candy in there, only laxatives he gave to Misato, who he used to bait Satoru into entering his clutches willingly.

Once they enter the tunnel and reddish flashing lights adorn Yashiro’s true face, it’s as if Satoru is in the presence of the devil himself.

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Satoru taking the bait was the last thing Yashiro needed to confirm they were enemies. And yet, Yashiro is amazed and impressed, not bitter or angry, that Satoru managed to anticipate his thinking and destroy his plans for Kayo, Aya and Hiromi. Of course, he’s also driving Satoru out into the middle of nowhere, so it’s not like he’s just going to let him go.

After the wheels start turning in Satoru’s head, he laments he couldn’t see the glaringly obvious. It’s just that he let both his past, present, and future trust in Yashiro blind him from all of the factors that incriminated him. I too was kept in a state of ambiguity about Yashiro in the end, since the various evidence was never incontrovertible until this week. It was only hinted at through little gestures, glimpses, and asides.

As we’re given glimpses of the fruits of Satoru’s labor—his mother alive; Aya and Hiromi with friends; Kayo in her new safe home with her grandma—the only thing left for hi to do was to find and stop the killer. Yashiro simply got to him first, exploiting his blind spot to the hilt.

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So just like that, by trying to go beyond saving the three original victims, Satoru ends up in the clutches of The Killer. The man who not only killed those three kids in a previous timeline, but also murdered his mom and framed him for it. The same carefulness is on display here in 1988 with his multiple cars and fastidious preparation.

That preparation leads them to a half-frozen stream at a campground, where Yashiro uses a basketball on the gas pedal to send the car into the drink with Satoru strapped inside with a seatbelt that just won’t become un-stuck. Yashiro concedes defeat in terms of the the kids Satoru saved, and the peace he won for the town. But he’s still going to kill Satoru; by “my hands and for my sake.” And then he’ll go to another town and start anew.

Even when Satoru tells him he can see Yashiro’s future, Yashiro doesn’t jump in and pull him out of the car. The episode ends with Satoru, as far as we know, drowning, and there’s a finality to the fact that even the abstract visualization of the various timelines shatters and breaks down. Of course, everything can’t be over for Satoru yet, since this whole show is from his point of view, and there are two whole episodes left…right?

Regarding the unambiguous confirmation that Yashiro is the show’s Big Bad, in all timelines: On the one hand, I’m a little sad now that one the central mysteries is over. On the other hand, I’m glad that it was the most logical choice based on the evidence provided. Anyone other than Yashiro would have been too far out of left field.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 09

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This episode was very good, as is to be expected of a show where even its off days are very good, but it couldn’t avoid the feeling of a bridge episode. Much of the very goodest-ness comes in the first half, which resolves the standoff with Kayo’s mom, Akemi.

An enraged Akemi takes a snow shovel to Sachiko, but the wound is thankfully superficial, and Satoru’s mom stands her ground. The trap has already worked; social services are right there, and Akemi’s inability to do anything about her missing 11-year-old daughter for three days is sufficient evidence to take Kayo away.

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Akemi tries to paint herself as the victim, grabbing Kayo and shuffling off to the police, but her estranged mother (whom I imagine Yashiro managed to contact) stops her in her tracks. It only takes a few moments for our abject hatred of Akemi to soften–just a little–when we learn that she too was a victim of abuse by her now-ex-husband after all.

Neither Kayo nor Satoru are as forgiving; after all, two wrongs don’t make a right. But Akemi’s breakdown and glimmer of the life she’s led at least makes her actions understandable. She’s not the sociopath I though she was; but took her frustration out on Kayo because it was easy,unlike so much else in her life.

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Akemi also accepts her mother taking Kayo away to live with her; it’s clearly better for both of them. Sachiko wants to believe even Akemi feels, at times, love for her daughter, and one could either call her acceptance of the handover proof of that love, though no doubt part of it is relieving her of a burden she clearly couldn’t bear on her own.

With that, Satoru and Kayo quietly part ways (with Kayo being borne away in Yashiro’s 4WD Toyota Sprinter Carib, AKA Tercel Wagon), with Satoru confident Kayo now has a future where she can make her mark. He saved her from her mom and from the killer.

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At this point, I thought he’d be sent back to the non-letterboxed present, where perhaps he could track down a lovely 29-year-old Kayo! But hold on now, there’s still two more victims to save: Hiromi and Aya. Satoru wastes no time starting his investigations on the other two, taking careful notes of their daily patterns.

The switch to “new cases” is a little jarring in its abruptness, but then again I guess there’s no rest for the weary (whose come from nearly three decades into the future to save three of his peers from a serial child-killer).

I also appreciated that the somewhat shut-in Satoru, even 29 years old, isn’t any better at knowing how to properly approach a girl than his 11-year-old version would be. Perhaps the older Satoru is even worse, considering he has a lot more on his mind than a kid would.

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One night, his Aya-following is cut short when he bumps into his mom, over-laden with discount groceries. By a second coincidence, Yashiro’s in the vicinity and offers the two a ride. Satoru rides shotgun, and notices Yashiro’s nervous steering wheel tapping.

When Satoru pulls at something sticking out of the glovebox and it bursts open to reveal a treasure trove of candies, for a second it felt like the show was selling–and I was buying–that something was very, FREE CANDYly wrong in Denmark Yashiroland.

Rather amazingly (and hilariously), the excess candy is excused away by Yashiro’s confession that ever since he quit smoking he’s satisfied his oral fixation with candy. And yet, I wonder what the show intended by giving me such a momentary fright!

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As for Kenya, who notices Satoru is at it again (it being super-heroics for another kid’s sake) and wants in, I’m 99.9% convinced he’s not a bad guy or a fellow time traveler, just a very bright and perceptive kid who will continue to be a valuable ally in Satoru’s efforts.

When Satoru tells him his suspicions about a serial child-killer, Kenya is 99% sure it’s all in his friend’s head, but he doesn’t discount the 1% possibility Satoru is telling the absolute truth (which he is) and is committed to believing his friend, just as Airi was in the present. Even Hiromi wants to believe him, though he doesn’t see the need to such excess caution where his personal safety is concerned.

When Satoru asks Kenya and Hiromi to accompany him “somewhere” after school, I’m guessing it has something to do with Aya. I imagine Satoru is eager to kill two birds with one stone, but knows that if he takes his eye of one would-be victim too long he risks losing the other.

But the lingering shot of Misato (the girl who accused Kayo of stealing in the previous timeline) also suggested that maybe Hiromi and Aya aren’t the only ones Satoru needs to watch and protect. By saving Kayo, did he inadvertently condemn Misato?

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 04

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In theory, Satoru’s task is simple: if he remains in close contact with Kayo consistently for one more week, and they can celebrate their birthdays together at his house, he believes he’ll be able to change history by preventing her kidnapping and murder.

He makes it a point to try to hang out with Kayo on a Saturday date to the museum, hoping to get her away from her home so her mother won’t be tempted to beat her. And in another amusing instance of Satoru-29 thinking out loud, Satoru doesn’t mince words in asking Kayo on a date.

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Kayo’s mother proves a formidable obstacle to that day of bliss – were it not for Satoru’s truly heroic mother stopping Kayo’s mom from striking her after she admits she wants to go out. With Sachiko there (who knows exactly what kind of person she is), Kayo’s mom, concerned with appearances, weighs her options and decides to allow the date.

Thank goodness after Satoru and his mom left the episode didn’t cut to Kayo’s mom taking out her anger on Kayo. When I saw Satoru and Kayo standing before the stuffed bear, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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Of course, this being far more than just a slice-of-life romantic tale, it’s not all peaches and sunshine at the museum. On numerous occasions, Satoru gets deja vu-style flashes of Kayo saying and doing things she’s already said and done, leading him (and me) to believe that he hasn’t yet taken Kayo off the path that leads to her death, and the future won’t be changed so easily.

The film reel pattern in the letterboxing and the visualization of the various timelines as a tangle of said film is effectively used but not overused, particularly when both fast-forward to the same outcome: Kayo’s funerary portrait and total defeat.

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Satoru sticks to the plan, his courage buoyed, not cowed by his sense of duty to protect and save Kayo. He thinks out loud, in front of the whole class, that Kayo is pretty (her reactions to these slip-ups are priceless), he walks her home before being intercepted by her mother, and he tells her he’ll be at her house in the morning – the morning of Day X, which will decide everything – so they can walk to school together, which they do hand in hand.

If one were to liken Satoru’s quest as a war, we would call his 29-year-old self a grizzled veteran, hardened by the despair of the bad future that didn’t just affect him and Kayo negatively. Yuuki’s in prison and his mom is dead. There’s a lot riding on his success, but his previous 10-year-old self would never have been able to achieve what he achieves during this week, because he lacked that foresight, that loss of innocence, that ability to see beyond himself. This Satoru can.

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So he only very grudingly breaks contact with Kayo on this last day, seeing her right to her door, getting up before midnight to watch over her house and wait for the stroke of midnight. This entire day and in particular those last moments of it, are positively brimming with suspence, so much so I had to make sure to control my breathing just in case something awful transpired.

The episode also made sure to show us what Kenya, Yashiro, and Kayo’s mom – all persons of interest with regards to her potential disappearance – but none of them are anywhere near Kayo, and aren’t doing anything suspicious. When the second hand ticked past the twelve, I felt I could relax a little…but only a little.

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Seeing Kayo in her jammies receive a waiting Satoru at her door was a moment of triumph, as well as another perfect use of her unofficial catchphrase “Are you stupid?” As the hours and minutes until their birthday party ticked away, the suspense started to build all over again, especially when Yashiro told the two to do cleaning duty after school.

Turns out both that, and the suspicious-at-the-time meeting between Yashiro and Kenya that ended last week, were perfectly innocent: Satoru’s friends planned a surprise party for him and Kayo. Isn’t that something? Gee, it’s really dusty in here…or maybe there’s an raw onion nearby? *sniffle*

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The joy and mirth of the festivities are matched, and then some, when the episode inevitably, mercilessly brings the hammer down. At some point Satoru has to walk Kayo home and wish her good night, she promises to give him his birthday present tomorrow, and waves goodbye wearing the mittens he got her.

The promise is never fulfilled. The next morning at school, Kayo is absent. Satoru was able to change the future, but only by one day. I’d say I can only imagine what became of her in those evening hours they were apart…but I honestly have no freakin’ clue.

When confronting Kayo’s mother, Satoru exclaims, beyond the years of his physical body, “when it comes to saving a friend, there are no gains and losses!” And he’s absolutely right. Just as he wrongly thought getting past the X-Day was a victory, he’s wrong if he thinks this latest development is a loss.

Even if it is, and even if he doesn’t have ready acces to an IBN 5100, the results of those past battles don’t matter. The war goes on. It has really only just begun.

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