I’m sure many of you have already heard about how good Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (a.k.a. “Erased”) is, but have you ever stopped to consider all of the different meanings hidden behind each characters’ words and actions? Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is jam-packed with them and is the latest anime that I think is worthy of another Observations post. If you haven’t seen Boku Dake ga Inai Machi yet, please note that there are plenty of spoilers below.
Tick Tock – A Race against Time
The sheer number of clocks that are shown in each episode weren’t done because the animators liked drawing them. Right from the beginning, Satoru is in a race against time to find out what he missed in his original history. The ticking clocks are a reminder to the audience of the urgency of the situation. My favourite clock scene was after Satoru is arrested and makes his last revival to Showa Year 63 (1988). While walking to school with Kayo, he looks up at the clock over the school entrance and the camera pans up to it while it makes an impending “tick” of doom. This is in stark contrast to his first revival when he looks up but is focusing on the year rather than the clock.
Flowers – You are Not Alone
The flowers in Satoru’s hospital rooms are a minor thing, but I found it to be a nice touch. The first time he ends up in the hospital, Airi comes to visit him and there is 1 flower vase on the windowsill. Fast-forward to episode 11 and Satoru is again in the hospital, but as more friends visit him, the number of flower vases increases. I see this as a visual reference to Satoru’s story in the class compilation book; the hero needs the support of his friends to keep going.
Another interpretation of the flowers could be the state of his memories. The single vase in Satoru’s room when Airi visits him contains a bouquet of flowers, indicating that he still has all of his memories. On the other hand, as Satoru slowly regains his memories, a pair of flowers is added to the table until he finally has all of them back.
Digging Deep – Getting to the Heart of Your Mind
Satoru’s original situation as a struggling mangaka almost seems like an afterthought by the end of the series, but this really is where the whole story begins. Satoru digs deep by going back to the past and finding himself. Of course, the deeper you dig, the narrower your view, so whenever Satoru is back in the past, the screen is narrowed to reflect this. A narrower view leaves you susceptible to walking down the wrong path. This sets the stage for Satoru’s growth and slight brush with the shadow (more on this below).
Light and Shadows – The Hidden Nature of Yashiro and Satoru
Getting proper lighting is not something that an anime needs to worry about, so when you see a lot of different shadows, there is obviously something very deliberate being done. Lets first focus on Yashiro: at the start of every class, his face is first hidden in shadow before he puts on his smiling face (mask) and walks into the light.
This is one of the first hints that Yashiro might have some hidden intentions. There are several scenes in later episodes where his face is intentionally in the shadow, always after Satoru has done or finds something to help save Kayo.
I like to think that these points are where Yashiro shows a little bit of his true self because now Satoru has done something that causes him to react and revise his plans. The shadow that symbolizes Yashiro’s nature really takes center stage in episode 10 as Yashiro is driving Satoru around. As the sun sets, the shadow grows darker until they enter the darkness of a tunnel, where Yashiro reveals his true self.
In Satoru’s efforts to dig deeper, he moves back and forth between light and shadow. While Satoru starts off in the light with good intentions, it is really by stepping into the shadow that he grows. Recall when Satoru realized he made a mistake by letting Hamada win, or when he has the revelation that he must have faith/believe after talking to Airi under the shadow of a bridge. Perhaps the best example of Satoru’s development in the shadows is when Kenya confronts him on the stairs in episode 7. During the whole encounter, Satoru’s face is covered by shadow until he finally accepts Kenya as an ally and faces the light.
Later, when Satoru falls completely to the shadow and he’s about to push Kayo’s mom down the stairs, Kenya is the one that stops him and brings him back to the light. This is where digging deep has its dangers; putting yourself in the criminal mind risks turning yourself into one.
The idea of turning towards the light is also featured prominently in the climax of the series when Yashiro and Satoru are on the roof. As they are both trying to lure the other into their trap, both of their faces are covered by shadows. However, when Satoru finally falls and Yashiro realizes his need for Satoru, they both finally face the light.
Red vs Blue
Although Yashiro and Satoru are adversaries, they are really just different sides of the same coin. Both are plotters and schemers, both straddle the line between light and shadow, both are very sharp, and both need the other to be. This idea is reinforced with instances such as Yashiro already taking notice of Kayo’s home situation and the two of them choosing the same hiding place (the bus). The only real difference between the two is that Yashiro “saves” his targets by answering their SOS calls with the salvation of death. On the other hand, Satoru saves them with friendship.
With all of the similarities between Yashiro and Satoru, the anime does a good job of separating the influence of the two of them using colour. Yashiro’s red eyes and tie hint early on that anything red is caught within his web. Alternatively, Satoru’s blue eyes and blue shirt help to link that colour with him. One of the scenes in the opening animation really helps to emphasize the colour associations, with Satoru projected on a blue background and Yashiro on a red background. Also note the light and shadow on the characters in front.
Since Kayo is Yashiro’s primary target, she is most caught up in his web and therefore has the most red. Satoru’s mother has a red shirt underneath a blue blazer, perhaps symbolizing that she’s also caught up in Yashiro’s web, but supports Satoru. Airi only has a single piece of red clothing with the rest being blue, signifying that she’s just within Yashiro’s grasp and is Satoru’s most fundamental support.
Now remember the two screencaps above with Yashiro’s hand on Satoru’s shoulder and Satoru’s red eyes before he tries to push Kayo’s mother down the stairs? Right before Satoru is about to commit the crime, there are a few frames that zoom in on the red logo on his coat. That cut to the logo served to point out that Satoru had succumbed to Yashiro’s web and it was only because of Kenya that he escaped.
Opening the Series – Foreshadowing
The Boku Dake ga Inai Machi’s opening animation is very well thought-out and acted as the source for much of this article. If you pay attention, you’ll see that it foreshadows the high points of the story and covers most of the motifs I’ve mentioned above. There’s the fire foreshadowing the murder attempt on Airi, the flooding hallway foreshadowing Satoru’s drowning, and the rooftop foreshadowing the final showdown. There are also a number of clocks, Satoru digging into the past, and the previously mentioned red vs blue and light vs shadow.
Becoming a Hero – The Path of Salvation
You can tell that a lot of thought was put into planning out the story when everything is outlined for you right from the beginning. In a flashback to Satoru’s original history in the first episode, he is sitting with Yuuki, who mentions that popular kids tend to be cheerful, good at sports, speak their mind, sometimes screws around, but is serious when it comes to one thing. Yuuki then suggests that Satoru try to focus on one of these aspects at a time, unknowingly laying the foundation for Satoru’s path to becoming a hero.
In Satoru’s first revival to his childhood, he clearly starts to develop the ability to speak his mind; remember all those times when he realized he said something out loud? Satoru screws around a bit with Kayo in the science museum, talking about the bear being his friend and hiding behind some of the exhibits.
Unfortunately, Satoru didn’t meet the requirements to be a hero, starting with his loss to Hamada. Pretending to be bad at sports was his first mistake, not keeping up his cheerfulness was his next, and stopping after Kayo went missing was his last. This is why his first revival ended in failure.
Meeting with Airi back in the future allowed Satoru to help cement his one goal of being a superhero and saving everyone, not just Kayo. This time, Satoru makes sure to cover each of the different aspects that Yuuki mentioned: he remains cheerful and doesn’t fall into despair, he gives his physical rehabilitation his best effort, he stops regretting the words that come out of his mouth, he still plays around with his friends, and he doesn’t stop ruining Yashiro’s plans.
While it was nice that Boku Dake ga Inai Machi ended on a good note, I thought the series could’ve been better if they had another 1 or 2 instances of Satoru nearly falling to the influence of the shadow. Admittedly, that might’ve made Satoru seem like less of a hero, which would’ve affected the series in other ways. Perhaps this is something that could be explored in the future. Now that Satoru has dug deep into his own mind and that of a psychopath, did he come back out unscathed?
As always, feel free to share your own observations and interpretations in the comments below. I’ve left some things out like the spider/butterfly motif to leave more room for discussion. For more anime interpretations and analysis, see my posts on The Garden of Words and Mawaru Penguindrum.