Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Owarimonogatari Volume One Review

Who is Ougi Oshino? That is a question that has been on the mind of almost every fan of the long running Monogatari franchise, ever since the character’s first appearance back in Monogatari Second Season. There have been a few hints and clues about her (or him?) but the identity of the character remains one of the biggest mysteries that the show has yet to solve. However, that all looks as if it’s about to change. Owarimonogatari is the seventh entry in the monstrously popular series, that starts to shed a little more light on Ougi Oshino as well as delving into the backstory of series protagonist Koyomi Araragi and the events that shaped him.

Owarimonogatari starts off with the two episode arc Ougi Formula, which sees Ougi and Araragi trapped inside a classroom by an apparition. Working together, the pair quickly deduce that the room is an oddity created by a traumatic memory from Araragi’s first year of High School, when the former class president, Sodachi Oikura, trapped him and the rest of his math class in a classroom until they found out who was responsible for leaking answers for an exam. In order to escape from the classroom, Araragi must find out who the culprit is, something he and his class failed to do two years ago.

This opening arc is a brilliant start for the series, and is a fairly unique arc as far as Monogatari is concerned. The episodes are firmly planted in the mystery genre, which is something that the franchise has rarely dabbled in before, and I think it works really well. The mystery element does a great job of reeling you in quickly and keeping you engaged throughout. My only real complaint with how the mystery is handled is that I don’t really think the viewer has a lot of time to try and figure out the mystery for themselves, or is presented with many clues to do so. I often feel part of the appeal of mystery shows is to try and figure it out yourself, however, given the limited number of episodes, I think it can be forgiven. Story aside, these two opening episodes also do a great job of showcasing the fantastic visuals of Monogatari and why they’re so important. The majority of this episode is just Ougi and Araragi talking in a classroom, with some flashbacks thrown in for good measure. In the hands of almost any other studio besides Shaft (Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion, Nisekoi) this would have been incredibly boring, yet the visuals here are unlike anything you can find outside of the series as whole, and are downright mesmerising. It’s legitimately quite hard to tear your eyes away from the screen.

Following up on Ougi Formula is Sodachi Lost, another two episode arc, which continues on from where Formula left off, with Araragi confronting Oikura, who after being wrongly accused of being the one to leak the test answers and leaving school, returns after a long period of absence. Upon reuniting for the first time since their first year in High School, Sodachi immediately starts to berate Araragi, claiming she despises him for not recognizing the origin of his happiness. After the confrontation, Araragi confides in Ougi and determines that the key to Sodachi’s hatred of him lies in a shoe locker, back in his old middle school.

Whilst the unique, mystery-centric theme that ran through the first arc is still here, it is far more downplayed this time, focusing instead on the characters, as you’d expect from your more standard Monogatari story. Despite the name of the arc being Sodachi Riddle, I think that Araragi himself comes away with the most added depth in this arc, as we see flashbacks into his past. This is something we haven’t been shown before, with pretty much all of the arcs, aside from the currently unreleased (well, in the UK anyway) Kizumonogatari, being focused on the female protagonists, so to finally witness our male protagonist getting fleshed out is fantastic. I think fans who have read the Kizumonogatari book will especially love the connection to the opening inner monologue, where Araragi says friends will ‘lessen his intensity as a human’, as we see the direct cause of that here. As well as adding depth to Araragi, these episodes deliver a better introduction to Oikura too, although she gets far more attention in the following arc.

The third and final story arc on Part 1 of Owarimonogatari is Sodachi Lost. Whilst this arc is probably my least favourite of the arcs, that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all, I just don’t really think it shines as brightly as the preceding arcs. The biggest reason for this is that the first of the three episodes feels a lot like filler. All that happens in the entire twenty minute episode is that Araragi goes to Oikura’s house from school. That’s it. In twenty minutes. This is something that could have easily been accomplished in half the time, causing the episode to drag.

However, once you get past Episode 5, the next two episodes are sublime. This is the final arc in what you could call a loose trilogy that started in Ougi Formula, and it is certainly a satisfying wrap-up. Once again we dabble in mystery territory, in a much bigger way than the previous arc, Sodachi Riddle, and this is far better executed than Ougi Formula. This time around, the main mystery of the arc is presented at the end of Episode 2, giving you time between the episodes to try and figure out the solution yourself, as well as delivers plenty of clues before the solution is ultimately given to the audience. The only real issue I have with the story is the wrap-up, which feels a little too neat. Given that we never see a certain character outside of this arc, and this takes place before a lot of the events in Second Season, it’s kind of a given that said character was going to disappear before the end, or it would have created continuity issues.

Character-wise, it’s in this arc that Oikura gets a ton of depth and development, and she is pretty much the sole focus of the arc. It’s incredibly well executed, and it turns what was initially an unlikable, mean spirited character into one that you genuinely feel for, which is a pretty great accomplishment considering Oikura herself has only been in a handful of episodes (although I’d expect nothing less from Monogatari at this point). The only real disappointment, that goes for all three arcs, is that whilst Ougi appears in all of the stories, we still don’t get too much more information on her, despite her starting to take center stage a little more. I can only assume she will play a bigger role as the franchise goes on.

Although I did touch upon it earlier, I still feel the need to stress how amazing the visuals in Owarimonogatari are. The animation is the best that it’s ever been, and is still so uniquely Shaft, while incorporating other art styles, most notably a short sequence whose designs are clearly inspired by the Powerpuff Girls. This is Ken Naito’s third outing as an art director for the franchise, and he continues to do an amazing job.

As you’d expect if you’ve seen a Monogatari anime before, the Japanese voice acting here is absolutely stellar, and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s a large part of what makes the show work as well as it does. Hiroshi Kamiya and Kaori Mizuhashi, who voice Araragi and Ougi respectively, pretty much carry the entirety of the first arc alone, and then in other arcs we hear other familiar voices such as Yui Horie, Chiwa Saito and Kana Hanazawa. Marina Inoue, who voices Sodachi, is also excellent, and a good addition to the cast. Kei Haneoka returns for the third time to score the series, and creates a pretty great and memorable, soundtrack. Across the seven episodes in Part 1, we are treated to three separate openings, one for each arc, and they are all visual treats, as well as having some pretty good songs behind them. My favourite was probably ‘mathmagics’, performed by Oikura’s voice actor, but they’re all good in their own ways. As for the ED, Sayonara no Yuke, I found it largely forgettable, and the series has seen far better EDs.

MVM’s subtitle only release is, as as usual, fairly lacking in the extras department, featuring a clean version of all the openings and the ending.

In Summary

Whilst it isn’t perfect, this first half of Owarimonogatari delivers three unique and compelling arcs and introduces a fantastic new character, as well giving Araragi some much needed fleshing-out, all whilst maintaining that wonderful Monogatari charm.

Title: Owarimonogatari Volume One
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural
Studio: Shaft
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 175 minutes

Score: 9/10