Anime Review: Erased

written by Laurie Tom


Erased is based on the manga Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I am Missing) and while I’m sorry to lose the more poetic title, the story itself is no less meaningful.

Satoru Fujinuma is a 29-year-old man working a dead end job as a pizza delivery guy. He used to have dreams of becoming a manga artist, but like many people, those dreams didn’t pan out and he’s doing what he can to get by.

Unlike most people though, Satoru has what he considers a bothersome ability. Every now and then what he calls Revival kicks in and he flashes back a few minutes in time. After the rewind, if he makes the effort to look around, he can find out where something has gone wrong and take the opportunity to change it. This allows him to save a kid’s life, though the reason he considers the ability bothersome is that his intervention usually costs him in some way, like ending up in the hospital after stopping a wayward truck.

When Satoru’s mother visits he’s visibly annoyed, because he’s trying to be independent. He doesn’t like her prying into his friendships or the fact he’s still single without a girlfriend, but circumstances rapidly change when she’s murdered in connection to a serial killer case from his childhood and Satoru is framed as the culprit.

The shock of his impending arrest by the police triggers his Revival ability and sends him all the way back to his final year of elementary school, a few days before his eleventh birthday, and a few days before his classmate Kayo Hinazuki is abducted as the first in a series of child murders.

Once he gets over his shock, Satoru concludes that if he manages to save Kayo’s life, then he’ll save his mother’s life as well, but as a kid he’s a person of limited means. What Satoru has in his favor though is that he knows the future. He knows the last time Kayo was seen alive and where. He knows who the accused will be even though he believes that person is innocent.

As he works on his plan, Satoru doesn’t entirely behave like a kid on the verge of being eleven (since he’s mentally his adult self) and though he tries to fit in, his friends notice the change in him, his sudden drive and maturity.

But while in the past, perhaps more importantly, we see Satoru’s relationship with his mom, who is still alive as her younger self. Satoru realizes what he lost when she was killed and he now trusts her implicitly, understanding that she always has his back. And Satoru’s mom is really the world’s most awesome mom, allowing him an incredible amount of freedom because even though she’s not aware of his Revival ability, she understands he’s trying to do something incredibly important to him.

When his mom was murdered in the opening episode, I was disappointed, because even in the first episode it was possible to see her as a fully realized character with her own agency (she figures out the serial killer’s identity, which is why she gets killed in the first place), so I was very happy that she plays an active role in the events of the past.

Watching Satoru relive his childhood with a better appreciation and understanding of his mom and his friends is the real joy of Erased, and his plan to foil the serial killer is easy to buy into. It never goes out of the realm of what a real live kid could accomplish (given the appropriate drive and knowledge), and the way he befriends the lonely and abused Kayo so she never has reason to be alone is one of the show’s charms.

If there’s any fault to Erased it’s in the villain. Narratively there are very few potential culprits and most viewers who think about it will correctly conclude who the killer is long before any proof comes out. It’s a little frustrating because Satoru himself doesn’t have enough information for him to realistically identify the killer before the reveal happens. He doesn’t have the benefit of knowing that he’s in a story.

There is also, perhaps, a little too much time spent on the villain’s motivation, which I don’t think the show really needed. It’s hard to justify why someone would kill children in a way that would make sense to the audience and it feels like it had to be shoehorned in to make the climax work.

Aside from that weakness, the rest the show comes together in the end, giving a real feeling that things have changed for the better. I like how Satoru emerges from his experience as a more confident person, at ease with himself, and it’s easy to see how he’s grown between the beginning and the end of the series due to his determination to save Kayo, his mother, and the other children who were killed.

“Erased” is lovely combination of a second chance to be a better person and a mystery thriller. It’s not perfect, but definitely worth a watch.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: engaging characters, child Satoru is interesting to watch and cheer for, his mom isn’t a passive character and is in fact one of the show’s active players

Minuses: killer’s identity is narratively easy to figure out, villain’s motivation is nonsensical and doesn’t really add anything, Airi is an overall superfluous character who could be cut from the story but was presumably left in so adult Satoru could have a love interest

Erased is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Aniplex of America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Winter 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

The winter season has arrived, and there are no holdovers from fall for me to watch, so my schedule is completely free! As usual, I’ll pick two or three series to watch, though a fourth might make its way in if it comes highly recommended.



Why I Watched It: The original Japanese title Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (lit: The Town Where Only I Don’t Exist) is evocative and the premise is that the twenty-nine year old protagonist has a limited ability to go back in time to fix events that will prevent people from dying, but when he’s framed for his mother’s murder his jump back takes him all the way to 18 years ago, one month before a classmate of his goes missing.

What I Thought: Wow! There’s a lot crammed into that opening episode, covering not only Satoru’s unique ability (which usually only takes him a few minutes back, not 18 years), but also a serial kidnapping/murder case that was not actually solved even though the books had been closed with a culprit found guilty. The statute of limitations just ran out because, guess what, it’s been 18 years. Satoru’s mom is a very canny woman and figures out the events of 18 years ago didn’t actually end, and presumably the real party responsible is the one who then murders her to keep her quiet, leaving Satoru to take the rap, except that Satoru’s ability then yanks him back in time to stop the real reason for her murder.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! I was disappointed Satoru’s mom got fridged so early because as far as anime moms go, she’s awesome, but we’ll presumably be getting more of the past her now that Satoru’s gone back in time. My biggest concern is that the manga is still running, but it’s ending soon and the anime production team is promising that the anime itself will have an ending as well, so it won’t finish unresolved.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

grimgar of fantasy and ash

Why I Watched It: Can there be too many series about people trapped in a medieval European fantasy RPG world? Apparently not. This is not the only one this season, but the only one I’m watching. The twist in this one is that the participants seem to be unaware that they’re in a game, or even what a game is.

What I Thought: It’s not clear whether they’re actually in a game, but as a portal fantasy it works fine too. Somehow, a group of about a dozen people from our world wake up in a tower with no memories of their prior lives, but sometimes words and concepts spill out and they have no idea what they mean or how they know them. They’re escorted to a town where they’re told they can make a living as volunteer soldiers since the real army is too busy to focus on local dangers. The POV party collectively fills roles common in fantasy and gaming fiction, but they’re comically terrible at it (as might be expected of random people from our world); unable to handle the weakest monsters in the forest. I was turned off by the odd 2-3 minutes spent debating the bust size of one of the female characters, but if that’s a one off I can move past it.

Verdict: I’ll probably watch this one. I like Manato (the priest and party leader), and being the most competent person in the group he probably should have taken a different role so they could actually earn some money, but then maybe if he hadn’t the rest of the party wouldn’t be alive.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation


Why I Watched It: I only checked it out because I dropped a lot of hours into the original Phantasy Star Online, which was an Diablo-style RPG. The sequel never made it to English speaking shores, but its anime adaptation has. Unfortunately the word is that it’s terrible, so this is strictly a curiosity viewing. Rather than taking place inside the world of the game, it follows teenagers who play the game. Wha?

What I Thought: Not as horrible as I thought it would be, but PSO2 seems to be be suffering from trying to do two different things at once. It wants the game world to be its own entity with its own set of stakes, but at the same time it wants a plot that runs through the offline world and the people who play the game. I suspect that the in-universe PSO2 will end up being more than just a game and conflict will spill over from the online to the offline, but it doesn’t quite come together, especially since this is a real world game that exists in our world. The characters go to Seiga Academy! Say it out loud. Yeah, the reference is that blatant. And if that’s not enough, the fountain in the center of their school looks like Sonic the Hedgehog.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. While it’s nice seeing some of the designs animated for a game I had dropped well over a hundred hours on when I was just out of college, it’s just not what I’m looking for.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Prince of Stride: Alternative

prince of stride

Why I Watched It: This seems like a slower season compared to most and I’ve never watched a sports anime before so I figured I’d try one. In high school I did hurdles and the high jump for track and field, so a series about a parkour/relay race team seems up my alley.

What I Thought: I had no real expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised. If stride was a real sport (I don’t think it is) I would certainly have considered it in high school. It’s very showy and well choreographed. I loved the detail the animators paid to warming up, with one of the athletes doing a common ankle exercise. Even though the show will presumably showcase their matches, the first episode gets the tension rolling with a more mundane concern when protagonist Nana Sakurai comes to Honan Academy only to find out the stride club possesses so few members it can no longer race competitively. Though they get enough people by the end of the episode, it’s clear the reason for the stride club being in such bad shape will come up later.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It looks like fun, and even though I probably won’t try another sports anime after this one, this hits close to my heart.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu



Why I Watched It: Even though it’s a prequel/spin-off to the Muv-Luv series (which I haven’t seen), there aren’t many anime set in East Germany, so that piqued my interest. The art style is less cutesy than its predecessor and closer to my tastes so I figured I’d give it a shot. Schwarzesmarken translates into “Black Marks” and is the name of the 666th Squadron the story follows.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what year it takes place (1980-something?), but East Germany still exists and they’re fighting invading aliens with mecha. What makes this more unique compared to other mecha series is its setting, with the protagonists being soldiers in a communist state who aren’t necessarily happy with their country, as seen through the eyes of Second Lieutenant Theodor Eberbach, who appears to have made an attempt to flee the country at some point before being forced into the military. I’m not entirely sure where the series is going since the aliens are pretty brainless and being a prequel they’re likely here to stay, but there’s stuff involving a West German pilot defecting to the East in search of someone, and Theodor’s CO might be a Stasi informant, and nobody wants to mess with the secret police.

Verdict: I might end up watching, I’m not sure yet. I’m a bit put off by the spray-on body suits the female pilots wear, but I like the unusual setting and the fact that Theodor feels threatened by human enemies just as much as the alien ones. I feel like in most mecha anime Theodor’s army would be the bad guy’s side, but instead they’re up against aliens and they’re the dubious good guys.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

showa genroku rakugo shinju

Why I Watched It: I’m not sure there’s a good way to translate this title, but suffice to say it’s a Showa era (1926-1989) period piece steeped in Japanese culture about an ex-convict who wants to become a rakugo performer; rakugo being a centuries old art form where a single storyteller/performer entertains the audience with a verbal performance of a comedic story.

What I Thought: It’s a slower sort of show, but definitely takes newcomers through what rakugo is by including the entirety of a single performance in the opening episode and making the telling of the story reflect upon the character who is telling it. Main character Yotaro is not terribly bright, but is very enthusiastic, wanting to learn rakugo because it was the bright spot during his incarceration. Being an ex-con with no money and no place to go he manages to convince his idol to take him as his first apprentice, even though Yotaro is the last person anyone would expect to become an artist. Trouble follows him around so things never get too easy, but he takes to the art faster and more successfully than I expected he would.

Verdict: I’m not sure. It felt more educational than entertaining. Though I did laugh at some of the rakugo performance, the show needs more than that to hook me and I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Conspicuously missing:

Ajin – Some people are mysteriously discovered to be immortal, but only after being killed, so no one knows how many there actually are, and being immortal is a raw deal as the government is capturing those immortals to find out what makes them tick. This has been licensed by Netflix, which means that it will not be simulcasted. In an era where localization companies like Funimation are trying to get even their dubs out faster to the online audience, Netflix’s half year delays on releasing licenses feels like a backwards way of doing things.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Interview: Jennifer Rush

JennRushJennifer Rush does YA and MG, sci fi and horror, prequels and sequels, male and female POVs, romance and action. Let’s just say she’s versatile.


CARL SLAUGHTER: When your agency decided to represent Altered and when your publisher decided to buy it, what type of feedback did you get from the agent and editor? What aspects of the story appealed to them?

JENNIFER RUSH: I think it was a few different elements. Thrillers, and characters that have been genetically altered, weren’t huge at the time, so I think it helped that the idea was fresh. I also focused a lot on keeping up the action, and the plot twists, so I think that helped too!


CARL: Your third Altered book is going to be a prequel. Why delve into Nick’s past?

JENNIFER: It’s technically a companion novel to Altered and Erased, since it takes place shortly after Erased ended. A lot of readers expressed interest in Nick after reading Altered and Erased, and I really loved him as a character, so when it came time to deciding what my third book would be, it really was a no-brainer! Nick is an interesting guy, with a dark, complicated past. I knew he’d be fun to write, and I knew there was a lot of potential for plot lines with his past involvement with the Branch. I’m hoping readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


CS: Why do you use a dual POV in the third book, one boy, one girl, as opposed to one POV in the first two books, namely the female character?

JR: It was my editor that suggested I try writing the book in a dual POV, and using Nick as one of the POV characters in order to get inside his head. I was afraid of trying it at first. I didn’t think I’d be able to do him justice. And Nick is a mysterious character, and I wasn’t sure if readers would really want to see inside his head. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to peel back that layer. But, it turned out, writing Nick was one of the best experiences I’ve had yet! You’re never really sure what he’s going to do, or what he’s going to say. I loved that aspect.


CS: One of the main characters in Altered 3 is male, broken, and a badass. You’re none of the above. So how do you take the reader into this character’s head?

JR: Good question! This was something I definitely worried about when setting out to write Altered 3. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write from a male POV. I have in the past, with Bot Wars, for instance, but Trout is a twelve-year-old boy, which isn’t quite the same as writing an older teenage assassin. I definitely used my husband for some of the writing. I would ask him what a boy would do in a certain scenario, or what he would say. As far as the broken aspect, I just tried to imagine what it would be like to have lived through the things Nick has lived through, and what it would do to a person. For Nick, that means a lot of destructive behavior. The only thing keeping him together are the people surrounding him — Anna, Sam, Cas, and in some regards, Trev. Nick really is a better man with his “family” around.


CS: The male characters in the Altered series are described as hot. But at the same time, there is plenty of danger for the main characters. How do you blend the sex appeal and the danger into the relationships and the plot? Do the protagonists make decisions based on their survival instinct, their moral compass, their desire for human fulfillment, or their romantic and sexual attraction to each other?

JR: I think it’s all of those elements. Their decisions do have a lot to do with surviving. They’re running for their lives on a daily basis. But they are also good people, or want to be. They don’t want to kill people just to kill, but sometimes its necessary in order to survive. And I think romance, or perhaps love is a better way of describing it, factors into their decisions too. They all love each other, especially Sam and Anna, so when they make a move, they want to be sure the risk is worth it.


CS: Are there steamy scenes? How steamy can you get with a YA novel?

JR: There aren’t many steamy scenes in Altered. There’s some kissing and some sexual tension, but I’m a writer that fades to black. I’m a bit conservative when it comes to writing sexy scenes! But that’s just a personal preference. I feel like YA now is a lot more open to a lot more subject matter, and there are fewer lines drawn in the sand. You have to write what you’re comfortable writing, and what feels right for your book and your characters.


CS: Your first series, Bot Wars, is MG. Your second series, Altered, is YA. What are the distinctive storytelling challenges between these two age groups?

JR: With YA, the story is much more personal. Teens (usually) are getting their first taste of freedom, and exploring what’s important to them, and how they relate to the world. Romance is also a huge part of YA. As a reader, I expect there to be romance! As a writer, I try to strike a balance between story and romance, so that neither element overshadows the other. With MG, families still play a huge part in a tween’s life, so I like to incorporate parents and siblings as much as I can into the storylines. I also think humor is important in MG, at least from my standpoint, and being funny is hard work!


CS: You’re working on a horror story. Is this an experiment or is this your next targeted genre?

JR: At this point, it’s still an experiment! I have the entire story mapped out, and quite a bit of it written, but it’s still in its early stages, and I’m not sure its quite right for my “brand” at this point. But I’m not giving up on it entirely! I’m just putting it on the back burner for now.


CS: The cover art for Altered has tree branches covering a boy’s body. What do these branches represent?

JR: One of the boys — Sam — has that tattooed on his back. The tattoo factors into the plot quite heavily. But I don’t want to dig further, because I don’t want to spoil anything!


CS: What does a typical month look like for an author promoting their books?

JR: For me, it’s a lot of social media work — tweeting regularly, whether it’s book stuff, or just personal stuff, to engage with readers and potential readers. There’s usually a blog tour as well, and we always try to keep it fun and unique! I also like to send out bookmarks, and books, through giveaways, or fun Twitter games. I really like playing trivia games on Twitter! I try to keep the month before a book releases as laid back as possible, because it can become stressful!


CS: Did you start with short fiction or delve directly into novels? How many novels did you write before you sold your first?

JR: I never really experimented with short stories in the beginning. I read primarily novels, so it’s what I knew and it’s where I started. Now with the digital market expanding, and with readers hungry for more content, I’ve started writing novellas to fill in characters’ backstories, and give readers extra content between novels. Before I signed with my agent, I wrote somewhere around 12-14 novels. I’m an impatient writer, and there’s always a book waiting in the wings! I tend to write fast, and then move right on to the next project.


CS: Any advice to aspiring novelists?

JR: Read! Read lots, and read widely. Read books you love, and read books you hate. Take note of what you liked about a book, and what you didn’t like, and how you might have done it differently. And then write the book that you want to read. If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, then the reader won’t enjoy it either. Don’t write to trends. And, most importantly, keep going. Don’t give up. Perseverance is more than half the battle. It takes a long time to learn the craft, and perfect it, and it takes even longer to find the right fit with an agent or publisher. Try to be patient. It’s easier said than done, though, I know!


Books by Jennifer Rush
“Altered” – out now
“Erased” – Altered #2 – out now
“Forged” – Altered prequel – out now
“Untitled” – Altered #3 – January 2015
“Bot Wars” – out now
“The Meta-Rise” – Bot Wars #2 – July 10th 2014