Boku Machi showed high promise in its previews and being somewhat of an A-1 Pictures fan, I was very excited for this show. The title in itself was intriguing enough, “The town where only I am missing”. It sounds like a line of a really pretentious poem and it clearly distinguished itself from the rest of the shows in the season.
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Satoru is a 29 year old man who makes use of a special power he calls “Revival” where, in a dangerous situation, time sends him back a few minutes before the setting becomes a crime scene. Although he fancies himself as a bit of a superhero, he doesn’t give off this “I am God” protagonist vibe that shows like Death Note and Charlotte make clear. It’s a nice change of pace to have a protagonist who just seems like a sound guy. I want to avoid spoiling the plot so, a revival is triggered which is unlike any others he’s experienced and it shapes the overall storyline for the whole show.
There is a clear gap between this show’s production value and that of the somewhat smaller shows of the season. Coming from the director behind: Silver Spoon, Sword Art Online, Occult Academy and more, it was obvious that most producers and licencors would want their names on this. (Even if you don’t like shows like SAO, that’s not a good reason to skip this show by any means.) The animation and visual direction (Ishihama Masashi) is absolutely breathtaking, even in seemingly simple shots there is so much detail put into every sequence. This isn’t just to create beautiful scenes, often the imagery put in front of you really pushes the boundary of their “R – 17+” rating. The show tackles dark themes of abduction, paedophilia and psychological effects of loss which (accompanied by the often gritty art style) effectively drives these horrific concepts home. And the cliffhangers! Before Boku Machi, I could honestly say that no anime had made me so restless that I couldn’t sleep. I guess that’s expected when you watch a Tomohiko show as it airs right?
I was apparently a rare breed as I hadn’t read the manga before watching Boku Machi and to be completely honest, I knew nothing about this show. As of writing this, I plan to read the manga as there’s some controversy over the differing endings between the manga and the anime (apparently the manga ending is better). In a sense I’m grateful for my ignorance because every cliff hanger had me on edge and I found it difficult to focus on anything other than what would happen in the next episode. This is the first time I’ve watched an anime as it aired where the anticipation between episodes was this prominent – given that I mainly watch high school slice of life trash. Boku Machi was an incredible change of pace for me as it conveys everything I love in anime.
The story was gripping and I loved every character within it. That doesn’t mean I liked every character but it means that every character felt needed and contributed a substantial amount to the overall plot. Personally, I very rarely like a protagonist when it comes to anime (Charlotte’s Yuu, Clannad’s Tomoya and Space Dandy being exceptions) but Satoru was an excellently well rounded character whose strengths essentially defined his flaws. When an anime focuses its whole story from one character’s point of view, you better have a damn compelling protagonist for it to work. After watching the first episode, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Kenya was another brilliant character who offered a different approach to the mystery and provided a more grounded and thought out method which split up Satoru’s gung-ho efforts nicely. I know quite a few people predicted Kenya to have a much more dark role in the narrative which goes to show how mysterious the character is and how the audience didn’t even trust Satoru’s best friend. Kayo gave the main cast something to protect and is the whole reason Satoru embarks on his quest in the first place, and I can’t think of any way to better her character. She’s given a dreadful past but she isn’t completely defined by it, often in anime a character will have one specific thing about them and, for fear of deviation, they won’t be seen associated with anything else. Thankfully, Kayo had so much of the runtime focused on making her a loveable character and personally, she was the sole reason the cliffhangers messed me up so bad. I haven’t cared this much for a character since I first watched Clannad and was introduced to that colourful cast (most notably Kotomi).
The visual direction was stellar and varied to fit the mood. Tackling such intense themes as this show does, it’s clear that if the settings and environments don’t feel believable then the whole sequence is going to fall flat. Not to repeat myself, but Ishihama Masashi does an absolutely fantastic job in crafting this familiar world of a seemingly normal Japanese town and slotting the narratives within it. This approach really conveys the message that darkness is where you would least expect it, and darkness is all around you wherever you go. There’s no forbidden castles, there’s no underground dungeons because to a girl like Kayo, a regular house can be much more frightening than that. The villain(s) are often depicted in their homes, at a school, at the park or in a car. All of these settings are simple and something that almost everybody can relate to, it instils this feeling of uneasiness knowing that nowhere in this town is safe. The only clear safe haven in the world is Satoru’s home and that’s mainly down to the presence of his mother who is another down-to-Earth character. Setting the narrative in winter also envelopes the frame in this grey/white wash which assists the audience in seeing a dull and blank world. In a lot of cases this would be a shot in the foot as the audience would have nothing interesting to look at, but the show constantly throws vibrant colours at you in the form of the characters themselves. Kayo wears a bright red backpack which radiates colour into the frame and a cream scarf which flows in the wind to give movement and life to an otherwise frozen sequence.
As another note, this show has a thing for positioning the audience’s view in such a way that the main cast looks like they’re being watched. On multiple occasions per episode the “camera” is positioned as if it’s far away looking at Satoru’s back or barely seeing his face. Relating this further, in the first episode the angles used convey a perspective of spying on the main cast. In the sequence where Airi has dinner at Satoru’s place, the audience see the scene from a high altitude with the angle skewed downwards to physically look down on Satoru and Airi. Also in these scenes, the mother usually faces her back to the “camera” showing how blind she is to what’s going on in the town. These high camera angles mimic that of a CCTV camera and helps make the main cast look meek and powerless which unfortunately is an accurate description of them in the first episode. Even if you’ve watched this show, I highly recommend giving it a re-watch because these subtle red herrings are all over the place and I know I missed a lot of them with my first viewing of the show.
Despite there not being much great competition (note that I have yet to see Grimgar), Boku Machi was without a doubt the best show of Winter 2016. I really wish I could say more to fault this show other than that a few episodes seemed a bit rushed. Personally I slightly lost interest once a certain point in the narrative had “resolved” which is why I can’t rate this as a perfect show but it wasn’t nearly enough for me to stop watching. This show is fantastic, I’ve done my best to deviate from the “this show is a 10/10” mindset that I see every other critic release but there’s a reason that opinion has become so widespread. Boku Machi is one of my favourite mystery shows I’ve seen in a long time and now my favourite show produced by A-1 Pictures. I still think calling it ERASED sounds stupid though. Watch Boku Machi and then refer to it as such, it’s an incredible show.