Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED) has quickly risen as a favorite, not only among this season’s anime, but among anime all-time. It’s currently at the #1 spot on Anime-Planet (knocking FMAB down a peg) and the #5 spot at MAL. Anime fans in general love it, while the more picky critics… well, I think they like it too. But BokuMachi raised expectations pretty high in the first couple episodes, so every time the quality drops below 10/10, the pickier critics notice and comment. I think it’s a compliment.
Me? I really, really like BokuMachi. Sure, I have a few complaints. And I can’t give a final verdict until the series ends. But it’s fresh in several ways. Yes, many people have asked, “What if I could go back in time and keep X from happening?” That question has shown up in many time-traveling stories, and there’s often some lesson about the risk of time travel or accepting the way your life is. But that’s not how it’s presented in BokuMachi.
Satoru doesn’t try to go back in time. He just does, realizes he’s supposed to keep something from happening, and acts accordingly. It’s more like rewinding (or skipping back) than time travel; there are never two of him in the same place. I’d compare it to Groundhog Day or that one Supernatural episode. But even those comparisons aren’t perfect, since Satoru isn’t stuck in a time loop until he learns his lesson, and the series isn’t centered on a lesson; it’s about saving Hinazuki and the other victims. Of course, I say that, but the first line in the series introduces a very internal conflict: “I’m scared. I’m scared to get to the heart of my own mind.” So there is a subplot of individual growth.
I say BokuMachi is “fresh” because it uses this movement through time in a different way than I’ve seen. I like that Revival isn’t the focus of the anime, but instead a tool used in plot and character development. I even like that Satoru comes back to the present for a while after failing, even though others don’t like that episode—I think it gives opportunities for thematic continuity, and it allows Satoru to connect more dots about the mystery and his own desire to help others. The imagery throughout BokuMachi, and specifically attached to Revival, also delights me. There’s the film, of course, which adds to the “rewind” feeling without anyone verbally making the analogy, and the supernaturally blue butterfly that appears before each Revival, bringing connotations of new life. (This image pairs well with Airi cutting through the imaginary “membrane” around Satoru in the first episode—it’s not a stretch, I think, to compare that “membrane” with a caterpillar’s cocoon.) I’ve learned, too, that in Japan, butterflies can be viewed as souls of the living and the dead—so that’s something else to keep in mind as the show continues to unfold.* Add to that the fact he calls this phenomenon “Revival,” an English word connected with restoration of life and wakefulness.
I could explore BokuMachi‘s imagery for hours, but I’d like to pull back and look at Satoru’s Revival from a more practical perspective.
Satoru describes Revival:
Even though I know it’s not beneficial for me, I always get involved. I usually go back between one and five minutes, where everything is the same as before. It’s always right before something bad happens. I find myself searching for the thing that doesn’t feel right, as if someone put me there with the order to “Prevent it!’” As a result, I’ve kept trouble from happening again and again. In most cases, negative incidents just come out even. Once in a while, it turns negative for me. (episode 1)
Satoru’s Revival sends him back in time, usually just a few minutes. When he realizes it’s happened, he knows he has the opportunity to prevent something bad from happening, be it a tragic accident or a crime. A few things stick out to me about this. First, he intervenes even though “nothing good comes from helping strangers.” Second, he’s driven by a sense that he is meant, even commanded, to prevent trouble. Third, he notices things he wouldn’t notice otherwise, like with the truck. He might not know what is wrong at first, but he can sense that something is, so he follows up on it.
In the first episode, Satoru puts his life on the line to save a little boy from a runaway truck. He seems dispassionate and reluctant, like he doesn’t even know why he bothers. As soon as he realizes the disaster he’s meant to prevent, he thinks, “I shouldn’t have gotten involved! But…” He remembers a conversation with someone dressed as a superhero. No words are heard, and this sliver of memory is the only explanation given for why he tries to redirect the truck. Then his life flashes before his eyes, he forgets the “but,” and he states, “There, see? Nothing good comes of getting involved with strangers.”
Then again, he thinks, “My dying doesn’t make a difference anyway.” So while he might not feel it’s important to sacrifice himself for others, he doesn’t think it will matter much to others if he dies. But one image disrupts his thinking: an old schoolmate in the park.
That schoolmate, he later remembers, is Hinazuki Kayo, a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered when he was ten years old. He was convinced, until his mother helped him forget, that if he’d just asked her to walk home with him, she’d still be alive.
When the Revival phenomenon sends him back in time to shortly before Kayo was killed, Satoru becomes involved in her life. And when there may be backlash, he doesn’t consider it proof that it’s a bad idea to get involved. Instead, he thinks it’s worth it—no longer because he doesn’t care for his own life, but because he truly cares for hers.
It’s interesting to me that Satoru feels compelled as if by an order, especially before the big murder-related Revival. Thus, even in a generally apathetic state, he puts himself at risk to help others. He’s not driven by personal motivation at this point, largely because, as he says at the beginning of the pilot, “I’m scared to get to the heart of my own mind.” He doesn’t know his own mind or motivation at first, so he can only follow the direction of an outside force.
Another part of the package is his ability to notice that something is wrong. It’s not something obvious—otherwise, he’d have caught it the first time. But he knows from experience with Revival that he’s placed at this time for a purpose, so he’s alert to it.
As I watch Satoru move from automatically obeying a “command” to act to selflessly, passionately striving to save others, I can’t help but think of real life applications.
It’s really easy not to care about others’ troubles. Even more sympathetic people get caught up in their own lives and stop noticing those outside their own social circles. If we do notice a stranger in potential trouble, we think, “it’s not my business,” “they won’t want a stranger’s help,” or “I shouldn’t do anything that may draw attention.” We assume everyone will look out for themselves and their closest friends and family, and if we don’t do the same, we’ll be at a disadvantage. No need to borrow trouble from someone else when we have plenty of our own.
Because of this, we’re blind to others. The examples that come to my mind mostly involve abuse or mental/emotional distress: We ignore the kid eating alone. We don’t dwell on signs of abuse in others, let alone see if someone needs help, because we don’t want to by nosy—especially if we’re not close to that person. Surely, if it’s bad, someone who knows them better or someone in authority will notice and act.
Sometimes, we’re even blind to struggles among closer family and friends—we assume nothing’s wrong because they haven’t said anything, although if we paid attention, we’d notice signs of emotional, mental, or physical distress. I speak vaguely partially because I know I’m blind to a lot, and partially because an example that comes to mind can’t be shared without compromising another’s privacy. We either don’t see the problem because we’re ignorant like Satoru before Revival, or like Kenya, able to see the problem but unable or unwilling to act. Either way, there’s a lack of passion and purpose.
Revival gives Satoru purpose. That purpose, combined with emotional childhood memories that he’s tried to erase, drives him to help others in ways he would otherwise consider impossible. A man on a delivery bike redirecting a big truck? No way. A child saving another child from abuse—and then murder—when even the teacher hasn’t had success? Chances of success seem low. It’s easier to look the other way. Assume she just falls down a lot. Let the teacher keep trying. It’s his job, not Satoru’s. No one would blame a weak kid like him for sitting this one out.
But Satoru knows it is his job to help. And because of his actions, his classmate Kenya—who, though perceptive, is still a child without the experience of a 29-year-old—decides to take responsibility and help Hinazuki, too.
We have the same responsibility. This applies to all humanity, of course, but I’m going to speak specifically to Christians. If we’re to love like Jesus, that means caring like Jesus. And he cares about everyone, on all levels—physical, mental, spiritual. We’re commanded to take care of those in need on a physical level, as well as to spread the gospel and make disciples.
True, no one of us can help everyone. Alone, like Satoru, we might not even be able to help one person. But we’re commanded to reach out to others, and that’s why we can act with confidence, asking for help from the Holy Spirit and from others.
Even with purpose, we might not always have passion. I don’t. Sometimes, it’s an emotional energy issue. Often, my love for others just isn’t enough. Still, I’ve found that serving others, while also studying Christ’s character and praying for my heart’s change, awakens a passion. This does mean being emotionally vulnerable—it can hurt to care about others. But it’s worth it. We’re more likely to take initiative in reaching others when we’re motivated by love for them and for God. That initiative, in turn, inspires others.
Satoru is inspiring. Jesus is more inspiring—he shows by example what it means to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in order to reach others. Christians, we’ve been given a new life for a reason—not just to live better lives for our own sakes. If ways to serve God and others are not immediately obvious, we should be praying and searching for ways to serve. There may be no earthly benefit for us. We may not immediately feel passionate about it. But like Satoru, we can confidently act regardless of our passion level or our own weakness, because we’ve been put in this place and time, with supernatural help, for a purpose, and our lives and deaths will make a difference.
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