Finally, some much-needed redemption. 2015 was not a particularly good year for either the mystery genre or the noitaminA block, as pretty much every title that came out under either one or both of these two labels suffered massive structural/writing issues. Between Ranpo Kitan, Rokka no Yuusha, Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation and The Perfect Insider, not one was capable of fully satiating my desire to see a strong crime thriller/mystery from this medium. But that was 2015.
It’s always awesome to see high levels of anticipation adequately met, and whilst there were a couple of issues to be had with this premiere, I’m about ready to breathe a sigh of relief. We have a pretty high pedigree to work with here too. Whilst not at all one of my preferred studios, A-1 Pictures seems to have brought it in the right man for the job in Taku Kishimoto. I was a tad worried that as an adaptation of just 12 episodes, the condensing of material would work in anyone’s favor, but the most part I was kind of wrong. Make no mistake, there were many bits and pieces of the original story tossed out in order to get to this episode’s cliffhanger, but a good understanding of the material here on the part of the scriptwriters made it essentially a non-issue as nothing that was instrumental to understanding the characters, or for the plot later on was removed. Of course, none of this would really matter if the original story itself wasn’t anything special, however, I honestly consider it to be one of the best manga to come out in this century. There’s a reason why it came only just short of last year’s Manga Taishō award last year and is considered a shoe-in for this year’s.
I think part of what is crucial to the success of this premier is just how…. grounded it all seems. What I mean by that of course is that there isn’t a whole lot about this that’s terribly garish, from the way the characters move, to how they even speak. Satoru’s seiyuu, for example, sounds far different than what you’ve come to expect from lead characters. Shinnosuke Mitsushima maybe a new face in the industry, but he really hit the ground running with this performance. His reactions aren’t loud and obnoxious to convey “comedy” and his low-key tone does a fantastic job of capturing Satoru’s existential ennui. Speaking of which, there was that opening narration. Whilst I don’t normally care for opening a story with philosophical monologs, the way it was handled here made it so that there was just enough to cut to the heart of Satoru’s state of existence without overstaying its welcome. That said, there is more to Satoru than his boring lifestyle as a mangaka that’s too afraid to really put his ideas out there would suggest. The dude, of course, has some serious baggage from his tragic events that marred his childhood which informs his current antisocial look at life quite well. He seems navel-gazey for sure, but at least, we have an idea as to why. His mother, in particular, seems like a nice counterbalance, with her lively attitude she seems as if she would be the coolest mom to have for any wide-eyed youngster. To someone like Satoru, whose now grown up and lacks any kind of “spark” in his demeanor or routine, she just seems like an abrasive annoyance. So far, the script is doing a fine job of laying out interpersonal relations between the characters. Even someone like Airi, who sort of seems to be playing up the “bubbly anime girl” stereotype just a little, but she still feels enough like a normal, down to earth girl to not be an annoyance.
Another thing worth noting here is how the concept of time travel is being handled. For Satoru, the ability to go back in time to resolve problems seems like less of a blessing and more like an inconvenient obligation. He does it because he’s the only one who can and doesn’t consider himself as much of a hero for doing it. The whole idea behind his “revivals” works so far because they aren’t spammable fix-alls to any calamity. He has no control of when they happen and the amount of time he’ll be set back which requires him to think on his feet the moment he spots that glowing butterfly. He also doesn’t know exactly how many chances he’ll get at finding a desirable outcome. But the important thing is that we do know that it is possible to save lives with this power since no one is necessarily fated to die at a certain point no matter how much you try to stop it. This sets the show apart from things like Stein;s Gate and Madoka Magica, where trying to save someone in the past is pretty much impossible since they’re fated to die no matter how much times that reset button is hit. Satoru doesn’t need to find some complex, exploitable loopholes to overcome fatalism, but saving the people he cares for this way is still going to take a lot of effort.
Morose, but without being “edgy”. Philosophical, but not in an overly didactic and boring way….there are a lot of reasons to be excited for what Boku dake ga Inai Machi has to offer as right now, this is definitely the unequivocal “it” show of the season for me. Whilst not perfect, my only major issue stems from what I consider to be an unfortunate misstep this episode at the end in comparison to how the manga itself handled the confrontation between Satoru and the killer. Parts of it were cut out that not only heightened the tension of the situation but also gave the police better grounds for taking Satoru in as a suspect. That said, this was still a reasonably strong start otherwise, and with the ending confirmed to be taken straight from the mind of mangaka Kei Sanbe, this is going to need a colossal botch-job down the road to not be a real keeper.