The first volume of Erased, a new manga by Kei Sanbe, is strangely atmospheric, one of those seinen stories filled with snow and wide-eyed children, but it’s not at all sentimental. Quite the contrary: it’s a time-travel story with a murder mystery at its heart.
At 29, Satoru Fujinuma is on the verge of becoming a complete failure as a manga-ka, having received his latest in a string of rejection from magazine editors. He delivers pizzas to make ends meet. But something weird starts happening to him: every now and then, without warning, time slips back a few minutes. He calls this “revival,” and it happens just before someone is placed in mortal danger. He has to figure out what is wrong and prevent the person from being killed—and if he misses the telling detail, the clock moves back again until he gets it right.
This setup makes the first few chapters a delight for fan of puzzles and mysteries. I found myself flipping back through the first few incidents again and again, checking the details to see if I could spot the solution before Fujinuma. The first time it happens, Fujinuma saves a boy’s life—but he doesn’t see a car coming at him, and is involved in an accident that puts him in the hospital.
He opens his eyes to see his pizza delivery coworker Katagiri, a high school girl, sitting at his bedside. They aren’t particularly close, but the fact is, Fujinuma isn’t particularly close to anyone. As Katagiri says, “It’s like you’re covered with a thin cloak. You don’t seem like the type who opens up to people.” Her words echo those of the manga editor, who told Fujinuma he was not opening up to his readers. In fact, Fujinuma does have a secret buried deep within himself, but it takes some time for the story to get around to it, in part because Fujinuma has covered it over so well that even he only barely remembers it.
The accident seems to have brought on a case of flashbacks, though, and his story comes out in fragments. We know the secret has to do with a strange girl Fujinuma spoke to briefly in a snowy park. The girl, Kayo Hinazuki, disappeared the next day and later turned up dead; two other children were also kidnapped and murdered. A suspect was convicted of the crimes and is on death row, but one of the “revival” events makes Fujinuma start rethinking everything. Then another violent incident sends him rocketing further back in time, to fifth grade, just before the murders, and he realizes he may have a chance to prevent them from happening.
Something else is going on as well: As an adult, Fujinuma regards his mother, a glamorous former TV reporter, as an embarrassing nuisance, but even before time rolls back, he starts to appreciate her more, and once he is a kid again, his 29-year-old brain recognizes the love she had for him. He likewise recognizes, to a greater degree, the way he was playing a part in order to fit in at school—but somehow his relationships with his classmates become more genuine as time goes on and he draws Kayo into his circle of friends.
This is an unusually well-told story, making deft use of foreshadowing and a carefully thought out structure. As the story goes on, the early details take on more significance, and I again found myself flipping back a few pages to see what I may have missed.
Hardcover $18.68 | $19.99
Kei Sanbe was an assistant to Hirohiko Araki on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and her experience and skill serve her well here. The art is straightforward, not overly stylized save for the huge eyes of the women and children, but she displays an excellent ability to convey a sense of place. Even the simplest scenes, those of children standing in a snow-covered park at nightfall, have an evocative quality that draws the reader in.
Yen Press is collecting this short series in four double-sized hardback volumes, with dust jackets and a slightly larger-than-usual trim size. That’s a good choice: getting two volumes at once allows us to really settle into a story, and this manga is so good, it really deserves the deluxe treatment. It’s one to keep, to savor, and to reread.