ERASED (Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi) Creator Sanbe Kei: “On the fulcrum between two periods of time, everything changed.”
Traveling back and forth between the present (2006) and the past (1988), protagonist Satoru Fujinuma must go all out to stop a terrible tragedy, and save the people he loves… A Sanbe Kei creation, the ERASED (Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi) manga has been serialized in Young Ace, and published in book form. Both formats have drawn significant interest for the shocking story, and the work has been listed on some of the top charts including This Manga’s Amazing!, the Cartoon Grand Prize (Manga Taisho), and Read This! Manga RANKING. ERASED began airing as an anime in January of 2016 on the Fuji TV noitaminA programming block, and on March 19th it was released as a movie, the first collaboration between Tetsuya Fujiwara and Kasumi Arimura. Around the same time as the movie release, it finished its run on Young Ace in the April issue, and is currently one of the hottest topics in the news.
What went into the making of this incredibly popular work? How did the recently-released movie come about? I asked these and other questions to writer and creator Kei Sanbe.
YH: Congratulations on having recently completed the publication run. I want to ask you about the entire work, but first of all, how did you come up with this story?
Well, the original idea that I had morphed into what it is now after it began running on Young Ace. Even the characters changed. The things that stayed the same from my original concept were the ideas of time travel and of tracking down a criminal. When it started becoming ERASED, I changed the protagonist, his family, his friends. The original concept is really only just hinted at, now.
YH: When you started putting your pen to paper, did you already have everything planned out in your head?
As far as the basic outline and the initial setting for the story, I had a few points here and there ready to go. It took some work just to get that far though. I followed lots of different threads to get to those “points.” I went along picking and choosing the best ideas that came to me. Even at the very end, I had this idea of the kind of impression I wanted to leave on the reader, but I was open to changing it. Despite that, on the whole the ending turned out pretty much as I imagined it.
YH: More than anything else, the title, ERASED (Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi), leaves an impression. How did you come up with it?
The title was chosen before figuring out the plots to the various episodes, when only the basic concept of the entire story was loosely constructed. The title came out of imagining time in the story without the main character. I asked my wife what she thought, and she said it was pretty good. (laughs) I’m no good with titles, so for someone like me, this one was pretty good, I think.
“Everything changes once you have a child.”
YH: When you were creating the characters, what did you have in mind for the protagonist, Satoru Fujinuma?
There was some of myself in there, from a period of time in which no matter what I did I couldn’t succeed or get ahead. But I needed to put something on top of that to really get him to mature, and that’s how I eventually arrived at this character. I wanted to show youthful life, and typical conversations with his mother (Sachiko Fujinuma) like when she says “There there,” you know, conversations that everyone has had with their mother. So the adult Satoru had to be kind of plain in looks, in action, and lifestyle. Not too successful, you know? Because of that, I think we can more clearly see his personal growth after he returns to his young self.
YH: One of the more impactful parts of this story is the relationships between mother and child. For example Satoru and Sachiko, or Hinazuki and her mother. Especially in the case of Satoru and Sachiko, it’s a very heartwarming relationship. Is some of that drawn from your own personal experiences?
Actually, yes. Ever since I had a child, I recall a lot of things from the past. It’s funny how these memories just keep coming back one after the other. Like, when I drew the apartment, I actually have siblings, but that apartment is from a memory prior to their birth. Sachiko is not modeled on my mother, however. She is more like the idealization of what I think an ideal mother could be.
YH: The birth of your child was big for you, wasn’t it?
Very big. I think the manga reflects how I feel I should speak and act toward my child. Your view of so many things… Everything changes once you have a child. It’s really something quite mysterious.
YH: The scenes with Hinazuki and her mother got quite tense. Is this also something that changed?
I think I was able to depict the ugly parts of Hinazuki’s mother better than I could ever have before having a child. Violence toward children was also not something I’ve depicted very often. I guess I feel like I’m rebelling against it. I was impressed with the way they handled it in the anime, by showing silhouettes.
“I have nothing but praise for him.”
YH: May I ask you a bit about how things unfolded with the various media? I heard that there were discussions about making a movie around the time that ERASED started to run in print. Whenabouts was that?
Right before the second volume. A movie producer named Haruna came to talk to me with the first volume in hand.
YH: What did you think at the time?
I was glad I listened to my editor!
YH: So it was your editor’s idea to end the first volume right in front of the school in 1988?
Yes. My original plan was to move the story along a little more slowly, but when I heard that idea I redrew things to move it along a little more quickly. It gave the ending a bit more impact and a sense of urgency. I think the producer, Haruna, felt that, and that’s why she came to me before the release of the second volume.
YH: It looks like the ERASED manga, anime, and movie, will all be wrapping up or coming out around the same time. How did that come about?
When we discussed the anime and the movie, right from the onset the question of how and when to end it was brought up. Tomohiko Ito, the anime director, in particular wanted to keep close to the original manga, so we talked frequently throughout.
YH: You’ve seen the movie. What did you think?
It’s really good! Tsubasa Nakagawa, the actor who played the young Satoru, did a fantastic job. All the cast and staff really rose to the challenge. Rio Suzuki, who played Hinazuki, was also terrific. I was really blown away.
YH: The movie doesn’t just really capture the essence of Erased, it’s a splendid movie onto itself. Do you feel there’s a significant distance between the original work you created and the movie?
I did think that there would be problems scaling it down to a movie . But with the director, Yuishiro Hirakawa, we tried to reinterpret it as kind of a remake of the original. Despite that, a lot of the important scenes that I really treasured, like the scenes where they are eating, when they made the movie they kept those intact, so I was very happy. But of course, I entrusted it to them, so I was never in doubt that the result would be great.
YH: When Tatsuya Fujiwara was chosen to play Satoru, what did you think?
I was elated! Fujiwara was in Battle Royale along with a lot of other actors, but out of that large group he was the one that really stood out and made his presence felt. I’ve liked him ever since. In this project, if the Satoru character changes a little bit as a result, then that change will have been a good one. And there’s no question in my mind that Fujiwara’s Satoru and the original Satoru that I wrote are different, but Tatsuya Fujiwara has established himself in the Satoru role, and in the movie he really makes you believe that he is the character. I have nothing but praise for him.
YH: If you could have a “revival” and relive part of your past, when would you go?
The fact that I’ve been able to create this manga, and receive so much appreciation is probably because of the various experiences that have made up my life until this point. So there’s really nothing I would want to go back and fix. I suppose I could pinpoint a few moments where I wish I hadn’t said something, or I wish I’d watched my words more carefully, but if I could do that I would just stop thinking altogether. It’s because we can’t actually go back and fix our past that life is interesting.
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