I’m going to resist the urge to say “I told you so”.
OK, I can breathe now… I’ve been holding it in for a long time, both from a raging sense of anticipation to see this premiere, and from that nagging fear that somehow it might disappoint. Not that there was any reason to think it would – Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is so great that it would take a pretty colossal botch job to make an anime that was less than very, very good. And with the folks involved here – the director and writer of the Gin no Saji adaptation (Kishimoto Taku also wrote the Usagi Drop and Haikyuu!! anime) – that never seemed likely to happen.
Still, one can always find room to worry. Thankfully A-1 Pictures – that most difficult to pin down of all the big studios – always seems to take the right approach with prestige titles. As I mentioned last week they’re the only studio ever to have an entry on every year-end Top 10 list I’ve done, and it’s going to happen again in 2016 for this show if nothing else. This premiere was glorious (the only thing I don’t love is the English series title), miles above anything else so far this season and unlikely to be topped even when the full schedule has bowed. These guys get BokuMachi – that’s clear from the premiere – and that’s enough to virtually ensure a classic.
Why am I so confident? Because this manga is good, and I mean on a historical level – without exaggeration it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. There are manga that I unabashedly love because they touch something specific in me – in other words, it’s personal. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi I love simply because it really is that great, period (like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, for example) – it’s no coincidence that it finished second for the last Manga Taishou and is very likely to win this year’s. It has a laundry list as long as your arm of things it does better than 95% of manga and 99% of anime out there – relationships of every kind, plotting, exposition, dialogue. It’s a masterpiece, and even if the anime doesn’t equal it in the end, there’s plenty of room beneath that level for it to still come in as one of the best shows of 2016 even if it turns out to be a very good year.
Let me state up front I don’t know how this series is going to end, because the manga isn’t anywhere close to ending. I do know things new viewers don’t, and given that among its myriad charms BokuMachi is arguably the best manga mystery of the 21st Century I’m going to do my best not to reveal any of those things (and I ask manga readers to do the same in the comments). As always with adaptations of great ongoing manga this is a concern – happily this one is getting 12 episodes rather than the 11 many NoitaminA series get, but we don’t know how director Ito Tomohiko and Kishimoto-sensei are going to choose to end. There are ways they could do so that are relatively in-line with the manga’s timeline, but it’s impossible to know whether they’re going to craft something original or not.
Based on the first episode, my guess is that Ito-sensei is aiming to reach a logical stopping point in the source material. Things are speeded up, though not egregiously so – some things are cut, and given how much I adore the manga I wish they weren’t. But I kind of knew this ep was going to stop where it did (think of this as being like the premiere of Cross Game in that sense, which likewise moved rather quickly in order to end its premiere at a specific point but afterwards was mostly faithful)l, and the point is that the episode worked splendidly. The pacing didn’t feel rushed, the exposition was impeccable, and the ending hit like a ton of bricks.
That exposition was so good in fact that I can’t imagine many new viewers are feeling at all confused by what’s going on. So let’s talk about the finer details. 29 year-old struggling mangaka and pizza delivery guy Fujinuma Satoru is played by two seiyuu – Mitsushima Shinnosuke as an adult, and Tsuchiya Tao as an 11 year-old. Both are critical to the story, and both these seiyuu are non-anime actors – we haven’t heard much from Tsuchiya yet, but I think Mitsushima’s detached and brittle delivery is perfect as the adult Satoru. I’ve seen complaints – I think they stem mainly from the fact that he doesn’t sound like an anime seiyuu, which I think is a good thing. That’s what the series needs, because this a wholly unconventional story for anime.
There are two prominent females in Satoru’s life as we meet him – his teenage co-worker Katagiri Airi (Akasaki Chinatsu) and his seemingly ageless 52 year-old mother Sachiko (Takayama Minami, ironically likewise 52 and most famous for playing no less than Edogawa Conan himself). Again, I think both these performances are right in the zone. It’s hard for me to talk too much about these characters and their importance to the story without giving anything away, but I’ll just say they’re important – and Sachiko especially is a favorite of mine, because it’s rare that we see a parent-child relationship (never mind between two adults) depicted with the sensitivity and savvy we did in this episode.
Obviously, the finer details of the plot are also difficult for me to discuss. I was curious to see how Ito would depict the “Revival” Satoru experiences, and the highest praise I can offer is that it felt exactly as I imagined it. It’s not a spoiler to say that there are supernatural elements involved in the plot – that’s obvious already. But this is a character-driven story, make no mistake about it, and there are no asspulls or plot contrivances for convenience coming. I absolutely loved the way Ito and Kishimoto captured what was going on in Satoru’s mind – his disaffection and disillusionment with his daily life, his oddly distant third-person reaction to the phenomena that surrounds him, his horror at what he finds when he returns to his apartment. That’s so critical to the success of BokuMachi, and that it survived the transition unscathed is a huge reason for optimism.
OK, that’s nine paragraphs on a first episode – it’s enough. You know what you saw – maybe you didn’t think it was anything special and that’s fine, but for me it was both a revelation and a huge relief. I didn’t even use any of the notes I scribbled down like I usually do, which is a sign for me that the narrative here was superbly executed – I don’t think any of them are necessary. I’m just going to enjoy the ride, because believe me, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi just gets better and more emotionally intense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now – this might not end up being the AOTY, but it’s going to have to be a pretty incredible series that beats it.
OP: “Re:Re:” by ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION