First Impressions – Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

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I’m going to resist the urge to say “I told you so”.

But you know I did…

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.

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  1. R

    Arguably the best manga of the 21st century? Have you read Oyasumi Punpun?

    This was a great premiere though. I read the first 13 chapters, I think I'll wait for the anime to catch up rather then read ahead.

  2. Well first of all, I said best mystery manga. And second of all, I have no hesitation whatsoever in calling BokuMachi one of the best manga of the 21st Century.

  3. I

    I personally wish the pacing was slower, but the show did a good job getting so much info in 1 ep and otherwise thought this was a fantastic first episode.

  4. F

    I also thought it was a really strong premier. And I am glad you ranted and hyped and raved over it for so long before it aired … looking forward to see where the story will go. 🙂

  5. M

    So I just read on ANN that the anime will cover the manga's ending. You sound pretty sure that the manga isn't close to ending though, so I'm wondering how that will work.

  6. Well, I certainly don't know how that gets explained. Maybe it was a mistranslation and what Ito said was something like that he's doing an anime ending that's taken from something in the manga. Maybe the manga really is ending in three months – though it sure doesn't feel like it. Maybe the mangaka told Ito how he plans to eventually end the manga – though I doubt he'd spoil his own finale like that.

    In short, I have no idea. It's a very odd development…

  7. k

    I read in another review that the director has stated that he intends to portray the original manga ending.

  8. s

    after watching this premiere, id say that it was good; just good. I wasnt blown away nor did i think the way the narrative was delivered in a masterful or exceptional way, but i was happy to experience what i would consider the first good anime of winter 2016 (with musaigen being my go-to anime for a fun, visually appealing time). I think what elevated this to good status for me was how real the characters felt. I enjoyed the mother-son relationship between satoru and sachiko. I adored how airi felt like a down-to-earth highschool student. These characters dont feel like they came out of an anime; they're human and relatable and i think in my eyes, that's where this first ep mostly succeeded. Characters over plot i always say, but the plot is also rife with intrigue so here's hoping this series doesnt lose a beat over its remaining eps. I have a feeling we will see more of sachiko in the past but it looks like this might be it for screen time regarding airi, which is kind of a bummer; she was cool. It did look like she was eyeing some sort of book; perhaps it belongs to satoru and in her attempt to return it, she stumbles on the crime. Will we be getting some sort of past and present back and forth throughout the narrative? bring on the next ep.

  9. No assumptions are safe with BokuMachi. Some might be right, some not – just stay tuned.

  10. C

    Having read the manga I thought the impact of events would be greatly reduced (especially because of the strong mystery elements) but it's a very solid adaption with great pacing despite speeding through. I am honestly so glad that the magic is still there the second time around and I already adore the anime version. Here's hopping the whole thing will be adapted someday!

  11. O

    I absolutely loved this premier, one of the very best I saw in a long time.

    I’ve recently bought the first 5 volumes of the manga, but given how much I liked this episode I might wait until the anime is finished to read them.

    Speaking of “Manga Taishou”, I personnaly think it’s great as they seem to rewards non-conventional manga a lot, and I found some gems thanks to it. But what do you guys think about it?

  12. Manga Taishou is a serious award and generally rewards artistic merit over commercial success and trendiness. You could do much worse when looking for reading ideas.

  13. C

    I don't know why but the mom sounded a lot like Balsa from Seirei no Moribito and just fit right in with that gruff motherly love that both of them have. Great premier.

  14. A

    Anyone know if the manga is still ongoing or if it's in some kind of long winded hiatus vortex. If possible any reliable websites for info on other manga statuses.

  15. No, not on hiatus. Ongoing.

  16. A

    Thanks for the reply and nice piece on the first episode impression. I'm presuming the manga is released monthly because the translations have been released inconsistently.

  17. P

    Solid premiere, this title makes up for all those other lackluster premieres I watched all week. Also, can't believe ppl are complaining about the protagonist's seiyuu, he sounds pretty natural to me and even me who loves anime seiyuus welcomes a break from them as sometimes they override the character itself and sounds too professional (if that makes sense)

  18. S

    I've just started reading the manga and as you said there are sure things which are cut, but there is also things that are changed from the original. I don't know if I should ask this since it may be considered as spoiler but I guess I'll try to do without revealing anything. What do you think about the character "Hiromi's" absence when Satoru was thinking about his biggest regret? I am not sure if it is something changed from the manga or will be mentioned later.

  19. I think it's OK to ask. I can say that if Hiromi is cut as an important plot element I'll be disappointed; but I don't assume that based on the first episode. And we know Hiromi is in the series (casting and character design are on the website).

  20. Now I think we're getting a bit too specific, though I do understand what you're getting at. Let's wait and see – I think it could still cut either way.

  21. Y

    I don't have time to watch many anime this season, so I'm just going with your "recommendations" and checked this one out. It was a great premiere but you raved so much about it that I ended up being a little disappointed… ;p I sort of expected to be blown away like when I saw the first Mushishi episode… Yeah… Not fair.

    I immediately noticed something was different about the protagonist's voice and I liked it. Now I know why…

    Really liked the mom character and the fact that the high school girl was not a super genii kawaikochan… Refreshing.

    Definitely a keeper! 😉

  22. E

    Good premiere, I wasn't absolutely blown away but I wonder if he's able to negate his mother's death by rewinding time like that…

  23. T

    This was a good premiere. To look at the funny side of it all I honestly cannot imagine my 26 year old self being in my 10 year old body. I mean its funny to think about reliving those years with a mature mind. That being said I'm excited to start the guessing game on who the murderer could be?

  24. G

    This was amazing like you’ve said it would be. I think as mysteries go, this one permeates a whimsical mood, and a sense of fatality – most mysteries go for the creepiness factor, but this doesn’t. I especially love the first person perspective in the last scene – it’s rare to see through the eyes of a kid. And being a non-manga reader (though I may read soon as it was always on my reading list), I really love how “revival” is conveyed so naturally.
    Also, I have to say Sachiko is a badass mum.

  25. J

    Will this series only air for 12 episodes or is it likely to be a multi cour series?

  26. Pretty much a lock that it’s 12 and out.

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