Review: Boku dake ga Inai Machi

[Synopsis]: Though average and unassuming in many aspects of his life, Fujinuma Satoru (Mitsushima, Shinnosuke) possesses a supernatural ability which throws him backwards in time in order to prevent pending disasters that unfold around him. However, when somebody close to Satoru is killed and he is framed for the murder, he is sent far further back in time than any instance before, to the year 1988 – 18 years in the past. Now, as his child-self and possessing the psyche and memories of a 29-year-old man, he must set about preventing the tragedies of his future by solving the mysteries of his past. Satoru works desperately to circumvent the abductions and murders he once felt powerless to prevent as a child in order to save those he cares for in the present and clear his name.

[Characters]: 

The cast of BokuMachi is interesting in that it serves both as one of the show’s strongest points while simultaneously weakening it considerably in some areas. The cast as a whole is fairly concise though, because of the limitations of its 12-episode format, a handful of the characters don’t receive the amount of attention that they needed in order to become more compelling or effective within the plot. This constraint leads to a few characters feeling both under-explored and stunted while others are very sentimentally executed and endearing, giving rise to the complicated relationship the show has with its cast mentioned earlier.

The most important character to outline is most definitely Satoru as he serves as our primary means of investigation and our vantage point of dramatic irony with which we observe the events of the past and present. Though Satoru’s aptly named ‘Revival’ ability establishes the premise of the show through supernatural intervention the character himself and the story that evolves around him is quite grounded in reality. Satoru himself is affectionate and even idealistic as he protects those close to himself fiercly and belives in somewhat childish notions of heroism and bravery. A great deal of his character intrigue is founded in the interesting way he masquerades as his childhood self while understanding far more than he should and entertaining the thoughts of somebody far more developed than they appear. The way in which he plays off of what he knows from his actual childhood and what he learned from adulthood puts him in a similar place as the viewer as the dramatic irony of his situation allows for both parties to understand the proceedings on a unique level. The disparity between his past and present self often manifests in entertaining and compelling ways, causing him to be far more outgoing than he once was and sometimes slipping up and speaking his adult mind too freely.

While Satoru and the way in which he interacts with the story is beneficial to the show, I think the strength of BokuMachi’s cast is in its sentimental characters – Hinazuki Kayo, a childhood classmate of Satoru’s, and his mother, Fujinuma Sachiko. Kayo, the first victim of a serial killer from Satoru’s past, is the main interest of the story as she embodies his struggle to change the outcome of his future as well as somebody who he always lamented over being unable to once save. The manner in which BokuMachi introduces Kayo’s home setting is downright brutal, giving insight into the neglect of her parents and her physical abuse – it immediately grounds the show once more in a realistic and grave setting just after Satoru arrives miraculously 18-years in the past. Because of her maltreatment she is cold and isolated from others and so Satoru’s first hurdle is to get her to open up to him and, in surrounding her with those who care about her, make her less susceptible to becoming a victim of the serial killer. This development is downright heartwarming and speaks to the show’s strong ability to write emotionally.

Though she is ultimately a supporting character, I would be remiss if I didn’t quickly detail Satoru’s mother who I felt was phenomenally written though her relevance to the plot of the show is light. Sachiko is an absolutely wonderful mother-figure who strikes the perfect balance between being an attentive parent and someone who gives their child enough space to pursue what they desire and what they think is right. These traits would normally play out in the backdrop however her role as a sentimental centerpiece of the show further emphasizes her loving and caring qualities, causing each scene with her to burst with well-written affection. Her dialogue is absolutely wonderful and her motherly characterization allows the show to draw starker parallels between Satoru’s household and Kayo’s abusive and neglectful one. BokuMachi is the kind of show that will make you want to call your mother and tell her that you love her – Sachiko is that powerful of a character.

With all of that said, BokuMachi also has its fair share of characters that don’t quite come into their full potential and subsequently damage the story due to their lack of appropriate insight. The main offender is Katagiri Airi, a coworker of Satoru’s in the time he originates from. Though initially introduced as possibly a means to introduce Satoru’s Revival ability her relevance steadily grows as the show progresses however culminates in effectively nothing – the multiple episodes somewhat focusing upon her feeling ultimately very wasteful given the show’s already very limited ability to tell its story in its entirety. Kayo’s mother also suffers from merely surface-level insight and without proper context to appreciate what made her so twisted, she appears one-dimensionally evil and malevolent merely for the purpose of being so. Much the same thing can unfortunately be said of the main antagonist of the show, the mysterious serial killer at play in both Satoru’s future and past. Many of these characters offer something initially but without further insight into them they end up feeling very rushed and confined which ends up damaging the plot quite meaningfully in some places.

[Art/Animation]: 

The visuals of BokuMachi are quite nice, rendered in a crisp and emotive art style free of any noticeable quality drops. Though it is more typical of me to make this comment in regards to a comedy series, I thought that the facial expressions were wonderful and reinforced what I believe to be the show’s core strength – its ability to portray emotion and sentimentality. The directing certainly wasn’t bad and I think there were a decent number of interesting shot compositions throughout the show however it did also at times relax into a more blow-by-blow style focusing on the exchanges of the characters in a less visually involved way.

A few techniques were used as well that I thought were interesting, one being the letterboxing of all of Satoru’s post-Revival childhood scenes which gave the majority of the show a cinematic feel yet distinguished the past from the present visually. I also enjoyed how at times, when reviewing a flashback, the letterboxing of the scene would turn into film reels in order to further the visual theme of film to represent memories used throughout the show.

[Story]: 

BokuMachi has what I would consider an enticing first episode, if not a strong one. It quickly establishes Satoru’s lifestyle and his supernatural quirk before reaching a climactic end-point with the murder of somebody close to Satoru and his ability throwing him 18 years into the past. The first episode offers the concise establishment of the show’s premise alongside a an exciting hook. The one thing missing is a deeper investigation of the main characters but that mostly begins in the second episode.

What follows the show’s premise is certainly gripping and interesting in some respects however as it approached its conclusion BokuMachi gradually felt more constrained and pressed for time. The greater part of the show focuses on Satoru’s attempts to save Kayo from her ultimate fate of being abducted and murdered and so introducing her and the setting of Satoru’s past is what the initial episodes set out to do and I think the show does these things quite well. There are interesting quirks such as using Satoru’s adult voice to narrate his thoughts while he inhabits the body of his youth, at times blending his active voice and his mental one in order to convey when he slips up and says something out of character for his childish facade. The examples of abuse used to introduce us to Kayo and her predicament are visceral, hard-hitting, and instantly put her in a sympathetic place before knowing much about her beyond her initially distant personality. Throughout most of the show BokuMachi offered good flexibility in its ability to present something warm and heartfelt before quickly converting into a tense or dire moment without feeling awkward.

Before I delve into the show’s actual problems, I wanted to quickly comment upon the way in which BokuMachi handles Satoru’s Revival ability as in many other scenarios its lack of intelligible mechanics and reasoning coupled with its supernatural implications in an otherwise realistic setting would be cause for concern. Though the power remains undefined and completely unexplored I think that its use as almost purely a tool to establish the premise leaves it in a rather forgivable place for me. While most stories involving the usage of time travel to correct the past are heavily reliant on the mechanics of their method, the straightforward approach of Satoru’s Revival and his own inability to even interact with it on a basic level dampens whatever damage I think such an approach might cause to the plot or the viewer’s sense of disbelief.

The problems begin to arise in the show’s latter half and most noticeably towards its conclusion in the last 2 episodes. One reason for this is that it shifts its attention away from what it had busied itself with for the better part of its run and where I feel most of its strengths were located and towards subject matter concerning its characters that hand’t been developed to a compelling extent. Perhaps the biggest pitfall of the show however is in how its themes seemingly flounder as the end of the show arrives. Between Kayo’s child abuse, Satoru’s idealistic heroism, and the show’s pervasive ideas of friendship and connectivity, BokuMachi juggles a handful of reasonably interesting themes yet doesn’t seem to ultimately deliver thoughtfully on any of them. Rather than offering something provocative it delivers its final thoughts on friendship in a fairly hamfisted and highly cliche fashion while more or less ignoring its other themes. On top of everything else the end of the show simply felt too rushed and didn’t arrive at any kind of compelling conclusion despite resolving the main conflict established by the show early on.

[Music]: 

The music of BokuMachi was fairly strong and fit the show’s themes and aesthetics well. Though the composer featured is Kajiura Yuki she delivers a soundtrack that sounds unequivocally ‘her’ without really breaking away from her typical style or creating anything particuarly memorable in relation to her other works. The music punctuates the sentimentality, the tension, and the drama of the show at each turn and enlivens the scenes as they unfold however I don’t think her work on BokuMachi stands out very much compared to her other more memorable successes. I think that any fan of hers will most definitely enjoy the music.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Though the narrative presents a handful of problems and the constraints of its delivery weakened some of its characters I think it would be a mistake to call BokuMachi anything less than entertaining. The show offers great emotional writing and characterization through its two most notable female characters and Satoru’s own means of solving the mysteries present in the show is certainly interesting. While I feel that the rushed conclusion damages the show I don’t think its enough to fully upset what areas the show did succeed in.

Rating: 7

I gave BokuMachi a 7 because, despite its flaws I felt that it presented something entertaining and at times highly emotional. Its visuals were crisp and often engaging, a handful of its characters were enjoyable, and its narrative featured a number of compelling developments. I think it definitely is deserving of a watch regardless of its issues.

[Recommendations]: 

I would recommend BokuMachi to any fans of time travel mysteries as its premise fits comfortably into that genre of story. Its mystery elements are pretty decent if only a little overt at times but quite enjoyable none the less. Anyone looking for a somewhat emotionally driven show might find BokuMachi satisfying however its primary interests reside in its mystery and drama elements.

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