Are Women in Anime Being ERASED?

ERASED
A promotional image for ERASED

Without a doubt, ERASED (also known as Boku Dake ga Inai Machi – The Town Without Me) is one of, if not the best anime to have come out of this year’s winter season. The story follows the deadpan Satoru Fujinuma as he travels ten years back in time in order to prevent the murder of his mother and classmates Kayo and Hiromi by a devious serial killer – one closer to home than he could have ever imagined.

Satoru’s search for the truth juggles elements of fantasy, slice of life, and mystery in a manner I haven’t seen represented in anime since Clannad After Story. But unlike Clannad, ERASED has an entirely different brand of emotional turmoil to offer. Amid physical abuse, child kidnappings, and murder, the show plays with the idea of being the master of your own fate. And like always, I found myself keeping a close eye on how the female characters were being portrayed. As much as I enjoy the writing of ERASED, the women in Satoru’s life – co-worker Airi, classmate Kayo, and his mother Sachiko – could very well be interpreted as “women in the refrigerator.”

SPOILERS AHEAD!

ERASED Ladies.jpg
From left to right: Airi Katagiri, Kayo Hinazuki, and Sachiko Fujinuma.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “women in the refrigerator” refers to a trope in which female characters are abused, maimed, or killed so as to further a man’s goals. In other words, these women serve as plot devices rather than fully fleshed-out individuals. In fact, the very premise of ERASED relies on Satoru’s mother being murdered in cold blood – a turn of events that triggers his “revival” into the past. However, Airi, Kayo, and Sachiko are all distinct in their own way. With the exception of Airi’s lack of screentime, none of the women feel like they’re significantly missing out in character development. As much as they may fall prey to the serial killer in certain timelines, they always prove to be strong and resourceful allies to Satoru.

Satoru & Airi
Airi and Satoru head home from work.

Whenever the women in this anime are subjected to violence, it is not to solely heighten drama, but to reveal important aspects of their personalities. With this in mind, I’ll be a little more forgiving towards the show’s treatment of women because, of course, the genre calls for people to be killed off. But it’s rather difficult to make this argument when it comes to Airi Katagiri. A co-worker of Satoru’s at a popular fast-food joint, Airi is friendly, lively, and sweeter than sweet. Quite frankly, I see no flaws to her. In watching the series, I often found myself waiting for the spotlight to shift to either of the other two female characters. I like the idea of her being somewhat of an optimistic foil to Satoru, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for her lack of backstory. During Satoru’s second revival back to the present, Airi offers him her help and even shares information about her parents’ divorce. But once again, the basis of the divorce feels like sympathy fodder. There’s nothing wrong with being trusting, but very little of what Airi had to say comes off as realistic. In spite of the energy she brings to the series, Airi Katagiri could have been given much more time to develop as both an individual and ally/potential love interest.

Speaking of, I both appreciate and loathe the show’s constant ship teasing.

Satoru & Kayo
A young Satoru attempts to befriend Kayo.

Personally, I was hoping to see Satoru and Kayo enter a relationship in the future, but that dream was quickly shattered by the season finale. But with so many flippant romances penetrating the media nowadays, I applaud ERASED’s respectful handling of the characters’ emotions and relations to each other. Furthermore, I’m obliged to say that Kayo Hinazuki is without a doubt my favorite character. Stuck at the receiving end of her mother’s physical abuse, Kayo spends her days as a snarky loner – that is, until the day she befriends Satoru. This tough little girl never failed to pull at my heartstrings. In spite of years of suffering, Kayo proves to be kind and fiercely loyal to her new friends. She also has a great deal of agency in hiding her pain and later seeking help. As the end of the anime reveals, she undergoes many a change and has a lasting impact on several of the characters. While her death serves as the first real trigger in the anime, she is clearly a victim of circumstance rather than a means to an end.

Satoru & Sachiko
Satoru and his mother sense danger nearby.

And last but certainly not least is Sachiko Fujinuma. Satoru’s capable mother is a former news announcer with a sharp eye for danger. In both the past and present, she’s depicted as a “cool mom” who gives her son free reign over his life. Admittedly, this is one of the things that makes me second-guess the character the most. Sachiko is often too forgiving and lenient. This kind of behavior isn’t what you’d expect from a single mother – and considering the fact that she is one of the few adult characters featured in the revival, I feel that this characterization was done to simply allow Satoru more freedom. Regardless, she is still very much her own woman. During the timeline in which she’s alive, Sachiko demonstrates a great love for her son and confidence in her own abilities as a mother. Above all, she is aware of Satoru’s desire to protect Kayo from her situation at home. Once the protagonist completes his mission, Sachiko is the one to see to his mental recovery.

So are Airi, Kayo, and Sachiko “women in the refrigerator?” In this writer’s opinion, they aren’t – though Airi definitely borders on the trope. To be fair, she is depicted as  more of a Pollyanna than a “woman in the refrigerator.”

In spite of the ups and downs its season finale wrought, ERASED still proves to be one of the only anime this season to boast such strong female characters. Viewers should also keep in mind that translating an ongoing story into twelve episodes is a feat in itself. While the show heavily relies on the endangerment of those close to Satoru so as to create suspense, said women save him just as much as he does them.

Agree or disagree with my argument? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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