Notabilities: Itou Tomohiko is an accomplished director with a wide range of series he’s had under his belt, primarily at A-1 Pictures and Madhouse. Occult Academy, Silver Spoon and Sword Art Online are his leading directorial statements, but he’s worked as a storyboard artist and episode director for a number of distinct shows, from Madoka Magica to Michiko to Hatchin and his Madhouse gigs on Death Note, Kurozuka (Araki Tetsurou shows) to Monster, Kobato, Kurozuka and more!
So, it’s fair to say we’re in good hands visually, but what about the writing? Well, I can’t speak to the quality of the mangaka, but he has a distinct focus on psychological thrillers, and this is his most recent, and appraised work, though unfortunately it’s an ongoing manga, so don’t hope too high for a solid resolution.
The series composer adapting BokuMachi is Kishimoto Taku, who worked with this same director before on Silver Spoon, and interestingly, Haikyuu, but the most relevant link, is that he worked on the much revered Usagi Drop.
So, expectations are high, the premise looks unorthodox, it’s not a sword-magic-boobs-highschool show, so lets dive in!
- #1 – Regrets, withdrawal and revival
- #2 – Trust built between the distrustful
- #6 – A reason to believe
- #12 – Final thoughts
00:00-01:14 — “The words are just an excuse that come to mind…”
BokuMachi opens in filmic fashion, a cold open, showing some incidental moments like our main character trying to enter an elevator, passing a ticket barrier at a station. As some moody music settles in, we’re treated to some voice over.
“I’m scared to get to the heart of my own mind”
- he ponders. Next we see him ripping apart papers, a manga manuscript, before the next cut intrudes his thoughts. His editor telling him that he’s distancing himself from his work, not imbuing the content with himself, so that “the readers won’t be able to see his face in the work”.
01:15-03:09 — The central conceit, both as example, and as instigator.
- So, after the title screen we skip right into what seems to be a regular, monotonous day in the life of Fujinuma Satoru. However, simply by his attitude, we can infer a lot about him. The lethargic body language is obvious, though the way he ponders on why his co-worker makes the same joke every time says more. He sees this small-talk, this general sort of ‘reminding each other we’re here’ talk, pointless. He’s too self-absorbed, it’s a waste of time to him. And then, he immediately goes on to say “it’s not like she has any special feelings for me”. Framing all interactions with females from that perspective, virgin :p
- So, the coming high-tension scene plays out in a pretty self-explanatory way, but there’s a few things I want to point out: He doesn’t overreact to the phenomenon itself, and right away starts looking around, this isn’t new to him. And next, is his no-hesitation attitude to jump in and put himself in danger, which seems incongruent with his reserved attitude prior.
I do like the abrupt, dynamic cuts that jerk the viewer around so suddenly, mirroring the immediate action, and the physical whiplash Satoru feels as he makes his u-turn stunt.
03:10-06:07 — Failed dreams and regrets
“Nothing good comes from getting involved with others”
“Me dying doesn’t make any difference” –
- The words we tell ourselves to punch us back into the dirt, to convince us its so, even though evidence points against it. He doesn’t want to admit that he does actually think about, and care for others, perhaps an overtly-sincere hero was what he cut from his shounen manga?
- After being updated on the situation, Satoru does something Katagiri wasn’t expecting, and asks her about why she’s working this job. On the mention of ‘dream’, again the memory goes back to the tough days drawing. He goes immediately to pessimism, of the dream not working out, we know he’s definitely not satisfied with this life, and the need to work two jobs, and this young’un hasn’t had her dreams crushed by reality yet.
06:08-06:50 — Revival
- So, with a short sequence, the mechanics of Satoru’s paranormal ability are explained. The key thing is that the time variable isn’t fixed, he says it’s usually one-five minutes, but really, it’s about going back soon enough to be able to prevent the event.
The origin of the ability probably won’t ever be explained in the in-universe sense, but it matters not, the manner in which it manifests tells us two things about Satoru: He’s wants to be rid of regrets, correct mistakes both a reflection of his unsatisfying career path, and the formative event from his childhood we’ll be learning about soon. The other thing, is that the ability manifests for any bad event around him, not just ones that affect him — he does take an interest in the world around him, and cares, though he can’t express it upfront.
06:51-10:51 — A boy again
- The appearance of Satoru’s mother helps to ground everything we’ve seen so far. Giving the main character who we suddenly discovered had a paranormal power back his humanity, so to speak. The dialogue between mother and son gives a sense of a relationship that’s been lived for many a year. From how they naturally make small quips at each other, to how they both tip-toe around her obvious concern to the point that she’s self-imposed upon his home.
- As Satoru’s mother sees the news of an abduction case on television, she casually, yet cryptically reveals that Satoru had been near a similar situation as a child. The memories we saw earlier after the crash return, but this time more vivid.
10:52-13:03 — A foregone conclusion
- I’m going to mostly skip past the car park Revival scene, as it plays out straightforwardly as depicted. Instead I want to comment on how the good the tense music was during the part where Satoru is frantically looking around for what triggered his power, his mother actually spotting the suspicious man. Yuki Kajiura’s OST is doing a lot of work, it’s actually unexpected to see her on a show like this, as she’s known for her fantasy soundtracks, however, her touch works surprisingly well. The offputting sense of urgency and inevitability that comes with time-travel stories is sold by her music, some refrains in this track reminded me of Madoka.
13:04-18:26 — Drained of colour
- Then, she brings up the abduction case again, more concretely this time, as she’s conscious of what almost happened at the car park earlier that day.
- It links back to the start of this episode, his reluctance to be more honest and sincere in his manga work sprung from that guilt, that failure to reach out and save someone.
As Satoru’s mother delves into the truth that was on the edge of her memory, the solemn music kicks in once again.
- And the moment that probably got
- too by surprise, strikes. Even with the foreshadowing, and knowing the premise this anime is founded upon, it really felt like a punch to the gut. Especially since within the ‘blue, safe’ comfort light of her home, she was expecting her son to be home, and it all gets twisted on her, like a knife in the back.
The reason it worked so well, is because of all the details in the episode that lead up to this, how we got so quickly invested, we felt a relatable, comfortable warmth from this relationship…
- The subtle details of this moment enhance it further, like the sinister, disembodied hand reaching swiftly out of frame to sweep the phone away from her bloody hands, which then creepily flop down with a thud, to the dilated pupils, crying eyes, light fading as she bleeds out.
What a first episode! BokuMachi was a show I had high expectations for regardless, but this premiere trumped them by far, it wasn’t just well produced, well constructed and ‘exciting’, but it also managed to elicit tangible emotion in me, which is quite rare for an anime to do so early.
BokuMachi definitely was my favourite first episode this season, and its dense with things to talk about, so I’ll definitely be writing about it more as it airs this season. Hopefully for the coming episodes, I’ll have these writeups out sooner, this one was delayed during the hectic anime season first week, in addition to me concurrently working on a roundup of my impressions on all the new Winter 2016 titles, which I hope you’ll look forward to reading!