Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I am Missing) by Kei Sanbe
Struggling manga author Satoru Fujinuma is beset by his fear to express himself. However, he has a supernatural ability of being forced to prevent deaths and catastrophes by being sent back in time before the incident occurred, repeating time until the accident is prevented.
One day, he gets involved in an accident that has him framed as a murderer. Desperate to save the victim, he sends himself back in time only to find himself as a grade-schooler one month before fellow classmate Kayo Hinazuki went missing. Satoru now embarks on a new quest: to save Kayo and solve the mystery behind her disappearance. (MAL)
Having a unique premise even in anime standards, The Town Where Only I am Missing is a supernatural and psychological thriller written and illustrated by Kei Sanbe. The protagonist is an aspiring manga author whose works are critiqued as empty and ‘not enough,’ a striking reflection of himself. He has the ability to ‘re-run’ or jump back to the past and prevent untoward incidents from happening. After a chain of bloody events in the present, he ‘re-runs’ 18 years back to change the past (and thus the future) as a twelve-year old and finds himself experiencing his childhood again. Murder, mystery, and time-travel, I just had to read this.
The characters are a likable bunch with varying depths that make them interesting to read about. The depiction of the kids are a bit far-fetched but their deep perceptions about theirselves and others are absorbing to follow. That said, a lot of characters in this manga is aware of the need to keep a ‘face’ in public to be seen ‘normal,’ concealing their true personalities in the process.
What’s said to be ‘natural’ doesn’t come naturally.
“When I was young, I didn’t know why people were always nice to me. I couldn’t understand that there isn’t any particular reason. I couldn’t understand why people smiled at me and why they cared for others. I was perfectly capable of crying and laughing but I needed a ‘reason.’ If I wasn’t told why I should smile, I wouldn’t smile.
“I only became a normal kid because some elements came together within me. I didn’t smile because I made friends. I made friends because I talked to them with a smile.
“I did what other people can do. At first, it was just pretending, but after a while, smiling and getting angry came naturally to me. However, it took me so much effort to think about myself that I couldn’t think about others.”
Satoru is an empty person; his past is full of gaps and holes and it is through repeating time and saving people he finds meaning in his life unlike before where he acted out of self-interest. The time-travel element isn’t just another ruse nor simply a plot device, it is also a nod to his character. In truth, he is a sincere and caring person who was not able to express himself in the past or really understand the relationships he had made.
The same goes with other characters who discover their own individualities through Satoru’s actions. A notable thing about the manga is the relationships between Satoru and the characters—- they are complex and dynamic. I like how each decision Satoru changes in the past greatly influences the people around him and how each relationship he makes changes him as well. It’s like watching little pieces of dominoes falling at the right places.
Domestic violence in anime is usually graphic, sometimes unnecessarily so, but I was pleasantly surprised on how subtle the author handled this. Though there were a few graphic scenes, the manga focused on its psychological effects, particularly on Kayo and the antagonist’s cases. Hinazuki Kayo is a victim of child abuse and is often times alone and impassive, thinking that she could be a strong person by keeping up a cold front. This is why she becomes the target of child abduction, sparking a chain of tragic events that the protagonist strives to prevent. It’s impressive how the delicate issue is handled and in the end, resolved with a bunch of children helping together.
The Whodunnit is a bit obvious and I was sort of just waiting for Satoru to figure it out in the course of, like, 25 chapters. There aren’t many alternatives of who the culprit could be but I think it works well with the story, which is less of a mystery but a journey to redemption for Satoru. There was no need for a complicated twist; and the culprit proved to be a fascinating antagonist. One chapter is dedicated to him; it is damn beautiful (in a different sort of way) and it runs consistently to the manga’s themes of individuality and domestic violence.
The Verdict: 5/5 Stars
Fast-paced, thought-provoking, and simply brilliant; one of the best manga I’ve ever read. It is still ongoing but so far, it’s proving to be an amazing read.
About the Author
Kei Sanbe is a Japanese manga author. His work, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, is serialized on Kadokawa Shoten’s Young Ace magazine since 2012. It is nominated for the 8th manga Taisho. Website