Thus far, Erased has been a consistently enjoyable series that enhances its strong thriller vibe with beautiful artwork and moving character work. Does the fourth digital volume (collecting chapters 19-24) meet the same high bar as its predecessors?
Oof. Just oof. This volume isn’t bad, but it is incredibly disappointing due to how far the series’ quality has dropped. The most notable shift is in the artwork. Creator Kei Sanbe’s line-work here is a lot less clean than I’m used to, and there are far fewer shots throughout that make me go, “Wow, that’s beautiful.” There are a handful of spreads depicting snow that are fantastic to look at, but otherwise this volume’s visuals seldom impress. It’s not necessarily that they’re bad; the artwork still meets all the basic minimums necessary to be coherent. Characters’ faces are distinct enough to avoid confusion about who is speaking, and there is seldom any question what physical movements are being depicted. With that said, there’s just no spark or unique flair present. This isn’t an ugly volume, but it is kind of a dull one.
Narratively speaking, things aren’t much better. No moment is outright bad or cringeworthy, but there’s very little suspense or sense of danger. Given that this is a thriller manga, that’s a huge problem. It would be one thing if what we got instead was fantastic, but it’s not. I want to call this a character-driven volume, but the character work isn’t very effective. Nothing changes in terms of characters’ motivations, and it isn’t until about halfway through that any of the characters’ decisions start to feel like they have much consequence. Part of the problem is odd pacing; these chapters may have benefited from being consolidated. The decompression makes it harder to stay emotionally invested, and as a result I didn’t have much of a response to the ending.
So, what is actually good about this volume? As I mentioned previously, there are occasions when the artwork is very strong. Said occasions are relatively rare, but they provide reminders of Sanbe’s great artistic potential. The second half of the volume also begins to reintroduce the series’ suspenseful vibe, as the characters stumble upon the killer’s hidden stash of murder supplies. Although the ending here isn’t riveting, it does promise less predictability in the volumes to come, so that’s also a plus. There’s also a lot to be said for how much baseline competence Sanbe shows throughout. The art is never bad, just generic at times. The dialogue is never poorly crafted, and plot events follow one another logically and are easy to understand. I don’t mean to sound like I am damning with faint praise; there is a lot to be said for a work simply being coherent and not terrible.
As a whole, Erased Vol. 4 isn’t bad. It’s biggest con is just that I can’t give it any higher compliments. This is the series’ worst volume thus far, but Kei Sanbe still delivers coherent work with occasional moments of suspense and beauty. Here’s hoping that volume five lifts Erased back up to its usual heights.