In Mr. Robot, we’re introduced to anxious, depressed Elliot Alderson, a young adult attempting to make middle ground with his repressed anger toward society and those who control it at the expense of the well-intentioned. Elliot dislikes company and finds it hard to talk about his true feelings; a combination that sets up the main way the show is executed – through Elliot’s perspective. It’s a broken and incredibly biased one, and the show makes no attempt to disguise these flaws whatsoever. Mr. Robot spends most of its time in Elliot’s head as we hear heavy internal monologues on how Elliot attempts to figure his way out of situations and more importantly, how he views the world and the people around him.
BokuMachi, or ERASED, features a very similar protagonist. Satoru Fujinuma is a young adult who too, struggles with his present situation. Whereas Elliot Anderson’s overarching narrative focuses on his identity and mental illness, Fujima focuses on the constant regret for his past. This is tied with his ability to be able to erase potential murders from happening and saving the victims, but at the expense of not being able to change his own past, until his mother is murdered in his own apartment, sending him back to his childhood. Both Mr. Robot and ERASED spend most of their time with the protagonist monologuing about himself, but the first episode of Mr. Robot seems to have a better grasp on how internal monologue creates a compelling story and headspace of our main character than the first episode of ERASED. For example, the pilot features Elliot’s struggle in one specific scene as he attempts to voice what he finds so disappointing about life.
The power of this scene lies in two key elements: character acting and transitions. Through previous scenes we’re led to believe that whenever Elliot does open his mouth, he is actually speaking to other people. Mr. Robot frames Elliot slightly off the side while focusing on his face to take note of his anger, heard through his voice and seen through his expression. We feel as if he’s truly alone and isolated from the person he’s talking to. As he narrates over flashing images and clips, his voice grows angrier until it reaches a climax, only to be drowned out by the echoes of his therapist as she pulls him back to reality. The quick cut from these clips to Elliot’s face again not only visually aids Elliot’s return to the real world, but also enforces our surprise that Elliot’s thoughts are intimate to only us, the audience. It makes his following comment even more revealing about the way he represses his feelings.
Mr. Robot follows suit with this presentation for the duration of its first season. Elliot is shoved to the side of the camera and as his reality becomes more fragmented, his thoughts become more paranoid. BokuMachi on the other hand, seems to suffer from lack of synchronization. The narration is mainly Fujinuma’s as we explore his life, work, and relationships with his coworker and his mother. Since BokuMachi‘s dominant theme is regret, it logically follows Fujinuma’s flashbacks as he attempts to remember what abductions took place during his childhood. Granted, the show has half the amount of time as Mr. Robot to allow its main character to breathe, but despite this, the internal monologue doesn’t seem to carry over into emotionally tense territory. I find this tied to two problems – a lack of strong visual aid (or at least a visual aid that doesn’t seem to line up with the script) and what the internal monologues are about.
Many of Fujinuma’s memories are deliberately colored in certain tints to show how faded they are in his mind, but also to highlight how he sees them. When he recalls his vague interactions with Kayo Hinazuki, everything is in a faded amber, except for Kayo, who stands out with her distinct red coat. Framed by a clear bias, this image directly conflicts with what’s actually being said, as Fujunuma blandly narrates that he always saw Kayo alone as a child. A similar scene can be seen earlier in the episode, as Fujinuma reminisces about meeting Yuuki. These memories are bright and saturated, hinting the intense emotions of fun and eventual horror that Fujima experienced. Yet again, they’re narrated distantly, as if Fujinuma’s speaking from a text rather than from personal experience. As a result, the connection between what’s presented on screen and what’s actually being said is emotionally dissonant.
This comes back to the fact that BokuMachi seems to be more about a formal state of narration than a stream of consciousness. It follows more of a format of a soliloquy, where Fujinuma says what’s on his mind as if he’s in an empty room, with prior planning and revision. This mode is slightly stiff as it doesn’t mirror Fujinuma’s actual state of mind or peripheral sensory input. We hear his fear or his boredom, but it never feels natural; on the contrary, it seems always orderly, in full sentences.
Even in the beginning, when he announces he’s scared to look into himself, Fujinuma sounds unemotional and distant. Whenever he narrates about someone or something, it’s always about details rather than how these people or circumstances affect him. Instead of “This angers me,” he excises himself out of the equation with sentences like”Katagiri Airi is boring.” One could argue that this is simply because Fujinuma separates his raw emotions from himself as much as possible. But the issue is that this isn’t always the case. Specifically at the end, when he is being chased by the police, Fujinuma’s mode of narration goes from planned to raw and sudden, to the point where it feels like a stream of consciousness. When he crashes into a car and reminisces about his childhood to the point where he wakes up, Fujinuma’s thought process is in the moment and informal. It feels personal. This makes the change in tone and structure of narration even more noticeable, yet nothing seems to back up this contrast except for the possible theory that Fujinuma intentionally does not wish to personalize himself and what has happened to him.
I don’t know what the next episodes of BokuMachi will bring in terms of Fujinuma’s state of narration. Assuming he is still himself, just in child form, I can hope that it will follow more of a natural state rather than a revised one, allowing us to peek inside the character that is Fujinuma, and the character that was.