Some stories tell us that war is a horrible thing, where a few others tell us that war is filled with glory and honor. Most of us, I am sure, realize that war is not a pretty thing, and yet, we still have it. Do we perhaps secretly enjoy war in its bloody, painful glory or is it perhaps that bashing heads simply is the easier choice? Sophistry aside, war stories are far from uncommon, but they all usually try to tell us something about cruelty, and 1999’s Now and Then, Here and There is no different*.
Now and Then, Here and There was conceived and directed by Akitaro Daichi, who also directed anime such Jubei-Chan and Kamisama Kiss. Hideyuki Kurata was the writer, who also worked on Kamichu! And The World God Only Knows.
Now and Then, Here and There stars Matsutani Shuzo, or Shu for short, and the first episode has him waking up to his ordinary life, where he has breakfast and sprays what I think is miso soup at his father. He runs to practice like a hyperactive child, and as a practitioner of kendo it seems the only tactic he has mastered is flailing wildly at his opponent with a shinai (bamboo sword). No wait; he is also an expert at charging blindly. To sum it up, Shu is an active, foolish, Japanese child. Towards the end of the day after practice, Shu sees a lone girl sitting atop a smokestack. For some unfathomable reason, he decides the best course of action would be to approach and engage her in a one-sided conversation while she quietly stares at the sunset. She doesn’t really talk, but when asked, she mouths her name as Lala-Ru..
Suddenly, a group of men riding atop mechanical snakes and small mecha, appear out of a green portal led by an intimidating woman named Abiela and kidnaps Lala-Ru. Who is there to save her, if none other than Matsutani Shuzo, outgoing middle schooler. Cool as his rescue attempt was, Shu’s feats to save Lala-Ru end in failure as the villains escape in that large spherical portal of theirs. Because of this design (flaw maybe?), Shu is also sucked in and is transported to a world with nearly no water and essentially ruled by a crazy dictator named Hamdo on a stranded, oddly cylindrical, flying ship called Hellywood. What proceeds is a bleak tale of interrogation, torture, forceful army drafts, rape, assassination, invasion, kidnappings, escapes, sand monsters, more invasions murder, murder of children, murder by children, imprisonment, rebellions, huge climate change, and the death of a dictator.
Four characters make up the core cast, or rather, these are the four characters you will be feeling sorry for the most. Shu, the main protagonist of the series, the naïve kid, who gets thrown into a hellish land torn by war. She goes through a considerable amount of crap and always tries to keep the optimism a few notches too high, he will realize how foolish he is at times, but don’t expect him to change his tune. Lala-Ru, the girl holding the remaining (cubic tons of) water in the planet. With few exceptions, she is essentially mute and insipid as the water she carries, yet somehow still manages to outstrip Shu in character development, by relearning compassion and relating to other people. Nabuca, the (very young) soldier and leader of a small squad under Hamdo’s army of child soldiers, dislikes his job, and goes through with it unflinchingly as he hopes to one day go back to a home that no longer exists. He is deeply disturbed by Shu’s unending innocence and naiveté and despairs more and more about what he is doing with each new episode. Lastly we have Sara, who wins the prize of having your life shattered and forever changed by horrible stuff, just because. To summarize she goes from being a kidnaped victim, to rape victim, to escapee, to pregnant and (justifiably) crazy, to determined teen mom (in waiting) taking care of a group of children she got from the woman who saved her life after escaping Hellywood. Overall, she is probably the character who grows the strongest backbone, not that it comes easily.
Though most of this world is a desolate wasteland, the people do have a few cool gadgets/technology worth mentioning. Technology like snake/dragon mecha that hover in the air carrying light weaponry and more humanoid mecha with large mounted weapons which are employed by Hamdo’s soldiers. They are no Gundam, but they get the job done. The most impressive example of technology however, would have to be Hellywood and its various functions. Firstly is the warping device, which is standard fare in fiction, but I like how its area of effect is tri-dimensional rather than two-dimensional. Then we have its super-weapons, capable of taking down fortresses the size of sky-scrapers (unfortunately only used once in an early episode). But most important of all is the rise of Hellywood itself, an impressive, if nearly catastrophic, elevation of several tons of steel and soldiers. The fact that it is shaped like a can of frozen Pillsbury pastries makes it both a little goofy yet at the same time ridiculously awe-inspiring.
Pros: A moving, often heart wrenching story about what it means to be a child in the middle of a war you have no connection with whatsoever. Those looking for drama and stark reality will find themselves glued.
Cons: The story is not for the faint of heart or for those who feel overly sympathetic towards children, those looking for clear, happy endings had better steer clear from this one. This also goes for those looking to find true growth or maturity in its protagonists
Now and Then, Here and There was published by ADV films in its English release (Editor’s Note: This ADV re-released is practically out of print, so finding a copy will be difficult; but I did find it on Amazon Instant.). Now and Then, Here and There is a gripping and sad tale like few others, but those looking to explore complex ideas will find it hard with a main character with as thick-a-head as Shu. A main character who continues to push faulty ideals even after they are proven flawed. For me, watching Now and Then, Here and There felt like listening to very real people telling a very real (if sometimes simple) story. It was believable, but as with most people I have met, I must wonder if it was worth my time to listen to this one? Watch this if you are a sucker for drama.
*Disclaimer, outside of RPG’s I am no warrior and don’t advocate war by any means, but I also accept the fact that violence is an inescapable fact of human existence.