I don’t know if it’s because of the amount of anime I have watched over the past few years, but very little impresses me these day. That’s not to say that every anime I come across is little more than garbage.
However one might say that I rarely flinch at anime that could be described as good, instead always on the look out for something that could be called great.
In other words, every once in a while, I want to be completely blown away, and it is probably because of how rarely I encounter true gems within anime that when I run into a masterpiece like Now and Then, Here and There, it so excessively impresses, to the point of shocking or even startling.
Maybe it’s because of the several months that have passed since I last watched a truly breathtaking anime series that Now and Then, Here and Now feels like one of the best written series I have ever watched.
Shu is a typical Japanese boy with an unbeatable, optimistic and determined attitude. However, after seeing a mysterious girl with strange eyes named Lala-Ru up on a smokestack, he is soon pulled into a strange desert world. soon comes discovering the true terrors of war, the brutality, torture, hunger, thirst, and child exploitation.
Determined to save Lala-Ru as well as his hard earned, and often reluctant, new friends from the insane dictator, Shu mu triumph against the insanity of the tyrannical Hamdo, even while trying to maintain his positive view of life in a difficult world.
I find it difficult to refer to Now and Then as a masterpiece, mostly because it is a relatively simplistic story, compared to those more popular anime such as Death Note and FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
A boy is snatched out of present day earth and thrust into a post apocalyptic future, where a manic tyrant is intent on using his flying fortress to unleash unholy hell upon the remnants of the planet.
A simple sci-fi series, one that plays out rather directly, the story moving from point A to point B as would be expected from a story that follows a young hero suddenly thrown into a dangerous world.
Yet Now and Then is anything but typical, and for two primary reasons:
+The story behind the story- on the surface, Now and Then is an adventure story chronicling Shu’s attempts at returning home, and hence initially presents as a considerably more innocent and lighthearted series.
However a closer look immediately reveals a darker underbelly. At its core Now and Then is a war story, that presents a picture of the uglier sides of conflict, sprinkled with heart ache and chaos.
Rather than a young adventurer afforded the opportunity to explore the new world, Shu is inducted into a military force under the hand of a wicked tyrant; and what follows is less fun and more child torture, more or less obliterating the already blurry line between good and evil.
There was something disturbing about listening to Hamdo, steeped in a disturbed psyche, put his second in command to the task of replenishing the dwindling military he had single handedly crippled.
That disturbance grew as it became clear the means through which the military fortress maintained its military might, essentially raiding villages and relieving them of their strong; even more disturbing to learn that there were less strong able bodied men waiting to go to war and more innocent male children, waiting to be inducted into a military force that meant to lay to waste all they had grown to love.
Even more disturbing to actually watch an army of soldiers descend upon a village and rather violently pillage it of all its children, the boys to be transformed into fighting machines, the girls utilized for the purposes of breeding.
And the chilling elements? The fact that the tyrannical army was little more than a menagerie of scared, confused and largely unwilling boys, themselves once torn out of their homes to fight in a war, a now, mere months to years later, turning their weapons against other innocents, and doing to other boys and girls what was done to them.
-Is Now and Then Dark? Yes, and in the most irritating manner; beyond the typical good Vs. evil, Now and Then creates quite the dilemma. Bad things happen. People die, but it is difficult to determine if justice is ever really done by the time the story wraps up.
Because that requires that those responsible for wreaking havoc, the villains, are punished; yet, in watching some of these events play out, the various characters rise and fall, you would be hard pressed to find a single reason within which to take joy.
Because it is that difficult to actually hate anyone; and I have always vocalized my hate for those myriads of anime and manga always too quick to redeem their villains, many of them usually hell-bent on selling to us some silly sob stories meant to somehow draw sympathy for their antagonists.
Most times, all that such plots elicit from me is irritation, at what seems to me to be an obvious attempt at insulting my intelligence.
Now and Then juggles its villains brilliantly, never interested in developing sappy backstories, but rather simply placing focus upon building strong characters supported by a pithy past, with each action complimented by a very rational understanding of the events that created some of the monsters in the anime.
Even watching some of the massacres playing out on the battlefield, one is forced to question the logic of the vengeance related plots that are perpetrated in some of the story arcs; watching some of these kids, on opposite sides of a divide, make war against each other, there is clearly no right or wrong, no rationale for either party to execute its desires, neither Hamdo’s forces needlessly burning villages to the ground, nor the rebel elements seeking to obliterate (in vengeance) an enemy merely continuing the cycle of hatred and violence perpetrated against.
And maybe that’s what drew me to this anime, the conflicting arguments it raises, almost simultaneously; with the rapidly shifting sides and tides, Now and Then makes for some of the quietest, yet most thrilling episodes I have watched in a while.
+The characters Behind the characters- yes, Now and Then begins as a lighthearted story that grows rather dark. But maybe that isn’t completely true; because, despite initial assumptions, this anime is no wolf’s rain.
Rather than an endless barrage of sadness, Now and Then preaches a message of hope, one that only proves endearing in the face of the amazing cast, a rather small character base that proves to be the most interesting I have encountered in a long while.
I have heard people speak of the inspiring elements of shonen anime and manga; and quite a few will speak of the messages of hope and triumph that shine through some of these stories.
But truth be told, I would choose Shu over Luffy any day of the week as far as lists of greatest anime and manga characters are concerned. I don’t even understand the excitement over listening to Luffy make some awesome speech in the face of overwhelming odds, possibly rising from an awe inspiring defeat.
Because really, as awesome as Luffy’s better moments are, it is difficult to cheer for any specific strength of will he seems to display against indomitable challenges. Even when faced with death and failure, one needs to question if Luffy has ever really felt despair.
I mean, I am sure he has; but is it truly inspiring watching him eventually overcome these hardships? Is it not expected, not because of One Piece being shonen, but because of the nature of Luffy’s life?
If you think about it, Luffy has everything going for him as far as action heroes go; and even in his darkest days, past victories against other seemingly overwhelming odds should give him the confidence he needs to overcome no matter the situations he faces. In fact I would be surprised if he actually failed to find the strength to rise following past victories.
This isn’t an attack against Luffy, merely an example of the typical anime and manga hero. And as epic as they might appear in their own right, I found Shu to stand above most of these characters.
Why? Well, because of how realistic Now and Then was; we are talking about a series devoid of overt supernatural elements (besides Lala-Ru), where heroes do not have the luxury of hidden powers and special skills, where the determination to protect your friends and nakama doesn’t stop them from being murdered right in front of your face.
Where children are children, weak and incapable, where even quickly mastered capabilities do not change the frailty of their little bodies; this is the world that Shu has to deal with, and watching the young boy undergo all manner of violence, witness the evil being perpetrated around, usually helpless to do much about it, yet maintain his positive demeanor, that is something I found intriguing.
It is one thing to spout speeches of hope when you are one unlocked power away from achieving victory. Shu has nothing. His words, his beliefs about pacifism and kindness and hope are tried and tested in the worst conditions.
And when he comes through to the other end, ever so determined to maintain his positive outlook, well, that is a message that doesn’t feel as cheap and forced as most anime tend to feel.
-Not that Shu completely carries the series on his shoulders, but rather his interactions with the various characters and the relationships he builds. More intriguing are the difficulties those persons around him undergo, and who do not have the benefit of a hope crafted by Shu’s peaceful upbringing.
You will love these characters, and hate them, then struggle with the sympathy the show is so brilliant at creating for some of its antagonists, throwing terms like hero and villains aside. Now and Then is populated with survivors; be it pitiful Nabuca, committing atrocities even while constantly muttering those words that Hamdo said to him the first time he was inducted into the army, that he would return home once the war ended, this goal driving him towards darker paths for a dream of future peace.
Or Boo, too young to understand the purpose of war, too ready to forgive and show mercy, ever at the hands of those comrades determined to transform him into a true machine of war, this being his only means of surviving the chaos to come.
And Sara, wisped away from America, like Shu dreaming of home, but staring at a bleak future, purposed for breeding Hamdo’s army. There couldn’t be a better cast of characters to manifest the brutality of war, each concealing several layers of depth.
+VERDICT: You know what, it is important to remember that Now and Then is dark, but not brutal; and that is a surprise, one that only cements the show’s quality in my eyes.
Anyone can create darkness and despair using blood and gore; just watch Afro Samurai or Berserk, and you are bound to flinch at the flying heads and pouring entrails.
I love the subtlety of Now and Then, whose core revolves around hinting at the messages beneath each action, every word of dialogue steeped in depth and revealing volumes about each character and situation.
Truth be told I was surprised about how miniscule the bloody elements were in the anime, most people simply dropping to the floor when shot, presenting little more than a little red dot in manifesting the results of gunfire.
And I like that; I have nothing against gore, but most anime and manga utilize blood for the aim of creating shock; a series that can bring across the darkness of its story without resorting to meaningless violence is a story I can get behind.
Released in 2001 and most definitely presenting a rather dated look, be it the animation or art, Now and Then, Here and There is none the less miles ahead of 99% of all the anime I have watched in the past two years.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but that is how impressed I am with this anime. And I expected to hate it. I can rarely stand to watch anime this old, mostly because I find the dated production values way too distracting, this not even taking into account the use of countless tropes, novel back then but considered clichés today.
Not Now and Then; the last anime I watched and liked, that was this old was Noir-not great but decent.
Now and Then is a must watch, for any anime fan, that is if you are interested in indulging in a simple yet intriguing story with endearing characters and a strangely positive message about the future.
+RATING: 10/10, certainly there were flaws, but most of them so negligible as to have no impact on what is essentially a masterpiece of an anime. Watching Now and Then, Here and There, I can understand what Hayao Miyazaki said recently, about the pithy anime of old, now replaced by what he generally described as meaningless fluff (only true to an extent).
Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku is a 13 episode that ran from October 1999 to January 2000, directed by Hakitaro Daichi (Kamisama Hajimemashita, Fruit Baskets) and written by Hideyuki kurata (HandXRed, Tokyo Ravens, The World God Only Knows, Hellsing OVA, Read or Die, Excel Saga).
HIGHLIGHS: Boo and Sarah, Abelia’s final moment with Hamdo, Shu and Lala-ru’s last sunset.