Now and Then, Here and There is a dark tale of child soldiers serving an insane king, followed by massacres, kidnappings, torture and rape.
|Genre||Drama, military science, science fiction|
|Original run||1999 – 2000|
|Number of episodes||13|
|Purchase DVD set||Purchase from Amazon.|
Because ten billion years’ time is so fragile, so ephemeral… it arouses such as a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness.
These words are the first thing you see in Now and Then, Here and There. And it will be the first thing you’ll see at the beginning of every episode. Just imagine what planet Earth will be like in 10 billion years, if humanity survived up to that point. What technology we’ll have. What cities will look like. What resources are left over.
At first, you don’t think about these things when viewing this anime for the first time. In fact, you don’t really know what to expect. What appeared to be a ’90s slice-of-life series turned out to be… something far different. It’s a slow progression that is paced well enough to let the surprises sink in.
So here and now, let’s see what is up with Now and Then, Here and There.
The World of the Giant Red Star
The anime follows the tale of Shuzo Matsutani, an average Japanese boy who enjoys kendo. Shu is very much like your typical shounen protagonist: optimistic, cheery and not too bright. He’s someone that some people would refer to as “a hyperactive idiot.”
The first episode begins with a look at his life. He lives with an average family, has a rival in kendo class that he wants to defeat and a girl he has a crush on. At first, Now and Then, Here and There seems like it’s going to be an old slice-of-life show similar to Tenchi Muyo! That is, until Shu comes across a mysterious girl named Lala-Ru.
She was sitting on top of a smokestack, admiring the small Japanese town’s sunset. And just as Shu and Lala-Ru were enjoying the moment, a strange group of people attempted to kidnap Lala-Ru. In the process, Shu and the people got whisked away to a new world.
Everyone Shu comes across lives in a giant mechanical battleship known as Hellywood. And the outside world appears to be a giant wasteland with no water, dominated by a giant red star. Having been separated from Lala-Ru, Shu brings it upon himself to attempt to rescue her while being subjected to multiple punishments and atrocities committed by the residents of Hellywood.
Well, this is getting dark. Surely, it’s going to let up?
Oh. Wow. Shit.
Genocide, Indoctrination and Children Armies
Now and Then, Here and There pulls no punches when it comes to its dark themes. With each new episode, you learn a little more about what is happening in this grim world. And the implications on what led to this point were disturbing.
And this leads us to our main antagonist, King Hamdo. He is a representation of mankind’s greed, self-entitlement and lust for power. This dangerously unhinged man is an irrational and a cowardly man, but still desires to conquer the world to make it fit for him. He rationalizes his conquest on the planet as a “holy war,” that it’s a justified conflict that supposedly leads to a better world because he will be the one to bring peace to it. For he is more important than any other life in the world.
A peace, that is, of me, by me, and for me.
And despite his incompetence as a leader and tendency to put the well-being of his soldiers in unnecessary danger, he still remains at the top. But why?
For one thing, he brainwashes his little kingdom. By attacking weaker villages and assimilating more people into his cause, he convinces new recruits that his “holy war” will end faster once his conquest is complete. He claims that everyone will go back home once it’s all over. King Hamdo is a true dictator, possessing absolute power, demands full loyalty from everyone, and relies on his closest servants to carry out his orders. Everyone else is a lesser being compared to him.
Both the Japanese seiyuu (Kouji Ishii) and English voice actor (Jack Taylor) for Hamdo did an excellent job in conveying the king’s desperation, madness and cowardice. Even though Hamdo is a rotten tyrant, the anime still conveyed him as a human being; someone who can feel joy, sadness, anger and fear. Even when Hamdo himself isn’t a fighter, he still remains a dangerous villain whom you can’t help but pity.
It’s highly probable that King Hamdo is a Caligula, someone who inherited the position as king. And despite the terrible acts he commits, people still follow him. Rebellion is out of the question. Hellywood is a massive fortress crawling with loyal soldiers, so escape is unlikely. Furthermore, there’s a vast world out there lacking food and water. Where would you go, even if you had escaped Hellywood? Even if King Hamdo is dead, his most loyal followers may continue his work.
And this brings our Living MacGuffin Lala-Ru into the equation. King Hamdo wants to use the pendant she was carrying, which supposedly contained an enormous reservoir of water. The water will not only help Hamdo’s army but it will also power up Hellywood, resuming the conquest. However, only Lala-Ru can activate the pendant’s power.
This places Lala-Ru into a difficult situation. For much of the series, she refuses to cooperate with Hamdo, rather seeing his army slowly diminish rather than allowing him to terrorize the rest of the world. The fact that people only value her for her ability makes her into a cold and cynical character, with little faith in the good of humanity.
As King Hamdo’s forces continue to fight, life in Hellywood is hopeless and empty. Soldiers abduct children and force them to join the army, forcing them to pull knives and guns on innocent civilians. Those who are disobedient would face beatings and torture sessions. Every soldier must comply to their orders and pledge allegiance to King Hamdo on a regular basis. Healthy young women were taken away from their homes, to be used as sex slaves to birth new future soldiers—there is even a scene where a character got raped off-screen and another where she was about to get raped.
The child soldiers must undergo a harsh training regimen, where they must treat every battle as a fight to the death. They were force-fed propaganda of the king every day. They were told they would return home after the war is over. And even if they must commit murder in the name of the king, they’re still hopeful of returning to their original lives.
While the original Japanese dub made most of the children sound like actual children, the English dub gave most of them adult male voices… for some odd reason. Even Shu in the English dub sounded more like an adult than an actual child. Interestingly, there are quite a few big names in the world of anime English dubs: Dan Green, Lisa Ortiz, Rachael Lillis, and Crispin Freeman. Definitely great voice actors, but it’s jarring to hear an adult man’s voice come from a young teen like Nabuca. It doesn’t help that the art style made most of the children look like middle schoolers or younger. And at first, I thought Shu himself was supposed to be in middle school, going by his appearance and his child-like voice in the Japanese dub. In the English dub though, his voice is much deeper. For me personally, this weakens the impact of the story when you’re thinking the children are older than they appear.
Supposedly, director Akitaro Daichi got inspiration for this plot by researching the genocides occurring at Rwanda and various other African countries engaged in civil wars. Yes, that also includes the conscription of child soldiers. And that’s the scary thing about Now and Then, Here and There. It’s grounded in reality more than you think.
Elegy of a Dying Planet
At its core, Now and Then, Here and There is a slow-paced anti-war story with a subtle environmental message. The anime doesn’t explain a lot about its world, but rather does more showing than telling. While there are times the anime does drop exposition dumps, they never feel forced. For example, King Hamdo explained his master plan to Shu in an attempt to get Shu to relinquish Lala-Ru’s pendant, trying to convince Shu that his war is for the greater good. This scene wasn’t just to tell the show’s viewers about his goals and motivation; it was also there to convince the main protagonist to help him achieve his dream.
Despite the infrequent moments of exposition, the anime drops hints on what is actually going on. Remember this tidbit?
Because ten billion years’ time is so fragile, so ephemeral… it arouses such as a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness.
Why does every episode start with that quote? There had to be a reason.
Well, consider the world that everyone was in. There were humans there, with some advanced technology. However, the world itself appears to be almost depleted of resources and water is scarce. Mankind seemed to have regressed to a more primitive state. Shu met someone named Nabuca, who had a close resemblance to his rival Oda back home. Furthermore, the sun had expanded into a massive size.
It’s highly probable that the setting of Now and Then, Here and There takes place in a distant future on planet Earth. Given what’s happened, it makes sense. It also fits with Lala-Ru’s background.
While never stated outright, it’s heavily implied that Lala-Ru is a personification. She appears to be a spirit of the oceans, nature or even the planet itself. While her exact origin remains unknown, she claims to be thousands of years old and has interacted with humanity during all that time. It’s unknown why she takes the form of a young girl or if she had always been in that form.
She detests the sunrise but loves the sunset. While she never outright states her reasons why she hates the sunrise, it’s likely because the sun is responsible for the planet entering a state of desertification. And while the planet is dying, Lala-Ru retains the last of Earth’s water in her pendant, refusing to allow humanity to waste it. Humanity’s greed could be the other reason why the planet is dying.
Now and Then, Here and There also presents a message about planning for the future and keeping our children safe. Even during times of war or even the end of the world, the anime states that our children are precious and should receive a chance at a normal life, even for just a short time. Seeing as how the anime protests against the immorality of child soldiers, this theme should come as no surprise.
To add to this point, I would like to discuss the character of Sara Ringwalt, who I believe had the strongest character development in the anime. Sara was a young American girl kidnapped by Hellywood, mistaken to be Lala-Ru due to her similar appearance. It was implied that she was from the same time period as Shu since both appear to be raised in a modern world. Later on in the series, Sara was raped off-screen and later sexually assaulted by another soldier. She killed the latter soldier out of self-defense and decided to be more self-sufficient, but these series of events have left her traumatized. For half of the series, she suffers from the effects of PTSD, entering manic episodes of anger or depression whenever she sees other soldiers.
Later on, Sara lives with a villager woman named Sis, who is a foster mother and caretaker of many children. Sara learns to adjust to life of this new world by helping Sis with various activities. Sara later finds out that she is pregnant with her rapist’s child, which absolutely horrified her. While she has the option of aborting the child in its early stages, she instead chose death.
A quick note here before someone reading this goes nuts: I don’t want to turn this topic controversial by making it into a pro-abortion vs. pro-life argument. This discussion is more focused on Sara’s character arc and how it ties to the theme of keeping our children safe. Regardless on where you stand on this issue, it’s irrelevant to this story.
So Sara attempted to commit suicide, which Shu prevented her from doing so. At first, Sara resented Shu for his blind optimism, thinking that it does nothing for her and it did not help her with her situation. But what ultimately changed Sara was Sis’s death.
Sis became a martyr when she refused to cooperate with her neighbors to enter a violent conflict with King Hamdo’s forces. Sis placed her priorities on the village’s children, believing their personal growth is the most important thing for the village. Because some of the children lost their parents to King Hamdo’s forces, Sis was worried that their losses would take a heavy toll on them throughout adulthood. They would still need good parental figures in their lives, as well as plenty of friends for support.
Sis was later shot by assassin leader Elamba, forced to bleed to death when she refused to cooperate with him. During Sis’s final moments, she pleaded to Sara that she could despise the man who raped her and even curse the world if she wanted to. However, Sis also pleaded to Sara not to place her problems on the baby; to love and care for it, regardless of who it came from.
No child comes into this world wanting to be rejected by its mother.
Sis’s death and final wishes deeply affected Sara, finally granting her the courage to look after Sis’s children and even take charge of her own future. This leads to the ending of Sara’s character arc: after King Hamdo was defeated and his forces were broken, Sara decided to remain in the future to take care of Sis’s children and even raise the child of her rapist. Perhaps after everything that had happened, Sara felt it was no longer necessary for her to return home to her own time period. She decided that she must help lead the future.
After many intense moments, Sara seemed to have finally overcome her fears and came out as a stronger person for it. She decided that someone needed to remain behind to raise the children, taking the torch from Sis in doing so. She also decided to have her baby and raise it as her own child. Because to her, the children are the future.
This also brings up a subtle nature vs. nurture theme. While the anime never really showed what kind of man Sara’s rapist is, it’s implied that he’s not mentally sound. In nature, children tend to take on traits from both of their parents, both in appearance and personality. Probably what Sara originally feared about her child was that it would take on traits similar to the father, reminding her of her terrible traumatic event. But since she’s the one who will nurture the child, she can have a greater impact on the child’s development throughout adulthood, likely making the child into a much better person than its father had ever been.
Sara had her second chance and decided to believe Shu’s advice, that good things will happen if she continues to carry on. She decided to give all of the children a second chance after Sis passed away.
Probably one of the most interesting aspects of Now and Then, Here and There is how it treats its main character.
As I mentioned before, Shu acts and behaves like your typical shounen protagonist. He’s blindly optimistic, stupidly brave, and stouthearted despite the odds against him. Even after he gets tortured, beaten down and criticized, he always comes back up. That’s simply the kind of person he is. He values justice and detests war, to the point of refusing to use combat weapons like guns and knives. He’s very much the archetypal hero character.
And in spite of that, Shu lost quite a few of his battles and his actions could put other people in danger. There was a point in the anime where Shu was forced to join King Hamdo’s army and he had to function as one of its soldiers. However, Shu was mostly incompliant and disobedient, which potentially puts the other child soldiers in danger.
This brings up how important the foil character Nabuca is towards Shu. Nabuca is a model soldier in King Hamdo’s army and the de facto leader of the child soldiers. In contrast to Shu’s impetuousness, Nabuca is disciplined and calculating. While Nabuca normally doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeves like Shu does, he still deeply cares about the other children enlisted into the army, especially his best friend Boo. Nabuca detests King Hamdo’s orders and actions, but carries them out anyway in a desperate hope that he’ll return to his village one day.
This makes Nabuca into more of an anti-villain than an anti-hero. Nabuca is willing to kill people, as long as it brings him and his comrades home. However, he always hesitates before he kills someone, showing that he hates what he’s about to do. He’s not a bad person, but he commits horrible acts.
And Shu criticized Nabuca for this. While Shu understands why Nabuca acted the way he did, he cannot tolerate Nabuca’s actions. Unfortunately, Shu has very little control over these situations. He is just one kid against a whole army, and his acts of defiance only get him into more trouble.
There was some debate that Shu didn’t undergo character development like other characters. He started off as an optimistic sportsman. He ended as one. But that’s not the point of his character arc.
The point of Shu’s character arc is to test his beliefs and ideals. Nabuca gave up much of his moral fiber, believing his actions to be a necessary evil. Shu, on the other hand, never stops questioning the immoral acts of King Hamdo and his army. And even when bad things become worse, Shu still struggles along the way. Not once did Shu fight using underhanded or violent means, even when tempted in doing so. He doesn’t wish to take the lives of other people and refuses to justify the act itself. But even then, Shu occasionally questions his own beliefs when he realizes that there are no right answers in war. There are no simple solutions; only difficult ones.
Normally, an anime character like him is the type of hero who would resolve issues, lead other characters, etc. And he actually did towards the end of the series. But thanks to the brutal reality of Now and Then, Here and There, Shu rarely succeeds in anything he does. You might even say he is a deconstruction; while he embodies the traits of a typical shounen protagonist, he doesn’t possess the same kind of Plot Armor as one. While he does get out of a lot of dangerous situations with minimal damage (he even got shot and somehow shrugged it off), he is mostly powerless to help other people. And this is what makes him more fascinating than the generic shounen protagonist. He loses more than he wins.
Shu’s pacifistic stance did have a profound effect on characters like Lala-Ru, Sara, Nabuca and Boo. Shu’s desire for peace may not be realistic or simple, but he still managed to bring up a tinge of hope in these people. Shu may not be a realist, but his undying hope was necessary to allow others to question their own actions and look forward to the future.
So personally, I believe some of the criticisms aimed at Shu’s character are unfair. He was never meant to be that overpowered shounen hero who would resolve the conflict with a super powerful weapon or spell. He was meant to be like a typical kid.
So there you have it. Now and Then, Here and There is a profound anime series with a heartbreaking but captivating thematic story. While it can be a hard watch at times, I believe the show managed to discuss difficult topics competently in a 13-episode run.
My one complaint about the series is that it ended on a somewhat anti-climactic note. While it did leave a few questions up to interpretation, I had a couple that I wished to see being addressed better:
- Earlier in the series, Hamdo’s general Abelia used some sort of time machine to travel back to Shu’s time. How powerful is this time machine and why wouldn’t anyone use it more frequently?
- Where did Lala-Ru come from? Was she an artificial being created by humanity or a spiritual being created by the planet? She claimed to be thousands of years old, so it seems highly likely that she’s a spiritual being. Was she always in the form of a little girl or did she take on a different form previously?
While most of the character arcs were wrapped up, Shu’s in particular seemed to stop dead after he returned home. How much of an effect did his journey have on him? Did he behave differently afterwards? Before we could get an answer on these questions, the credits rolled. There was no epilogue showing what happened to everyone afterwards.
The anime was a compelling tale, which was why it’s disappointing that the ending felt abrupt. Fans of the series even wanted to see if Shu could defeat his rival Oda in kendo and even earn the attention of his crush. Alas, the story is already over and we probably won’t be getting an encore.
Still, I enjoyed the ride. Now and Then, Here and There is not an anime series for the faint of heart. It attempts to convey an anti-war message with real, serious topics and I believe it succeeded in that regard. It’s a shame that not many anime fans of today are aware of this series or can appreciate its existence.
If you compare the average ’90s anime to today’s anime, there’s a noticeable difference in art styles and story pacing. One common complaint of Now and Then, Here and There is the slow pacing, which I don’t have a problem with since I’m used to slow establishing shots for atmosphere. I believe today’s anime fans would be more expectant of positive and uplifting stories as opposed to dark and pessimistic, which is why this anime may be considered an acquired taste. Their expectations for a show like this may not be realistic since it differs in its approach to storytelling.
You have to remember that older anime in general (with many notable exceptions) tend to be darker and geared towards adults, as opposed to today’s anime which is geared more towards teens and children. Furthermore, older anime tend to be slow-paced and spend whole minutes on scenic shots to establish the setting. And if you keep your expectations realistic, you can enjoy something like Now and Then, Here and There.
And now, to end with one of the most somber credits theme I’ve ever heard in my life.
Now and Then, Here and There$99.99
- The anime doesn't shy away from dark and serious topics and approaches them in a mature way. However, this may make the series uncomfortable to watch for some.
- The story's slow progression allows you to take in the anime's setting, allowing you to figure things out on your own.
- Some profound character arcs if you read more deeply into how the character think and behave.
- The setting is wonderfully portrayed with dull, washed out colors in Hellywood while the outside world has more vivid, stronger colors to show a contrast.
- Wonderfully scored with a dramatic symphony.
- While the English dub is average at best, hearing adult voices come from children characters is jarring. However, Jack Taylor makes a fantastic King Hamdo.
- The lack of an epilogue, which would've give the ending more closure.