Sometimes there are just shows that push the boundaries of what anime can and can’t do. And I don’t mean in a technical aspect, but in a storytelling aspect.
Now and Then, Here and There is one of those shows. There are plenty of those types of shows in the history of American television – NYPD Blue comes to mind – that do things that make the average viewer squirm. They take a subject throw it in the viewer’s face and say, “Now deal with it because this is real and if you can’t deal with real then you’re living in a fantasy land.”
Now and Then, Here and There does that. It takes all the horrors of war and men and mashes it into 13 episodes. Much like El-Hazard or Escaflowne, the show follows the story of a boy named Shu who is transported far into the future into the middle of a war. Initially he’s trying to save the life of this mysterious girl named Lala-ru, but he ends up getting imprisoned, conscripted, beaten and otherwise abused. All through it, he mantains his optimism that somehow, tomorrow will be better.
This show is brutal, really brutal. It’s so brutal it makes Elfen Lied looks like corn syrup with red food coloring. It makes 24 look like a walk through Main street, USA. And that’s what makes it good. It doesn’t shy away from the violence, from what people might call the “reality of the scene”.
So why not? I like shows that take risks. I like shows that take the expected and twist it around and give me something bleak and horrible and yet hopeful. This does all of that.
Except that Shu simply falls flat. Yes, his optimism is what pulls the story along, but it feels forced, like someone in the planning stages said “Wait, if we have a character who’s dark here in this really dark world then people are going to tune out.”
And they’re right. Most reviews I’ve read have touted Shu’s optimism as one of the reasons that they kept watching. But over the course of 13 episodes it doesn’t change. He never waivers. Never has a crisis of conscience. Let’s face it, the guy gets hung outside for three days, and he doesn’t feel bitter about it. He’s given a choice between killing to stay alive and not killing, and he chooses not to kill. The guy has absolutely no moral gray area.
This doesn’t just mean I have to suspend disbelief. No I have to take it out back and shoot it in the head. Because no one who goes through what he goes through and could come out saying, “Yes give me another.”
And not only that, but he ends up just being a catalyst. Essentially because all of the other characters give into bitterness and despair, he’s the one who’s there to provide conflict. He’s the one who’s there to tell their stories. And having a main character who’s not really the main character, while an interesting device, doesn’t make for the most involving storytelling.
And no amount of blood and guts can fix that.
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