Now and Then, Here and There
Shuzo Matsutani, also known as Shu, is a strong willed, high spirited, and hard-headed kendo student who loses a spar against his rival at the dojo he attends. After that embarrassment, Shu decides to go to his usual childhood hangout...the top of a smokestack. There he meets a mysterious girl named LaLa Ru and begins a very one sided conversation with her. Suddenly, the two are attacked by a trio of snake-like mecha, and are whisked away to a desolate world where water is scarce and an evil despot named King Hamdo is trying to take over.
There are many works of fiction, be they anime or not, which bring about sadness to a viewer, but very few actually cause grief and resonate so strongly like the anime series; Now and Then, Here and There. This is a series which left me reeling emotionally when I reached its conclusion and I could only think of a small handful of other anime which have achieved the same status for me; those being Grave of the Fireflies, and Saikano.
Now and Then, Here and There utilizes a very unique art form which moves the story along perfectly. The backgrounds are detailed and lush, even if most of the landscapes are stark deserts and a pallet of dusty oranges and murky browns. Despite this lack of color, the world actually feels alive and most of that is because of the complementary character designs. Unlike a lot of other anime that is serious in nature, the character designs of Now and Then, Here and There are decidedly cartoon-like in their appearance. This is complementary because it actually helps take off at least some of the emotional weight. It would be even harder to watch this series if the characters were designed realistically, because the sheer thematic power of this anime would make it unbearable. This series has found a beautiful middle ground between toning down its tragic nature by deliberately using simpler character design, all the while not losing said emotional weight by doing so.
The sounds of this anime are perfectly utilized through the masterful score of Taku Iwasaki. The musical score is, at times, beautiful, haunting, but also overstays it welcome by playing some of the same themes over and over again. The voice acting is stellar on both sides of English dub and in the original Japanese track. The voice actor who deserves the most recognition is that of Jack Taylor for the English dub. His voice acting for King Hamdo is some of the most expressive, terrifying and emotionally varied I have heard in voice acting. On the flip side, Crispin Freeman is in this as well playing the mean-spirited youth Tabool; but this is definitely not his best work. Everyone in the English dub, however, puts their heart and soul into bringing these characters to life, and it does truly show.
Speaking of characters, the strongest point of Now and Then, Here and There are the characters themselves. Every role in this series is engaging, heartfelt, and never dull. The characters of this anime are also the weakest point of it; a strange dichotomy indeed. For example, Shu is a typical "shonen" character who never backs down from a battle, always fights for the good of everyone else, and is totally unbelievable, but not unlikeable. He is the male version of a Mary Sue, practically perfect in nearly every way. Interestingly enough, where this would be an impediment in a lot of other works it does not cause aggravation in this series. What the main problem with this series and its characterization is that the viewer is given no background story as to why the characters are the way they are and what motivates them.
For a series that demands to so much emotional investment from the viewer in terms of these characters, there is little to no information concerning them or the world they inhabit. The three characters I wished had an explanation was that of King Hamdo, Abelia, and LaLa Ru. Hamdo is an absolute evil much like Shu is an absolute good. He is conniving, childish, murderous and filled with a draining spirit that both repels and attracts the viewer. Never have I simultaneously been absorbed in a villain, as well as fervently wishing he was dead. You do not just watch King Hamdo, you feel him and that is what truly makes him frightening and loathsome.
What led him to become such a murderous psychopath? Or was he always this way? The biggest question is why would anyone follow someone so vindictively insane especially when they know it? Abelia is the best example of this. Being Hamdo's right hand woman, she follows Hamdo's orders to a tee, no matter how insane or asinine they are. It is hard to not feel sorry for her at times since her love for this nut compels her to follow him, only to be abused. I just want to know why.
LaLa Ru is also a complete mystery, the series makes it clear that she carries a pendant that is able to make water and that she is, supposedly, thousands of years old. The series gives absolutely no information concerning this; you would think that at least a little background information would be given for such important character traits...but, I digress. A large part of this series is dealing with Hamdo trying to get have LaLa Ru lend him her power due to the fact that water is the main fuel source of his castle/battleship Hellywood. Some of the most unsettling scenes in this anime are between LaLa Ru and King Hamdo even though he is being "sweet" to her. The viewer never knows when he will fly off the handle.
Now and Then, Here and There touches on some very hard subjects that are rarely discussed, even in the realm of live action films. In this series, the majority of King Hamdo's soldiers are children forced into battle. The tragedy of drafting children to become soldiers (a very real issue in some parts of the world) is discussed openly in this anime. Child abuse and child rape is also discussed in a blunt and realistic manner; the African-American drama, Precious, is the only mainstream film I can think of which discusses this heavy subject in full detail. Use this anime to win the argument against anyone who views animation as nothing but "kids stuff".
Conclusively, this is a series which is heavy in emotionalism, themes of war and abuse, and has some of the most compelling characters that have ever been created. It sometimes loses itself in its feelings and gives little to no information on the things that deserve the most information, but it is still a worthy anime. Now and Then, Here and There proves that animation can carry just as much, if not more, emotional power than a lot of works of live action.
A powerfully written, wonderfully acted and emotionally heavy work of animated fiction that just goes to show that anime is an art form in its own right. Unfortunately it leaves a lot of questions unanswered which keeps this anime from reaching the five star level. Take away a star or two if you like your anime with a cheerier tone. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Not for the kiddies. No nudity and very little swearing, but parts of this show are extremely violent, and although the cast is primarily children, it deals with adult issues and themes such as death, war, rape, and suicide. Older teens and young adults of a literary bent would probably enjoy this the most, but anyone with a penchant for tragic stories may enjoy this one.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Now and Then, Here and There © 1999 tarty / AIC / Pioneer LDC
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