Bidding farewell to most of the Macross canon, the next retroblogging series is Now and Then, Here and There. A 13 episode series from 1999, Now and Then, Here and There follows a boy named Shu, who is going about his daily life in a town in Japan until he sees a strange looking girl sitting atop a smokestack. After climbing up and trying to get her attention, the two are sucked into a dystopian world of deserts where an insane dictator brutally runs his country with fear and violence as his primary methods, a dictator obsessed with obtaining a power that the girl possesses. Despite the hell that faces him, Shu tries to retain his simple, optimistic attitude. This is at the heart of Now and Then, Here and There: humanity in the face of the horrors that mankind can unleash upon each other. Whether hope can survive the most brutal and cruel situations, and whether humanity is more defined by its capacity for good or by its ability to commit unspeakable crimes. Needless to say this isn’t a happy series, though it is hopeful in a way. I recommend having an episode of some wacky comedy or sugary-sweet shoujo on hand for afterwards.
A note: This is the first show I have retroblogged that I’ve already seen, though it was many years ago, back in 1999 or 2000. Despite having already seen it, I will not be using spoilers from future episodes in my posts for the sake of those who have not watched it before. Please apply the same policy to the comments if you have also previously watched it. Apologies for not being able to remove non-pertinent subtitles in some screenshots, both my old, original copy of the series and another downloaded version both have hardsubbed subtitles that cannot be turned off.
Series Background: While I was unaware of this when I was brand new to anime during my first viewing of the series, the writer and director of Now and Then, Here and There have a rather unusual record compared to the content and themes of this series. The director, Akitaro Daichi, has directed Kodocha and Fruits Basket and writer Hideyuki Kurata was the script writer for Read or Die, Kannagi, and Excel Saga. Quite a difference from Now and Then, Here and There! AIC was the animation studio.
An average morning in the Matsutani house. We’re quickly introduced to Shu’s highly energetic, if clumsy, way of doing things.
Shu plans on asking out a girl from his school if he wins the kendo match, only to lose in front of her due to his simple, straight ahead attacks.
Washing up after the match, Shu is joined by his opponent who apparently got the girl and harshly critiques his lack of strategy and form. Of note, water is a recurring element in all the scenes in the normal world. Shin washes his hair with a lot of it then thirstily gulps it down before the other two join him.
A panning shot of a temple area lingers for a moment on the hand washing area at the entrance, again emphasizing the presence of water everywhere.
Walking home through town along the riverbank. Shu later comments about how it’s a good town, but that nothing much ever happens, similar to Naota in FLCL.
Heading home Shu passes by an abandoned factory and notices a girl sitting at the top of one of the huge smokestacks. Curious, he heads inside and tries to climb up, only to find the ladder broken. He climbs up an adjacent one instead and tries to talk with her, barely getting a name out of her. He starts blabbering on to her about the town, how he used to climb the smokestacks, and himself, but she only responds with her name, Lala Ru, and points to the sunset she is intent on watching. Shu eventually gets a smile from her, but just then everything around town seems to freeze, a bright sphere of light envelopes the factory area, and two snake-like machines appear and deploy a small humanoid mecha to capture Lala Ru, accompanied by a woman in a military uniform. Shu is knocked around but manages to attack the pilots of the machines with a stick that he picked up, but just when it seems he might be able to rescue Lala Ru everything within the sphere flashes out of existence and reappears in a huge metal chamber somewhere else.
Sunset over the water, at the top of Shu’s ‘Tower of Courage.’
Lala Ru, silent except for telling Shu her name, sits on the smokestack with a shining blue pendant around her neck.
Abelia, the woman commanding the machines sent to capture Lala Ru.
The machines have a simple, bulky design, somewhat reminiscent of the MagiTech Armor in Final Fantasy 6 or the robots in Chrono Trigger.
Shu’s bravado and optimism is the one thing that’s going to keep this show from being completely depression-inducing.
Shu appears in the metal chamber just a moment before the debris from the factory that was sucked in begins to fall, narrowly dodging it and attempting to escape with Lala Ru. Abelia gets on the intercom and announces that all ‘citizens’ of Hellywood (hmm, they must have had a reason for that name, but it sure sounds goofy) that they must search for the escapees or face execution. Running through the corridors, Shu is bewildered when he finds children, some very young, in military uniforms and armed with pistols trying to stop him. Eventually he and Lala Ru are on a drawbridge that is being brought up and are separated when Lala Ru can’t make the jump. Shu falls trying to reach her, but not before he accidentally grabs the pendant she’s wearing. Lala Ru ends up captured, while Shu luckily has his fall broken and guided by a chute, at the end of which he ends up dangling from the outside of an immense structure with a desolate landscape under a gigantic sun before him.
Some of the ‘citizens’ of Hellywood. The group of child soldiers fires and almost hits Shu, the youngest among them appearing to be of elementary school age.
Lala Ru is captured and taken somewhere within the structure. I liked the way the shot closed from the side, less with movement of the ‘camera’ and more with the closing of the drawbridge itself. Closing the shot that way emphasized the closing or locking in of the character (a deliberation, malicious action on the part of her captors) instead of just a moving away (a neutral movement.)
Shounen to Kyouou to…Shokanjyuu? Gotta crack a joke now and then (or here and there *rimshot* joke modifier x2) or this will get really heavy.
Abelia menacingly demands that Lala Ru hand over the pendant to her and her king, Hamdo, before realizing that Shu must have it. A call comes in on her room’s intercom from a man whimsically asking what the status of the search is, a cat heard meowing in the background. But all that calm turns to low-voiced anger and then near panic and rage when she tells him that the pendant is missing. Before she can respond that she’s searching he cuts the line, but she vows loyally that she’ll find Shu anyway. The group of child soldiers that captured Lala Ru begin splitting up to search the lower levels for Shu’s body, assuming him dead from the fall. One pair, the older Nabuca and the extremely young Boo eventually run across Shin. Boo holds out his gun to stop Shu from running, but Nabuca holds the weapon back and runs after Shu himself. Eventually the two fight and Nabucca ends up falling off of a platform, hanging on by the disintegrating railing when Shu saves him and is subsequently captured by Tabool, the most violent of the squad.
Although it is off screen, we hear Abelia slap one of the soldiers that hasn’t found the pendant yet, illustrating the use of violence throughout the system. Contrasting this and illustrating the structure, a moment later she speaks in a very even and deferential tone to Hamdo over the intercom.
These two moments involving weapons are telling about the characters involved. Boo is very nervous about using the gun, and Nabuca seem apprehensive about him using it in the look and tone of voice he uses when he stops Boo from shooting. Shu, after losing his stick, picks up the much more lethal knife. The moment he grabs it he has the same determined fighting look on his face as when he was in the kendo match, then a split second later he looks down startled by the weapon he’s holding and throws it down.
Nabuca is frozen in shock at the sight of Shu rescuing him. For quite a long moment he stays in this state of surprise before reaching out to Shu’s hand and being pulled up. The scene also displays how Hellywood is crumbling, with metal rails coming apart rather easily.
Backgrounds and landscapes are very sparse, often just a predominant color with blending up to white and down to black. While this could be the result of a limited budget, it is effective in emphasizing the individuals involved, presenting their outlines as obviously human but enveloped by a vast emptiness.
Lala Ru seems to be being treated very well, given a room with a comfortable bed and a large tray of food to eat. Meanwhile Shu is tied up to a pole and interrogated by Hamdo. Hamdo goes into a long spiel about how he wanted to unite the world with his holy war, but now he needs water to reawaken the battleship Hellywood, but since he ran out the other nations have begun to rebuild their militaries and fight against him. Paranoid that everyone is trying to assassinate him, a paranoia that underlings such as Boo share, he refuses to believe Shu when he honestly answers that he doesn’t know where the pendant is. Hamdo even throws a cat to the floor, its body sitting there in from of Shu the whole time. Eventually he snaps at Shu and begins slapping him repeatedly until the pole falls over and he orders Abelia to torture Shu and find out where the pendant is. He continues breaking down, crying on his knees and holding onto Abelia asking her never to betray him like everyone else has.
Lala Ru and Shin’s very different holding conditions. Again a use of just two dominant colors and the human form framed inside a large, empty setting.
The pendant apparently holds some key to him obtaining some water. Its continued scarcity leaves him weakened, fortunately for his enemies.
Showing some of Hamdo’s mental imbalance is the way he goes from frantic and angry when yelling at Shu to completely emotionless when he repeatedly and unceasingly slaps Shu.
Hamdo sobbing at Abelia’s feet, the dead cat that he kicked after it was dead going beyond just the ‘kick the puppy’ trope.
That night Nabuca can’t sleep as he recalls Shu saving him earlier in the day, not able to understand why an enemy infiltrator would do such a thing. Tabool notices and sneers at his comrade, reminding him that it’s a disgrace to be rescued or shown mercy by an enemy. While Nabuca calmly dismisses Tabool for talking after lights out, it clearly still is bothering him. Shu meanwhile is thrown into a bare, empty room after being beaten pretty thoroughly by Abelia and her underlings. His face swollen and his body weak, he barely manages to roll over and look at the moonlight coming in from the narrow window. Then, in the shadows he notices a terrified girl hunched in a corner. Obviously afraid of him, she doesn’t respond when Shu weakly manages to force out the words “who are you?”
The child soldiers are kept in a barracks room, with Nabuca seemingly having some small amount of authority or status over the others as evidenced by his single bed (as opposed to the bunk beds that the others sleep in.)
Shu’s torture didn’t seem to involve any visibly creative means, but sometimes just a severe beating is enough.
Shu’s cellmate, appearing only for a moment at the end of the second episode.
Final Thoughts: – The heavy emphasis on water in the normal world at the start was not something I noticed back in high school, but it’s quite the deliberate contrast with the Hellywood world that Shu and Lala Ru enter shortly thereafter. It could be seen on one level as an environmental theme, but I think it goes deeper than that. In one way it’s a much more pointed and realistic environmental message than in many more preachy shows. Instead of just pointing out what life would be like without taking care of nature, it shows what can be unleashed within humans when the basics of the environment are degraded or absent. The conflict in Darfur, for example, began in large part because of a drying out of norther areas that forced nomadic Arab herders farther south to graze their cattle. Running into the southern farmers land, conflicts started breaking out due to the lack of water. In another way the water/lack of water contrast can be seen as a message about appreciating the sometimes boring normalcy of modern life in a first-world country. Water in the normal world is symbolic of all that should be appreciated, and all that is missing in the Hellywood world.
- I had forgotten over the years how well the rather simple ending song fits the show. It’s also sung by Abelia’s voice actress; now that’s some contrast! It’s slow and makes one reflect on what you’ve just watched. The lyrics are almost like a lullaby, comforting and in a soft tone. But in a way sadly nostalgic when singing “this world where we’ve become used to hurting each other is, this is where we were born and grew up.” Accompanying the music with still shots of the normal world at sunset is better than any shots of the characters would have been.
- Hamdo’s crazy paranoia and brutality might seem cliched by now, but there have been plenty of men like him that have risen to power despite (and sometimes because of) their madness. He obviously sold people on a combination of his ‘holy war’ speeches and the promise of gain to those who followed him, and someone that crazy often deters potential challenges by displays of his unrestrained violence to anyone suspected of plotting against him. Idi Amin in Uganda, the heads of the various militias during the Liberian Civil War, and Joseph Stalin were all paranoid and violent, but managed to rise to power and rule based on a combination of ideological appeals, promising their followers the spoils of war, and violent purges of any perceived opposition. Furthermore, the real horrors seen in Now and Then, Here and There and in real-world dictatorships and campaigns of mass violence aren’t the machinations of the leaders, but the way that they can warp others to do their bidding.