After the restful respite from the horrors of the world in the almost idyllic Zari Bars, the outside world and past events come back hard on the main characters. And on a larger scale things are looking bad now that Hellywood is operational and the location of the one decent settlement in the world is being narrowed down. For a while things look to be mostly improving, with some sense of normalcy in the lives of Shu and Lala Ru as they integrate with some of the residents. Lala Ru even engages a little more with the children from Sis’s orphanage. But a soldier from Hellywood claiming to be a deserter arrives, carrying news that Hamdo is losing control, and this is giving the militant faction of Zari Bars a more substantial reason to act on their proactive inclinations. We also find out what happened to Sara, after last seeing her being picked up by a traveler in the desert. While she’s alive, being rescued was not the end of her troubles.
(NOTE: Apologies for the delay, I was really sick this past week. Pretty sure it was food poisoning, but it’s possible it was a strain of the dreaded Con Plague from last weekend’s Tekkoshocon.)
Lala Ru initially refuses the child’s offer of food, but with some of her growing empathy for the people of Zari Bars she realizes that it would hurt her feelings and then accepts the gift of some delicious dehydrated frog jerky!
Shu has been pretty readily accepted by Sis, the children, and some others, but many of the residents are still suspicious of him.
Elamba approaches Shu again about helping to assassinate Hamdo, bringing up the question that has to still be in the back of Shu’s mind.
After Soon and Shu’s trip to the wellspring he comes across Lala Ru playing house with another child, who asks him to join in. It’s really a painfully cute scene. The situation that the characters are in, what they’ve gone through, and how fleeting this moment of happiness is likely to be just makes the scene even more touching. Like the opening quote speaks of time, the scene “arouses such a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness.” It’s cute even without context, and with a little background it’s more adorable that Shu and Lala Ru are playing the parents to the two young orphans. But every level deeper you look at it the richer it is. Add a little more of your prior knowledge to it, and as seen in Shu’s expression there’s the play family and pretend father substituting in for Soon’s dead father in helping her overcome the loss. Lala Ru’s part is significant for her in that she was there at the start of playing family, and we can see more of how she’s connecting to the humans around her. She wasn’t invited/roped into it like Shu, she agreed to be part at the beginning. And outside of the playing itself, it’s a innocent, fragile, happy moment in a world without much of those qualities, a moment that given past experience and events in motion is unlikely to last. Now and Then, Here and There as a series doesn’t elaborate too much on the macro level issues, like how Hamdo got to power, the armaments of Hellywood and Zari Bars, the state of the environment, and others. Where it concentrates its effort and has such such great success is in these smaller moments, whether they be moments of brutality or happiness or acknowledgement of understanding between characters.
Perhaps the only DDDAAAAWWWWW moment of this series.
Shu puts on an act of being a grownup, seemingly trying to emulate his father returning home at the end of the day. Despite being young himself, his experiences and the expectations of the children means that he’s something of an adult figure for them to look up to.
Shu reacts to being asked to play the father with a mix of apprehension and a smile. He knows the situation with Soon’s father more than anyone else, and it’s also probably kind of awkward at first for him to be looked at as (even a pretend) father.
A little later a Hellywood soldier appears begging for water. Apparently he deserted, but Elamba and his men don’t want to let him in. At first Shu and Sis respond, but once the militia realizes they can get information from him they bring him in themselves.
Unfortunately for Zari Bars the deserter was sent to find and infiltrate the settlement, and a hidden communication signal in his boot alerts a receiver station of the location of Hamdo’s main enemy.
Abelia receives notice of Zari Bars being found by the infiltrator and reports the news to Hamdo. Finally able to track down his enemy, Hamdo orders the immediate launch of battleship Hellywood, ignoring any concerns that people in and around the ship won’t be ready. All the systems of Hellywood begin to come to life to the tune of a very industrial, almost steam-powered background music as fuel is loaded into the reactor. Not having operated at full capacity in a long time, there is a nearly catastrophic accident as the tower rises and begins to teeter to one side. Only Abelia’s determination in opening a valve manages to save Hamdo’s ship from being even more incapacitated as it was previously. Now airborne, the drill at the bottom of the tower is dropped and the area at its base torn up as Nabuca watches in fear and Hamdo cries with joy at the prospect of being able to annihilate his enemies.
The map room reminded me a lot of the technology in the 1980′s Dune movie for some reason.
Abelia in command.
Another technological design memory this brought up was The Grindery mobile magical fortress from Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.
The personnel inside were given almost no warning of the launch, nor were preparations made to deal with the heavy amounts of improvised structures added to the ship over the years.
Hamdo is overcome with tears, and then bloodlust at the thought of finally having his most powerful weapon operational.
Back in Zari Bars a figure in full desert dress comes into Sis’s orphanage, and when she removes her cloak and goggles Shu and Lala Ru find Sara before them. But it only takes a moment for Sara to see Lala Ru and realize that she was the one she was mistaken for, that everything that happened to her was because Hamdo was after Lala Ru. After a moment of fear and panic she lunges at Lala Ru and begins hitting her in the face and screaming that what happened to her is Lala Ru’s fault until Shu pulls her off of her. And for a moment there’s a look in Lala Ru’s eyes of what seems like disgust or anger. She might have thought “didn’t I tell you it would come to this? Didn’t I tell you they were violent and terrible?” Sara’s outburst was understandable, but Lala Ru was not the one who put her through everything either. Soon after Sara collapses and is taken to the doctor, who explains that she’s exhausted but also worries about her for another reason: she’s pregnant. The doctor tries to keep it quiet, but with only a screen between them and Sara, Shu’s incredulous reaction is overheard by Sara who just keeps getting the worst of everything to come out of this world. The next day Shu goes to talk to her in a park where young children are playing, quite a menacing contrast of sweet innocent children and the horrible prospect of how Sara became pregnant and if she should or could keep the child. She tells Shu that his words about everything turning out alright as long as you’re alive were lies, that they never meant anything, and while he still tries to come back that being alive is the only possibility of things getting better, even he’s shaken in his simple, blind faith for an optimistic outcome.
Sara has always seemed to have gotten the worst of the Hellywood world, and how she tries to find a way through everything, or out of it, adds a great psychological impact element to the events of the story.
Sara finding out about being pregnant was one of those really gut-wrenching moments in fiction.
Turning playing children into menacing spectres of what has happened was a nice reversal of their almost universal positive connotations.
Unfortunately the world isn’t a place run by reason or a plan or that gives everyone what they deserve. Looking at it the other way, as the character Marcus Cole said in Babylon 5 “I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”
While I have to agree with Shu about being alive being the only way forward, Sara’s words are not easy to respond to in a way that would be satisfying to her.
That evening Lala Ru and Shu talk to Sis about Lala Ru’s real identity, now spilled to everyone by Sara’s outburst and attack. While Sis doesn’t care, and is actually surprised that the evil, crone of legend isn’t Lala Ru, Elamba’s faction is not so unconcerned. With information supplied by the false deserter, they try to seize Lala Ru and negotiate with what they think is a divided and weakened Hellywood. Only Sis threatening to shoot Elamba gets them to back off, but later at a town council the matter is brought up again and Sis’s opposition to either negotiation or another assassination attempt is met by rocks from unseen throwers. Late that night, Shu notices Sara getting up and walking into the cavern where the wellspring is located. After following her, he sees her try to drown herself and grabs her. He’s worried about her and her baby, and when she tries slamming a rock into her abdomen (apparently trying to kill herself as well, which perhaps could happen from a miscarriage with complications caused by self-inflicted internal injuries) Shu puts his hand between her body and the rock. They go back and forth as she keeps yelling at him to let her die, and after tackling each other Shu, in a moment of *sigh* oh Japan, slaps her and tells her that she has to keep on living, even if he and Lala Ru have to leave to let her do so in peace. The two collapse and the night passes, but Sara isn’t free of past reminders yet. The next day the infiltrator notices her and approaches when she’s alone. He’s the Hellywood guard who tried to show a bit of kindness to her by returning her handkerchief when she was first imprisoned. He remembers her name and asks her to leave with him, that Zari Bars will soon be destroyed by the approaching battleship.
Lala Ru has her first real conversation with Sis, explaining her past. Sis seems taken aback by the concept of someone living so long appearing as a young girl, and the contrast is interesting between the older but simpler Sis and the young-looking but ancient and weary Lala Ru.
Sara is basically another victim of this world, crushed and only seeking a way out until Shu stops her. Similar to Nabuca abandoning the idea of returning to home and normal life, it’s when a person’s spirit is crushed and they give in to an element of Hamdo’s world that things get darkest.
Not a bad scene for it showing the point Sara was brought to, but the slap really made it lose a lot of points with me.
Just as Lala Ru said would happen.
It’s interesting to see how this soldier and others like Nabuca try to find a small way or two to do good, but are still caught up in and part of the greater evil.
Final Thoughts: – The overall scope of the story continues to be very simple, and the details of the world as well, but these little scenes like Lala Ru and Shu playing house with the children continue to impress me with the impact they have on the character-level. The macro-level story proves enough of a frame, but the series is all about the personalities, choices, and psychologies of the characters and how they are woven together into a sequence of very emotionally rich shorter scenes, whether the emotion be overt or more subdued.
- Shu still manages to hold on to his optimism, even being shaken by Sara’s words doesn’t fundamentally change his viewpoint. It could be argued as either his determination or his simplicity. While I think the latter could be argued convincingly up to this point, by the events of these episodes I really think it’s the former. If he were simple or even a bit dumb about it, I don’t think we’d be seeing the flashes of realization in him when he’s confronted with Elamba posing the question about whether isolation will serve the greater good, or when he had to force himself to smile when he was playing the father having known what happened to Soon’s father. For Shu I think it’s more his determination or faith that things can get better as long as you’re alive, that even taking into account everything that he sees around him it’s just not right to give up hope. The thought of giving in is just antithetical to the very foundation of his way of thinking.
A note on future retroblogging: With only one more Now and Then, Here and There post left to go, the time has come to choose the next series. On Sunday I will make a post that will allow the readers to vote on which series I should retroblog next out of three or four candidates. Thank you to those who have suggested series to me in previous retroblogging posts. Voting will be open from Sunday until Monday the 26th. As always, thank you for reading!