Because ten billion years' time is so fragile, so ephemeral, it arouses such a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness...
Daichi Akitarou, the man responsible for Fruits Basket of all things and along with the script writer responsible for classics such as the Read or Die OVA, has left anime an underrated masterpiece. Those who've seen it agree, those who haven't don't know what they're missing. Now and Then, Here and There, released by Pioneer and Central Park Media in 1999, is a once in a lifetime experience, quenching many a thirst for uncompromising drama, stunning conclusion and above all sheer scope in this little hobby of ours. 10 Billion Years into the future is a long time after all, and this is precisely where Shu finds himself as the 13 episode series takes off.
Shu, our protagonist, is a Japanese School Boy with naivety and dumb optimism still very much intact. Living out his life in a small town in Japan, Shu is walking past a grouping of smokestacks when he spots a blue haired girl sat atop one of them. For no good reason at all, he climbs the adjacent smokestack in hopes of talking to the girl, however even with all of his dashing probing the girl is reluctant to speak more than her name, Lala Ru. Almost as soon as Shu manages to get words out of the girl, three snake-like mechanical beings appear around Lala Ru, a female commander issuing her capture and obscuring the surroundings in a strange white smog. Shu, being an anime protagonist, elects to save the girl, fighting off the snake monsters as best he can with his trusty stick and bellowing voice. Taken aback by this unexpected development, the commander, later introduced as Abelia, orders a retreat before scurrying back to the future, unknowing of Shu who has come along for the ride.
10 billion years later, Shu, Lala Ru and Abelia return to the grounded warship Hellywood, and before anyone could say anything, Shu takes Lala Ru by the hand and begins to run. An alert is issued throughout the warship ordering the capture of the two escapees, and eventually Shu finds himself separated from Lala Ru being held at gunpoint by a group of armed children. Lala Ru is taken away to speak with the mad King Hamdo, who has hopes of using Lala Ru to save Hellywood by forcing her to summon water with which can be converted to steam fuel, giving Hellywood the skies once again. Lala Ru, however, is missing her pendant which holds the water, and where else would it be but in the hands of our capable idiot Shu, still very much alive and on the run inside Hellywood. Abelia realises this and orders the capture and torture of Shu, the boy with the necklace pendant that could save Hamdo's Leadership and return the world to him once again. WUH OH.
Now and Then, Here and There is almost infamous for its unflinching portrayal of warfare. Child exploitation, kidnapping, rape, torture, suicide, Now and Then carries with it a veritable feast of every depravity you could think of, which isn't the first thing you'd gather looking at the character designs and artwork for this series. It all sits on a very fine line between steampunk and Pokemon, however unlike Pokemon this feature, while low budget, boasts some very smooth animation, in-between and key.. and I assume I won't have to tell you that as well as looking better, Now and Then is in a completely different league to any Saturday morning Cartoon-tier series. It sits and remains one of the darkest anime series ever made, but unlike most other darker anime series, this one is much more than gridmark for the sake of shock value and holds up very well when put against most live action series, capable of getting by on story alone if nothing else. Steeped wholly in unbearable hopelessness and evil throughout a very short 13 episodes, the whole experience is over very quickly, but what it leaves lasts a long long time and stacks up to be one of the best looking, best told stories in anime as a whole. As I cannot allow myself to be comfortable with simply repeating "WATCH IT" for the next few paragraphs, I'll continue.
Over on the sound side of things the soundtrack plays reluctant counterpoint to the heaviness unfolding on screen with minimalist synth-pads, sometimes breaking out a guitar or orchestral arrangement along the way for instances such as the Next Episode previews and chase scenes. The Dub is below standard in the beginning, sharing VAs from series such as Slayers, Dragonball Z and, oh dear, Pokemon. As it goes the VAs begin to warm to their roles, but are unable to turn out anything to write home about before the series ends and everyone watching the dub is left with a bad taste of Lina Inverse or Goku in their mouth. Subtitles are the way to go.
Now and Then's narrative, when given proper attention, shows an almost stream-of-conciousness approach to storytelling, with exposition giving way for characters to shape naturally before being projected against a backdrop of terror, eventually changing shape altogether without remarking, as if the audience is just supposed to know. A lot is left up to the imagination, I suppose is what I'm trying to say, as the setting does all the work. As the story unfolds, the potential for this barren wasteland grows and grows, before climaxing in an almost fairytale-like manner. Compare Howl's Moving Castle, but also compare Grave of The Fireflies. The ending is bittersweet and makes for quite the unique after taste. Now and Then, Here and There, while light on world building, makes for a riveting experience and, world building light or not, does very well at immersing the viewer 10 billion years into the future where Earth is running out of water and ruled over by a cruel mad King.
Now and Then, Here and There is a must-watch for anyone tiring of awful anime, anyone yearning for another series that captures the magic like anime once used to. Region 4 copies are available through the smashing folk at Siren Visual in Australia, while Region 1 copies of the out of print ADV sets are still readily available through Amazon.com, Now and Then, Here and There is absolutely essential viewing and sits up high as one of my favourites.