TV series, 13 episodes
Genre(s): Drama, science-fiction
Synopsis: A young boy meets a strange girl and travels to a desolate world.
The good: An insane vilain and an imaginative setting.
The bad: Cardboard-thin protagonist, depressing.
Three months have passed since I’ve watched Now and Then, Here and There, and frankly, time has not been kind to the experience. Here was an ambitious series that tackled such controversial issues as slavery, rape, and child-soldiers, yet did so in a manner so unmoving, and at times even depressing, that it left me no fond memories whatsoever. The online reviews I skimmed in preparation for this were polarized between love and hate; count me in the latter category. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first it’s plot summary time!
Now and Then, Here and There introduces us to Shu the upbeat Japanese boy and kendo afficionado. After losing a match to a school rival, he heads for home, and on the way passes by some industrial ruins where he used to play as a kid. Shu decides to climb to the top of a smokestack for old times’s sake, and what do you know! At the top is a mysterious blue-eyed, blue-haired girl staring at the sunset.
Her name is Lala-Ru; when mechanical dragons and a platoon of soldiers materialize nearby to capture her, Shu realizes that she’s in danger and, armed with a wooden stick, tries to fend off the well-equipped squad of death-dealing mercenaries. The result is less than optimal. He’s dragged along with Lala-Ru into the dimensional portal to a nameless otherworld, reappearing in the guts of fortress Hellywood.
The ruler of Hellywood and its army of child-soldiers is King Hamdo, and lemme tell you, it’s refreshing to finally meet a character who’s 100% completely fucking bonkers. No, it’s not a manner of speaking to describe his delusional ambitions or his ruthless methods. The guy is crazy, and evil through and through, to boot! During the series Hamdo’s mood swings between “self-confident commander” and “psychotically unstable madman”; the person in charge of cleaning up when mood #2 takes over is Abelia, his competent second-in-command.
As a welcome present the Hellywood soldiers torture Shu for a while, then torture him some more, and finally press him into service in Hamdo’s army of child-soldiers that have been conscripted from the neighboring villages. The world of Hellywood is an arid, rocky desert with little vegetation, but Hamdo is determined to conquer and rule over it using Lala-Ru and her pendant, which is said to have magical powers. The plan’s not bad on surface, but reflect on it for half a minute and you too will see how it’s filled with plot holes large enough to drive a Super-Dimensional Fortress through. For one, if Hamdo and pals have access to advanced technology that allows them to visit other dimensions and worlds… Why don’t they simply pack up and move? Or at least steal another dimension’s water? Why devote all of their time and energy to hunting Lala-Ru? Well, to furnish us with a semblance of a plot, I suppose.
The moral conflict at the core of the show pits Shu as an exemplar of freedom-loving individuality against the oppressive organization of Hellywood, but here comes my biggest beef with Now and Then: Shu is an awful protagonist. For starters, he somehow remains optimistic and upbeat through a series of brutal ordeals that would reduce any normal individual to a tearful wreck of humanity, let alone a twelve-year-old who gets his ass kicked at kendo on a regular basis. I’m supposed to swallow that the half-retarded kid whose kendo skill consists of men over and over again possesses the spirit to resist a soul-crushing machine whose sole purpose is to grind children into submission? Come on. Furthermore, Shu devotes himself to rescuing Lala-Ru the mysterious mahou girl after meeting her for all of two seconds, but again, without this irrational obsession of his, we ain’t got a show, do we?
Thankfully, the series also follows Sara, an American girl who was captured by Hellywood soldiers during another trans-dismensional raid because of her resemblance to Lala-Ru. To be clear, Lala-Ru has blue hair, while Sara is blonde. Ahem. Sara’s a thousand times more interesting as a character than Shu because a) she behaves like a rational, normal human being would (by freaking out) and b) has to go through ordeals of her own that make her by far the most sympathetic character around. (If you can’t come up with the most obvious use for a young blonde female in an army full of savage men, you need to work on that imagination of yours.)
But therein lies the second serious issue with Now and Then, Here and There: its moral message is twisted and downright disgusting at times. Near the end, one of the soldiers who raped Sara sacrifices himself before her to save a child’s life. What am I supposed to take home from this? Rapists are people too? Or how about the deaths of all the children-soldiers of Hamdo’s army? The show had closely followed the lives of a few of them, involved us in their loneliness and their struggle for survival inside a single-minded organization that cared not about their age or their lost innocence. Are we to think that this was the only solution, killing the lot of them? What about education, or kindness, or dialogue?
Yay or nay?
I’m afraid this one is a nay, unless you need to get rid of an excess of cheerfulness before a funeral or some such. It’s not advisable for children (who will be emotionally scarred for life) and too gloomy and depressing for adults. This is not a global condemnation of shows whose mood errs on the dark and gloomy side. No, gloom can be done well and remain entertaining – maybe Death Note is a good example, from what I’ve heard – but Now and Then, Here and There is at once too simplistic and too morally unsound.