Saturday, April 12, 2003

Now and Then, Here and There

Now and Then, Here and There

5/5 Stars

Director: Akitaroh Daichi
Studio (US): Central Park Media
13 Episodes on 3 DVDs

Now and Then, Here and There is in a word awesome. Loosely based on the real life civil wars that seem to be a constant fixture of parts of Africa, NTHT follows the tale of two teenagers from Earth who are caught in the middle of an alien war. The series covers some very moving and "mature" themes, but does so in a way that leaves you feeling good about the world at the end. There are few other series that can accomplish what NTHT does, most notably Grave of the Fireflies or Barefoot Gen, both of which also deal with children and war.

NTHT begins innocently enough, following a young Japanese teenage named Shuzo (Shu in most of the series) through a kendo lesson. On the way home, he sees a girl sitting on top of a smoke stack and climbs up to see what she's doing. The girl turns out to be called Lala Ru, a mysterious and not-quite-human girl that Shu seems to be intent on starting a conversation with despite her almost total silence. Things start taking a turn for the weird when time suddenly freezes and a uniformed woman leading soldiers equipped with strange armored suits and vehicles that resemble snakes. Shu attempts to stop them from taking Lala RU back to with them, and in the process gets pulled back to their home world. Shu finds himself in a giant mobile fortress called Hellywood (not sure if there's a pun there) on the run from soldiers like the ones who captured Lala RU Despite his best efforts, Shu is captured by a child-soldier named Nabuca and brought for interrogation. It is here that we meet the leader of the soldiers, the insane King Hamdo who alternately switches between childlike simpleness and blind rage. During his interrogation, Shu is beaten and tortured because its believed he has a magic pendant of Lala Ru's that Hamdo needs to create water to power Hellywood.

After his torture, Shu is thrown into a prison cell where he meets Sara, a young American girl who was mistaken for Lala RU by the soldiers in a previous foray to our world. Shu assures her that everything will be all right, but things soon get worse as Shu is conscripted in to the corps of Children that make up the recruits for Hamdo's armies. Sara fares even worse as she is to be used to breed more soldiers for Hamdo's army. Shu is placed in Nabuca's corp., and soon learns the horrors of the planet he's on when they are forced to kidnap more women children for the army then destroy the village the children came from. Shu attempts to free the children, but is shot by Nabuca, and brought to Hellywood for a court martial. Sara meanwhile, kills a would-be rapist and escapes in his uniform into the desert. Shu eventually escapes and flees across the desert with Lala RU, but Hamdo isn't done with them yet.

There is a great deal of suffering in the world that Hamdo seeks to conquer, but hope as well. Shu is almost insanely optimistic, even in the face of Sara's nearly suicidal depression and Lala Ru's jaded cynicism brought about by thousands of years of watching humans fight and die. The end is upbeat, and despite all of the suffering there is hope, and Shu, Sara, and Lala RU help to create a better world.

The background world is only somewhat fleshed out, only the area immediately surrounding Hellywood and the town of Zaribarz are seen in detail. The source of Hamdo's technology is not revealed though it seems likely that like the dictators in Africa he acquired it from some where else given the state of the planet's industry in general. It's also not clear whether this really is another world or just another time. At one point Hamdo asks Lala RU if she enjoyed the world she visited (our Earth), but at other points he refers to his world as "Earth". This is not detrimental to the series, in fact it helps empathize with Shu and Sara who are lost in the world with no idea what's going on.

The art and animation are excellent, and there are subtle details that help to flesh out the world. The differences between Hamdo's quarters and the barracks of his troops are quite jarring as are the differences between them and the villages he oppresses. The sound is great, with a very good musical score, above average for a series. The dubbing is also excellent, and the voices nicely fit the characters. This series is excellent, and while I don't recommend it for children, it's a must see for everyone else.

Now and Then, Here and There - Discord and Doom vol.1 (DVD)

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