Now and Then, Here and There

Shuzo Matsutani is an upbeat and spirited teenager whose confidence in his own abilities and sense of determination blinds him to how confrontational and belligerent he sometimes appears to others. One afternoon, trying to impress a girl at the kendo club where he trains, he only succeeds in making himself look foolish and immature; but as he makes his uncomprehending way home, he is astonished to see a girl apparently his own age standing on top of some nearby smokestacks. He is even more astonished when what appear to be dragon-like mecha attack the girl; determined to save her, Shuzo and the girl – whose name is Lala-Ru – are accidently transported to the world of the far future, a desolate planet on which water and resources are scarce and desertification has reached almost global proportions. Shuzo is captured by the soldiers of the warlord Hamdo, a dictator with the mentality of a vicious child. Beaten and abused by his captors, Shuzo meets another girl from his own time, Sara Ringwalt, an American who was captured after being mistaken for Lala-Ru. Sara and other females are kept as sexual slaves, repeatedly raped by Hamdo’s minions in order to produce children: the females are sold as slaves or kept as breeders, while the males are pressed into the service of Hamdo’s army. This latter fate eventually befalls Shuzo; with difficulty, he makes friends among some of his new comrades, and learns that they are as much enslaved as the female breeders, used as cannon-fodder by the ruthless commanders of Hamdo’s dwindling military forces. It is in this brutal environment that Shuzo learns two other things: firstly, that there is a resistance fighting to bring down Hamdo and end his reign of terror; and, secondly, that the strangely childlike Lala-Ru and the mysterious pendant she wears may hold the key to the re-greening and re-watering of this parched world. As stubbornly determined and self-confident as always, Shuzo decides to join the rebellion against Hamdo, save Lala-Ru, and make his way back to his own time – but he knows nothing of the awful choices and heartbreaking sacrifices he and others will be called upon to make…

Conceived and directed by Akitaro Daichi and produced by animation studio AIC, “Now and Then, Here and There” originally ran on Japanese television from October 1999 to January 2000. Animated in a starkly realistic and at times minimalistic style that compellingly conveys both the atmospherics of environmental degradation and the harshness of human cruelty, “Now and Then” takes a not altogether likeable character – Shuzo – and works the difficult trick of making him both three-dimensionally human and a believable anti-hero in whose cause the audience eventually comes to invest. Unlike the ever-complaining, ever-traumatised Shinji Ikari of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, Shuzo is both frustratingly unself-aware and yet also emotionally resilient and flexible enough to learn from experience and adapt to the situations in which he finds himself. And those situations are depicted with an unflinching resolve to confront the oft-hidden truths about political oppression and the horrors of war: slavery and human trafficking, child soldiery, rape as a weapon of war, and the control of scarce resources as a tool of authoritarian government. While the narrative occasionally meanders in order to take in the wider ensemble cast of characters and describe the socio-political context of the world in which Shuzo finds himself, “Now and Then” nonetheless builds to a denouement that delivers an emotional gut punch as we realise just how much Shuzo has grown and changed, and how high a price he and his comrades are prepared to pay for the dignity and integrity of their personhood. Critically acclaimed and regularly cited in lists of the best dystopian anime of all time, “Now and Then, Here and There” will leave a deep emotional imprint on thoughtful audiences as its catalogue of horrors nonetheless illuminates the deep reserves of selflessness and empathy that lie waiting to be activated at the core of the human heart.     

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.