Title: Now and Then, Here and There / Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Thriller, drama, isekai, sci-fi
Year of release: 1999
It’s all push-and-pull. Force and resistance. It can even be mathematically presented – the force to overcome a resistance must be larger than the resistance, otherwise it’ll just go back in on itself. That’s a fundamental concept with any theme in any narrative; if the opposition is overwhelming, well, it’s just gotta be more overwhelming. Now and Then, Here and There is an anime who deals in ‘hope’ and ‘despair’, crashing against each other with violent magnitude. If these things could be as simple as numbers… well, Now and Then’s are infinitesimal on both accounts.
Now and Then indeed has a near infinitesimal amount of despair. Shu, the plucky pre-teen protagonist of this anime, is transported from his comfortable, modern Japanese world into the deep future; a horrifying landscape, where the sun has expanded and will soon consume the Earth. It is a world where a fascistic dictator, Hamdo, controls one of the final water supplies, and commands an army of child soldiers to maintain his monopoly. Shu is thrust into this world, and within his first day, is beaten, tortured and imprisoned. In the cell next door, a girl only a little older than him is raped, again and again, by the older corps of Hamdo’s army.
But Now and Then doesn’t exhaustively paint this picture of hell to shock you. It never tries to surprise you with its revelations of darkness; it doesn’t revel in momentary lapses of terror. No, Now and Then is much more methodological than that. It employs long, pained shots of its characters grappling with the situation, and wide landscapes to emphasise the insignificance of any one moment of hell. Its soundtrack revolves around a single 20 minute piece called ‘Standing in the Sunset Glow’, with an iconic first movement that regularly plays behind Now and Then’s most deepest cuts; slow strings move through their notes with distress, but try, try, try to touch a beautiful melody as they fall.
Before the halfway mark, I was done in. Now and Then, Here and There makes you feel hopeless. Its existential treatment of terror leaves a hole in the stomach that cannot be filled, one that cannot be moved, one that can only be accepted. It feels nigh impossible to carry on, and giving up is the only option left. You feel you must accept this darkness. There is no fighting it, no possible move you can make to escape. But you must.
Shu refuses to give up, no matter how much he is beaten or tortured. Shu insists we must maintain hope, no matter the situation, and that it can always be made better,
Nabuca, a top ranking soldier in Hamdo’s army, quickly comes to hate this little shit that is put into his unit. He hates Shu’s optimism, and sees him is an ignorant fool that is trying to ruin whatever Nabuca does. Nabuca has seen people die. Nabuca has seen his friends escape, only to be mowed down. Nabuca realises there is nothing you can do but make the best of this situation, of trying to keep his unit safe. He cares deeply for Bool, the youngest soldier, and tries his best so shield him from death. But he knows there’s nothing more that can be done, and he beats Shu down with reason and fists in anger that this privileged brat dare think there is more he can do.
And his argument is so damn compelling. But Shu still refuses.
When Shu is eventually imprisoned again, he is given enough time to converse with the girl in the cell next door. Sarah is also from the deep-past like him, and is thought to be deeply related to the ‘water witch’ that Shu met at the beginning. She obviously isn’t, but the madness of this world hasn’t let her say no. Shu’s scattered somehow plan works and he manages to escape, and he brings Sarah with him. But Sarah drags her feet behind him. She wants to be away from the pain, but she has truly given up. She has no hope that anything can be better, and she struggles to emote. One of Now and Then, Here and There’s greatest scenes revolves around her trying to violently abort the child inside her and commit suicide, but Shu pulls her out of the water and shouts at her that it can only get better.
Sarah screams at him with the most emotion that this broken girl has found since the series began. She is fuming. Shu has no idea what she has had to endure for so long, how can he possibly think it can be better? He has no idea what scars she holds deep inside of her, and Now and Then shows that she will never, ever recover from this. It is fucking insulting for him to pretend it can be better.
Hope can be stupid. Hope can be worthless. Hope can be dangerous. But hope cannot ever be given up. Shu learns this, and keeps trying, trying, trying, trying and trying some more until the world is better. He refuses to give up. Hope cannot be thwarted. It can be better. It must be better. No matter how much pain we go through to achieve that… we must persevere.
Eventually, Shu finds a way to topple Hamdo’s empire. Many people die along the way. Even as the group of survivors look out at the setting sun, a beautiful scene of the gigantic sun spilling golden light over the ripples of the final sea Earth may ever see, there is the distinct feeling that this little saga has only been one small footnote in the Earth’s history before it is finally swallowed up. There is no future for the survivors, so how can it be better?
But that’s the thing with hope. You don’t necessarily know where it’s going to end up, or if you’ll even see the happy ending. Hell, half the cast don’t get to see this happy ending, but they die knowing they had full agency of their actions – not a slave to despair, but somebody proud of themselves for dreaming to be better. That’s what it’s all about – doing your best, as best you can, to make it better. Shu begins the series as an idiot, and he may well end the series as one, but he realises that fundamental lesson – never, ever give up. He learns that perseverance can be a horrible, ugly, dangerous and stupid trait, but he learns that with enough hope, misguided or not… it can topple empires, and it can vanquish the darkest darks.
Now and Then, Here and There is an anime that propels this message with brilliant force and crushes the darkest darks it conjures. So put your chin up. Stand tall. Hope must prevail against despair. It’s tough. It can be downright impossible. But it can be better. And all it takes is a little bit of hope, a dash of perseverance, and some faith in the future to not be as murky as the hell it looks like now. Chase that glimmer of a better future. Chase it with all your might. Don’t ever give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.