Reviewby Theron Martin,
Now and Then, Here and There
DVD: DVD Box Set
Two ordinary young teens - a Japanese boy named Shu and an American girl named Sara - get caught up in a dragnet cast to find an escapee from another world called Lala-Ru, a strange, ageless girl with the invaluable ability to summon and manipulate water. Transported to the once-mobile, now-stranded fortress Hellywood on a ruined planet, they find themselves subjected to the machinations of King Hamdo, the fortress's mad commander, a man who conscripts even young boys to defeat his enemies and is obsessed with convincing the recalcitrant Lala-Ru to solve his water shortage. Separated by the roles they are forced to play, they each eventually escape by different means but follow ultimately convergent paths as they struggle to make sense of the seemingly insane world around them and find a way home.
Make no mistake: the light-hearted spirit of the first episode of the timeless classic Now and Then, Here and There may fool a viewer into thinking it is something else, but it's actually a grim, serious story where a lot of truly ugly things – beatings, rape, torture, murder, massacres, animal cruelty, children being forced to kill, children being killed themselves – happen to undeserving people. It is a story of madness and suffering, a story about how people respond to traumatic experiences, how they can be twisted by them, and about what kind of motivation it takes to get a person to do the unthinkable.
It is also one of the best-written and most emotionally powerful anime series ever made.
NTHT is a masterpiece of execution. Its story is a straightforward one that stays firmly focused on where it's going, while depth comes from the conflicting ideologies it portrays. “Wars don't raise children,” the motherly Sis says with devastating simplicity, but how can that speak to a man whose sickly sister was abducted by Hamdo's forces and then abandoned to die in the desert, leaving him to wonder whether she was dead or not by the time the scavengers got to her? How can a man who has suffered so be reasoned away from violent vengeance? Should such a man be reasoned away? These are powerful questions for a viewer to contemplate. Despite these grim, weighty overtones and a lot of exceptionally dark content, the story does maintain a much more positive undertone. “Never give up hope, no matter how bad things get,” it tells us, mostly through the voice of Shu, and “things may look bad now, but good things are bound to happen if you survive long enough.” The truth of this optimism isn't always borne out, but such spirit keeps the story from ever becoming too oppressive.
The superb storytelling is highlighted by the intense emotions it can evoke, the trait for which the series is probably best-known. The most severe content is typically implied rather than shown, which makes watching the series bearable, but even so it can be a very cathartic experience. This is a series which will shock and dismay you, at turns make you angry or uncomfortable or sad, and in a couple of places will quite probably break your heart. So powerful can these reactions be that the gentle, soothing closing number, which on its own is a good song, becomes one of the best-chosen and most effective closing numbers ever because of its ability to calm the viewer back down after watching particularly intense content. One would have to look far and wide to find any series (whether anime or not) more effective at driving its viewers to tears and leaving them emotionally overcome. More cynical souls might regard the series as being emotionally manipulative, and they wouldn't be wrong in that opinion. Even a manipulative series must do its work well to produce the desired result, however, and in that NTHT has few rivals.
As with any great anime series, NTHT has no shortage of great characters. Though reckless and overly talkative, Shu's irrepressible (almost pathological) optimism and enthusiasm rarely fail him and the nobility of his soul – this is a person who not only abhors killing and cruelty, but refuses to compromise his principles under any circumstances – gives him an undeniable appeal. Starkly contrasting him is Lala-Ru, around whom so much strife has swirled over the centuries that she cannot look upon the world with anything more than emotionless pessimism, and Nibaku, the teenage leader of one of the children's barracks, who is so devoted to earning a trip home via loyal service that he's willing to sacrifice his principles to that end. Then there's Sara, whose early fear and later hatred and despair at her loss of innocence are palpable things. Among the key supporting characters is Hamdo, whose megalomaniacal behavior is exceptionally well-portrayed because the writing treats his insanity seriously rather than as an over-the-top gimmick. Abelie, his chief subordinate, is convincing as the soldier whose sense of duty is so strong that she has resigned herself to having given her unswervingly loyalty to a madman, while Sis provides the hard-nosed, sensible, and lovable mother figure to counterpoint the militant fanatics of her village.
The artistry and animation are clean and crisp, favoring substance over style, with a color palette that predominately favors earthy tones in the scenes on the ruined world. It doesn't have the gloss of more recent digital and CG-enhanced productions, or the flash of the more dynamic action series, and the designs for many of the characters are somewhat generic, but what is present is good enough to support the writing and get the job done. Highlights come in the ways the personalities of the characters clearly show in their actions and expressions, and in the subtleties, such as the way one of the two brief scenes of nudity is purposely (and thankfully) left indistinct, or a brief scene which focuses on the way a certain character's eyes change in response to a crushing piece of news. Although the series implies rather than shows its most graphic content, and has nothing that can truly be considered fan service (the couple of panty shots don't really count because of the context), its visual content is still way too intense for younger viewers even if its story wasn't inappropriate for them.
Nothing less than masterful voice acting could have carried through the intense drama and emotion of this story, but thankfully both the Japanese and English casts are fully up to the task. All of the key cast members turn in stellar performances in roles that are often quite challenging because of the emotions which must be evoked, with the highlight performance being Jack Taylor's rendition of Hamdo. Vocal styles do vary a bit, especially in the case of Shu, who was voiced by a woman in Japanese but by a male VA in English, but it's hard to argue with the quality of the result. The musical scoring sets just the right tone for the mood, while the opening number, a mixture of guitar and synthesizer, is a suitable backing for the introductions of the key cast members, whose Japanese and English voice actors are listed beneath the character's pictures – highly unusual to see that in an anime series opener! A nice touch is the Dolby 5.1 audio option for the English dub in addition to a 2.0 stereo option.
Each of the three DVDs has a standard complement of extras which includes an art gallery (composed of screen shots), cast/staff listing, an assortment of production sketches, and a Storyboards feature which shows a real-time display of the storyboards for select scenes from each episode. The inside cover of each volume also includes staff/cast credits. Those getting the boxed set also get a bonus disk which includes additional production sketches, promo trailers for the series, the original Japanese opener, a new Storyboard option, and an episode-length “Behind the Scenes” feature. In this case the Storyboard option allows a viewer to play all of episode 13 with the option to flip to a side-by-side comparison of scenes to storyboards while the episode is playing. The “Behind the Scenes” feature, which is structured exactly like a regular episode (down to having a parody of the opening quote and its own version of the opening credits), mixes commentary by the English ADR director, dubbing coordinator, and four key English voice actors with scenes of them in action and, as a special bonus, clips from the actual audition tapes for some of the roles. Not much is said that's actually that meaningful, but it's always nice to associate names with faces.
Every once in a while an anime title comes out which truly stands out from the crowd, one which genuinely merits the distinction of being a “classic.” Now and Then, Here and There is such a title. It makes my personal short list of All-Time Great Anime Titles, and any mature viewer who considers themselves a serious anime fan and has not yet seen this one owes it to themselves to check it out. With the price for both the boxed set and individual DVDs now greatly reduced, it is a title that should be on any otaku's shelves.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ powerfully emotional, superior writing, exceptionally well-performed in both dubs
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