"All the good people of this world are already dead."
Not for the faint of heart.Now and Then, Here and There (a.k.a Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku or "The Me That's There Now") is a grim piece by Akitaroh Daichi, the director responsible for such manic comedies as Kodocha, Fruits Basket, and Ouran High School Host Club. Only this time, he put the laughs away in a lockbox and melted the key.NTHT (as the title is often shortened) takes the old anime plot of being transported to another world and turns it on its head. Shu, our hero, is on his way home from kendo practice one day when he sees a strange girl sitting atop a smokestack. Curious, he goes up to meet her. The girl's name is Lala Ru and as Shu is introducing himself and talking to her, two strange machines warp in and attack them. Shu attempts to defend the girl, but he is easily brushed aside, and Lala Ru is taken. Shu renews his attack as Lala Ru calls for help, but everyone ends up getting transported back to where the machines came from.The normal conventions of this genre decree that the alternate world be a cool, mildly dangerous place where the transportee soon hooks up with some cool friends and a protector/mentor who explains the new world and guides our hero on his great quest to rescue the damsel...Not this time. Shu is transported to a dying desert planet orbiting a bloated sun in the early stages of nova. Only the worst of humanity has survived this crucible, and Shu has been dumped alone into the heart of this hell. Shu tries to behave as the hero would, ever optimistic that good will always triumph and that if he tries hard enough he will win and restore goodness to the world. Only, things don't work that way in Hellywood, the battle fortress ruled by an insane king served by a super-efficient minion who inflicts his every demented whim on a helpless population.Daichi pulls no punches in the thirteen episodes of this TV series and gives us no let-up. In this world, children are the targets of atrocities committed by other children. Neighboring villages are raided for vital supplies and young boys to be conscripted into the insane king Hamdo's army. Women and young girls are captured to be passed around to and raped by Hellywood soldiers as a reward for good performance in the hope that they will become pregnant and provide future soldiers and breeders. This latter fate befalls a young American girl named Sara, who is mistakenly grabbed because of her resemblance to Lala Ru. Indeed, a couple episodes in the middle of the series focus entirely on her story, not Shu's.Daichi was influenced to create this story based on the reports coming out of Rwanda during the Genocide, and boy does it show. The anime is considered by many fans to be a masterpiece, but be warned: it is intense enough that you will probably only be able to watch it once. This one belongs on the shelf right beside Grave of the Fireflies.
Adult Fear: A child stuck alone in a foreign land.
Aerith and Bob: The females all have real names, even in the future; Soon is a Korean name, Abelia is the name of a plant, and Sis is likely a nickname. And then you have the guys; Boo, Tabool, Nabuca...
Amulet of Concentrated Awesome: Lala Ru's pendant has the still great remains of a massive store of water tied directly to her own life. How much more concentrated do you get?
Anyone Can Die: And by anyone we actually mean everyone. Especially if you can feel any sympathy for them.
Applied Phlebotinum: Hellywood's airship is fuelled by water, due to the briefly-shown "Converters" which allow the water to be used as fuel, which possibly explains why there is no more water on the planet.
Bodyguard Crush: The straight trope and the inversion are both played with between Abelia and Hamdo. It's heavily implied that Hamdo used to be sane, and that the only reason Abelia stays with him is because she remembers what he used to be like. That combined with the wistful look in her eyes when he dies, especially when she was perfectly capable of saving him, made it look like she was saying goodbye to someone she cared deeply about. Someone she finally admitted had already been gone for years. There's also her rage towards Lala Ru, who Hamdo talks to like his lover half of the time. As for Hamdo's feelings, the way he touches Abelia (caressing her face, hugging her from behind) is not quite sexual but definitely more than friendly.
Breather Episode: Episode 8. While Shu and Lala Ru do talk about the horrors of the world they're in, it's not up in your face, so you can take a break from the depression brought on by the last 7 episodes while they fight a giant desert plant monster with grenades.
Death Glare: You wouldn't guess her capable of it, but Lala Ru managed one when Hamdo had Abelia shoot Shu. For half the series, he bribed, cajoled, pleaded, and threatened her without so much as getting her to look at him. After the shooting? "Why are you looking at me like that?... Stop looking at me like that!"
Decoy Protagonist: While almost the entire series is shown to us as seen through Shu's eyes so as to achieve the haunting effect of a child's perception of brutality, surprisingly little of the story has anything to do with him.
Deconstruction: Of the Trapped in Another World plot. In most stories, a hero is taken to another world (normally Medieval European Fantasy, but really it just has to be somewhere fantastical), and turns out to be the Chosen One to solve the problems there. Shu's status as the decoy protagonist reveals how much he can actually do to save the world... which isn't a whole lot. It follows him on his journey, but he gets kicked around, and tries to solve things, but much of it is out of his control.
Domestic Abuse: There is a lot of parallels to this with Hambo and Abelia's relationship.
Downer Ending: Sure, Earth survives 10 billion years into the future, but you've sent back a young man who knows that the world will eventually devolve into the world that Shu experienced. Not to mention the fact that he won't be there to save the day when that time comes.
The world is already like that – just go to the Great Rift Valley (Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Congo), Western Africa, or Afghanistan. Rather than the world devolving, the point seems to be that the world did not and will not change at all. Both the good (people like Sis) and the bad (child armies like Hellywood) persist.
Also since it's never made exactly clear how time travel works (if it even is that), Shu can try to change the world in The Slow Path using the knowledge he's gained.
He Who Fights Monsters: Elamba. He is so desperate to get his hands on the MacGuffin that he's willing to shoot Sis and let her die slowly. When the village doctor wants to tend to the wound, he refuses and shoots the doctor after he invokes this trope.
Interrogated for Nothing: Happens to Shu over the course of several episodes. He's only released from the torture regimen when Hamdo has one of his lucid periods and realizes that maybe the boy doesn't really know anything.
Interrupted Suicide: Sara, after she found out she was pregnant from being raped, tried to drown herself. Shu interrupting her only made her hurry. And her response to being interrupted was to grab a rock and start pounding on her stomach and says to him, "You won't even let me die in peace." It's likely that after she failed to kill herself, she decided she would go for the second best option and kill the baby.
Jerkass Façade - Tabool. Many write him off as a plain old Jerkass, yet he spends an awful lot of time trying to pal around with the same people he antagonizes. Closer inspection during and after Zari Bars' first attack also reveals scenes where he is both terrified and depressed by the battle, which does not seem to fit the heartless/militaristic attitude he otherwise displays.
Kick the Dog: King Hamdo strangles a cat for no reason. You hear the last cry it makes.
Kill 'em All: Only Shu, Sara and Abelia are left standing after all the other main characters are killed off.
Kill It with Water: Lala-Ru drowns Hamdo and takes Hellywood with him at the cost of her life in the last episode.
Larynx Dissonance: In the English dub, none of the child characters (except Boo) sound like children. This removes at least 50% of the story's impact. Shu suffers from this in the French dub as well.
How much this impacts the story, if at all, is a matter of opinion. Arguably it's more important that the actors can actually act, which isn't an issue in the dub, at least for the main characters. Using actual children for a show like this would be problematic, and having actresses play all the boys could run the risk of taking viewers out of the story just as much as having men play them.
Japanese voice acting has a tendency to give child (or childish) characters voices that are much too high-pitched for their stated age. Akemi Okamura is a fine actress, to be sure, but her vocal range is certainly not that of a real teenage boy. NTHT is far from the only anime to have this issue.
Little Miss Badass: Soon, who upon hearing of Nabuca's murder of the assasins from Zari Bars sent to kill Hamdo, one of which was her father she readies the rifle she was taking to Shu, coldly aims it as Nabuca who had his back to her and fires, but the real badassery comes when as soon as she realizes that Boo got in the way of her shot, she readies the rifle in one, swift, motion and aims again, unfortunately Nabuca got in a counter-shot first, thanks to Boo'staking the bullet for him, otherwise, he would have been long dead.
MacGuffin Girl: Lala Ru. Deconstructed in that she gets a speech about how being one sucks. People only want to use her, and eventually kill each other over her.
Mysterious Waif: Lala Ru. Word Of God says she's a metaphor for any natural resource that humans greedily consume or exploit during a time of warfare without taking into consideration the long-term effects said greed will have on the planet and future generations. It's not uncommon for fans to perceive her as the spirit of the dying planet, or even water itself. Technically speaking, either would be a correct interpretation.
Now Which One Was That Voice: Completely averted. The opening theme begins with a Dramatis Personae showing the main characters with their names in English and Japanese, pictures, and the names of both their seiyuu and English VA. The end credits also show both actors for each character.
Opening Narration: A loose example describing the general tone of the series beginning each episode: Because ten billion years' time is so fragile, so ephemeral, it arouses such a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness.
Parental Substitute: Sis to the war orphans. Also Nabuca to Boo, which is made especially more poignant when taken into consideration that Nabuca is a child himself. Sara takes over for Sis when she is killed.
Redemption Earns Life: When Abelia helps send Shu back to Earth, the guards present raise their guns... and Sara lowers them, despite being more or less directly responsible for all the cruelty she endured.
Redemption Equals Death: Boo in the 12th episode by taking a bullet for Nabuca, could also be Heroic Sacrifice. Nabuca in the last episode when his change of heart gets him shot by Tabool. Kazam in the final episode, exchanging his life to save a child soldier from Hellywood's flood.
Rule of Symbolism: Shu's kendo stick, arguably. Kendo is taught to Japanese youth primarily as a means of instilling respect, integrity and honor, ideals that Shu attempts to spread all around him, yet he fails miserably given the circumstances of the new world. The significance of this is that regardless of how much abuse the stick takes or how many times it changes hands, it never seems subject to any degradation whatsoever, parallel to Shu's wide-eyed idealism throughout the series – until he finally snaps and uses it to trigger what he knows will turn into a violent jailbreak and smashes it to splinters over the back of a cowering Hamdo.
Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Partially subverted at the end of episode seven, where (during the previews for the next episode) King Hamdo has a conversation with God, calling him a "tease" for presenting him with so many problems.
Spell My Name with an S: Sara's name becomes Sala in the French dub, which does not make sense because she's supposed to have an everyday American name (and the name exists in French too). Hellywood/Helliwood/Heliud, Tabool/Tabur, and Zaribars/Zali Barth also suffer from this depending on whether you watch the original, the fansubs, the English subs, the English dub, or the French dub.
Take My Hand: Shu saves Nabuca from falling off to his certain death despite the fact that the two were fighting just a few moments previously, thus establishing Shu as a definite Wide-Eyed Idealist.
He does it again in episode seven. It's a neat juxtaposition in that both times this occurs, there's a definitive clash between Shu's philosophy and Nabuca's, but the second time around, it's Nabuca who saves Shu.
Interestingly, he fits the Kuudere pattern as well. While he seems cold and impersonal, he is shown holding hands with frightened children (episodes six and seven) and also shares his water (a scarce commodity) with a boy who refuses to do his share of the work. He is even shown covering up for kids in his corps who misbehave, making him something of A Father to His Men as well.
Time Abyss: Lala-Ru claims to be thousands of years older than Sis. In addition, until Hamdo captured her she seems to have faded into myth in the setting, despite claiming that wars have been fought over her time and time again. She may well be tens of thousands of years old.
Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Even off the battlefield, the child soldiers tend to talk and act exactly like adults, though it is shown to be a facade/coping mechanism for at least two of the main characters.
Tyke Bomb: Implied that Hellywood is trying to do this with its breeding program, although interestingly enough, none of said tyke bombs are ever depicted on screen.
Used Future: The futuristic flying fortress Hellywood is crumbling and can barely get off the ground. Guns appear to be held together with tape.
Villainous Breakdown: King Hamdo is introduced to us smack in the middle of one, and never recovers.
We Have Reserves: Hellywood has a Wave Motion Gun capable of felling entire Land Battleships and the surrounding environment... which Hamdo has no compunction using despite his troops being engaged with said enemy. Interestingly though, they don't quite have enough reserves, as this shot in the foot left Hellywood highly understaffed.
What Measure Is a Mook?: Averted. Hamdo's sacrifice of his troops is presented as senseless tragedy. His army is made up of people forced into it at gunpoint and with the empty promise that if they're obedient, once the war is over they can go home. Some are children.
World Half Empty: The dying world 10 billion years into the future that Shu is transported to.
Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The reason Hamdo employs a child army, other than children being extremely easy to corrupt, is because he's banking on his opponents' hesitance to harm them. It's shown to work at least once during the series.