Monday, 12 March 2007

Review: Now and then, here and there

This is another series that I watched very recently (meaning the last couple of days). To be honest, I wasn't expecting much of it, given that 'boy falls into another world' plots usually turn out to be brainless action pieces. This one however, quickly shattered my preconceptions.

Plot: Matsutani Shuzo (Shu) is coming home from a kendo session in which he totally messed up in front of the girl he has a crush on. Climbing to his favourite contemplation spot on top of a chimney in an abandoned factory, he finds it taken by a mysterious girl. He only manages to get a name out of her, Lala Ru, before he is attacked by mysterious people in snake-like robots who are after this girl. Trying to stop them, he is pulled into another world with them. (It is never stated in the series to my knowledge, but the opening text of every episode basically tells you that it is Earth in ten billion years time.) He finds himself in a mysterious stronghold, Hellywood, populated by soldiers (mostly drafted children) and overseen by the insane and maniachal King Hamdo. Very quickly, he finds himself drafted into Hellywood's army, to fulfill Hamdo's wishes of world domination.

Review: This is an incredibly dark anime series. If you are watching for action, you'll get what you want, and a whole lot more besides. This is one of those series that tackles real issues head on and never flinches from showing you their horror. Children die, a girl is kept and raped over and over (although thankfully never onscreen), the horrors of war are shown in their totality. What is more, bullets kill people, knife-wounds kill people. This isn't the sort of series where characters can survive any injury because they are main characters. The best and nicest aren't necessarily the ones that live. People who deserve to die, live, and some who deserve to live, die. This could be used to make a really banal point along the lines of 'war bad, un-war good' but it combines showing the futility of war (a point really easy to make), with the self-sustaining nature of war (a much more subtle point). Don't watch if you are expecting a light action series. This series will depress you. However, it will also make you think very hard.

Characters: There are some very good characters. The main character, Shu, is one of those tireless optimists who never fail to try to do the right thing. Usually these annoy me, because directors shy away from making them suffer the consequences of their actions, and equally shy away from ever letting the audience know that they might be terrified underneath it all. This is not the case here. Shu suffers, and gets tortured mentally and physically, he almost gives in, but in the end wins through, and is an incredibly strong character for it. Equally fascinating is the teenage soldier Nabuca, who commands the squad of Hellywood soldiers that Shu is drafted into. He is a character who has sustained himself on the fantasy that one day it will be all over and he can return home, and does everything he can to convince himself that it is true. He follows Hamdo's orders, and does really terrible things, because he just wants to keep his head down and survive. His line, screamed at Shu for shielding some children from orders that they be killed, 'only killing people can end war' sums up both his character and the entire series. Equally interesting is the other boy from the same village as him, Tabool. Tabool is the way Nabuca could have gone, to start relishing in what he does, and allowing it to change him. Where Nabuca eventually deep down wants to be redeemed, Tabool doesn't anymore.

What I love is that almost every character's motivations can be understood, if not supported. Elamba, for example, is another character that does really bad things in his desire to stop Hamdo's machinations, but it is easy to see why he does it, and in his circumstances I would be tempted to do the exact same things.

Visuals: These are pretty good, although the character designs are very simple. The dark, twisting corridors of Hellywood and the open light airyness of Zari Bars are well animated.

Music: Excellent, really emphasises the mood of every scene.

Overall: Not an easy series to watch, this is nevertheless a series that every anime fan should watch at least once. Trust me when I say that few series come close to being as dark as this one.

8/10. Excellent, if difficult.

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