Now and Then, Here and There: The Promised Neverland of the ’90s

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SEXUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT, AND MENTIONS INSTANCES OF RAPE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, AND CHILD ABUSE.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I guess if you can’t tell by the above content warning, this is going to be one heck of a review. I’m not going to lie, this is hands down one of the darkest anime shows I’ve ever seen. For those who were disappointed in the second season of The Promised Neverland like I was (if you couldn’t tell from last week’s review), you’d be surprised to find a show that was doing similar acts to its young protagonists twenty years before The Promised Neverland came out! And what’s more shocking for me personally was how I came across watching this blood-soaked unicorn of a show. There’s a lot to unpack in today’s review, so strap in and let’s get started with today’s review on Now and Then, Here and There!

Shuzo Matsutani, mostly known as Shu, was just your average energetic preteen boy. But one day, he came across a mysterious girl named Lala-Ru and suddenly becomes involved in a fight with a group of dimension traveling soldiers. During the struggle, Shu is transported to a world where the sun orbits close to the surface and water is scarce. He also finds himself upon the dreaded ship known as Hellywood. Run by the psychotic King Hamdo, who plans to use Lala-Ru’s ability to control the world’s supply of water for his plans of world domination, people- especially children- are taken from poor villages, forced to be soldiers, and subjected to torture, murder, and even rape. Shu finds himself in an insanely dark predicament as he must save Lala-Ru and escape Hellywood and get back to his own home.  

As I mentioned in the beginning, there is a bit of a long and interesting story about how I came across this show. It all started back when I was in college earning my Bachelor’s. I came across a YouTube video that talked about a little show called Neon Genesis Evangelion.  Entitled How Evangelion Altered Anime Eternally, this video essay discusses a trend in the late ’90s after Evangelion’s release. Many of the shows released at the time were dark, edgy, and attempted to present hard-to-talk-about subjects.  Now and Then, Here and There was one of the shows that came up in the video. So I had known about this show for some time. Now fast forward years later to we’ll say late 2020 or so.  

My fiancé had mentioned this show when he came over to my house for a visit, and we watched the first two episodes together. I became interested in it after this and when I heard more details about it afterward. Sure enough, I dug up the How Evangelion Altered Anime Eternally video and found it to be one of the dark late 90’s shows mentioned in the video. To say I was surprised is an understatement. What’s more, knowing how sweet-natured and gentle my fiancé is, it was even more of a shock to me that he watched this show all the way through. Again, kids are being tortured, raped, and killed. And keep in mind too that some of these kids are almost as young as (I would say) eight. It’s brutal and uncomfortable at times, but surprisingly, I have to admire it for that.

Yes, this is not a pleasant watch, but that’s the show’s biggest lure. This show has a lot of heavy and grim content relentlessly thrown at you. It’s dark anime content porn, essentially. But it’s honestly not any different than what The Promised Neverland did. And there’s something about that that keeps you coming back. Both shows put children in dangerous situations, with the premise being they have to get out of said situation. Shu has to escape Hellywood and a life of being a child soldier forced to abducted and kill people at the orders of a madman after being abducted himself by the same person. You want to see him and other characters get out of this situation. Granted, I do think that, in a way, this does hurt the show for obvious reasons.

This show holds no punches when it comes to actually showing the audience how dark it can go. From the implied to the real thing happening on screen, it hits you hard. It’s a messed up thing to watch some of these child soldiers straight up kill a grown man at one point. And it’s even more insane to watch the same kids themselves get shot by other soldiers and die as a result. And then there’s Sara, one of the secondary characters.  

Like Shu, she was abducted by Hamdo’s forces after being mistaken for Lala-Ru. But rather than letting her go, she essentially becomes a sex slave to the soldiers for the sake of becoming pregnant and adding to Hamdo’s forces, which tragically happens towards the end. 

You don’t see the actual incidents occur, but you know they’re happening. That’s hard to stomach as you watch the show.

So yes, and pardon my French, this show has some brass balls. But despite how far into the depths of despair it can go, there are some things you can get out of it.

Believe it or not, this show does, in fact, have some powerful and relevant themes.  The more obvious is the age-old saying that violence only begets violence, which comes into play in the second half of the show. I’d argue, too, that Sara’s arc has a great albeit exaggerated message about overcoming trauma. 

There’s even a great message about toxic relationships. I’m implying the dynamic between Hamdo and his assistant Abelia, and it’s not romantic. I could go on here, but you can take some comfort in knowing that despite all the insane stuff that happens in this show, there’s a purpose to it. So there is in fact a great story and great themes to be had, but you have to get through some pretty rough stuff to find it.

So yes, this is a dark watch. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch. But there is some depth and several good messages to it if you can stomach all the awful happenings of the show. However, some significant problems keep me from giving it a glowing review. And that’s saying something for all that I’ve said about the show thus far!

Besides the dark nature of the show being too dark and edgy, there are two big problems with the writing. The first is the characters.

The main cast of the show has nothing to offer in compelling characters. Shu is obnoxious and makes some of the dumbest decisions. He seems to forget quite often that he’s now in a world that could kill him for the slightest deviation from the norm. In one of the instances where one of the child soldiers shoots and kills a man, Shu immediately runs over to try and revive him. All I could think of when I saw that was, “what the @#!$ are you doing?!” 

I’m sure that this was the show’s point to show how crazy everyone is in this world, but Shu doesn’t have to act this way to be a compelling character. Just him watching some of these atrocities play out would have been enough.  But even with that, Shu doesn’t develop at all in the series. He stays his same old stubborn self throughout the show. So what would be the point? The same could also be said of Lala-Ru.

Lala-Ru is honestly not the most likable of characters here. She’s as dull as copy paper and just treats others around (save for Shu) with indifference. Again, there’s a point to it, but it’s exaggerated. Granted, she does start to be more open in trusting others towards the end, but by that point, all we’ve known her for being cold. 

So, again, what’s the point?

Fortunately, the secondary characters are the main attraction here. I know I mentioned Sara earlier, but some of the child soldiers like Nabuca and Boo, Hamdo’s assistant Abelia, and Sis from the town of Zari-Bars are all intriguing characters. These characters introduce interesting viewpoints of the overall story that the leads don’t give us. So as much as I would have liked to have seen more development from the leads, the secondary characters manage to hold their own. I can’t say the same for this show’s world-building, though.

The other major issue I had with this show was the world it’s set in. All we know is there’s a closely orbiting sun, a ship called the Hellywood, and a peaceful sanctuary in the desert oasis of Zari-Bars.  And that’s it. We know nothing about this world or its lore! There’s nothing about what led up to the events of the show. Everything about this world is very vague. We don’t even get any information about Lala-Ru herself, except she’s some thousand-year-old water bender! Heck, it actually shocked me at the end when it’s revealed Hellywood had this time machine/multi-dimensional portal for the show’s entire run! Because of this bare bones’ presentation of this world, the show ends with a lot of loose ends. It would have been nice to get more details about this world to give the audience some context into what’s actually going on.

In essence, there are some problems with the show in terms of writing despite the gripping story it gives us.

So with me reaching the end of this review, this is the point where I give or don’t give a recommendation. Honestly, as far as that goes, that’s up to you. I personally don’t recommend it if you’ve suffered from abuse, physical or sexual, and haven’t fully healed from that. And I certainly won’t be rewatching this any time soon. But just know that there are some equally dark but equally great messages here that make it worth at least one watch.

And if the above statement doesn’t sum up my overall thoughts on Now and Then, Here and There, I don’t know what will. While its dark to the point that it’s almost unwatchable, the show has a great story and a gold mine of compelling and relevant messages on war and trauma. It even has a few great secondary characters that outshine the leads. After watching this show all the way through and reviewing it now, I still don’t know what to think of it. But I’ll end this review here by saying this: for those of you who thought The Promised Neverland’s children being eaten by demons in a farm-like factory was one of the worse things to happen to kids in anime, you’d be shocked to find that this show was doing equally if not ten times darker to kids twenty years prior!

And so that wraps up today’s review! Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned next week for some more positive content. Cause guess what? Next week is Character of the Month! Until then, goodbye and get some fresh air and sunshine after reading this review (cause Lord knows I sure need that)!

-Hanime on Anime

now-and-then-here-and-there

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