Shu is catapulted into an alternate reality when he climbs a giant industrial smokestack and strikes up a conversation with an odd-looking girl named Lala Ru. The change happens when sinister forces come to retrieve her. Where is this alternate reality, and why does Hamdo's army want Lala Ru? Shu finds himself smack in the middle of an organization that builds up its army by invading villages, kidnapping young children, and training them. They try to recruit Shu as well, but they underestimate his spirit and his unbelievable ability to not give in to hate. Shu is brash and impulsive, but principled, clearly not what his captors expected.
Okay, no beating around the bush this time, let's just get down to business right off the bat. Now and Then, Here and There is one of the most compelling TV series I've seen since Fushigi Yuugi. It has been too long since I witnessed a show that packed every episode so tight with action and plot that the 30 minutes seem to fly by in a blink of an eye. I've seen four episodes so far, and each time the whole club was just aching for more. This is edge-of-your-seat action-adventure stuff on par with some of the finest Hollywood has offered in recent years. Not once in any of the episodes I've seen thus far did I feel the story lag even for a second; everything just kept moving at the kind of pace that leaves you worried to blink. Also, unlike many other connected anime storylines, there is no gap between episodes at all, it all just rolls right on into the next part at the start of each episode. However, because of how powerful the story itself is, I might not recommend viewing more than two at a time as it can seem a little relentless at times; there are some VERY delicate and adult subject matters dealt with in this, including child rape, rather graphic torture, imagery of children in the front lines of a war--in short, this show pulls no punches whatsoever in showing the harsh reality of this world Shu and LaLa Ru have been tossed into.
With such sharp and gorgeous artwork (even for a recent TV series), the actual characters themselves are probably the only (mildly) weak point in the show, but they suit the show extremely well and fit the world they are in realistically. The child soldiers in particular fit their roles superlatively; while somewhat two-dimensional (the stern but honorable leader, the wide-eyed and impressionable youngster, and the cruel, spiteful, scheming and rather cowardly antagonist), they are exactly what you'd expect in the given situation, and their actions and presence never detract from the story. Hamdo is like a bomb just waiting to go off, volatile and unpredictable, which makes him even more frightening since he is the one in command. Abelia, his polar opposite and second in command, is both the picture of loyalty and cold, emotionless cruelty. Shu is also the textbook hero, driven, caring, honorable, impulsive but always knowing the right thing to do, and never acting on his rage...rather a lot like Luke Skywalker. But why let the parallels stop there? The most obvious one though is the fact that both Now and Then and Star Wars took a simple, old story of good versus evil, and turned it into something mythic.
Shu can, at times, be just as annoying as Luke was in the first two films, but he is who he is, and like Luke, inevitably grows into something more responsible and focused. By making the lines of Good and Evil clearly defined in some places and somewhat muddy in others (Hamdo the violently psychotic megalomaniac, Shu the unrelenting force of good, Lala Ru the savior, Abelia the enigma and Nabuca the noble soldier doing his duty and feeling conflicted) and keeping the show moving at a brisk pace, the writers have managed to keep things interesting and fresh within an unoriginal story. As I said before though, be careful who you show this to as while the heroic "triumph of good over insurmountable evil" story can be enjoyed by all ages, some of the subject matter is REALLY not for kids. Seeing Shu battered, lashed and brutally beaten, and then the image right next to him of the cat that Hamdo killed in a frustrated rage is just something the younger viewers out there really do not need to see. Anyone else should check this 13 episode series out as it's a fine example of how to tell a simple story very, very well. Highly recommended.
Available from US Manga Corps.