Now and Then, Here and There is a late 90’s anime classic that viewers are quick to forget. It is not forgotten due to forgettable content but rather due to the impact of the content itself. NaTHaT predates the isekai fad while predicting the shortcomings of the fad. In modern isekai, it appears that the protagonist is uniquely adept in some way at surviving the world in which he (usually a male protagonist) has found himself. This series sees that possibility and walks the other way. This is the world of the apocalypse, and there is no telling who will survive.
The story follows Shu, a young man who looks to be stepping foot into another world as well as a traditional bildungsroman fantasy tale. Cursed with optimism, he believes that every challenge can be overcome by running face first into it and hoping for the best. Over time it will turn out alright. In the very beginning of the series, he employs this blind optimism during a kendo practice in which he promised himself that not only would he win but he would also ask out the girl in whom he is interested. The shortcomings here basically foreshadow everything in the rest of the series.
He steps foot into another world in which Lala-Ru, a mystical and magical girl, is being pursued by a fascist ruler while a girl from his world, Sara, has been captured due to her likeness to Lala-Ru and is regularly raped by men in the army in hopes that she will conceive the next generation of soldiers. Shu is somehow enlisted in the child soldier portion of the army and witnesses first-hand how they kill the men, capture the boys to turn into soldiers, and take all the women for the purposes of growing the next generation of the army. Every time he stands up to how wrong he believes the world is, he is physically beaten down. Somehow, over 13 excruciating episodes, he manages to keep up his optimism.
Eventually, the fascist ruler and the army are defeated – largely by Lala-Ru’s self-sacrifice. When offered the opportunity to return home, Shu departs alone because Sara wants to stay – and she decides to go to term with her child by rape. The world is just a little better, and it has little to do – directly, at least – with Shu. He returns home and, in a final moment, it looks like the weight of the situation finally hits him. Maybe he is changed, but maybe he isn’t. He barely survived the post-apocalypse, and he was not able to improve the lives of the individuals he was trying to save. The show hurts to watch largely because of what happens in it. But it also hurts to watch because the protagonist is not unlike many other protagonists of anime, who never back down and never surrender — except he is exactly the opposite of what the world needs and accomplishes so little. Knowing that the series was in part inspired by the events of the Rwandan genocides makes it impact all the more because the creator is telling us that optimism int he face of evil doesn’t make a difference. Terrible things will happen and trample over us. And as the latest turns in global politics have shown, he isn’t wrong.