Now and Then, Here and There (Volume 3: Conflict and Chaos) Review
This volume of Now and Then, Here and There concludes the action begun in Discord and Doom and continued in Flight and Fall. I'll trust that anyone reading this is already familiar with the story, and get right into the meat of this DVD. As we're dealing with the end of the series here, I should warn that (despite my best efforts) there may be mild spoilers below. I've done my best to avoid them, but in all honesty this is a series that doesn't rely on plot twists to keep the viewer engaged... the story and its characters are more than compelling enough in their own right.
On the surface, this disc focuses on the agrarian community of Zari Bars and its inevitable downfall once Hamdo targets it for destruction. However, on a deeper level these final four episodes are all about the clash of diametrically-opposed worldviews. The authors have set up Zari Bars as a bucolic utopia in direct opposition to the dystopian vision that is Hellywood. Whereas the latter embodies all of the wrongs to which technology can be put, the former is strongly associated with environmentalism. The clear implication here is that a respect for nature strengthens human character (e.g., via pacifism) whereas an infatuation with technology and the power it brings leads people astray (e.g., towards war). This theme may feel very Japanese when couched in the animé format, but it's common throughout all cultures. (For instance, it's central to understanding where Tolkien was going with The Lord of the Rings.)
It comes as no surprise, then, that Hamdo wants to eliminate any competing societal paradigm (particularly a successful one) that conflicts with his own warped notions. More intriguing, however, is Now and Then's treatment of the character of Elamba. Whereas at the end of episode 9 he was shown from a morally-neutral perspective, by episode 12 the writers begin to paint him in a particularly negative light, as if to stress that his ideas are not merely unacceptable but will actually lead one directly down a path towards evil. This is notable primarily because it appears to be the only place in the entire series where the writers did not feel comfortable allowing the audience to decide matters of good and evil for itself. Elamba believes in a non-pacifist solution to the aggressions of Hellywood, and because the writers of the show disagree with him, they force him to become an evil character (albeit not quite on the same level as Hamdo). I feel this was an unfortunate and somewhat ham-handed move on their part, as it merely side-steps several very important ethical dilemmas. (For instance, can you adopt the methods of your enemy and not become your enemy?)
A related observation can be made regarding Hamdo himself. Despite being a necessary character for this particular story, he comes across as one of the weakest simply because his madness is so over-the-top. From the very first moment I saw him in action, I've been asking myself why he wouldn't have long since been overthrown by his own command staff. In a military regime the size of Hellywood there must be dozens (if not scores) of high-ranking officers who – either to further their own political ends or simply for the betterment of the population as a whole – would have done away with a weak-willed, obviously-insane dictator. As the assassination attempt on the first DVD demonstrates, it's not as if security is exactly tight around this guy. Abelia may have had a psychological flaw that caused her to obey him despite how shoddily he treated her, but others wouldn't be similarly crippled into inaction.
Also demanding a lot from the audience in the way of suspension of disbelief is Hamdo's plan of creating the next wave of military recruits by having his soldiers impregnate captured women. OK, so he's mad... but would anyone else in the command structure go along with this idea? (Particularly risible is the line on the second DVD where he receives a report on the progress of this grand plan: 'Presently, 12 are pregnant.' Hey, great work; in 18 years we'll have a fighting force to be reckoned with!)
Seriously, though, these are minor quibbles with an otherwise outstanding series. They merely stand out because the rest of the characterisation and story progression is so uncompromisingly realistic and perfectly executed.
10: 'Prelude to Chaos'
An adult soldier from Hellywood arrives at Zari Bars. He claims to be a deserter, and spins a tale about Hamdo having completely lost it and ordering random executions. Of course the 'deserter' turns out to have been an infiltrator after all, and notifies Hellywood of Zari Bars' location by way of a concealed transmitter. (The technological level of this future Earth remains indeterminate... much of the time it looks vaguely steampunk, but things like the soldier's radio transponder and Hellywood's levitation system belie this. We naturally discount LaLa Ru's pendant, having discovered she's not from Earth.) While Hellywood lifts off, one of Sis's scouts returns from a survey mission. And here we learn what became of Sara, who – seeing LaLa Ru for the first time and blaming her for everything that's happened to her – leaps at her like a wild animal.
11: 'Eve of Destruction'
Sara collapses, apparently from exhaustion... but when she is taken to the village doctor, it soon becomes clear she's actually pregnant. Cue a series of interesting dialogues between Sara and Shu and between Sis and LaLa Ru. Although Sara does try to drown herself in the middle of the night, she's stopped by Shu. Elamba, informed by their friendly-neighbourhood 'deserter' that LaLa Ru can be used as a bargaining chip with Hellywood, attempts to take her from Sis by force, but the latter holds him off with a gun. While Elamba gathers his mates and some weapons in order to give it another go, the 'deserter' finds Sara, tells her that Hellywood is coming to lay waste to Zari Bars, and tries to convince her to escape with him.
12: 'This Bloody Earth'
This penultimate episode is exceptionally full (my first attempt at a capsule summary ran to four paragraphs!), but essentially things go from bad to worse on all fronts. Sis manages to hide LaLa Ru from Elamba, but in so doing incenses his wrath, and he ends up presenting her as a traitor to their community. Sis's death is only prevented by LaLa Ru using her powers over water to temporarily flood the canyon, but as everyone gathers in the town square, Hellywood has arrived on the scene and begins to descend from the sky. Hamdo unleashes his troops and mayhem ensues. Elamba's gambit fails to protect Zari Bars.
Finally we come to probably the most shocking pair of deaths in the entire show. I won't ruin it for you by saying who gets killed, but this is a turn of events you almost certainly won't see coming, and one that is so emotionally-charged that even Shu lays aside his pacifism for a moment and comes close to killing someone on the spot.
13: 'Now and Then, Here and There'
Zari Bars is annihilated, its populace incarcerated aboard Hellywood. Hamdo, unsurprisingly, already sees the rest of the planet plotting against him and seems ready to throttle Abelia for suggesting that the world is now his. Nabuca and Tabool have a little chat which gives the latter the chance to offer up the usual 'Might makes right' argument. Lots of the main cast die in this episode, which doesn't come as any particular surprise... although it is interesting to see how each of them deals with death. LaLa Ru finally makes a decision to help humanity after all, even if it means sacrificing herself in the process. The conclusion of the show is, fittingly, the direct result of this last major decision of hers – which in turn was only made possible by Shu's unrelenting faith in the essential goodness of Mankind.
Picture, Sound, and Menus
When it comes to the quality of the video, audio, and menus on this disc, there's not much I can add to the comments I made in my reviews of the last two DVDs. Since if you're looking at this, you probably read those write-ups too, I'm not going to waste your time with a quick cut-and-paste job. Suffice it to say that the picture is sharp, the audio clean, and the menus functional.
The special features on this DVD resemble those on the previous two discs of this series. There's a selection of about 85 stills and production sketches available for viewing between the four image gallery areas ('Art Gallery', 'Character Sketches', 'Mechanical Sketches', and 'Background Sketches'). There are another four excellent storyboard-to-film comparisons under 'Storyboards'. The three static pages of cast and production credits are still here. Finally, five short previews of other CPM titles (Roujin Z, Geobreeders 2, Legend of Himiko, Labyrinth of Flames, and The Ping Pong Club) are available.
The two extras included on this disc that weren't present on the others are the 'Box Set Preview' and a short advert for the 'Big Apple Animé Fest 2002'. The preview of the collector's box set version of the series obviously hypes it up a bit, and quite a few fans have commented online that it felt like they were having their noses rubbed in the fact that they had already bought the three DVD volumes of Now and Then individually. As I'll explain in my brief review of the box set as a whole, there's actually no need for hard feelings on this.
I suppose the concern of most people reading this review is whether this final disc is up to the high standards set by the first two. I assure you it is. Other questions are not so easily answered. For instance, 'Does it have re-watch value?' The fact is, seeing Now and Then, Here and There is a emotionally-draining experience. Once you've watched the story all the way through, you may find it difficult to steel yourself for a repeat viewing... not for lack of interest, but because the series absolutely pulls no punches. Never fear, though... you'll almost certainly want to share the show with others.
Similarly, 'Is the conclusion satisfactory?' On many levels, of course it is. Most of the lead cast reach the logical ends of their character arcs and the story as a whole has a definite resolution. If there is any viewer's regret after finishing this series, it's that there isn't an epilogue of sorts to let you see how Shu and Sara have grown from surviving their experiences. (In particular, it would be nice to see how Shu behaves the next few days at school, or when he goes home to his family.)
Again, this is a minor 'if only' kind of complaint. I can't imagine you'll be disappointed by any of the three DVDs in this series – in terms of story, picture, sound, and special features, they are all worthy additions to your collection.