SPOILER WARNING for Now and Then, Here and There.
The series Now and Then, Here and There is full of downer moments but the one that struck me with the most emotional punch took place late in episode nine when Alama, the leader of an anti-Hamdo rebellion in Zari-Bars, has a nighttime talk with Shu.
A bit of background first: Shu and Lala-ru have arrived at the sheltered village of Zari-Bars after escaping Hellywood and have been taken in by Sis, a motherly figure who has adopted many orphans from pillaged villages. An advocate of non-violence, Sis staunchly disagrees with Alama on what action the village should take regarding the threat of King Hamdo: he desperately wants to lead his militia off to fight Hellywood while she thinks they should not be promoting more senseless deaths. It is worth noting that in the scene prior to this moment, Shu figures out that Soon’s father, for whom she has been waiting patiently to return after leaving a while ago, was killed when trying to assassinate Hamdo (an event that happened in episode five) upon hearing the man bore two blue bands tattooed on his wrist. This knowledge leads to a few awkward moments between Shu and Soon in the episodes to follow.
Alama informs Shu that he knows he came from Hellywood and therefore should be familiar with its inner workings. He explains that any information he provides could be useful in another assassination attempt they plan to launch soon. Shu refuses to help him and when Alama rebuts by asking him if he really wants Hamdo to continue wrecking people’s lives, he agrees the dictator’s actions should stop while telling him their planned mission is crazy. As Alama boasts about how the plan will work this time, Shu tackles him and inquires why Alama and his people are eager to fight when people are dying all around them when they could have a peaceful life in Zari-Bars.
Alama has clearly had enough of Shu’s rhetoric and shoves him off of his body onto the ground, stomps on his stomach a number of times and kicks him onto his side. Out of breath, Alama breaks into a rant saying he can’t live a peaceful life anymore. He explains that his little sister was taken away from him by Hamdo’s soldiers along with all the other girls from his village. The soldiers then torched the villagers’ houses, their ancestral village now ashes, losing his friends and parents in the fire.
Alama says he was the only one who could save his sickly sister so he followed the soldiers and thought he could get her back when they weren’t looking. Sadly, he found his sister abandoned in the desert, dead of dehydration and her body eaten away by animals. He could only pray that she hadn’t have suffered that the animals didn’t get to her before she died. He heard his family scream as they burned and his sister’s cries when they took her, voices that would never leave him. He concludes by reiterating his opening statement that a peaceful life is impossible and adds that it is much too late for that kind of thinking, leaving the only sensible course of action of killing Hamdo at any cost.
The impact of Alama’s story is enhanced by the lack of visual overlays or a flashback sequence. Instead, we get a focus on Shu’s pained face as he lays on the ground accompanied by shots of Alama’s angered face as he relates his story. We the audience don’t need to see pictorial augmentation of what he’s talking about since we should remember seeing another village being razed in episode six when Shu, then part of a Hellywood corps, was part of a requisition mission and disobeyed orders by freeing the children that were being abducted. (He expressed his feelings as a conscientious objector throughout the series by refusing to carry a gun, opting to use a stick paired with his kendo skills, save for during the invasion of Zari-Bars.) Of course, Shu recalls that hellish experience but there is one crucial difference between that time and the one Alama describes: he was unable to do anything to stop it, unlike many other instances within the series prior to and subsequent to this moment where he was able to fight back, defend helpless persons or, at the very least, yell for the violence to stop.
The pained description reminded me of mass tragedies that have happened in the past two decades involving genocide and starvation in Africa, the most recent case being Robert Mugabe’s humanitarian debacle in Zimbabwe. The conflict between Alama and Sis in the village brought back memories of the back-and-forth debates between “hawks” and “doves” in the lead-up to the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. There are other parallels that could be drawn between real-life events and the goings-on in Now and Then, which is why I enjoyed watching it despite its heavy-handedness at times.
Following Alama’s speech, Shu is left alone to hold his knees against his chest until Lala-ru approaches him. Shu tells her it’s terrible what happened to Alama’s family but also that he feels his current and planned actions are just as wrong. He asks her why that is and she simply replies by asking if he’s crying. The episode ends with the image I put at the top of this post – a depressed Shu kneeling in a field with a would-be comforter standing close yet distanced.
An ordinary high-school student, Shu did not anticipate getting entangled in this conflict when he pursued new acquaintance Lala-ru into a post-apocalyptic far future. After he returns back to his own time at the end of the series and looks solemnly at the sunset, one wonders how dramatically his journey has affected his view on the world and on the inherent nature of humanity. His confident optimism certainly took some shots over the course of the series as witness to cruelty and suffering, e.g. seeing Boo (a once-fellow child soldier of Shu’s) and Soon die during a later standoff that caused Tabool (Boo’s partner) to shift away from his complacent following of Hamdo’s orders after repeatedly rebuking Shu’s pleas on the battlefield. But I think he will likely hold onto his non-violent stance when he readjusts to his everyday life, reassured that things will eventually work out for the better given enough effort and patience.