In reality, there is little to compare the anime series Now & Then, Here & There to what one would think of as true Steampunk. It actually takes place in the future, as the enigmatic and almost silly opening "ten billion years time is so fragile" excerpt seems to indicate, or at the very least another dimension where advanced technologies exist. However, this technology is limited and thinly distributed, and whatever world it is that our hero, Shu, gets transported to, it is definitely in a post-apocalyptic state of existence.

Vast deserts cover the earth, and small pueblo villages, growing crops to support themselves, are the only forms of civilization left. Those, and the mechanical monstrosity that is "the unfortunately named" (to quote Hellywood. Hellywood is a giant fortress-ship that houses the army of Hellywood, led by an insane guy with a bowl haircut named Hamdo, and his assistant Lady Abelia. Hellywood uses water as a fuel to fly, but has long run out, as has the rest of the world.

With Hellywood's army of kidnapped young boys, armed with machine guns, bombs and knives, along with higher ranking pilots of (steam powered?) assault machines, Hamdo lashes out with desire for water, power, and paranoid punishment... caring little for collateral damage. It is this horrible, insane world that Shu is transported to against his will when he heroically tries to defend a mysterious girl named Lala-Ru (pronounced Lala-lu by the Japanese voice actors).

What makes this series truly worth watching is Shu himself, whose entire name is Shuzo Matsutani. He is, in fact, one of the most admirable and inspiring anime characters of all time, if not characters period. Atticus Finch has nothing on this rambunctious youth's sense of moral values. He is eternally optimistic, strong-headed, feisty and never ever ever gives up. Shu repeatedly goes against all odds to do what he thinks is right, battling baddies with his trustee Kendo stick while pleading to others that, "As long as you have your life, good things are bound to happen to you!" While others face mental collapse and sadistic brainwashing at the hands of Hellywood, Shu refuses to conform, even when his life is in jeopardy. He is simultaneously a rebel and a pacifist, an innocent warrior in a tragic existence. Shuzo Matsutani is the Cool Hand Luke of all anime!

He single handedly saves this episodic series, as the otherwise brutal treatment of children would turn off many, and the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion might aggravate those who 'stuck it out' for the sake of 'sticking it out'. The setting is never actually explained, nor is the 'Bound' system... and the lack of Hellywood to take further advantage of such a system. Also, the audience never finds out why the hell Lady Abelia, or anybody for that manner, would put up with that psychotic idiot that is King Hamdo. I suppose one can view him as an ultimate, stereotyped, extreme interpretation of Hitler. But does that make the entire series a morality play? Rent the three-dvd set first, and make sure to watch it in the original Japanese with subtitles.

-visit the next FOCUS on Steampunk-