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Time Travel in Anime

Sunday 2nd March 2014


Paul Browne rewinds from Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower into the past


Naruto Shippuden The Lost TowerIn the latest Naruto film The Lost Tower, the title character and his comrades embark on a mission to capture Mukade – a missing ninja who has the ability to travel through time. Mukade’s plan is to travel into the past and take control of the Five Great Shinobi Countries. During the battle with Mukade, Naruto and Yamato find themselves hurled back twenty years in time. Will Naruto and his friends be able to return to his own time? And will their actions in the past save the future?

Time travel is a classic and popular science fiction concept. So it’s no surprise that the theme should also be a popular plot element of many anime titles. Take the central premise of classic anime InuYasha, in which 15-year-old Kagome Higurashi falls into a well and is transported to the Japanese civil war period where she meets the half-demon InuYasha.

Mikuru AsahinaIn The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya we’re introduced to the character of Mikuru Asahina – a time traveller from the distant future sent to observe Haruhi. Mikuru is also investigating the mystery revolving around the inability to travel to any point in time three years prior to the time of the present story.

Haruhi Suzumiya revisits the time travel theme in season 2, notably with its nod to Groundhog Day in the infamous Endless Eight episodes. Haruhi refuses to let summer end – so causes the last two weeks to repeat themselves over 15,000 times! Mercifully, not all of these repeats are included in the anime.

Perhaps the most relevant title of recent years is The Girl Who Leapt through Time in which protagonist Makoto gains the ability to ‘time-leap’ – a skill she initially exploits for selfish reasons to achieve high grades or to extend a popular karaoke session, continually replaying the same sequence in time until she achieves her results. The unique aspect of the film is that travel through time is achieved through the use of a walnut. Never mind classy time travel via DeLorean, here we can exploit the power of time through one of the less glamorous members of the nut family.

Steins GateSteins;Gate utilises time travel as a major plot point but passes over the possibilities of nut-based time travel in favour of a microwave oven. Self-proclaimed “mad scientist” Rintaro Okabe becomes embroiled in a plot involving text messages being sent into the past, alternate timelines and the involvement of the mysterious John Titor (based on a supposedly “true” incident).

In the 2004 anime series Zipang, a modern Japanese destroyer is set back to 1942 during the crucial Battle of Midway. This event sets in motion a debate amongst the crew who argue on whether to intervene to save the Japanese forces facing defeat against the American ships - or to avoid interfering with history and focus on getting home.

Occasionally, the concept of time dilation is used to create intriguing plot points. Travelling near to the speed of light causes time to pass much slower for the traveller. It’s this notion that forms the basis of Makoto Shinkai’s anime Voices Of A Distant Star. Schoolgirl Nagamine Mikako is recruited into a war against the alien Tarsians. Enlisted in the UN Space Army as a pilot, Mikako travels into deep space, maintaining contact with her school friend and love interest Noboru via email. Due to the time differences, Noboru eventually has to wait years for a response from Mikako whilst he ages in real time.

King of ThornTime dilation is also an element of the classic anime Gunbuster as well as in titles such as The World of Narue and Divergence Eve. In King of Thorn a fatal pandemic that turns bodies to stone ravages the planet. 160 individuals are cryogenically frozen while a cure is developed. Waking up after what is effectively very slow time travel, the survivors are faced with a nightmare world of monsters, convinced that a great amount of time has passed while they were frozen.

Alternate timelines and parallel universes are also a tried and tested theme as explored in The Place Promised in Our Early Days (another anime by Voices of A Distant Star creator Makoto Shinkai) in which a strange tower on Hokkaido is the focus of events involving parallel worlds. It’s a theme that’s also referenced in titles such as Tsubasa Chronicle and Noein. In ?Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka encounters Homura Akemi – a magical girl from an alternative timeline.

Some anime titles aren’t satisfied with just time travel and weave in a supernatural element as well. In Natsu no Arashi, 13-year-old Yasaka encounters the mysterious Arashi – a 16-year-old girl who appears to have unusual powers. Arashi, it’s revealed, is actually a ghost from the World War 2 era who wishes to travel back in time to help rescue people from American air raids (also a plot element in the 1970s live-action TV series of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time).

As a general plot element, time travel’s appeal appears to lie in the creation of moral dilemmas. Travelling back in time would certainly be fascinating, but faced with the decision would you alter history to change the future?

Naruto Shippuden Movie 4:The Lost Tower is released by Manga Entertainment on Blu-Ray and DVD on 3rd March 2014.

Buy Naruto Shippuden Movie 4 The Lost Tower

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Naruto Shippuden Movie 4: The Lost Tower

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The Rogue Ninja Mukade is about to be caught by Naruto's team when he summons forth the power of the Ley Line - an ancient underground channel of chakra.

Naruto gets caught up in the chakra and is sent back in time to the city of Loran, known for its thousand towers. There he encounters the future Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, on a top-secret mission and the Queen of Loran, Sara, whose rule is threatened by Mukade. Will Naruto be able to return to his own time, and can a chance encounter in the past save the future?
Plus, in an exclusive animated short, Naruto and his friends come across a magical genie in a bottle. The time has come for the last wish, but Naruto just may squander it!

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