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Cidolfas's Anime Reviews: Now and Then, Here and There

Shuzo Matsutani (Shu) is an average elementary school boy who gets caught up in a war from another world. His adventure begins when he espies a waif-like girl sitting atop a tower. After a one-sided conversation, the girl (Lala-Ru) is captured by Abelia, the main enforcer of King Hamdo, and taken to his grounded air fortress, Hellywood. Shu gets caught up in the whole thing and finds himself swept up in a terrifying situation.

Sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland, doesn't it? NATHAT is anything but. Although it's very slow to pick up speed, NATHAT is actually a sublime look at the frailty of human will. It's a study rather than a story, and very well done at that. It does have some action and some character dynamics, but each character really stands alone, and the way they cope with their own situations is really the focus of the show. The only exception is Shu, who careens into everyone's lives like a rogue hurricane, leaving them all forever changed.

The first thing that jumps out at you is the lack of one of those cliche anime evil overlords. King Hamdo, while bent on world domination and subjugation, isn't evil. He's mad. Not crazy or insane, both of which are rather wishy-washy ways of shutting the world out, but mad, which is a cast-iron combination of narcissism, immaturity, crushing desire, and lack of control. Hamdo swings wildly from ice-cold efficiency to flaming tantrums, often hurting his allies and himself more than his enemies. At some point we stop hating him and start feeling sorry for him, even though he's done nothing for us to feel sorry about. Our ire is more aptly reserved for the hundreds of soldiers who mindlessly follow his commands, no matter how vicious.

For the first half of the show, Shu kind of goes with the flow. Despite being a courageous, irascible boy (the kind of person you never actually meet in real life), there isn't much take-charge you can do when you're surrounded by men with guns who're determined to make your life miserable. Shu and Lala-Ru are an odd couple, with him cheerfully filling up silences with banter, and she not saying a single word until past the half-way mark.

NATHAT takes its time setting up its pins, and round about episode 10 it starts methodically knocking them down, to great effect. Each of the few main characters are specifically designed to show us the effects of terrible acts on the human will and psyche: whether it's having those acts done to them, doing the acts themselves, or simply witnessing them. NATHAT shows us the variety of human flexibility. Perhaps the optimistic victim will battle on regardless of the evils done to him, but how many evils can that attitude survive? Is there a reason for the pessimistic victim to go on living? Perhaps the perpetrator will lose his humanity, but how can he gain it back? And perhaps the witness can't help either the victim or the perpetrator, but what can he do?

Something I realized about this series is that pretty much all of it could take place in the real world and it wouldn't have lost any of its impact. It relies on people, not fantasy. However, there is a lot of very subtle symbolism (another change from most animes), especially in the final episode. Pay attention to Shu's weapon and its final use, Tabool's last desire, how Hamdo finally meets his end. Everything is very deliberate and done for a specific reason, and the end result is a grand tapestry of the mind.

Having said that, NATHAT does have its flaws. The first half of the show is pretty slow going, being mostly a setup for the last four or five episodes. There's also some gaping plotholes, like why Shu is so dead set, from the get-go, on risking his life for Lala-Ru when she's never said a word to him; or why Abelia is so devoted to Hamdo. You might be able to argue that both of them are in love, but that doesn't seem to be the case from the way they act. There's also very little backstory. Shu and Sara don't really need any, but how did Hamdo get hold of that monstrosity to begin with? There are tantalizing hints, but no facts. I admit that showing everything isn't always necessary, but there seems to be a bit missing.

The drawing style is of the more realistic bent (i.e. without the huge sparkly eyes), but does seem dated. In fact, the entire stylistic bent is fairly drab. The intro and ending themes lack the pizzazz of most shows; the music, while appropriate, doesn't really grab you; the colors are muted and there isn't any of the nonsensical crazy technology you might expect in an anime set in another world. Of course, this just serves to make it more human, and it's a good decision, but it does start grating on you after a while.

Long story short: NATHAT is an excellent mini-series that goes straight to the heart of its subject matter without any extraneous complications (such as unneeded sidekicks, plot twists, or weird inventions). Provided you have patience to get through the first half, and pay close attention, you'll be richly rewarded. But do be warned that there are some disturbing things that take place, so despite its appearance, this show is definitely not for kids.

Favorite Character: Nabuca

Overall Rating: 8.5

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