Time travel is one of the most romantic elements of a sci-fi love story. The impossibility of it symbolizes the sometimes very irrational nature of love. Romance thrives when beloved characters fight in a world where love isn’t just chemicals in your head, but a tangible super power.
Erased was my introduction to anime with time travel, specifically the kind where someone has to save his loved one’s life from coming danger. Satoru is a manga artist and a pizza delivery guy who for an unknown reason (as it always is with these stories) gains the ability to travel moments back in time in order to save someone from an oncoming disaster. Then in a shocking turn of events involving murder and betrayal, Satoru is transported back in time to his 6th grade self with the mission to save his classmates, one stoic female in particular, from an unknown kidnapper and serial killer (spoilers ahead!).
Time travel in Erased can be described as a side-kick who helps save the day at the last minute (Think of Robin retrieving the noble “Shark Repellent” for Batman hanging out of a helicopter). Satoru is indebted to the mysterious time travel force he calls “revival”, but at the same time is quite frustrated with how it leaves him to fend for himself when he is in compromising situations. One would think if time travel were possible that he would be a little more gracious to his muse-like guide.
At the end of the grand adventure centering around a guy going completely out of his way to protect a girl, Satoru is struck with quite the turn of bad luck. The hopes the audience has for Satoru and the darling Hinazuki are trampled when Satoru is thrown into a decade long coma while she marries his best friend. This is where time travel seems to just be a cruel mistress in the world of romance. Not only does Satoru lose his wonder years of life, he loses any chance that the girl he saved would become his forever companion.
But this turn of events begs the question, is the story trying to convey that doing the right thing for its own sake is more important than winning the girl’s love? Or perhaps time travel has shown Satoru a stroke of love in teaching him a valuable but expensive life lesson. Believe it or not, Jesus preached on such matters, too, saying,“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Satoru’s self sacrifice is done in the spirit of this teaching.
Orange uses the time travel idea, too, and is one of the loveliest romances that I’ve seen. It hits right in the feels of regret and shame, very representative of the values of Japanese culture. Here, time travel plays a mysterious and gentle role. The characters get to set the rules of the game, which strengthens and highlights the power of a common goal.
Orange is the story of a young school girl Naho and her companions befriending a troubled transfer student Kakeru. Naho isn’t too keen on being particularly friendly to the boy, but after she receives a letter from her future self warning her about Kakeru’s coming successful suicide. When Naho starts realizing that the letters are indeed predicting the future, Naho takes action and becomes driven to save Kakeru’s life. (More spoilers ahead!)
I am also very appreciative of the fact that in this anime, the gender roles have switched. It’s the girl (and friends) trying to save the boy from death. Time travel is tender and loving and gives plenty of room for character development and a somber tone. Here, time travel is calling out that love is more than being “in love.” Agape (godly love) and Eros (romantic love) are equal players in the game of protection and sacrifice.
Suwa shows the greatest love for his friend by giving up his romance for Naho in order to save Kakeru’s life. While some may see this as a tragedy, I see it as a beautiful expression of true brotherly love. In this day and age, emotional sacrifice is hard to come by, and I believe we must relentlessly celebrate it when we find it. This represents the spirit of what Jesus is saying in John 15:13. While Suwa didn’t lose his life, he lost part of his heart when he gave up his future wife. Jesus is trying to encourage us to see the value in other people’s lives even if it means sacrificing our own.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Lastly, one of my fondest anime of all time is Your Name. Time travel in this story is portrayed as an outpouring of the Shinto gods in honor of love and innocent devotion. Here, the mystical force has more of a familiar loving face that hears the prayers of our lead characters. Time travel is a partner character.
Your Name is the story of young love and coming of age- with a twist. Mitsuha lives in a sleepy spiritual village. Taki lives a fast high life in Tokyo, the kind of life Mitsuha wishes she had. When Mitsuha’s wish to the gods to become an attractive Tokyo school boy, Mitsuha and Taki meet under uncomfortable and unexpected circumstances.
Let’s not leave out the wonder of the visuals that added so much to the character development of the time travel kami. As the viewers watch the glowing of the dancing comet, the flow of the ribbon in Mitsuha’s hair, and the twinkle of the sun on the crater lake, the audience feels a sense of nostalgia and redemption. Even when all hope seems lost, the captivating art keeps hope alive—hope that the mysterious time travel gods will bestow their grace upon young lovers.
Time travel is quite the hard element to pull off. Since science fiction has made time travel a mainstream character in movies, TV, and books, it has become a part of the culture of this world. Sometimes, time travel is used for the purpose of exploration and learning—food for the thinkers. Recently, the industry has used time travel as a vessel to carry love that has yet to be directly expressed, entertainment for the feelers. And yet, time travel can only play a supporting role in portraying the true depth of the nature of love. But that’s the power of it—even time travel has to take a back seat to the glory of love.