It’s hard to find old anime that’ll appeal to younger fans. I’m not talking about anime from the early 2000s or 90s. I’m talking mid-80s, when I didn’t even exist yet. We’re lucky to live in an era where companies like Discotek and Crunchyroll are making older anime more available for our viewing pleasure, but the big question remains: where do I start? If you’re looking for an anime that’s obscure, old, and unique, might I recommend GoShogun: The Time Etranger, released in the US under the name Time Stranger?
Time Stranger seems like an oddball choice to recommend, given that 1) it’s out-of-print currently (though copies of the Central Park Media release aren’t hard to find as of the time of this writing) and 2) it’s a sequel to a TV series that never got an English release. Last I checked, there aren’t even fan translations of the GoShogun series, but feel free to correct me on that. However, aside from a GoShogun model toy making an early cameo appearance, there’s no direct indication that this is a sequel to a mecha anime. To the uninitiated viewer, the characters could have been a part of any military organization and it just so happens they’re living in a future with hovering cars. Also, one of the guys is a giant blue man, but that never bothers anyone. Thankfully, knowledge of Goshogun isn’t necessary to understand the story as Remy is fleshed out wonderfully as a character.
The story begins with Remy Shimada, a woman in her 70s, getting into a car crash after a badass chase scene and winding up in a coma. Her friends from her GoShogun years come to see her, but the doctor tells them that she has a 5 percent chance of living due to the severity of the crash and other medical complications she was hiding prior to the crash. Even after pulling all the strings they can to save her, she’s given 2 days to live. In her comatose state, Remy fights in a mysterious city where escape is impossible and everyone is trying to kill her. She’s given a letter telling her she has two days to live. All Remy has is her determination, her revolver, and her friends.
Remy is actually experiencing two dreams. The main dream takes place in a city 40 years ago, which looks like it could take place in the Middle East given the mosque-like structure in the middle of the city the denizens pray to daily. The other dream is a flashback to Remy’s childhood in France. She lost her mom when she was young and became a street urchin. Kids would harass her but she would fight back, proving that even as a little kid, Remy was still the coolest.
The film never explicitly indicates how much of what we see in Remy’s comatose state is her actual memory and how much is just her dreaming, but it’s for the better. Not explaining adds to the surrealness of the situation and allows the central metaphor of fighting death. When I first saw this film, I was reminded of Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, another film about a woman experiencing flashbacks to her past at the end of her life. Like Millennium Actress, memory and dreams mingle to the point they’re indistinguishable While not as visually ambitious as Millennium Actress, the same idea about how our memories define our lives is why I love Time Stranger. Remy remembers the two points in her life where she felt like she would die, but she managed to find the determination to escape death. Overcoming impossible odds through sheer determination is an old anime cliche, but few anime show an old woman fighting the giant demonic panther that’s the personification of fate with a single bullet and knocking over her own grave at the same time. That’s much more inspirational to me than Goku yelling until he’s strong enough to destroy a planet.
On a side-note, it’s rare to see any anime, today or in the past, invoke Islamic imagery in any way. The words “Islam” and “Muslim” are never explicitly used, but it’s clear what’s being invoked on-screen. They’re a generalized force of fate and order, a surreal religious army inside Remy’s head. For most of the film, the civilians are blank gray-skinned mobs trying to kill Remy and her comrades, like zombies in an apocalyptic world. As far as representations of Islam go, it’s not particularly kind, and if this movie were made today with criticism of media depictions of Muslims being more common, it might be seen as dehumanizing. However, if you take it as a metaphor for religion in general and how it can be seen as fatalistic, it works just fine. Still, watching this movie today made me realize that depictions of Islam in both Western and Japanese media are limited.
The animation is nothing special, and the art is pretty typical for the era; pleasant enough to look at, gets the job done. Some of the sequences are really neat and tasteful, like when Remy has a vision of herself being torn apart, she transforms into a bloody-red outline that falls apart. Remy’s face in the present-day is also never fully-shown, and the film does this by obscuring it with sunglasses or a breathing mask, or by utilizing some first-person perspective. You always get the sense that you’re on her side, not viewing from the outside but from within, even she’s awake in the present. It’s one of the many ways Time Stranger gets you to empathize with her.
At its core, Time Stranger is the story of one woman finding a reason to live when everyone’s telling her it’s her time to die. It just so happens to be the sequel to an old mecha TV series without the mecha, and it’s great. It’s an obscure gem of a film, and those with an interest in 80s anime that’s not Akira or Studio Ghibli should check it out.