Time Travel and Time Resets are things that I avoid like the plague, if a story makes use of these two things, then it is very likely that I will never watch it or even come near it, but much to my annoyance, I have been put into a position where I’m forced to write about time travel and why it makes any fiction it is included in, worse.
Why am I forced to write about something I don’t like?
Its very simple and if you happen to be an avid consumer of anime who follows the current trends across the medium, then you will already know my answer. The fact that in the last few seasons we have had the pleasure of having several anime released that make use of either time-travel, time-reset or both. And because of the fact that these shows were financially successful, it would be wise of me to write about it now, because in the future there will be even more titles coming out, which feature this cancer.
My hatred might seem unreasonable to you, as many people have no problem whatsoever with stories involving time-travel, in fact your average person is far more likely to find them cool and entertaining than the opposite. So why do I possess such intense dislike towards it?
To explain that, I must first show you the difference between passive time-travel and active time-travel. Time-Travel in fiction can be primarily divided into two categories, the one where time-travel only occurs once or twice within the story is called passive time-travel, while the other one where time-travel is a regular occurrence that happens almost every episode or multiple times an episode, is called active time-travel.
Passive Time-Travel usually happens at the beginning and the end of a series where time-travel is by no means the main focus, but simply a means of getting from point A to point B. The Typical scenario is that the protagonist gets sucked through time in the beginning of the fiction and arrives in either the past or the future and gets sent back at the end of the series through the same means. This is the lesser evil of the two time-travels because passive time-travel is rarely ruinous to the writing since it only occurs at the beginning and the ending and the characters have little to no control over it. As a result, passive time-travel is something that can be easily ignored and forgotten. Although if it the writer decides to use it in the middle ( like for example suddenly reset something), then its effects can be just as devastating as active time-travel.
Active Time Travel on the other hand is what I actually have problems with and also what kind of time-travel these recent anime like Re:Zero have employed in their story. Like the name implies, active time-travel is time-travel that happens frequently and unlike the Passive Time-Travel, the characters themselves are not just ‘victim’s of random time-travel phenomena but users of it, as they can either influence it or activate it someway or another, allowing themselves to affect the world they live in far more ways and grandeur than characters who merely happened to passively time-travel due to some accident. The characters themselves are active users of time-travel and time-reset and it is one of the reason why it causes so much problems as I will explain below.
I, as well as anyone with an ounce of critical thinking absolutely loathes this for the single reason that it ruins the story, the character development, the character relationships as well as the pacing in any work it is used in. A work that was defiled by active time-travel is pretty much unsalvageable as far as I’m concerned, as it becomes complete and utter trash from the writing standpoint.
You might accuse me of exaggerating, but I’m not. Once time-travel is used all the character development, the relationships that the characters have formed over the episodes as well as the progression made within the story can be erased and reset as if they never happened. How is this good writing? It’s not consistent, it wrecks up the pacing and creates an abomination. Not to mention that it essentially makes everything meaningless and superficial due to the fact that there is no permanency anymore. Nothing matters and nothing has a lasting impact because it can just be done away with time-travel and time-reset.
Did the story perhaps take a bad turn, something that would have put the protagonist to a disadvantage? No problem! Just rewind time and make it so that this pesky incident never happens by simply having the protagonist avoid it next time!
Did the protagonist do something bad, a crime or some heinous act perhaps? No problem! Just use the powers of time and make him avoid all the consequences! There is no need to bear your sins, just runaway from them like a pussy!
Is the protagonist forced to face an enemy that cannot be possibly defeated without prior knowledge and preparation? No problem! Just have him die the first couple of times for drama, then allow him to gain victory after you got bored of torturing him! It doesn’t matter how strong a foe is, if he only has a single life, while the protagonist he is against has an infinite number of them due to his retarded time-travel powers! Nobody can win against an unlimited number of retries.
Did someone die? No problem! Just go back in time and prevent their death! With time-travel death doesn’t have any meaning nor does it matter, anything can be undone!
The point I’m trying to make is that it is vital for almost every fictional story that certain actions have permanent consequences, because that is exactly what leads to plot-twists, character developments and tragedies. Time Travel removes the consequences and therefore everything that would have been organic in the story. In the first place, bearing your problems and living with them is the mature thing to do, but instead these shows much like their juvenile characters escape from responsibility in the most immature fashion possible, by undoing the present and seeking refuge in the past.
We might as well call time-travel what it actually is, a form of escapism. It is really just a reflection of the people who watch anime, as the audience is filled with people who can’t and don’t want to handle responsibility and those who seek an escape from their boring everyday life, I’m of course talking about NEETs and hikikomoris who still live with their parents as well as your typical disillusioned japanese salary-men. This current rise in the fad of time-travel and time-resets is merely a reflection of their hearts, any medium driven by money will always mirror whats its audience is like. And modern anime certainly doesn’t give us a positive picture about the average anime fan.
With this I have concluded my main point regarding Time-Travel and Time-Resets, but there are still 2 things that I would like to talk about below, these are of course also about time-travel, so stick around and keep reading if you are interested.
- Learning from experiences and mistakes ≠ Character Development.
The first additional thing that I would like to talk about is the fact that the use of time travel can create the illusion of character development and that many people are stupid enough to fall for it and call it as such. How does it create such an illusion? Simple, by making the protagonist learn from his time-travel experiences and not repeat the same mistake twice.
Now learning is obviously not character development nor is avoiding making the same mistakes twice, if it were then you could easily say about any domesticated and trained animal that they have very good character development. The people who confuse these things with character development either have no idea what constitutes as character development or are purposely lying in order to press some point, either way I shall dispel those falsehoods now.
Character development is the change in the personality as well as the views and ideas held by a dynamic character, it can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as an evil character redeeming himself and becoming good, a coward gaining bravery and boldness or a lone wolf opening up and becoming more social throughout the course of the story. In fact having character development means that these people are no longer the same characters that they were at the beginning of the story, since they no longer hold the same views, ideals and traits that they did at first. Character development is of course a long and continuous process, not something that happens overnight or instantly. It is directly caused by the accumulated experiences and misfortunes that a character went through and his reactions to those experiences. Learning can also lead to character development, but we must not confuse cause with effect.
This point had to be addressed, because many idiots were claiming that Natsuki Subaru, protagonist and time-traveler of Re:Zero was actually going through character development, which is obviously a bullshit claim as Subaru never changed his views or ideals throughout the course of the anime, he only avoided making the same mistakes in order to avoid his previous bad ends. He is essentially the same childish and naive brat (albeit with more experience) at episode 25 that he was at episode 1, who wishes to help Emilia, but at the same time doesn’t want to let anyone die or sacrifice anything for that goal, and he of course gets away with it, because he has an unlimited number of retries.
2. That time-travel involving parallel worlds likewise makes everything meaningless
My second minor topic relates to the time travel stories, where rather than just jumping between past and future, the character jumps between parallel worlds or world lines, so Steins;Gate. They suffer from numerous problems as one would expect, but the one I’m concerned with is the fact that it is also just escapism like any other form of time-travel mentioned earlier, but even more meaningless.
Just think about it and my reasoning will make sense. If the character is moving between parallel worlds by time traveling then he is just escaping from the consequences of his past world where something bad or unfortunate would happen to him, but since we have now divided the universe into multiple segments called parallel worlds, even if a character escapes from parallel world A to parallel world B, it will still mean that the characters remaining in parallel world A will die or be stricken with the misfortune, as that world itself wasn’t changed, the same events will occur there, our protagonist just won’t be there to witness it due to the fact that he moved himself to parallel world B.
And in the case of Steins;Gate it is only the memories of Okabe Rintaro that actually travel between the worlds as explained within the anime, so his real self will still remain in the Parallel World A and still die or experience the inevitable misfortune no matter what his other self in World B infused with the memories of himself from World A does. And this is why Steins;Gate is shit and why its hard to care about anything that happens in it once you realize this fact. The only thing he managed to save was his own consciousness, he and others involved with him will still die in all the countless parallel worlds, so what was the fucking point? This is just escaping from the problem instead of solving it.