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Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – In Search of Lost Potential

Weeping for what could have been. 

When I wrote the preview and intro for Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete, I was honestly optimistic about it. Anything that’s bold enough to reference one of the most prestigious novels of the 20th century in its title must be confident about something. I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, especially one laced with hints of tragedy, and if Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete came anywhere close to being as good as Steins;Gate, I’d be satisfied.

The thing is, writing a good time travel story is really hard. Time travel is an incredibly useful storytelling device, but at times it can be a bit too useful. Without sufficient planning, time travel could become a crutch for the plot, a handy deus ex machina for the mediocre author. But if you have time travel in your story and you don’t use it, that creates a far too obvious plot hole. The usual solution is to create weird and arbitrary mechanics for your particular brand of time travel, but that can lead to confusing timey-wimey balls that are hard to untangle.

It’s a much simpler thing to talk about the implications of time travel rather than the mechanics of time travel, and to some extent that is what Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete tries to do. Don’t worry too much about the theory behind the time travelling; it often stretches scientific plausibility. For example, if Yui suffers quantum existence failure, why is she still sometimes remembered? If she can be remembered, why is she missing in photos? I know that involuntary memory is an important theme of À la recherche du temps perdu, but I would have liked some consistency here. Still, that’s not a very important critique. Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete is more a story about Yui-Sou-Kaori love triangle than anything else, framed in a time travel narrative only to create the central conflict: that Yui and Kaori, on multiple levels, cannot coexist. There’s actually an interesting tension going on here, where the only way to save Kaori was to essentially give up on her—that is, reject her confession, and lose much of the obsession with saving her. But that will also mean Yui never needs to be created, so she doesn’t exactly ‘win’ the romance competition either. Yeah, paradoxes. I like to think that it’s all a metaphor, and that Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete was trying to comment on the complex mess that are human relationships and motivations. It’d be much more interesting than the science fiction, anyway.

Unfortunately, Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete‘s potentially thoughtful subtext is buried beneath a lot of mediocrity. The animation budget (or lack thereof) was unfortunate, of course, but I think that it’s a lesser offence compared to some of the compositional problems of the narrative. In the middle of the anime run was especially weak, spending an undue amount of episodes on slice-of-life chapters that felt awfully like filler. One needed to pay attention to dates flashed across the screen to even understand the significance of those episodes in the chronology,  and making viewers read numbers and keep track of them between weeks is definitely too much to ask. It also didn’t help that half of the Astronomy club, which these episodes were used, in part, to develop felt at best secondary and at worst inconsequential. Airi, for example, maintained her unrequited love angle throughout, but nothing much comes out of it. I suspect that it’s a vestigial remnant of a visual novel that needed to fulfill a heroine quota.

Considering how Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete hopped and skipped its way into the conclusion, it’s probable that it could have used that episode time to develop its core themes instead of suffering so many distractions. As it stands, Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete doesn’t offer much more than other time travel stories you may have seen, and is far too derivative in that regard. That’s a shame, because Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete is not, exactly a bad show; it just never manages to rise above average. Viewers are left to wonder what it could have been, and we may never know. As a rule, anime adaptations only get one chance to present their case. There are no do-overs.

December 23, 2014 at 8:15 am
15 comments »
  • December 23, 2014 at 9:10 amAtalla

    I dropped it around episode 7 or 8. It wasn’t leaving an impression on me and made room for a semi-marathon of Amagi Brilliant Park.

    Those middle episodes really bogged it down.

    • December 23, 2014 at 5:53 pmKabble

      This is exactly how I got to picking up Amagi too. This was just a chore to watch so I figured I’d give Amagi a try. God bless.

  • December 23, 2014 at 9:29 amKiritsugu

    Time travel, is really a complicated and awesome subject, all the implications and paradoxes that could arise make it unpredictable wich is allways good. We all hope for another Steins;Gate but the fact is that, this anime, was far away from it.

    It’s a cry and shame that this anime who had a nice idea and to me promised so much in the begining, ended up wasting those episodes in the middle of the season, totally agree with
    you in that point.

    To me the quantum existence failure paradox is a thing that also, in a way happens in Steins;Gate, everyone started remembering the different existences they had in the previous time lines near the end of the anime. So that part to me was not so far fetched.

    What really bothered me in this anime was the fact that when they sticked to what’s really important this anime was interesting, even the problem/love triangle equation that Yui had to face was interesting, but then when Yui manages to fulfill her mission and that results in Kaori awakening from a coma in the future, they lost me. The theory that explains the merging of time lines, that grown up Sou speaks about seems really inconsistent, in a way that the future should change into a time were Kaory was never in a coma… The fact that Kaori was in a coma was already the result of a change, because Yui managed to prevent her death. So the anime was inconsistent in a way… ^
    Also, that hint at the ending that Sou would turn into the scientist so he could be with Yui
    is crazy, i kept remembering a Doors song called “Build me a Woman” xD

    • December 23, 2014 at 6:21 pmPasserby

      In fact, the whole way it ended felt to me like a bit of a fudge. It makes one wonder whether it was built up on more in the visual novel, and exactly what we’re missing.

      • December 23, 2014 at 10:15 pmCorin

        Mm, from what few spoilers I’ve seen, the VN true end gives more of a real resolution, but still gets there via a rather opaque route. The impression I got was that the VN ending was a little rushed, possibly because they were running out of time and/or budget.

        That being said, for all its imperfections and that logically waffly ending, I did kind of like this show. The characters – all of them – managed to showcase their own quirky personalities in a way that felt reasonably real; characters approached most problems with relative realism and maturity; and there were just never any simple solutions to literally anything, not to Nagisa’s unwilling engagement, not to Yui’s painful conundrum, not to future-Airi watching future-Sou’s horrendously self-destructive and morally questionable behaviour. For all that its premise was basically one of the most reused in science fiction, it managed to tell remarkably grounded stories for most of its run, which is far more than I can say for the other two VN adaptations this season.

  • December 23, 2014 at 9:58 amPrimeHector

    For me the problem was that Kaori was never as interesting as Mayuri. Nagisa and Airi were more interesting characters but the story didn’t focus on them.

    • December 23, 2014 at 10:27 amkiritsugu

      Yeah i agree with you on that one, it was one of those VN problems, the childhood friend story hardly seems interesting enough, they seem to live in function of the main character, i’d read the VN for this one just to see their route and know their whole story, because what we had with them was a kind of Grisaia route rush job…

    • December 23, 2014 at 6:25 pmPasserby

      I suppose Kaori is the ‘plain one’ specifically to contrast with the other oddballs of the Astronomy Club. It did feel like her only purpose was to die, though.

  • December 23, 2014 at 10:11 amPatsuan

    Welp, at least the fan translation of the novel was picked up. If it ever gets done I will definitely enjoy both the story and the gorgeous art of this title.

    Knew this will be an unfortunate project the moment they released the key visuals for the anime, but frankly, if I knew that there was no chance for the VN to get ever translated I’d finish the anime anyway because it still interests me but now, I’m not going to spoil myself.

    • December 23, 2014 at 12:10 pmDmonHiro

      Wait, someone’s doing the VN? Because if so, I’m dropping the anime (I’m at 5) because it’s pretty poorly made and it would spoil the VN.

      • December 23, 2014 at 1:17 pmPatsuan

        Well, its a fuwa project so I’m a bit iffy about the quality but at the very least the mods at vndb added it to the novel entry so maybe it’s not that hopeless..

        Same reason I dropped Daitoshokan, btw :)

  • December 23, 2014 at 2:01 pmTail Red

    “As a rule, anime adaptations only get one chance to present their case. There are no do-overs.”

    Reminds me of how KyoAni embarrassed Toei with their adaption of Kanon.

    • December 23, 2014 at 6:31 pmPasserby

      Kanon 2006 was quite exceptional in that regard, and while I’m glad it got the remake I certainly wouldn’t expect them generally. In general, remakes only happen if the original version was really good (or otherwise popular) and needs an update, or really bad and needs to be scrubbed from the anime consciousness. If a series is just somewhat mediocre, then nobody’s going to give it much attention, unfortunately.

  • December 23, 2014 at 10:37 pmGianluca

    Luckily they started to translate the VN (the VN itself it’s not so long) so hopefully if the translation will go faster, we can play there. Oh, the VN has a gorgeous art! Advance merry Christmas to everyone ^_^

  • December 24, 2014 at 2:06 pmHalfDemonInuyasha

    If anything, the way this went and ended only made me really dislike Sou.

    I never really got the impression that he was doing what he was doing to really save Kaori out of caring, but more just wanting to alleviate his own feelings of guilt for not properly responding to Kaori’s confession. And the way it’s confirmed that he knew what would happen to Yui if things changed, and that he knew that she would eventually find out herself, but didn’t seem to look like he care only made him look worse. Even Airi had to speak out about how cruel it was of him.

    Even at the present, Sou came off as a bit selfish, caring about what he wanted more than the group as a whole like the festival planning and caring more about his planetarium being center stage.