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.