Who doesn’t love time travel and all the convoluted storytelling and intense moral questions that come with it? Despite being a firmly sci-fi/fantasy-esque device, time travel stories can span all kinds of genres- from psychological stories, to adventure stories, to historical dramas and mystery stories. And you can find all these kind of stories in anime and all with the added benefit of weird sci-fi tropes and questions that come with leaping timelines.
Let’s look at some of the time travel anime out there and the unique stories contained therein. Be sure to mention your favorite time travel anime in the comments!
Erased is one of the anime that has everyone talking about this season.
The main character is a 29-year-old man named Satoru, who possesses a strange ability he calls “revival”. When someone around him is about to lose their lives, he is sent a few minutes back in the past, at which point he has to figure out how to prevent the loss of life from happening. However, when someone close to him is killed, Satoru is not sent back just a few minutes, but instead all the way back to 1988 and finds himself age 10 once more. He figures this huge time leap is not only so he can prevent the death of the person close to him, but so he can prevent the abduction and murder of a classmate that happened around this time and catch the real killer.
Erased is a tense, well-done mystery that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. It deals with heavy issues like child abuse and puts a darker spin on the question of what you’d do if you had a chance to redo your life from childhood. It’s based off a seinen manga ( manga aimed at adult men) so it’s definitely for mature audiences only. The series is going to be 12 episodes long and you can check it out on Crunchyroll. The anime can be viewed on Crunchyroll.
Steins;Gate is probably one of the most well-known time travel anime right now. There's some parallels to be drawn to Erased- it also centers around a male protagonist going back in time to desperately save someone close to him. However, while Steins;Gate is more "science-y" sci-fi. It focuses on a group of science nerd friends who create a time machine microwave. The protoganist, Okabe, is a self-proclaimed mad scientist and there are a lot of jokes about general fandom and geek stuff throughout (“You guys are the OTP in the fanfic that is my life” is a line from the show that will always make me laugh), but things get super intense when a ruthless organization called SERN notices the groups experiments and comes after them.
Steins;Gate has a gripping emotional storyline once it gets going and a pretty fascinating look at diverging timelines, but people who have a low tolerance for fanservice and sexual harassment-tinged humor should be warned there’s quite a bit of that early on, and the storyline with a presumably transgender character might verge on uncomfortable territory for some.
Steins;Gate can be found streaming on Funimation's website- there is also an OVA (Original Video Animation) and movie sequel to the series.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a 2006 film that combines the drama of adolescence and time travel perfectly to tell a sweet coming-of-age story. The main character is a high school girl named Makoto, who is thrown in fronts of train when her bicycle brakes fail. However, before she dies, she is suddenly thrown back in time to before the accident. Makoto discovers that she can literally “leap” back in time now- if she jumps off something high enough, she will be thrown into a past timeline. She uses this power as you’d expect any high schooler to- she tries to relive all her fun moments and make her life go more smoothly.
However, her alterations of the timeline start causing unforeseen disasters. For instance, she goes back in time to avoid something bad happening to her and then something even worse happens to someone else. And going back in time to fix this just causes things to further spiral out of control. And things just get more dramatic from there.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time can be purchased on Amazon.
The Tatami Galaxy
The Tatami Galaxy combines slice-of-life and comedy with time travel. The 11 episode anime features a hapless college student who regrets how he lived his life for his first two years at university. Then he finds himself thrown back in time to the beginning of his time at college. Now he has a chance to do it all over. The anime is described as “artistic” and “surreal” and generally has glowing reviews.
The anime can by found streaming on Funimation's website, as well as Hulu.
Zipang is a manga and anime that really touches on the hard ethical choices someone who time travels has to make and combines that with historical war drama. A modern platoon of Japanese soldiers are doing exercises with the US Navy when they are transported back in time to the middle of World War II. They realize with their technology and knowledge of what happens in the future, they could potentially win this war and save the lives of their countrymen.
However, they are aware this would alter the future and potentially destroy the modern, peaceful Japan from which they hail. What’s more, they are confronted with the fact that the milaristic regime of Imperial Japan is not anything like the Japan they know. The crew struggles not to alter the past, but finds themselves drawn deeper into the war.
Obviously, this sounds really meaty from both a political and historical perspective and the anime does seem to try to tackle, or at least acknowledge, the thornier issues of Japan’s past. But since I’m not hugely into military strategy stuff, I can’t say I was able to stick with it or know much about how it goes. But it’s definitely a fascinating concept.
Zipang is available for purchase on Amazon.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (or Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica) is a dark magical girl series featuring girls with a wide array of powers and fantastic events, so it’s not suprising that time travel makes an appearance and when it does, it’s extremely heartwrenching.
Madoka is a good example of how time travel can lead to the perspective of things being entirely flipped around.
Madoka is a Funimation property and you can find it streaming on their website as well as Hulu.
Inuyasha is a well-known work by the prolific Rumiko Takahashi. The story centers around a girl named Kagome, who falls into her family shrine’s well and pops out in 1496, during Japan’s feudal era. This is a very fantastical version of Japan, though, one where demons and monsters are real.
Kagome discovers she is the reincarnation of a priestess from this era called Kikyo and oddly enough, ends up befriending the demon boy Kikyo gave her life to subdue. Throughout the story, Kagome travels back and forth between the past and present and struggles to balance both these worlds.
The story doesn’t do much much in regards of Kagome’s actions in the past having any impact on her present day life, but it does focus on the drama of her being a reincarnation of a priestess from a past era quite a bit.
The story was first written in 1996, is very lengthy and features a lot of sexual harassment humor. Inuyasha is available on Funimation’s website.
Sailor Moon R
The second season of Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon R, deals heavily with time travel. A mysterious little girl drops out of the sky one day and it eventually becomes apparent that she’s from a thousand years in the future, where Tokyo is a utopia that has recently been destroyed by a malicious faction of people called the Black Moon. These villains have also traveled back in time, both to pursue this rogue little girl and also to ensure they will rule the future.
This is also the season where the Soldiers meet Sailor Pluto, the guardian of space and time, who commands the ability to control the flow of time directly. While Sailor Moon doesn’t think too hard about the implications of shifting timelines (and this season has plenty of plotlines as a result) this is definitely a fun little romp in the time travel genre with a lot of the wacky tropes you’d expect- like young people interacting with their own future kids and those kids getting to see what their parents were like when they were kids. The time traveling characters also stick around throughout the rest of the series.
Sailor Moon R is available on Hulu.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya features lots of supernatural weirdness, so naturally time-travel is included. Perhaps the most infamous use of time travel is “The Endless Eight” in the second season. The eponymous Haruhi has reality-bending powers she is unaware of, so when she doesn’t want summer to end, she unconsciously forces everyone to relive the last day of summer again and again. This leads to eight episodes that are exactly the same with only slight alterations before one of the characters finally manages to break out of the time loop. Talk about saving animation budget!
Not may anime could get away with such a stunt, but Haruhi is enough of a phenomenon that it kept going strong as a franchise and there’s plenty more time-traveling nonsense to be had.
Haruhi can be viewed through Funimation's website.
Higurashi: When They Cry
Higurashi: When They Cry is a story about a peaceful town that is plagues with mysterious, yearly murders. Basically it’s another murder mystery story where time is constantly being rewound to save someone’s life. It’s hard to get much more into detail without major spoilers, but suffice it to say things are very complicated, dark and horrific.
You can watch Higurashi: When They Cry on Hulu, though it’s only called “When They Cry” there.
Fire Tripper is a one-shot animation and manga by Rumiko Takahashi that is pretty similar to her more well known time travel anime, Inuyasha, in a lot of respects. A normal Japanese school girl is thrown back in time to Japan’s civil war era and falls in love with a boy from this past era.
Unlike Inuyasha, however, she meets this boy when he rescues her from an attempted rape, she begins to wonder if she herself may have originally been from this past era and worries she’s related to boy she’s fallen in love with. It’s very weird and a bit like a soap-opera.
Summer Storm is also known as Natsu no Arashi. The protagonist, Hajime, befriends a girl who turns out to be a ghost who lived during World War II. She can travel back in time and uses the power to rescue those she knows from dying in air raids. She’s only able to travel back in time if she’s accompanied by a living person who she has a connection with though, and that person naturally is Hajime.
The show apparently has some pretty fanservice-filled episodes, but it’s definitely an interesting concept. The anime can be viewed on Crunchyroll.
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