How Spring 2021 Anime Twist the Time-Travel Trope

The spring 2021 anime season has featured three popular series that use time travel in unique and unusual ways.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Link Click and Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song, now streaming on Funimation, as well as Tokyo Revengers, now streaming on Crunchyroll.

Time travel is a plot device that often makes viewers roll their eyes at the mere mention of the concept. It isn’t hard to see why — for every Groundhog Day, you get at least four terrible series that use time travel to cover for bad writing, or in a way that makes it totally unwatchable. However, the spring 2021 anime season features three series that are breaking the mold. Tokyo Revengers, Link Click and Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song each feature a twist on the usual time travel tropes.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song was hotly anticipated due to its fantastic pedigree. Created by legendary Re:Zero mastermind Tappei Nagatsuki, the series is set in a world where intelligent androids are common. One of these androids is Vivy, a songstress who performs at a theme park. However, one day an AI called Matsumoto hacks into Vivy’s system. Matsumoto says it is from 100 years in the future and that a war between humans and AI — which will wipe humans out– is on the horizon.

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However, Matsumoto has a solution to this. They want to get Vivy to alter certain past events to change the flow of history and thus prevent the war. Unlike other time travel series, Vivy has to plan the changes carefully and only gets one shot each time. On top of this, her actions often have unintended side effects, presenting history as more than just a binary with a terrible timeline and a perfect timeline, which is very rare for the genre.

Interestingly, Tokyo Revengers also features the idea of time travel being complex and chaotic. Takemichi Hanagaki, a down-on-his-luck man, learns that his ex-girlfriend Hinata Tachibana and her younger brother Naoto were killed by the Tokyo Manji Gang. However, Takemichi is sent back in time after an accident, arriving in his middle school body. He tries to avert the future by warning Naoto of what’s to come. This causes a sudden paradox, throwing Takemichi back into the future.

The future is slightly different now. Naoto has survived and become a detective, but Hinata still died. Naoto and Takemichi realize the latter can travel back in time if he holds hands with Naoto, so they work to save Hinata. But it isn’t as easy as it first seems, as every trip back in time causes unforeseen issues that gradually form a web of actions and reactions that lead to many different outcomes.

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Link Click, on the other hand, breaks from the format of the other two shows. It follows the staff of the Time Photo Studio. While the building seems like a regular photo studio, the employees have a strange secret. When given a photo, Cheng Xiaoshi can enter the body of the photographer at the time they took the picture. Lu Guang, the other employee, can see what happens within 12 hours of the photo being taken. With their boss Qiao Ling, the pair use pictures to solve problems for people. But they only have one 12-hour period to do so, and they try to avoid changing history or asking about the future.

Alas, being in the photographer’s body is difficult for Cheng Xiaoshi. While in their body, he feels their emotions and knows their deepest thoughts, making it hard for him to resist helping people, even if his meddling causes unforeseen issues. While time travel is chaotic in Link Click, the focus is less on the nature of changing time and more on the effect that it can have on a person, as they live through moments of human suffering while being unsure if they can fix it. It’s a very human tale about the struggles of empathy, the uncaring nature of reality, and the pain that many people hide behind their public persona.

Link Click, Tokyo Revengers and Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song all put a unique twist on time travel, and they each work really well. This is because they all feel like they were built around time travel, rather than using it as a cheap plot device to get characters where they need to go. They define how their time travel systems work early on and stick to these rules throughout. By making it messy and complex, each series can tell more interesting and unique stories that break out of the classic “action-hero saves the future,” which has been done to death at this point. Let’s hope they all influence a whole new generation of time-travel narratives in anime.

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