A Hero Never Dies – The Enduring Themes of GoShogun: The Time Etranger

Growing up, there were many reasons that anime was so appealing to me and one that I often come back to time and time again was that there were many stories where the lead character was a heroine that I could relate to. But when I think of heroines that I also admired and looked up to? Remy Shimada was one of the first.

Hearing 1985’s GoShogun: The Time Etranger might be a surprise when folks ask me for anime that has influenced me or touched me the most, but let me explain. First, it’s surprising because it’s not really well known. It’s a movie sequel to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek TV series with giant robots that, for many years, was never available to watch officially in English aside from it’s dubbed and edited incarnation known as Macron-1. Secondly, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you imagine a young girl gravitating towards. But back in the days before anime was widespread and easy to consume, I pretty much devoured any anime I could get my hands on… Which was a blessing in disguise, to some extent. Because otherwise, I may never have even seen Time Etranger.

Time Etranger is both simple in its themes and complex in its story, making it tricky to explain without just telling you about the entire film. I’ll do my best: 40 years after the GoShogun team retired from their duties of saving the universe, Remy Shimada, the team’s only female, has become a recluse. On her way to one of the rare times she’s arranged to meet with her old friends, Remy gets into a potentially-fatal car accident. Upon rushing to her side at the hospital, her teammates are shocked to learn she had actually been living with an illness for years and it’s become terminal. While her old team rallies around her bedside, the film takes the viewers inside Remy’s consciousness, where her mind and her memories converge in a surreal, symbolic dream world that she must try to navigate before it’s too late.

The movie tackles a lot of surprisingly weighty topics for a spin-off of what was originally a parody of the “super robot” genre. The most notable being the themes of enduring friendships against all odds—more specifically between soldiers. In Remy’s dream world of Time Etranger, the GoShogun team’s colorful uniforms are replaced by more conventional military fatigues, distancing the characters from their outrageous space escapades and grounding them more into something closer to real wartime heroes. Over and over again, Remy’s teammates helped her through various encounters, but Remy wasn’t just a damsel in distress that constantly needed saving. And they were more than just a team of soldiers. They were a family that had been through so much together, that respected and cared about each other, and they worked together almost effortlessly to help one another. Remy was their beloved teammate, their comrade-in-arms, their family. She was capable of taking care of herself, but even the best soldier can’t do everything alone and they were there to help.

Another theme the film regularly returns to is how everyone has the power to follow their own path and chose their own destiny. While Remy is shown in the “real” world fighting for her life in a hospital bed, inside the surreal dream world of her mind, she’s pursued by mysterious people, claiming that it is her destiny to die soon. But both she and her teammates reject this and do everything in their power to fight back against it. In fact, we see that this isn’t the first time that Remy has defied the odds and lived through harrowing situations.

As her memories play alongside her dreams, we’re shown the struggles she went through growing up as a child. While typically this would be just another excuse to show a character’s “tragic past,” Remy defies this stereotype; and it’s shown that while she has had much sadness in her life she got through it with her trademark wit and tenacity, even while shedding some tears. Remembering these things, along with the strong bonds she shares with her beloved GoShogun team, gives her the courage she needs to stand up to the physical manifestation of all her deepest inner fears and doubts, in a moving scene where she stands head-to-head with the snarling beast. She is injured, she is scared, she is weak, but regardless of everything, she takes her destiny into her own hands—literally strapping her gun to her injured hand, propping herself up against a gravestone with her own name on it, and using her last bullet to shoot it down. I struggle to this day to think of a more powerful visual representation of reclaiming your own life in the face of adversity.

Finally, one of the other themes Time Etranger touches on is the idea that a hero (or heroine) is, in a way, immortal. We never clearly get to see what Remy currently looks like 40 years on, even though we get to see older versions of her fellow teammates. But in Remy’s mind, all of them are shown at the same age they were in the original GoShogun TV series. Even at the end of the film, when we’re shown the team back in the “real” world, we suddenly see them as they were back then, frozen in time. The narration tells us that “somewhere, in endless time, their journey continues,” because, in our memories and dreams, heroes will never age or die. We carry their stories with us forever. And by sharing them, they will continue long after they’re gone. As much as Remy tries to run away from this title throughout the film, her action, loyalty, and bravery prove to us otherwise.

The only black mark on this film is that, like plenty of other action movies from the 1980s, the “bad guys” of the film are unfortunately visually coded as Middle Eastern. We must remember that this being the ’80s, people making anime most likely were inspired by pop culture of the time and a popular “villain” archetype of the era in Hollywood was an insensitive caricature of a “terrorist.” That is, of course, not an excuse for it, but more of an explanation on most likely how it happened. A very regrettable product of its time in an otherwise amazing film. I won’t tell anyone to ignore or look past it, but rather take note of how common this type of portrayal used to be, and how we’re able to do better now.

While the film is technically a sequel of sorts, I first saw GoShogun: The Time Etranger without any knowledge of this—hell, I didn’t even realize it was tied to anything until YEARS later when I could look it up on the internet! That said, anyone can enjoy this movie without seeing the TV series it’s based on. The film gives you just enough background on what you need to know and, at its heart, the film is more of a serious character study than a continuation of anything that happened in the original show. While the animation style is obviously of the time, cinematically it’s filled with many striking and interesting sequences, bringing to mind some of David Lynch’s early work. I wonder if Satoshi Kon ever saw this film, as he would later make similar works where a character’s dreams and memories converged. The Time Etranger is something special, and I’m always hoping that more people check it out. As of this writing, you can buy the film on Bluray and DVD thanks to Discotek Media, and stream it on Crunchyroll.

Remy is still one of my favorite characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction, anime or otherwise. She’s treated as an equal to her peers. She’s respected and loved not just for her wit and strength, but for her kindness. She’s not perfect, but still someone you could look up to. Not a bad heroine to carry with you in your heart as you make your way into your adulthood. Even in the seemingly worst parts of my youth, one of her quotes from the film always brought me comfort: “As long as you stay alive, even if you haven’t met them yet… even if you’re not sure you ever will… you may find people who are special to you.”

And as long as I remember GoShogun: The Time Etranger and share it with others, Remy and her crew will keep living on.

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