While my mind is still on the topic of films that make me cry, I recall a point a couple years ago when I sat and watched The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o Kakeru Shoujo). The 2006 Mamoru Hosada film follows the life of protagonist Makoto as she gains and learns to utilize time travel powers, and what effect it has on her and her friends’ lives. With my current piqued interest in Life Is Strange, I’m noticing a trend in popular media (or at least the media I’m consuming) concerning the presence of time magic and, in this case, the young women who receive and use it. From Makoto and Max (from Life Is Strange) to Harry Potter’s Hermione, time travel is not only an important means for people to experience things as selfishly as they want, but also allow them to grow into their own sense of responsibility.
Spoilers for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Life Is Strange beneath the cut.
Magic is intrinsically selfish—and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s about using a power you have to produce a result that it pleasing to yourself. It can be charitable, but it doesn’t have to be. Time magic isn’t any different. In The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, once Makoto discovers she has the ability to go back in time, she uses it to ensure she has an easy time. Embarrassing moments like tripping over herself? Gone! Floundering during an awkward love confession? Forget that shit: just change the events preceding it, and watch events shift into something more palatable. Likewise, while Hermione doesn’t change the events of her past, she does make it so she can take several classes at the same time using the Time-Turner. Because she has a burning desire to take more classes than the Hogwarts schedule allows, she finds a way to overcome the academically imposed boundaries to suit her own needs. And while Life Is Strange takes on a different narrative function (given that the player gets to choose when Max uses her time powers for the most part), the game starts out with Max reversing the murder of one of her friends. From then on, both Max and the player can choose to go back in time (to a certain degree) if they make a wrong dialogue decision or mess up a puzzle.
However, in all of these stories, inevitably, there are consequences, and protagonists have to take responsibility for their powers. For Hermione, that responsibility comes two-fold. After spending an entire year with the Time-Turner, she realizes that the stress from all these extra classes isn’t healthy for her, and that she didn’t actually need to take all those classes. Additionally, she ends up using the Time Turner to break Hogwarts’s rules in order to help Harry save Buckbeak and Sirius: something for the greater good that couldn’t have been achieved otherwise. For Makoto, the burden of her responsibility comes too late. She realizes far into her use of the magic that her time travel attempts are actually limited, as denoted by a number on her arm. By using this magic on more frivolous things, she was unable to use the magic for a truly important moment—saving her friends from getting hit by a train. Only by the intervention from an outside source is she set back in time far enough that she still has the last use of her powers left and can set her timeline right (thus saving her friends). And with Max, while her powers seem without fault, using them too much causes her physical trauma like headaches and nose bleeds—who knows what else. On top of that, it’s been shown that by using her powers in an incorrect way, or in a way that changes too much, it can really fuck up her timeline, so she must be careful. Unfortunately, even with those precautions, she is not invulnerable to outside forces, and at the end of the most recent episode (Episode 4) it appears that after being drugged she is unable to turn back time to prevent her friend/love interest from getting shot.
Time travel is always one of those powers everyone fantasizes about—getting to go back in time and meet some famous person who’s dead in our era (or investing in stocks that you know are going to be profitable) does seem pretty rad. While media is not completely against discussing the potentially negative effects of using such magic, it’s typically expressed through a more societal level than a personal one. What makes these examples interesting to me is that the uses of the magic in these instances are not bombastic; no one is changing the outcome of any wars, or preventing the death of a major political figure. They’re very personal, small things, but yet these small things have such a large effect on our character’s lives. It helps to emphasize that no matter what we’re doing, we do have an impact on the people around us, even if said impacts aren’t going to be recognized on the evening news. Selfishness is a part of life, and it is a necessary and good thing, but we also must take responsibility for what we do, and understand what consequences our actions could have. Magical aid or no.