(Mecha March) Actual Time Dilation in Anime

This post is dedicated to Irina from Drunken Anime Blog, one of the coolest and nicest people on the Innominate Anime Podcast group, blogosphere, and possibly the world. That last one might be stretching it a bit, but whatever. In my mind, I picture her always wearing sunglasses, because that just seems like the kind of thing she would do. Also, she donated to my Ko-Fi a while ago, which is why this post is dedicated to her. After thinking about what I want to do as a reward for people that donate at least two Ko-Fi’s, I thought I would ask them for ideas on what to write about. Since Irina is a person that loves research and science, this seemed like the most interesting prompt for me to do. Believe me, it’s a lot more interesting than you might think. Science is cool, guys. Oh, there might be another Ko-Fi dedicated post on the way soon. That person knows who they are.


So what is Time Dilation you might ask. Well, let’s talk reference frames first. What you perceive around you is a reference frame. It’s your refence frame, because that’s your perception of time passing and the psychical space that you take up. Now, let’s talk about an old joke that Dad and I use all the time. The joke of “I am here” and “you are there”. It’s not a very good joke, but it makes sense within this context. The idea is the perception that “I am here” is me and “you are there” the other person. There you go, that’s reference frames. It’s an incredibly simple idea with two people, but it gets more complex when you add more and more people to the equation. Let’s keep this simple and only talk about two reference frames, shall we?

From reference frames, we move over to time dilation. To make this easy, it’s the difference of elapsed time between two or more reference points and/or observers. So basically, let’s have a person or reference frame on the ground and have another person in a rocket ship that is going to launch right next to this person that can travel close to light speed. To make this easy, let’s say that these two people are twins. Before that rocket goes off into deep space for a while, their watches or whatever time keeping devices they are using, are synchronized. So the rocket launches, our first person stays in that spot for years after surviving shock waves and flames from the second person’s rocket. Due to rules of relativity, the time on Earth for our rocket traveling twin is moving a lot slower then the twin still on the Earth. This results in the space twin returning younger than their other twin when they meet again. Thus, the Twin Paradox. Isn’t this all cool?

This is something that I learned in my calculus-based Psychics classes in school. I have a hard time forgetting cool concepts like this when they are introduced to me like this. Time Dilation is a concept that plays on a much smaller scale then twins traveling in space concept all the time. Let’s talk about how astronauts that have gone to moon and back or International Space Station, have aged less in their time in space due to not being under the earth’s gravitational pull. There are even very small differences in how people age when they travel around the world at on airplanes. Gravity, acceleration, and Velocity, which are inherently connected to each other, are the major players in time dilation. Alright, none of you are here for a science lesson. Let’s talk anime.

This is a companion piece to my last post on time dilation. The other post was more tangential to the actual concept, which is what Irina smartly mentioned too. All true. I mean, you can make the case that the viewer is the reference frame of the twin on earth and the characters in the anime series the viewer watching is the spaceship. That’s as far as that concept goes. With this post, we are going to actually talk about how time dilation has affected people’s lives in anime. Well, only three anime series in this post. I have a mental time limit and word limit that I need to keep myself to so can I get around to writing some other posts. Since this is Mecha March, those three are obviously going to be mech series. One is a classic, another one that you might have heard about from a famous director, and another one is a series that I am almost certain that you have never heard of before. I’m going to be as vague as possible here, so this post is going to be as spoiler free as possible. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be spoilers though. Let’s have some fun!

Soukou no Strain


First is the series that might be more obscure. Time dilation is not only something that happens as a result of space travel in this series, it’s attached to the plot itself. You see, in this universe, space ships can’t instantly jump somewhere or travel faster then light. Strain decided to be slightly more realistic, even though it uses a mystical fluid is never fully explained to the audience. Anyway, ships merely jump to light speed. This means all sorts of relativity is put into play here. Ship members of our protagonist crew go to space stations where they come from and people notice that our crew has barely aged. One of crew members was also an older brother, but now that younger brother of his is twenty or so years older. It’s all so interesting to see an anime do some exploration with this. I know it’s been done before, but not often enough.

Without getting into too much spoilers here, relativity also take part in this show’s backstory. Many years before our main plot is introduced, one of the two main factions called the Union was experimenting with some means of getting instant communication and space travel through. The Union never achieved it, because the concept was shelved, but it sets up the angry motivations for characters in the future. It all makes sense though. Still, there are some things that I want to know. Since the Union is at war with another force across a vast galaxy and ships don’t travel at faster then light, then how is it possible to fight a well-organized war? Meh, whatever. It’s only a thirteen-episode series anyway.


Gunbuster cover

Now we have our classic. Gunbuster is filled with time dilation issues and people adjusting to an Earth that has passed them by. It’s similar to my first paragraph about Soukou no Strain, but on a much deeper level. I am not sure about any of the accuracy here, but our main protagonists who go out in space and fight. The time our teenagers went into space, ten years passed by and each one of them sees their friends in a much different location in life then they used to be. This gets pushed even further in the final episodes. After our two heroes were separated for a while, in which one protagonist aged fifteen years while the other only aged six months, they reunite in order to stop the enemy menace again. The result of the chaos from this battle means that before these two made it home, twelve thousand years have passed on Earth while only hours or days passed by for them. Can you imagine what that would be like? Such a good ending for the Earth, but not for our characters who are completely left behind by society itself. Our two protagonists have almost no chance of returning to society at large. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it?

Voices of a Distant Star

voice of a distant star

This show is the anime that made a certain director, maybe you have heard of, Makoto Shinkai, famous. I mean, he was the singular part of this OVA’s production. But that’s not why we are here, right? Voice is an anime simple anime that starts with two school friends in the same place but has them drift farther and farther from each other through space and time. The female friend becomes a mech pilot that achieves more and more success throughout the galaxy while the male friend just lives at home and receives her message. I think you can see where this is going, right? The female pilot sends messages to her male friend from huge incidents, but the time distance, as she goes further and further out in space, gets longer and longer as time goes on. That’s about it really. Simple in execution, but powerful on an emotional level.


It seems like every instance of time dilation that I have mentioned here, is used to hit the viewer on an emotional level. It’s a simple concept to use, but you know what though? It works. Being displaced out of one’s time through space time craziness is something that can easily affect the viewer because we can’t imagine this happening in our own lives. Maybe if you are an astronaut, but the effects are incredibly minimum there. Being throw out of our time and possibly sent into another world is one of the scariest things that can happen to us. I would say that this is even scarier than an isekai anime concept though. Being a stranger to a world that has long since passed you by and you have no chance returning. Ok, maybe if we were talking about Rahxephon in particular, but that time dilation case is very special.

Ok, so this post ended on a much darker note then I originally thought it would. Next post up is going to be a lot more entertaining and not mech themed either. It’ll make up for this tone shift. I guarantee it.

Thanks for reading everyone. If you like what I do and want to help out, please buy me a Ko-Fi. Please don’t feel like that you have to though. The choice is up to you. Don’t break the bank on me.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


  1. One of the many reasons I love anime–the creators never shy away from time tomfoolery. Steins;Gate always to come to mind when thinking about shows that manage their disparate timelines skillfully (not really dilation, though). On a separate note, I bet Shinkai’s experience making VoaDS influenced his time-distorted plot in Your Name. Nice post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Time dilation can be fun. About that Your Name reference, it wasn’t just VoaDS. Another element that was reused was his first full-length The Place Promised In Our Early Days which uses alternate timelines and dimensions as a plot point.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Messing and exploring the many used of time can be a lot of fun, but it can also be way too confusing. I feel like that there is a fine line before everything goes too bonkers, but I don’t think anime has hit it yet.

      Thank you reading and enjoying!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Man this was awesome!!! Thank you so much Scott (except that I now have yet more anime to watch). You really went above and beyond here.
    And you are right – I’m like the 7th coolest person on the iNap podcast.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yay, I’m glad you liked it. And nah, everyone but you seems to think that you are the coolest.

      And that’s ok about the anime thing. Each of these is short. Strain is the longest at 13 episodes.

      Liked by 2 people

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