Few of us will ever experience what it feels like to fall in love at first sight. But here, in To Your Eternity, I think we all got just a little glimpse of what that feels like. The instantaneous power this show exercised over viewers’ emotions was extraordinary. And while it inevitably ebbed and flowed, it nevertheless created new powerful and emotional moments without fail as the series progressed. To Your Eternity truly did make lighting strike twice.

This is a great show. I honestly didn’t see how the writers maintained the emotional barrages that this show successfully threw at audiences. But they did, and they’ve created something special in the world of anime. 

For my part, for all that I like about this series, I cannot seem to find the words to describe all of it. So I may not dive into a lot of academic criticism here. Reviews are partly about reliving memories, so that’s where I will direct this review. There’s a lot that’s worthy to remember.

This anime isn’t the epic series like other such famous shows—yet. But it’s nearly there, as close as it can be. If S2 has even just a little more like some of the best moments from S1, this show will be undying, like Fushi himself.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 10

When I think of great anime characters, I think of characters who have impact on our memories. Many factors contribute to that. One thing I’m very unaccustomed to encountering is characters that are instantly memorable. Even a Kaneki Ken or a Lelouch Lamperouge are mainly memorable after all is said and done. Or even if you encounter an instantly memorable character, there’s usually just one in a series, like Zero Two in Darling in the Franxx or Luffy in One Piece. Furthermore, often those characters are memorable simply because they’re “characters,” just a little different than the average weirdo. Consider a Revy (Black Lagoon) or a Gintoki (Gintama) or a Senjougahara (Monogatari). 

In To Your Eternity, nearly every character is instantly memorable. From the moment we find the boy alone in the village, to Fushi’s subsequent travels into March’s land and Hayase’s raging exploits, to the saga with Gugu and Rean, all the way to prison island of Jananda and Tonari, every person we meet that interacts with Fushi for any significant amount of time has an immediate impact on the viewer. I cannot overstate how rare this is in anime, and how great an achievement it is for this production. 

What is Fushi? That’s another great thing about this series: it doesn’t matter what he is. He’s simply immortal, able to take on the forms of those he encounters once they cease to live. I say “cease to live” because he can already take on the forms of inanimate objects, such as rocks, which of course are not living. So he can take the form of things that aren’t alive. I find this intriguing as a part of Fushi’s character. I don’t want to take a deep dive into the academic depths of why this might be so remarkable a trait. But the possibilities are tantalizing to the analytical and critical mind. I feel there is an extra level of greatness in this character wrapped up in this trait.

I observed two other very interesting features about Fushi over these twenty episodes of S1. First, the fact that he’s not overpowered is remarkable. Simply his immortality would give license to most writers to make him an overlord in whatever environment he might find himself in. Yet here we consistently see Fushi outgunned or outmatched in every physical confrontation. Such an intentional limitation being incorporated into a main character’s design is very rare, and it’s handled well here. Second, I never could figure out why Fushi’s eye color changed between maroon and yellow. It seemed unstable when he first met March, but then I think it remained constant thereafter in the new tint. I kept forgetting to note whether they changed after that point, so I’d have to rewatch the show to know for sure. I have a theory, but I don’t want to write it here as if I had a solid basis for that theory. But either way, this was a mystery I could never solve, and I found this trait quite remarkable.

The boy and his dog.

Interestingly, you have to stop and think to realize this is a show about a character learning what it means to be human. Usually such a character aspect is pretty overt in such stories. Violet Evergarden, Vivy, Rei Ayanami, even Genos in the comedic One Punch Man, all overtly display this trait. But it’s subtle with Fushi. Of course that’s what’s happening here! Yet you have to pause and think about it to recognize or notice it. Subtlety, done intentionally, always speaks well of the authors of such a story.

Is Fushi instantly memorable? This is an interesting question. What was instantly memorable was the first episode of this series, where the Orb arrives on the Earth and becomes a rock and ultimately the white wolf until he meets the boy in the icy village. The boy is completely alone in the village. He takes it in mind to venture out of the village (with the white wolf) in search of the others. When wintry conditions overwhelm him, he is forced to turn back. But he pushed himself too hard. Once he returns to the village, he becomes very ill and cannot recover, dying alone with the white wolf in his peaceful hut amidst the harsh winter environment. Fushi takes the boy’s form, injuries and illness and all (which heal in Fushi, which is convenient but interesting also), and thus has a human body to continue his travels with.

So the boy is immediately memorable, as this show scarred our hearts from the very first episode. I suppose I could say that both the boy and Fushi become memorable at the same moment. Again, that’s fascinating! The main character simply takes over the form of another character, where the other character created the memorability and therefore passed it to the main character. So a great character was created through a great character who was no longer a part of the series—after one episode. It was fantastic!

March is an amazing character. Since we’re on the subject of instantaneous memorability, I’ll leave the most important moments for her character for the Story section. But from the moment we meet March, she touches our heart. The first time we see her, this dear child is playing with these rather roughly made dolls which a member of her tribe made for her. That person, Parona, quickly arrives on the scene herself, and gives a new doll to March, who loudly and enthusiastically declares that the two of them now have a new child in their family! My heart melted. Little did I know how powerfully these two would play on our emotions in the next few episodes, but from that moment I knew even then I’d never forget March and Parona. 

Oh my god, Hayase showed up and all hell broke! But even before all that, she messed with me. Hayase! Instantly she laid her mark on my mind and my heart! She was gorgeous. She was powerful. She was a warrior. She commanded attention. She stood out in any crowd. She was remarkable, extraordinary, lethal, intoxicating…monstrous. I was enthralled. She took my heart and made it hers from the moment she appeared. And if she wasn’t so wholly evil, she would have held it forever. This character appears in a very few episodes during the March arc, and then again (remarkably) in the Jananda arc, and both times she astounded my senses. Even her brutality, her cruelty, her Machiavellianism, have their appeal, even if they also make her impossible to sympathize with overall. You know I love my yanderes, and I couldn’t have been more excited when she donned that title in her next to last appearance in S1. Next to last? Ahaha, did you see her in the final episode? She’ll be back, and I cannot wait!

You will never kill me.

Gugu is probably most people’s favorite of the tragic characters. His situation is fairly relatable despite living in the preindustrial world this tale takes place in. He dreams of having a family. His own is broken and lost, with even his elder brother abandoning him in hopes of making something of himself. And just when he finally gets something like a family with Fushi, Pioran (the elderly lady), and the notorious “Booze Man,” just when it starts to look like he might have a chance with the pretty Rean, he is taken away from us. After the arctic boy’s passing, March’s tragic arc, and even the unhappy-turned-hopeful events earlier in Gugu’s life, this death hit pretty hard. I think by the time this episode rolled around a lot of people had started noticing this show, so perhaps that’s why more people seemed affected by Gugu’s death than March’s. March’s was harder to me (Story section), but nonetheless, Gugu’s was hard to bear.

I honestly didn’t understand the ridiculous thing where Booze Man surgically implanted an alcohol repository in Gugu after helping him with his injuries. It seemed dumb, but made enough dumb sense given “Booze Man’s” predilections. When Gugu unleashed his fire breath upon the Nokkers, I finally understood, and I was amazed once again. What a creative touch! It didn’t make sense—frankly the stone mask that moved like it was natural didn’t make sense either—but it was perfect. I loved the masked aspect of Gugu’s character already, but this extra bit weaponizing his mask was great.

Tonari? I had her in a coffin from the first time she was nice to Fushi. And I give this show credit again, because I was wrong. I didn’t expect her to survive, especially given the quick view we got of her in the opening and then that subsequent powerful scene itself with Hayase. But neither did I expect her friends to all die. Man that hurt. This is something else remarkable about this show: the deaths are always unexpected. More on that in the Story section as well. It’s quite remarkable.

Even Parona’s passing was unexpected. And harsh. I was simultaneously broken hearted and raging for vengeance. I looked upon my beloved Hayase and wished her dead. I wanted to hew her head from her shoulders as she spoke of her “gift” to Fushi. Once that emotion passed, the realization really hit me: Parona was dead. All I could think was “Why is she dead?” over and over, as the tears came once again. It’s still very sad now as I write this.

Bittersweet. Hindsight can be cruel.

Then it came down to it. Fushi leaves things in a fairly good state for once on Jananda, and makes a sweet decision to follow Pioran on her wanderings. And this show struck at us one last time. Pioran does eventually pass away from old age, and while that’s the height of sad one more time, her decline is even sadder. So many of us have experienced a grandparent’s, or maybe even a parent’s, slow decline into unhappy senility. Their humanity slowly departs, and the inevitability of it all chokes the light out of our hearts. So Pioran’s situation is doubly hard to bear. Beyond that, in a show about Fushi taking on more and more humanity as he grows as a being, here at the end we see that humanity slowly taken from another of the characters. It’s another amazing touch in a very dramatic tale.

The Beholder is a bit of a convenient character, showing up just when needed and filling us in on parts of the story we wouldn’t otherwise understand, but he’s still interesting. Most of us are probably familiar with the Star Wars franchise, so I’m probably not wrong in assuming a lot of us got the same Emperor Palpatine vibe that I got when I saw him the first few times. I think the hooded and cloaked design and the unmoving lips is interesting, again one of those things that’s probably deeper than I’m willing to examine here. Kenjiro Tsuda was a great choice for the voice of this character. His mysterious and often sinister voice is well known for so many amazing supporting characters like Overhaul (MHA), Hans (KonoSuba), Joker (Fire Force), and Kento Nanami (Jujutsu Kaisen). His fascinating voice is perfect for the ethereal Beholder, adding another nice touch to another fine character in this series.

You’ll probably notice I didn’t even mention the VAs except Tsuda-san (the Beholder). These characters stood on their own without the VAs even. That’s quite something. Often VAs make a character, but in this case these characters didn’t even need the icing on the top of the cake from the VAs to be great. I don’t mean to say the VAs don’t do a great job—Reiji Kawashima does a great job with a difficult role as Fushi, and I loved Mitsuki Saiga (Maria Ross in FMA, Opera in Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun believe it or not) as Hayase and Aya Uchida (probably more famous for her ED for The Quintessential Quintuplets than anything) as Parona—but they’re simply an extra ornament rather than the brightest light for these characters. 

This series is about 50-50 character- and story-driven. Or better yet, every element in this series drives it equally. The characters do their part and more. I give them a 10 out of 10, but with one qualifier: Monogatari is still better, and by far. It’s going to be a rare moment in anime where you have that many high quality characters in the same series as in Monogatari. But for me even to mention To Your Eternity in the same category as Monogatari as far as characters go is high praise. These characters will touch your heart, bring a smile to your face, enliven your life, and bring light to your day as you feel joy, pain, happiness, and tragedy with them. 

Artwork

Rating: 9

I waffled on my feelings about the artwork. I knew that the manga author, Yoshitoki Ouima (more on her later), wanted the faces to be very expressive. I can’t say the faces here were any more expressive than some of the best examples of expressive faces in anime, but I definitely think they were above average in this regard. I remember the pained expression on Fushi’s face in episode 5, and will for a long time. But also, this artwork doesn’t seem very remarkable in some senses. There’s a decent amount of detail, but nothing crazy that bring out the wows. The characters are beautiful, but not astoundingly so (Hayase made my heart skip a beat, but she’s the exception). The coloring is almost too lifelike; not that this is a problem, just I note that it looks very real color-wise. 

But there are some things about the artwork in this show that put it very close to that perfect 10. The biggest, and perhaps least obvious, is one I’m going to have a great deal of difficulty describing. The appearance of this show enhances the emotional response the viewer experiences, and to this day I do not know why this is. I simply know it’s something visual about this show that’s enhancing that. I don’t think it’s the coloring or even the cinematography (see below). I don’t know what it is. But however you would describe the appearance of this show, it heightens your emotions even though you don’t notice it. It makes you ready to laugh louder, or to smile bigger, or to cry harder. I cannot describe why this is the case, but I cannot deny its existence either. The effect is real.

The cinematography (for lack of a better word in an anime sense) is near perfect, superlative at times. This is the one thing that took this artwork from fairly ordinary to nearly exceptional for me. Action sequences are often poorly handled in anime for any number of reasons. But when it’s done well, it will astound any viewer. I keep mentioning episode 5. That pursuit sequence when Hayase shoots March and then Fushi loses it and takes on the bear’s body and nearly tears Hayase in pieces is epic. It gives me chills just remembering it. I replayed this sequence several times. It was overwhelming, amazing the first time, and its wow factor was the same or greater every time I watched it. Our emotions were already primed, and I think they swelled to anger at exactly the same moment that Fushi’s emotions did. It was fantastic. I think this episode itself is one of the best in anime history, but that moment where Fushi becomes the bear is definitely one of the best action/cinematography moments in anime. It is top-tier design and execution.

Fushi leaps; Hayase aims; March lies dead. The first great moment in this sequence in Episode 5.

Gugu’s fire breath was great like this too. If that moment had topped the Fushi-Hayase moment from episode 5, I would’ve branded this one of the top 5 anime all time right then. And it was close. It felt hot from here! It was a great moment and the animation was perfect. The night battle when the Nokkers first made their appearance was really good too. Night scenes are tough for any animation, but this was very well done. 

The faces are displayed very well. I mentioned the author’s goal of expressiveness. While I don’t think they’re at the top of the expressive heap, certainly the cinematography around the faces is superb. A great and appropriate mix of face-forward shots with all manner of perspective angles. It works really well, and more than likely contributes a lot to that heightened emotions effect I mentioned above. Who else loved Hayase’s scarred face getting way too uncomfortably close to the camera when she confesses her love to Fushi on the boat?

Overall, other than the cinematography, there’s nothing that seems exceptional about the artwork, but I love it nonetheless. It’s beautiful as only anime can be. I cannot forget the faces of Fushi, March, Parona, Hayase (and her form), the mask of Gugu, and the ghostly gaze of the Beholder. I cannot forget the wolf that tried to speak and the rage of the great bear. I won’t forget Tonari’s outward positivity hiding her inner despair. I won’t even soon forget March’s little dolls. And if there’s one thing that qualifies anime as great above all, it’s memorability. And the artwork massively contributes to the memorability of this show, no matter what else could be said about it.

Story

Rating: 10

The story is not complicated. Fushi is this immortal being that we aren’t even sure why is here on the Earth, and he basically just lives and learns and grows with his experiences. The show goes through multiple “character arcs” that focus on a particular set of characters. Fushi spends some time with those characters, then moves on. It’s pretty simple and pretty effective.

But within this simple framework, there is greatness. The power of this show is undeniable. A lot of that is just everything working together to great effect, but without the underlying story none of this would be possible. The story truly ties everything in this tale together, making for a superlative whole.

I mentioned how great episode 5 is from an artwork perspective above. But from a story perspective, this episode elevates to greater heights still. I did not expect March to die. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. The story had pulled me in so effectively all the way to that point, I never even thought about what might happen next. And when it happened, the effect was astounding. Even when she was shot with the arrow for some reason I thought surely she’d still survive. It was as if I expected her to survive, as if the story had led me to believe she would. But it was not so. She died right there on the wagon. Sadness turned to rage, and the sight of the great bear ripping Hayase from her mount exploded sadness, anger, and vengeance all over my mind and heart. My emotions got far ahead of my thoughts. I don’t even recall what I thought at the time. I only remember the feeling.

Even there it did not end. With Hayase neutralized, we’re left with the dead March and the inconsolable Parona. I will not attempt to describe the feelings I or anyone else experienced as we watched Parona’s tears flow and she took the dagger to end her own life. But what we all felt when Fushi touched her hand and in her surprise she turned her miserable gaze to him and saw the sadness on his face and the tears in his eyes was already indescribable. The moment was powerful beyond words. A powerful moment like this following the powerful moments from just minutes earlier was an emotional experience unlike any other I’d felt before in anime.

Rage, sadness, vengeance, and astonishment flowed through our minds, our hearts, our whole bodies. An epic moment in anime history.

When Parona took March’s body back to her village, I lost it. It had been so hard up to that point, and then we had to endure that too. It defies description. It was too powerful for words. This is why sometimes people say words are unnecessary, because the feelings themselves do more than enough. Language is not enough. Those moments, finally ending with that sad scene and Fushi’s departure, were unmatched.

Tragic deaths are almost always hard to bear in anime. I never thought Kaori’s passing in Your Lie in April would be topped. The deadness in my heart lives on to this day inside me from seeing that show. I remember it like it was yesterday, and it never gets better. But I tell you now, I think this episode of To Your Eternity was at least as tragic, as heartfelt, and as heartbreaking and scarring as even that. I find it hard to even write this. This is the power of great art, and of great anime. These people aren’t even real, yet they evoke such powerful emotions from us, as if they were real. I almost have to look for consolation in the fact that it isn’t real just to manage my response to it. But I shall never forget the feelings. They will last forever.

One of the greatest parts about this show is that the tragic deaths are always unexpected. The boy’s death at the beginning one expects to be unexpected, but its sadness was enhanced all the same by that unexpectedness. March’s death was highly unexpected, and made it that much worse. But you’d think at that point we’d be ready for it. But when Gugu was crushed to death, I absolutely didn’t expect it. I don’t know how this story managed to create this effect, but I was never able to anticipate a character’s death. I thought I was smart when I expected Tonari to be killed. Then not only was she not, but unexpectedly it was her friends who were killed instead. And news of Parona’s death, mentioned above, was completely unexpected. We sort of knew it when Fushi could suddenly take her form, but it was like it really truly happened when Hayase told us explicitly. That blood boiling moment was very unexpected. My point is all the deaths are pretty unexpected.

Life is worth living. Always.

This is very unusual. Lots of anime do great jobs handling the timing and portrayal of tragic deaths. Among the many, Banana Fish, Akame ga Kill!, and of course YLiA come to mind right away. But never in my experience have deaths been as unexpected as here in To Your Eternity. The fact that it felt that way every time was remarkable. It’s not that I’m bad at this either; at this point in my time in the world of anime I can very often anticipate even a main character’s passing. Yet here I was never ready. The unexpected was the only thing I could readily expect here. I think this must have been done consciously by the author. Of course she intended it to surprise us, but the ability to hide that possibility from the viewer’s sight is the remarkable part. Even in Akame ga Kill! we kind of expect the remaining characters to be killed off after two or three die, even if we wish it otherwise and so perhaps cloud our judgement. But I never expected it here, and, like I said, the one time I did expect it, someone else actually died instead. 

Pioran’s death wasn’t unexpected, you say? Nor was Kaori’s in YLiA. The whole effect of the sadness of that show is that her death is expected. We don’t want it, we hope it’s not that way despite everything we see up to that point, but then it happens anyway and we’re devastated. Pioran’s death isn’t like Kaori’s other than the fact that it’s anticipated, but still, for every other death to be unexpected then suddenly to have this obviously impending death thrown at us is powerful. It’s an exploration of sadness that I wish we didn’t have to experience. But that’s part of the human experience isn’t it? Being human is an immense privilege, is it not?

This show is just sad sad sad. Don’t you wish Gugu could have married Rean? Don’t you wish Tonari could have escaped the island just a few minutes sooner with everybody? Why did it have to be March chosen as the sacrifice? Why did the villagers simply go along with this despite being against it as one? Why did Hayase survive Fushi’s attack so she could wreak vengeance on March’s village and torture and kill Parona? Why do the Nokkers have to always show up and disrupt Fushi’s newfound happiness? Why did the boy have to leave his village?

To be human is not to be sad. But our sadness enhances even our happiness in some ways. It is not good to experience sadness, but for our time on this Earth, it is not wholly an evil. Not all tears are an evil, as a wise man once said. To Your Eternity brings that sharply into view in a way few other anime ever have. This writing that can enable such a beautiful experience is remarkable beyond words.

Overall: 10

Sitting here with my keyboard covered in tears both present and past, I find myself happy to have lived to witness such an experience as this. It’s a small thing in life. But it is powerful, and it was a great experience week to week watching this masterpiece.

This is a top 10 anime all time in my opinion. Evocation, relatability, beauty, humanity, these are the things that make for great anime, and this show has all of them. Would I dare put it top 5? That’s a tight group, dominated by Monogatari at the pinnacle. But even daring to compare to Monogatari puts this anime at least face to face with it. It might lose as quickly as Fushi loses to Hayase, but as just as Fushi endures, so does this show. It might not be Monogatari, but I believe it has top 10 staying power, and so will remain in such high estimation for a very long time.

The music isn’t remarkable. I probably forgot to notice it more often than anything else, given how absorbed I was in the events of the show. But I know the opening was perfect. I wasn’t struck too much by it initially, but Pink Blood grew on me week to week, and I looked forward to it each time after a while. I liked how the animation related an object with each character arc during this sequence. And I continued to notice the adolescent March, who actually was never featured in this first season if I remember correctly. In the sequence, we see this more mature March, and we see Parona tearfully realize it’s her, and the two embrace as Parona cries once again. Perhaps this sequence affected my reaction to Parona’s death even more, but it would have been subconsciously so. But no matter. The opening is really good, both visually and audibly.

I have nothing but praise for Ouima-san, the manga author. Would it surprise you if I told you she’s also the author of A Silent Voice? If that emotionally powerful piece wasn’t enough to put her in the top tier of recognition as an author, To Your Eternity now certainly does. And this anime studio, Brain’s Base, probably best known for Durarara!! prior to this, knocked it out of the park with this adaptation. Full credit to both the manga author and the production studio for the masterful work.

Another powerful moment. Tonari survives. Her friends do not.

If I had to compare this show to another, it would be Mushishi. Mushishi has a power of myth and mystery that few shows have ever come close to achieving. And while it won’t leave you distraught like To Your Eternity, it also has a strange power to get down into the nooks and crannies of your emotions. It makes you feel things in ways you didn’t know were possible. To Your Eternity does the same thing, just more powerfully. It tugs at your heart and commands your attention, and is simultaneous engrossing and hard to watch for very long. I never could watch more than one or two episodes of Mushishi at once. And although I watched To Your Eternity week to week as it debuted, I can easily imagine I’d have that same experience if I was watching this once it was completed. 

A second season is confirmed for To Your Eternity. Sometimes season twos can ruin shows, or at least diminish the quality the overall series. I sincerely hope that will not happen. I cannot imagine it could be better than S1. If it is, this anime will certainly challenge anybody’s top 5 by any measure. This series would be cemented into anime history.

Maybe the author was onto something more than she thought with the idea of immortality. Maybe she has created an immortal work. Maybe, like Fushi, it might change, grow, evolve, become something new, take a new form, over time. But it will always be superior, always be great. That undying greatness is hard to come by, and I think this anime is that close to that stratosphere. It is an unforgettable and unique and very human experience.

1 Comment »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s