What is this?
An omnipotent narrator casts an orb of light to the Earth, watching as this entity copies the shape of a rock and then, many years later, mimics the moss on a rock. When a wolf dies beside the moss, it evolves, taking on the creature's shape and gaining movement for the first time. As the wolf, the orb observes the dead wolf's owner, a young man who lives alone on a frozen tundra, and accompanies him on his journey to reunite with the rest of his townspeople, who crossed the icy wasteland years before in search of a more bountiful country. The time the orb spends with the boy leaves a mark on the entity as it observes, mimics, and bonds with the boy and then the other creatures it eventually comes across—all while transcending death and living for time immemorial. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
Watching the first episode of To Your Eternity is a little bit like having your heart slowly fall to pieces while you keep pretending that it's still whole. The story follows a strange orb sent to Earth (or an Earth- like place) by a god, who narrates the story for us. The god wants to see what the orb will learn during its eternity on the planet, and we see it begin its life as a rock, then moss, then finally taking the form of a Reshy wolf, a large, dog-like animal. The wolf dies beside the orb, and when it takes on the wolf's form, it also assumes its journey – one that leads him to a mostly-abandoned human settlement in the icy tundra where a lone teenage boy remains.
If watching a child slowly lose all hope before dying in pain isn't your thing, this may not be the show for you, because that's what the real plot (in terms of action) is in the opening episode. As Joaan, or rather, as the orb wearing Joaan's form, the boy's pet, we see the orb learn about things like eating, talking, and the various emotions, culminating in hope and sadness. It is utterly, completely depressing, and I cried through the entire second half of it – and while I may tear up easily, I don't actually cry easily. But this is like the depressing child of Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Little Matchgirl, and it is very, very effective.
It isn't easy to create something so sad without it feeling manipulative, which is the real triumph of this episode. Everything feels organic and natural, from the slow destruction of the boy's health based on one hope-filled decision to Joaan's learning process. Even if you can see where things are going, you don't want to, and the show allows you to have that same, groundless hope that drives the boy. The art works with the voice acting (pretty much all from the boy, which again is impressive) to give us the increasing feeling of sad emptiness: the eternally snowy landscape, the deteriorating houses of what was once clearly a village, the final, crossed-out trail marker, and the increasing redness on the boy's face and fingers all tell the story even if you don't want to see it. It is, as a self-contained episode, a triumph of storytelling.
It's also sad as hell, and that's really not something I enjoy, especially since crying and deviated septums don't go well together. But even without actively liking the storyline, I have nothing but admiration for the way it was told. Grab your tissues and don't miss this.
I'm at a bit of a loss for how to talk about this premiere, because it is very much not your typical anime intro. Usually 99% of the episodes I cover for this guide are meant to be introductions to long form narratives or samples of the brand of comedy one can expect the rest of the show to deliver. But To Your Eternity spends its first 20-odd minutes doing none of that. We get a bare bones, casual introduction to the high concept behind the show, delivered presumably by God as voiced by Kenjiro Tsuda, then spend the rest of this opening as witnesses to a tragic, heartbreaking tale of isolation and survival.
It's also hard to write about because nobody in this episode really has names. Our POV character is a nameless orb dropped onto Earth(?) by the aforementioned God that spends a while as a rock before encountering a dying wolf by chance and taking on the deceased pupper's form. Having just barely gained sentience it walks its way back to the original wolf's owner, a boy whose name we also never learn. And from there we simply follow the pair through their daily life, the sole inhabitants of the boy's abandoned village in the frigid arctic land around him, before his eventual doomed trek towards somewhere, anywhere else.
That being said, “hard to write about” isn't the same as “hard to watch” because this is an absolutely enthralling story all on its own. The boy's tragic story would be engrossing on its own, just following him as he decides to set out on his own to follow the rest of the other villagers to “Paradise” somewhere far over the horizon. But combined with the perspective of his otherwordly companion, this intimate story of humanity gains a layer of new significance. Watching a single, solitary lifeform try to conquer the elements before him ceases to be just sad, but a pensive contemplation on the nature of life itself. And it's all handled with such a casual gesture it can feel deceptively simple until the story reaches its inevitable conclusion and the tears start flowing. Original creator Yoshitoki Ōima has only leveled up since making A Silent Voice, and every ounce of that power is on display in this episode's climax.
It's an absolutely stellar first impression, and the only real issue I have is it's such a singular, complete story that I don't know where we go from here. This is effectively a brilliant short film all on its own, and any guess I can make about what the next story will be is total speculation. But “this is so great, how do you follow it up?” is about the best problem to have. So I figure it's best to just wait see what kind of journey this show can take me on.
I am on the record for enjoying things designed to grab you by the throat. Subtext is for cowards and I want my "entertainment" to shake me with emotional intensity, beat me over the head with raw feeling, and then demand I thank it for the experience. Sometimes my husband will walk into the room and, already knowing the answer, ask me "if I'm watching depressing shit again." The answer is always yes because I need, on a primal level, to see the my sad brain reflected back at me. It brings me comfort, but others might find To Your Eternity pulls on the heartstrings too much to tolerate. And that's fair, because as a manga reader I can assure you that it does not let up from here.
Our undying being (eventually named "Fūshi") takes up a well-trodden role of alien/unhuman being learning what it means to be human via connections to others. What makes this series stand out and is exemplified in this opening episode, is how naturally the events play out despite the foreignness of everything around him. This world isn't "ours" but concepts like family, love, and hope are very much present. Ōima's original story also builds a fully realized world, so even those less interested in the emotional drama that plays out on screen could find interest in the vastness of culture and traditions fleshed out in the series. While this first episode represents a small arc (or "prequel") in Fūshi's travels, it's incredibly important. Every step he takes from this point on is in service of carrying on the boy's hope.
The anime adaptation sticks very close to the manga and this one of very few series where I'd agree that very little needs to be done to the story to ensure it resonates with the audience. Of course, it is able to build off its origin simply by being in motion and using color. The boy's journey across the barren arctic wasteland is even more effective as we witness his fingers and nose become increasingly susceptible to frostbite despite him pushing forward out of sheer will. We watch as he uses Fūshi, his dog, as a representation for his own self-doubt simply so he can bury any inclination upon giving up. It's incredibly moving.
To Your Eternity's first episode is a perfect example of telling a full story in the span of 25 minutes. I like to think the ending means that the boy did reach paradise and finally taste sweet fruit in his last moments. Now excuse me, I got some dust in my eye.