I'm not much of a stickler for spoilers these days. As with anything, there are exceptions to this rule, like Attack on Titan or HBO's Watchmen series, that I genuinely benefitted from not knowing what happened next as I watched them. Usually, though, I tend to become more interested in a story the more I knew about it. To Your Eternity is an interesting case wherein I knew almost nothing at all about its plot ahead of time, but I was very aware of its reputation as serious, finely-crafted tearjerker. Considering the testimonials of dozens of Twitter users and several personal acquaintances, the only preconception I had of To Your Eternity was that it was going to make me cry. We're talking Made in Abyss levels of raindrop tears and snot bubbles, baby.
Even if you were to discard that stunner of a premiere, which didn't quite make me cry, I am beginning to wish that the tone of this story hadn't been so hyped in advance. Not because the show is proving to be bad; far from it! So far as pure, rich fantasy storytelling is concerned, To Your Eternity continues to be absolutely first class. I have, however, found myself constantly distracted by this gnawing feeling in the back of my mind that any given scene is one tragedy away from forcing me to bust out the Kleenex, and I think that attitude does a disservice to what the show has accomplished in its brief three episodes. It has been tragic, yes, and I'm sure it will return to that well again before too long, but this episode and the last have entirely different goals in mind, and they are just as important and impactful as whenever the show punches its audience in its collective gut. It's just a bit less dramatic about things, is all.
With “Rambunctious Girl” and “A Small Evolution”, it is clearer than ever that the premiere was more prologue than first chapter. If you will allow me to mix my metaphors a bit, it might be more appropriate to consider Episode 1 an overture, less concerned with establishing the lay of the story's land and more so with putting its audience in the right frame of mind to dive into this strange new world. Last week was our proper introduction to the setting, and to the characters that I initially assumed would be one-off leads in To Your Eternity's episodic travelogue, like the boy whose face our orb now wears. Instead, these last two episodes have served as a very fun, thrilling, and compelling look at the non-orb characters that we will apparently be following alongside the orb for the time being.
I have no doubt that Orby, who March christens “Fushi” in reference to his immortality, will eventually move on to travel new lands and meet new people, but To Your Eternity is running with a more measured pace than I guessed it might, and the tonal deviations we first encountered last week are in full form here. Even as March has made her choice to accept her fate as the sacrificial offering to the great bear god Oniguma, Parona continues to fight for the girl's freedom. It isn't one minute after she manages to break free from Hayase's bindings that Parona comes face to face with Oniguma himself, a perilous turn of events that Hayase is only too happy to take advantage of. Meanwhile, Fushi slowly trods his way in the direction of the unconscious girl that helped him nab all of that yummy fruit, and it isn't long before he very literally finds himself in the maw of the beast itself.
Something I should note is that To Your Eternity was originally set to premiere months ago, and was only pushed back to April on account of the worldwide COVID pandemic. I cannot say with any certainty whether or not some of this episode's visual hiccups are a direct result of how the extended lockdown affected Brain's Base's studio workflow, but either way, I can't say that To Your Eternity's visuals are its strongest suit.
The show looks good – I don't want to undersell the studio's work here, especially with some of those lovely character animation cuts – but it struggles more when it comes to the purely technical aspects of its action scenes. In some sequences, especially the ones concerning Oniguma, the colors and inconsistent linework give the series the same vibe as a mid-budget anime from the mid-2000s, and the lower framerate of the animation can undercut the impact of the violence. There are even a couple of very weird first-person and transition shots that look very cheap; one chase sequence is punctuated by a shot of a single forest background that the camera just zig-zags randomly across, and there's a crash-zoom shot shortly after that almost looks…I don't know if “broken” is the right word, but it certainly feels sloppy.
All of this is not to disparage “A Small Evolution”, which is another genuinely great episode of To Your Eternity, but to emphasize how wonderful it is that the show can sell its excitement and drama so well despite looking so inconsistent. There's a confidence of feeling to the writing and characterization that is just so goddamn delightful. March's brave but quiet willingness to die for her people is truly touching, Parona's ability to push through her own inexperience and clumsiness to rescue March is the definition of thrilling, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the touch of Hayase and her people not even believing that Oniguma is real, even as they bring this child to die in his name. There are a number of shots of Hayase simply looking bewildered as the events around her become increasingly bizarre, as if sacrificing children to make-believe bear gods is just her 9-to-5, and she is wholly unprepared to commit to any overtime.
Then there's Fushi, who is finally becoming a character himself, even if it is only in baby steps. The narrator expounds upon the episode's title as Fushi makes his journey to rescue Panora and March from Oniguma, which is a result of the same kind of adaptation that any complex creature would perform in order to survive. At first, it is unclear how much of Fushi's actions are born of conscious thought or simple mimicry; as the battle against Oniguma grows more vicious, and Fushi reverts back to his wolven form, you can see the glimmer of will in Fushi's eyes. He is learning to think. To plan. To envision a goal, understand what must be done to achieve it, and to take whatever action is necessary.
For March, this same moment of self-actualization drove her to offer her life to a god she didn't worship, if only to spare her friends and family a similar fate. For Parona, it means tossing aside any future she might have ever had with her people for the sake of sparing March such a terrible fate. For Hayase, it means telling a bit of a lie and bringing the girls back to Yanome with her, though her interest clearly lies in the shapeshifting creature that just felled a god. For Fushi, it meant another one of those yummy pear-looking things.
I don't know if To Your Eternity is the show I envisioned when all of my friends were singing its praises for months on end; I don't even know if it's the kind of show that the first episode promised, or if it will be that show again anytime soon. What I do know, however, is that this is a remarkably compelling adventure told with stunning clarity of vision, and it has the good grace to end this episode with an absolutely perfect gag: Fushi is in his wolf form, pear bits still dripping from his chops, when he turns his head up to his new friends, his animal mouth twisting in uncanny directions to form two simple words, the first of his life. He says, “Thank you.”
Any show that can deliver a moment that good is worth sticking around for, of that I am absolutely certain.
To Your Eternity is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.