To paraphrase the first person I ever heard describe To Your Eternity, “It’s like if the thing from John Carpenter’s The Thing met a nice young man instead of some assholes in Antarctica.” I’ve been reading the manga ever since; though I’m not quite caught up with the story so far. My interest was reignited last week when I discovered there was an anime adaptation. I flung that bad boy up on my Crunchyroll machine (i.e. my Xbox Series X) to answer one question. And, folks, it’s some of the absolute saddest shit I’ve ever seen — even when I already know what’s coming.
Minor plot and thematic spoilers for To Your Eternity ahead.
The anime follows the manga (written and illustrated by the same woman behind A Silent Voice, Yoshitoki Ōima) pretty directly. Which is to say the story begins with our hero, Fushi, as nothing but a little ball of potential. Literally. A nameless, godlike figure drops a glowing orb on the ground and waits to see what happens. That orb morphs into a rock, then into moss, and finally a dying dog passing through the snow. When the animal expires, our then-unnamed protagonist takes its form — wounds and all — before bumping into the dog’s owner. The relentlessly positive boy has been stranded, alone, in an arctic waste for years. He doesn’t realize that his pet has passed on and that this new thing is just a mimic. He loves it unconditionally.
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That initial experience with sapient life molds Fushi. Like a lot of manga and anime, To Your Eternity sees our hero wander strange, fantastical lands from arc to arc. But it doesn’t end there. Fushi is effectively immortal. They can die. They simply regenerate each time. Otherwise they’re just as weak to poisons, sedatives, and, uh… lots and lots of arrows as the various human and animal forms they acquire in each new region. Even more obviously supernatural stuff sprinkles in from there. Really, though, To Your Eternity is about the average people Fushi meets along the way. Not to mention the grief they feel when those people inevitably pass on.
Fushi’s immortality lets the series jump around in time. First it’s months. Then years. Eventually decades pass between arcs, with many tragic events punctuating each one. Things go sideways in the very first episode of the anime. And that hasn’t really stopped so far in the series’ first season. Having read much further along in the manga than where the anime is, I can confirm that the unrelenting grief doesn’t, well, relent. I can also confirm that every death has torn me up all over again since I started.
The power of To Your Eternity is that each death feels “earned,” despite the frequency. Not in the sense that everyone meets some heroic end. Often it’s just the opposite. The series simply doesn’t treat the characters as fodder for shock value. It respects the idea of each person, that they lived, and how Fushi carries their memories with them. They draw on those who become important to them over time, through friendships and familial bonds, carrying forward their skills as well as their appearance.
It’s a pretty clear metaphor. Fushi represents the rippling effect our actions have on people long after we’re gone — and the effects those people continue to have on others. At the same time, the series is willing to acknowledge that death fucking sucks, so the “moral” never gets cloying. It’s simply one expression of the many ways things are. As To Your Eternity progresses it smartly branches out, tentatively at first, into other part of life. The shapeshifting demigod with the mind of a 20-something works hard to wrap their head around sexuality and gender identity. Especially when they only know how to copy the structures they personally experience.
The anime complements all of this with stellar audio work. The show looks good, too. Don’t get me wrong. But the theme song is another banger from Kingdom Hearts collaborator Hikaru Utada. Kenjiro Tsuda, meanwhile, voices Fushi’s mysterious creator — channeling the same quietly sinister portent as his take on Ogata from Golden Kamuy.
To Your Eternity is just plain lovely by contrast. It’s also very painful. If you’re going into the anime without the source material, it’s worth knowing just how devastating it can and does get. Immediately. But the touching, winding story is worth the emotional cost of admission.