The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
To Your Eternity
What's It About?
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.
To Your Eternity volume 1 (10/31/17) is an original manga by Yoshitoki Oima that's available in paperback for $12.99 and in digital format via comiXology for $10.99 from Kodansha Comics. Simultaneously published weekly digital issues are also available for $0.99 each.
Is It Worth Reading?
After experiencing all the emotional turmoil of A Silent Voice, Oima's most famous manga, I should have known to pick up another series by the same creator, but the summary seems so far removed from A Silent Voice that I might have passed it by. That would have been a shame because To Your Eternity is stellar, a gut-wrenching manga that evokes all of the emotional connection of Oima's previous work, despite the detached supernatural element at its core. It's spooky without being frightening, melancholic without being utterly devoid of hope, and radiant in an ethereal, haunting manner. The first third consists almost entirely of a single human character talking to himself/the wolf, but Oima still crafts a dramatic, tension-filled story that requires no other characters. When the story expands and new characters are introduced, the sense of foreboding and despair is still prevalent, and the orb's continued transformation makes its presence all the more jarring in the sequence of events that unfolds. So far, the series seems to be setting up for an anthology-style format that suits the theme of an outsider observing life on Earth quite well, though it's possible some of the characters will continue to appear in the next volume.
Oima's art is radiant. Almost no panel is devoid of detail and those finer points paint two very different landscapes so vividly, they're a few steps away from being works of art. The three color pages at the beginning of the volume truly are works of art with the palette lending an otherworldly feel to the orb. Oima's character designs look a lot like her A Silent Voice designs—almost too cute for a story that deals with such dark themes—but they're pleasing enough to look at.
To Your Eternity volume 1 is one of those manga that both appeals to devoted fans of the medium and transcends the medium to potentially connect with a wider audience. This is no fluffy and fun read. With its grander themes and lush art, it's not meant to be read and consumed and tossed aside. It's an experience that will stick with its readers long after they turn the last page.
There's a portion of the narrative from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that is usually left out of film adaptations. After fleeing his creator, the monster attempts to live amongst humanity, first by completing helpful tasks for a family he's observing. After cutting their wood and finishing other daily tasks to endear them to him, the monster reveals himself but is shunned for his ghastly appearance.
Yoshitoki Oima follows up her emotionally resonant A Silent Voice for her own Frankenstein parable. This monster too attempts to observe and imitate the living things around itself but by the end of the first volume has still only managed to be an unsettling clone mimicking what it knows to ghastly effect. Omia blends the innocence of a child, that period when a life is just a blank, impressionable slate with an ability to transmogrify and resurrect itself eternally.
It's hard to say whether our central character is really alive. It's an imitation of life sent to learn from the humans occupying an Earth-like planet. Part of the landscape has fallen to an Ice Age, leaving the terrain uninhabitable. The shapeshifter takes on the form of the village's single remaining inhabitant's dog and through its eyes we watch its resourceful master attempt to escape his fate by pushing against unfathomably odds and, honestly, lie to himself. This first act is unrelentingly soul-crushing as once again, Oima draws a protagonist that dares to overcome, but this boy's hope and optimism are not enough.
The second act barely gives readers time to breathe before adding on a new layer of sorrow, when a precocious child named March who wants nothing more than to grow up and be a mommy is selected as an annual sacrifice to a bear god to promise good harvest. This act's plotline serves in contrast to the previous act. The first companion of our monster lived in desolate loneliness while March lives in a prosperous village. Neither isolation nor community benefited either character. It's hard to pin down Oima's central message, but she seems to be a taking a stab at cruelty's blindness to its subjects.
This creates an interesting environment for our innocent monster to acclimate himself. For a being whose only goal is to further its knowledge, how will it develop in a world where humanity sacrifices children to be eaten by wild animals? Where the only kindness is that they bother to put the child to sleep first before strapping her down to a table? The answer to that question will reveal whether this world has any underlying goodness at all or if our monster will go the way of Frankenstein's and cast itself out back into the depths of the snow to be rid of humanity altogether.
It should come as no surprise that the creator of A Silent Voice has come up with a manga that is powerful and touching. To Your Eternity trades more in beautiful anguish than anything, and even if sad stories aren't your thing, it's hard to find fault with this one. Narrated by what appears to be a god, the story follows an orb dropped down to earth that has the power to transform into anything – on the outside. Form does not follow function, however, and with each new body, the orb-creature must learn how to behave as that particular being.
The first story is by far the saddest, although the themes of child sacrifice in accordance with legends that makes up the rest of the volume is still pretty heavy. When the orb finds a dying wolf, it takes on her form, which leads to it taking on the role of pet and sole companion for a teenage boy who has been living on his own in a tundra village for five years. Through his near constant monologue with the wolf, we learn how he came to be there and the wolf learns how to be what the boy needs it to be – how to eat, how to be a companion, etc. Essentially, we readers are seeing the story through the wolf's eyes as we learn the tragic Island of the Blue Dolphins-style tale of the boy, although Oima makes it so that we understand the nuances of the situation even if the wolf does not. This is done through the art – shots of an injured leg beginning to swell, bones hanging where fish once did, and shapes that are clearly graves under the snow. We're denied the repudiation of the truth that boy has, as well as the ignorance of the wolf.
Interestingly enough, even with its regenerative powers, the only thing the orb-creature seems to fully understand is death. It appears to only take on a new form when its previous owner has died, although it retains the understanding and behaviors of the form it last took – so it might look human, but it still acts like a wolf. Thus the story is not just about the orb learning to take on new forms or about the people it encounters on its journey, but rather about the way it learns to behave: distilled down, this story is about becoming human. The first chapter explores hope through the character of the never-named boy and his dream of reuniting with his lost people. The subsequent three look at desire (not in the sexual sense) and the lengths that it can drive us to. March doesn't want to die, her friend yearns to save her, and the people in charge want nothing more than to complete the sacrificial ritual. All of these desires lead to different outcomes than anyone planned, and the orb-creature is there to observe them all.
We don't know what the creature will take from all of this. We don't know if it will stick with March or with its current form(s). But I would guess that it will be a journey worth taking to find out.
I would be shocked if another volume this season has an opening chapter as strong as To Your Eternity's. What in the first few pages reads like the beginning of an unremarkable science fiction story quickly turns into a powerful exploration of isolation and crumbling hope, one of the most powerful I've ever seen in comics. It's in every carefully chosen detail of these scenes, in the way artist Yoshitoki Oima moves between favoring large, wide and empty panels make even the pages seem somehow isolated to extreme close-ups that turn this isolation stifling. It's in the seemingly unshakable optimism of the nameless young man we follow and in our understanding that his eternal smile is a desperate kind of muscle spasm meant to ward off his certainty that he will never see another living soul. It's in the way this facade finally crumbles into a sobbing mess after he returns home from his desperate journey.
Yet this isn't even the most affecting of the story's elements. No, more haunting still is the audience's knowledge that his last wish that his companion Joann the wolf should “remember him forever” falls on deaf ears. The knowledge that his faithful companion is long dead, replaced by an alien simulacrum. The knowledge that this entire time he has been alone. The knowledge that his friend, like himself, passed without notice. The knowledge that this story – like most stories of our stories – will be lost with the passing of its central characters.
Were this a short story standing (fittingly) on its lonesome, it would easily earn a 5. Sadly, those chapters in the back half of this volume are less inspired and less inspiring. They tell a strong enough story, but it's a cliché, just one more interpretation of that classic scenario where the ritual sacrifice a village perpetuates is revealed to be cruel superstition. Here, Oima seems less interested in movements of psychology than of plot: unfortunate young March is believably written, but her parents, her guardian Parona, and the unnamed officiant tasked with sacrificing her all exists as archetypes the author wants to present as more subtle than they deserve to be seen.
The result is a story that fails to come across as genuinely tragic not because it fails to follow through to the darkest end, but because it does so little with the dramatic irony that was so key in the preceding chapter. It carries over the presence of the nameless copycat entity, which now wears the nameless boy's appearance, but this thing's entrance now plays intrusively rather than with purpose; it seems like a literal plot device used to clumsily stitch together unrelated vignettes. If this is Oima's larger plan for To Your Eternity, I'm skeptical but curious; even one more chapter as striking as the first would be worth more botched experiments. But if her attentions are now devoted to March's story, I'm less excited.
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