To Your Eternity
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
To Your Eternity ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
To Your Eternity ?
To say that To Your Eternity's season premiere was impressive would be a major understatement. As a single, self-contained, twenty-two-minute-long fantasy story, To Your Eternity offered one of the most masterful debut episodes I've ever seen. While its visuals don't necessarily make for the most incredible visual spectacle I've seen in ages, the surehanded direction and precise character animation are so effective that the show still feels like prestige television when you're watching it. The writing is pitch-perfect fable spinning, too: A nameless, shapeshifting orb is cast down onto the world, and with the proper stimulation, it can assume the shape of objects and beings it makes contact with. First, the orb is a rock, then it is a wolf, and eventually it takes the form of a lonely boy who dies a sad death after attempting to cross the frigid wastes in search of his lost tribe.
And so, we arrive at “The Rambunctious Girl”, which is a completely different kind of story compared to “The Last One”. Where the premiere was extremely melancholy, and often oppressive in how it communicated the pain of the boy's isolation and fear, “The Rambunctious Girl” is much livelier and more traditionally paced. The primary focus of the episode is on March, a spirited little girl living in one of the many villages scattered across the land, which we learn is called Ninannah. As the title suggests, she's awfully rambunctious, gleefully anticipating the day that she can reach adulthood, when her fantasies of motherhood may finally come true. There's another, older girl named Parona — whom March affectionately refers to as “Sissy” — who looks after March when her parents are out and has ambitions to be a hunter and warrior herself…despite a considerable lack of talent in the field of archery.
Here's a controversial take: World-building is an often-overrated aspect of fantasy and science-fiction writing, and a lot of anime especially have a bad habit of going buck wild with it, seemingly more concerned with filling out their own personal wikis than with spinning a good yarn. Thankfully, even though we spend a good deal of time in “The Rambunctious Girl” simply living with March in her village and establishing a central conflict that has absolutely nothing to do with the orb himself, To Your Eternity has lost none of its knack for efficient and clear storytelling.
When Hayase arrives as a representative of the Yanome (who seem to wield a lot of power in the region of Ninannah), we learn just enough to establish the emotional stakes of March's story and get the plot in motion: There is a local deity known as Oniguma-sama, a vicious bear that demands the blood sacrifice of a local “untarnished girl”. March is chosen to be the latest child to be brought to the mountain and laid down as an offering to the god, which March is less than enthusiastic about on account of how getting killed doesn't at all mesh with her current plans to live a long life and become a grown-up.
As was the case with the boy's story from last week, there's nothing exceptionally new or surprising about all of this setup, but the execution is what makes it something special. Even though the chipper music and reliance on more typically “anime-ish” sight gags and visual short-hand is a far cry from the To Your Eternity that we met last week, it feels appropriate for March's more childlike understanding of the world. March herself is an indefatigable little blob of charm and energy, which is bolstered by her form than the one that the realistically proportioned characters that surround her belong to. Rie Hikisaka's vocal performance is worth shouting out specifically, too, as she is able to embody the exact balance of “rambunctiousness” that is neither too precocious nor too annoying.
The episode also contains those moments of wonderful humanity that the premiere captured so well. My favorite has to be the sudden change in March's parents' composure after Hayase selects March as the newest sacrifice. To the other villagers, they are beaming with pride, but the minute they cross the threshold into their tent however, the mother and father both collapse onto their daughter, trembling with sorrow; as terrible as it is, it's also a great little beat. I also loved the running joke of how terrible Parona is with her bow; not only is it a nice subversion of the “Badass Heroine Who's A Ridiculously Skilled Archer” trope that has become so common in recent years, but it also makes for an excellent punchline when Parona goes to save March, and her arrow smacks longways against Hayase's head with a pitiful thunk.
And for all of you Orb Heads out there, don't worry, everyone's favorite pants-pissing, shambling homunculus gets his time in the sun, too, though his bond with March is only just getting broken in, here. The opening montage of the half-dozen painful deaths it suffers in his new body is darkly funny, and it also serves to communicate a little more about how the orb actually works. It has assumed the shape of the boy, but it has not inherited any of the boy's memories or personality traits; in fact, it seems to have regressed a little bit, given that one of his deaths comes from forgetting about how it needs to eat and drink.
We don't pick back up with ol' Orby until March comes across his desiccated corpse in the marsh outside of her village, and this is where we get the single most impactful cut of animation in the entire episode. March first finds the orb's detached eyeball in the murky forest water, though it immediately slithers out of her palm so that the orb-corpse can reconstruct himself once more. Though the smooth linework and somewhat muted colors probably don't carry the same visceral touch that I imagine the manga's art must, it's an awesome moment of alien body-horror, nonetheless.
Slightly less exciting is the extended “Girl Meets Adorable Dog Lovecraftian Abomination Masquerading in a Human Flesh-Suit” bit that follows. Don't get me wrong, it's cute as hell to see March fuss with the orb and try to teach it how to eat (and also how to not steal all of her food). I just don't want to spend too much time with the orb in such a feral state, because even when Parona inevitably becomes a bigger part of the story, there will only be so much that can be done with a cast that consists of a doomed little girl, a brave-but-foolhardy young woman, and a feral boy-thing that can do little more than sleep, eat, and wet himself. However long this arc with March lasts, I hope Orby can find his sentience sooner rather than later.
That said, I really appreciated how much growth that we're already seeing for March when the lass has had just a single episode to make her mark. She only needs one night of horrible nightmares to convince her that running away will only doom some other girl to her awful fate, perhaps even one of her sisters, and so the only “grown up” thing to do is to head back. In accidentally adopting a newborn changeling god from beyond the stars, she has become the mother she always wanted to be, in the strangest manner possible. I am fully bracing myself for To Your Eternity's inevitable swan dive into the deepest pits of despair, but if the boy's bittersweet journey to a (hopefully) peaceful next life meant anything, I want it to be that hope can still exist for the doomed in this world. Ideally, little March won't have to die horribly to find hers.
To Your Eternity is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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