To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

Kino no Tabi – 10

Kino is the kind of person who wants to go to the country where everyone else who’s been there says the locals were very rude and treated them like crap. So imagine her disappointment when the country turns out not to be full of assholes, but full of the kindest, most hospitable townsfolk you could ask for, including the sickeningly twee innkeeper trainee and tour guide, Sakura.

Kino takes in an outdoor play chronicling the people’s proud history of having found a haven after escaping oppression. She dons an apron during a barbecue (with Hermes ensuring she only grills; no seasoning). She even gets her persuader serviced by the local, er, persuadersmith, who performs the task for free.

The smith knows the gun as the kind one of Master’s students would use (even if Kino denies knowing her), and decides to gift her another gun, “The Woodsman”, a gun he once carried for protection while traveling, but has no more use of now that he’s too old and frail to travel. He’d rather it be put to good use.

By the time Sakura shows Kino the most beautiful spot in the city during a gorgeous sunset, Kino is completely charmed and no longer disappointed the people of the country aren’t rude jerks. Unfortunately, the three days she promised she’d stay are up, and the soldiers insist she leave immediately.

The town seemed so cloyingly nice I was almost constantly keeping my eyes peeled for little clues that might indicate what the “catch” with the place was, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Turns out the answer was staring me right in the face in the opening moments of the episode as Kino and Hermes neared the country: it is positioned at the foot not of a mountain, but a volcano.

The night Kino leaves, the volcano unleashes a pyroclastic flow that wipes out the country, killing everyone in it instantly. Even the normally stoic Kino is upset by this sudden, shocking development, especially when Hermes calmly explains there’s absolutely nothing she can do.

But Sakura and her mother did give Kino two packages, and in them are some mementos, along with a letter explaining that the country knew of their impending doom, had the choice to abandon their lands or stay and die, and chose the latter.

The reason they were so kind to Kino is that they knew she’d be their last guest, and wanted to try to repair the reputation as rude jerks they’d built up over the years. Turns out they weren’t rude or kind country so much as a Country of Self-Destructive Stubbornness.

Another note written by Sakura accompanies the seed she caught at a wedding (the last wedding in the country, and the couple was younger than usual because, well, they were out of time), stating that she wouldn’t need it. Sakura must’ve known of her fate after all, but like her parents and the rest of the adults, decided to stay and face her fate. Pretty heartbreaking stuff.