To Your Eternity Volumes 1 – 4
Yoshitoki Ōima (mangaka), Steven LeCroy (translation), Darren Smith (lettering), Haruko Hashimoto and Alexandra Swanson (editing)
2017 – 2018
*Note: this article is based on review copies obtained from the publisher.
Over the course of their* existence, Fushi has been many things: a moss, a rock, a wolf, a boy, a girl, a giant bear. In a manner reminiscent of a video game, Fushi acquires new shapes from “stimuli,” which basically means that when they’re injured by something, they learn how to take its shape. Thus, through loss and pain, does Fushi grow.
With this premise, you can imagine how many awful things happen to Fushi and those around them over the course of the first four volumes. And if you can’t imagine, let me tell you: lots pain and numerous deaths.
Fushi’s story is cosmic—or at least aspires to be. The story traces themes of memory, connection, and agency. Fushi was created with a grand purpose: to preserve the world. Exactly what that means remains to be seen, but it has something to do with the enemy Nokker, which can steal Fushi’s experiences and memories. Fushi’s creator, the Beholder, places little value on Fushi’s desire to live as a human and instead directs Fushi to learn as many living shapes as possible. Gotta catch ‘em all, Fushi!
Sadly, Fushi’s lessons are shallow. The awful things they bear witness to (death, disfigurement, brutality) occur with so little narrative justification as to appear random and meaningless. Likewise, the positive things (friendship, affection, devotion) aren’t given time to deepen, so come off as saccharine. The overarching message boils down to: life is cruel to those who are kind, so enjoy the nice things while you can.
Which is so disappointing, because Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga A Silent Voice explored school bullying gently and with great depth. It left me wondering exactly what went wrong with To Your Eternity.
I think it’s largely a matter of scale. A Silent Voice has a limited scope: the relationship between Shoko and the boy who bullied her, Shoya. The narrow focus means that Ōima has more time for subtle details, which allows for greater character development, and through that the reader infers commentary on the nature of society, relationships and life.
Interestingly, Ōima delivered more dynamic page layouts and panel structures in A Silent Voice than To Your Eternity. In A Silent Voice, there are poetic panel breaks that punctuate the scenes, adding visual space to underpin a narrative that explores silence, sound, and human connection. In comparison, To Your Eternity feels rushed. There are quite a few actions sequences, but they are often hard to follow because the panels are choppy and, in spite of Ōima’s lovingly rendered details, the end result feels like a rough draft.
To Your Eternity foregrounds the “meaning of life and death” theme, which is a huge challenge. Ōima attempts to do this by following Fushi as they experience the lives and deaths of a succession of individuals. In this way, To Your Eternity is highly reminiscent of Buddha, Osamu Tezuka’s epic about the life of Siddhartha Gautama, right down to themes of impermanence and interconnectedness. Unfortunately, To Your Eternity pales in comparison to Buddha.
This is not to say that Ōima’s second series is a dud. The artwork is lovely and the (sometimes briefly appearing) characters are engaging. Overall, diving into To Your Eternity makes for a pleasant afternoon read—if not a deep one.
*In the manga, Fushi’s pronoun is translated most often as “it” and “he,” although there are times when Fushi takes on the shape of a young girl. Therefore, I’ve used a gender-neutral, but humanized, pronoun in this review.