With Easter approaching this Sunday, Beneath the Tangles is posting thematically connected articles each day in commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection. For 2021, our theme is “Arise.”
What’s the least romantic title one could think of for a standard romantic anime? Of all the options that can come from the human mind, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas would be right up there among any of them. What’s with the gross imagery? What does it even mean? Those who have seen the movie realize the significance of it, of course. That particular organ is, in a sense, at the center of all that goes on during the course of the film (spoilers ahead)—even from the beginning. When Sakura meets [Boy-with-whom-she-gets-along] (how the male protagonist is referred to in the light novel all the way until near the very end), she reveals to him that she has a terminal condition of the pancreas and approximately one year left to live.
But Sakura is curiously upbeat for being under a death sentence, even joking about it with the uncomfortable boy, later revealed as being named Haruki. Early in the film, she relates to him that in some ancient cultures, individuals would eat body parts of others corresponding to their own unhealthy counterparts. She laughs, asking the ultra-serious Haruki if he’ll eat her pancreas. Later, the two share a meal of yakiniku featuring Sakura’s favorite meats, the organs, including—you got it—a pancreas. Although Haruki isn’t totally grossed out by the conversations and meal, he obviously does feel a little uncomfortable. Talk of death while eating organs isn’t his favorite thing to do.
These are funny little incidents, but seem rather out of place, not because of their macabre nature but because of the first scene in the film. Haruki is in his room sulking, unable to attend Sakura’s funeral and remembering the last text message he had sent her, which matches the film’s title: “I want to eat your pancreas.” Why would he send her that? It seems quite in poor taste if it was the last thing he wrote before she died.
Seeing as he lacked the spirit to pay his respects at her funeral, it could be that Haruki was just an awkward boy who might write such a thing. I relate a bit to him because I said and did weird things as well when I was his age (and admittedly when I was older, too). But the film itself shows that this alternative couldn’t be the case. Sakura and Haruki develop a special bond. He treats her with normalcy, which is what she’s seeking more than anything, while she teaches him what it’s like to care about someone, which in turn leads Sakura to feel special and valued by Haruki. This is not the relationship that would end on such a peculiar note, and in fact, we later understand that it was actually the perfect thing to write, and in fact, was written by Haruki only after much consternation.
The real meaning behind the text starts to arise from a scene where the two discuss the niche world of pancreas-eating. It has to do with the idea of eating another’s organs not for physical healing, but so that the consumed’s soul will continue to live on within the eater. This is the real meaning of both the movie’s title and Haruki’s final words—”Even after you die, I want you to continue living in my soul.”
It’s a breathtaking and heartbreaking sentiment: I want to eat your pancreas. I want you to always live inside my soul. Haruki and Sakura, in the language of teenagers, insist that their relationship is more meaningful than either “friend” or “lover,” and indeed, that most unusual text captures this idea. It’s splendid, beautiful, romantic, and meaningful.
It’s also the type of love that doesn’t require you to meet some beautiful girl or hot boy who has a terminal condition. It’s love that’s available to us all, and most surprisingly, given in a similar language to that of those pancreas-eating teenagers.
With Easter approaching, it’s appropriate to consider this love—the great romance described in the Bible, of an adulterous bride that has turned away from her husband, who continues to care for and love her, even letting his body be broken to save her from the punishment she deserves. During the Last Supper, mere hours before he would be arrested, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, who represent us in all our colors, from devoted to deserter:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Yes, right in the climax of a 2,000+ year old story is a scene expressing the same idea as an anime film, with a scene unfolding in which Jesus asks those he loves so intimately to eat his body and drink his blood. Translated to the language of Haruki and Sakura, Jesus speaks tells his disciples, “I want you to eat my pancreas.”
I wonder what Peter, John, and the rest thought about Jesus’ unusual request. The Bible doesn’t record their thoughts on it, but I imagine they were confused and perhaps sickened by his words. Maybe Peter, as he had a habit of doing, interrupted Jesus and tried to correct him: “Jesus, no—we don’t eat humans.” This is the same Peter, after all, who had to experience a vision instructing him to eat unclean animals before he was able to really do so and further, begin to sincerely minister to the Gentiles with the same heart as he did to the Jews.
But even if Peter and there rest didn’t understand what Jesus was doing at the table that night, they would shortly as he was arrested, crucified, killed, and buried before rising again. Later, Paul would give the same instructions as he shared to the Corinthians how to properly commemorate Communion, to avoid cheapening the meal and instead remembering its sacredness as we partake in communion with Christ, as we consume him and share in who he is and what he experienced.
Many of you will take Communion this very weekend. I hope that you enter into it with consideration of who Christ is, who we are, and what he did for us. And then, as you eat the bread and drink the wine, that you would so in a spirit similar to that of an anime romance with a most unromantic title, that you would approach Easter declaring in words from scripture and those from deep inside your soul the same sentiment: I want you to be a part of my soul always. I love you with a love that can’t be expressed by usual words.
I want to eat your pancreas.
Featured illustration by shirowa (reprinted w/permission)