I didn’t know what to expect going into episode one of To Your Eternity. After watching it, I honestly still don’t know much regarding this series and where it’s headed, though Negativesprimes drops some hints in his first impression piece. What I do know is that this anime, based on a well-regarded manga by Yoshitoki Ōima, who also wrote A Silent Voice, is at once ambitious and personal, leaping from a cosmic perspective to a pinpoint focus on a boy and wolf, and virtually only the boy and wolf for the entirety of an episode.
The boy is a lonely soul. Most of his village has moved south to find a better climate, leaving him to care for the elderly and infirm. However, no one returned, and those around him all passed away. His only friend is a wolf named Joann, though it also dies, unbeknownst to the boy as the wolf that returns to him is actually a orb from the heavens that is able to take others’ forms. The orb started its “life” on earth as a rock, and after who knows how long, transformed into canine, and now serves as the boy’s companion. Eventually, the two journey on their own, leaving loneliness behind for the danger ahead and opportunity for something more.
When Joann, or the orb in its form, returned to the boy, I knew almost immediately that the duo would be leaving their lonely settlement. The boy is brave and passionate, and though he is also optimistic, he longs for company and for a better life in general. That’s what lies ahead in his eyes—a better life. And though he’s very smart, understanding that a journey could lead to his demise, it’s worth it to him to take that step out the door, to leave home for the wilderness.
As I watched the episode, I asked myself if I would have taken the same leap. I always ask that question when watching survivalist-type tales. Could I do what is necessary to survive in the wild? Could I leave a deserted island and chance the seas instead of living by myself but in relative safety for the rest of my life, as in Cast Away? Could I saw off my own arm like Aron Ralston did to free myself from a boulder after being trapped for five days? And could I be like this boy, even knowing that life at “home” is unsustainable, and go to the beyond when death is a real possibility, even a likelihood?
When I was younger—all through my youth and into my twenties—I struggled with taking that step, beginning a journey where there was certainly a cost, and perhaps one of high expense. The currency for me at the time, and even to some extent now, was success and failure. If I took little leaps, staying close to what I knew, like a lion cub roaring at prey while in the vicinity of his mother, I could feel good about myself and, from my perspective, look good in front of others. But if I ventured out on my own—with work, with relationships, with ministry—to someplace uncomfortable, someplace where I lacked experience and confidence, and where failure was not only a possibly but a certainty, I’d lose my entire share. All my currency of success would be depleted, and I would see myself as a failure, as certainly would the world.
This is how I lived my life—a couple steps outside the circle at a time, stretching it bit by it. By my mid-twenties, I was pretty proud of myself, for my circle was large, in my point of view, though self-reflection would have revealed that I could cross the diameter of said circle in 30 seconds flat. I’d barely moved at all.
Much like the boy in To Your Eternity, however, I was moved not necessarily by courage, but by necessity. The boy knows that he cannot live as is forever, and understands that his mental health, as resilient and strong as it is, will also give out if he remains alone and without community. He must go. And I had to move, too, because for once, I couldn’t take those little, careful steps. When I had children, I had jumped off the deep end, learning how little control I truly had. There was no choice: I needed to do all the scary things I had avoided for so long if I wanted to have a successful family. I would need to appear foolish sometimes just to care for a crying child; I would have to learn a new skill each day without mastering the previous; I had to become a vocal, strong leader if I wanted better things for my child. Life had changed, and so would I.
Parenthood was, and is, an immense challenge. I failed time and time again—daily, minute by minute sometimes, in small ways but also profoundly and repeatedly. But as I took loss after loss after loss, like some horrible sports team which seldom won a game, I learned a truth that was already long ingrained in my brain but not in my heart: It’s through suffering that we grow.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Through life experience, I learned that failure is more than okay—it’s only by risking everything that I could become the person I hoped to be, that I could invite God to work within me. And thus was born leadership at work and church, the founding of this blog, the courage to take leaps with jobs and friendships, and an allowance to let myself be embarrassed publicly by volunteering for roles big and small, getting in front of groups of people to speak, and putting not only my work but my face (and body!) on display online. I still feared, but the consequences of staying put had come alive to me—I would “die” if I didn’t move.
In To Your Eternity, the boy does die, thought not by staying put. He dies as a result of injury incurred during his journey. But I don’t think he regretted going. No, I think that though he would have made some different choices, he knew that he should have gone, even though it resulted in him wounding himself and eventually dying of infection. The danger was, and remained, worth it.
In truth, I don’t believe the choice to leave was ever that remarkable in the boy’s mind at all, for his journey began at some earlier unspecified time. The last trip was just the pouring forth of all the choices he had made to love others and to love himself by simply surviving. Just as if I were to go on a stage today in front of a large crowd, though I would certainly be afraid, the decision still wouldn’t be so momentous to me—it would be the natural next step of a life of moving forward that began when I was forced to face my fears all those years ago.
I love the ending of this episode, too—not just the next warping of the orb and the choice it makes to move forward, which in itself presents the wondrous idea of how we can encourage others to change, but in what becomes of the boy after he passes. There’s a vision of him joining with the other villagers and a new community as well, perhaps indicating that they did all come together in the afterlife. There indeed was a reward, even in the loss.
There’s a reward for me, and one for you, too. It’s here and now in how we change and become better, stronger, and more able to be love to those around us. And it’s eternal, too, as we do the work now to bring more rejoicing to Heaven, where one day we’ll be gathered to that great crowd and greet them, like the boy does, in love and with embracing, the last destination of the greatest journey. But that adventure, should we face our fears and make the choice to wander from home, begins here. It begins now.
To Your Eternity can be streamed on Crunchyroll.