Well…I was technically right? Gugu really did survive that plunge of the cliff, after all, just as I predicted! Sure, the rest of the episode is basically a slow-motion eulogy already in progress, and it comes as absolutely no surprise when our boy finally does shuffle off this mortal coil, but at least he gets a more noble end than getting chucked off a cliff before getting to confess his love for Rean.
This is another one of those episodes of To Your Eternity that is 95% climax, a thrilling and heartbreaking conclusion to the lives that have been touched and the bonds that have been forged in the latest step of Fushi’s journey. In fact, the structure of the episode bears more than a passing resemblance to “Those Who Follow”, the fifth episode of the series that concluded Fushi’s time with March. Like “Those Who Follow”, “Awakening” sees Fushi unleash his powers to take on his foes in an attempt to protect the people he has come to care about, though he can’t save everyone, and his dear companion is lost, leaving Fushi with a new form, and a host of new memories and experiences, to carry with him. As the original companion dies, they experience a kind of idyllic dream world, though they must reject it in favor of the cruel, but ultimately more meaningful, real world they have just departed. After a final, emotional goodbye with the one who he will leave behind, Fushi once again sets off on his own to face the next adventure of his eternal future.
In a certain sense, this repetition of familiar story beats can lead to a certain “been there, done that” feeling creeping into the proceedings. Gugu’s final vision of getting to experience his family with an unbroken face is touching, but nowhere near as heartbreaking as March’s wistful last dream, and the overall shock of Gugu’s death just doesn’t hit quite as hard now that we’ve figured out TYE‘s M.O. His sacrifice is also maybe just a touch less powerful than when March gave her life to save Parona, if only because it’s a lot more common to see the heroic figure giving everything to save his lifelong romantic love from dying. Then again, the scene where Gugu shields Rean from the collapsing rubble affords him an opportunity for one real kiss with the girl who would never turn away from him no matter how jacked up his face is, and if I think about it too hard the waterworks will probably start to flow, so it isn’t like “Awakening” is lacking in emotional impact or anything.
The action and general production values are something of a mixed bag, too, though that’s been typical of TYE for most of its run. It isn’t even bad to look at; the episode is just inconsistent. When the Nokker comes to steal Fushi’s bear form and wreak havoc upon Rean’s home, it’s a thrilling and suspenseful battle from beginning to end. There are a couple of really solid close-ups and action cuts, but they’re interspersed with sequences that feature much less impressive line art and character animation. There’s one dramatic moment where Fushi and Co. are stripped of almost every significant detail outside of their silhouettes and their mouths, as if they’re meant to have been shot from far away, but the scene holds at a relative medium distance, which makes the effect very distracting. Really, the biggest issue is that I cannot tell when some of these choices are being made for purely stylistic reasons, or if corners are being cut because of more practical limitations.
Yet still, despite all of the quibbles I could lay at the feet of “Awakening” for its writing and animation shortcomings…the end result is no less moving because of it all. The foundations of this story, and the overwhelming empathy that To Your Eternity has shored up for all of its characters, has made it virtually impossible to not be engrossed in this tale, even when its blemishes stand stark in the cold light of day. There might be some who would argue that the visual presentation of TYE doesn’t do enough to elevate the lovely art of Yoshitoki Ōima‘s original manga, but I think there’s still a lot that the story has to gain from the medium of animation.
A lot of this comes from the music and the voice acting. Ryo Kawasaki‘s score is as lush and propulsive as ever, and it helps the action scenes to sing even when the visuals aren’t quite hitting their marks. Then there’s Reiji Kawashima‘s work as Fushi, which I know I’ve been praising all season, but goddamn. The screams of rage and disbelief that he lets out when Fushi first takes on Gugu’s form perfectly capture the newfound suffering that Fushi has discovered comes part and parcel with becoming more human. When March died, Fushi was basically an animal, and he didn’t even fully grasp what death was. Now, he has wrestle with shock and grief even as he makes the difficult decision to move on from this home that he has come to love.
The very last moments of “Awakening” are perhaps the most interesting, because when Rean comes to check and see if her friends are okay, Fushi panics and takes on Gugu’s form, and instead passes off “Fushi” as the one who died. At first, I thought that the show was really going to have Fushi’s last moments with Rean be a cruel lie, but at the very end it becomes pretty clear that Rean knew all along. She confesses to her father that she cannot marry, because the one she loves is no longer “here”, though she has faith that he and Fushi are still together, somewhere.
This core of basic human compassion is what makes To Your Eternity so compulsively watchable, week after week. If this were just some other grimdark anime about how the world is nothing but suffering and blood and blah blah blah, I doubt anyone would give a damn about Fushi the Orb and his endless travels. Time and again, though, TYE reminds us that the whole point of living is to find other people that it is worth going through all of those trials and tribulations with, and for. Love is a thing that is born when people are good to one another, and it can live on long after they die. Fushi is more capable than ever of understanding the power and gravity of that love, but something tells me that the harder and more powerful lessons are still to come.
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