Yoshitoki Oima showed with “A Silent Voice” that she could mix serious social issues with heartfelt melodrama and interesting characters to tell an interesting story in the present day. Even if the first volume and its illustration of bullying was a full notch above the six that followed. Her follow-up series is miles away from that. It’s a sci-fi fantasy story that’s set in a world that resembles the one from our past that seeks to tackle the big question of what it means to be human. This first volume shows that Oima’s skills with characterization and melodrama are still intact, even if she’s got some work to do with her worldbuilding.
The series starts off in bizarre fashion with a small white orb being dropped onto the planet. We quickly see, and are told by an unnamed narrator, that the orb has the power to absorb and change into other forms of matter and life. First as a rock, then as a moss, then as a wolf that has recently expired. From there, its senses take it back to the wolf’s master, an unnamed boy who has named it Joaan.
The boy is a bundle of seemingly inexhaustible energy and optimism given his circumstances. He’s the last survivor of his village, as he and the elderly were left behind after the able-bodied members left to find a better place than these frozen wastes. Now that Joaan has returned to him, he’s determined to follow in the other villagers’ footsteps and find out what happened to them.
That is the story of the extra-long first chapter. The remaining chapters in the volume take us to a mountain village in the land of Yanome. There we’re introduced to March, a very excitable child who wants to grow up soon so she can be a mother. That dream looks to be cut brutally short as she’s selected by visitors from the capitol to be the latest sacrifice to the great god Oniguma for a period of peace and prosperity.
These may sound like unconnected stories, but the thread that ties them together is the throughline for the volume and series. Without going into too much detail, the first chapter eventually gets as weird as it is heartbreaking. The Boy’s fate may be obvious, but it still hits hard and in an unexpected fashion as “Joaan’s” fate winds up intertwined with it.
As for March’s story, her exuberance may be too much for some. Even when her imminent death is revealed, she never really stops being a big ball of energy. I was ultimately fine with it, particularly after her story connects up with the one that was told in the first chapter. Oima also brings the story to a rousing climax as we find out that Oniguma isn’t a made-up god and actually exists in real life. The resulting throw-down eventually gives way to a final page that broadens the scope of the story being told as well.
While all of this is executed well enough, the world in which it all takes place feels a little lacking. At first I thought we were in some kind of post-apocalyptic version of our own, but I eventually realized otherwise. As an original world, it feels a lot like our own -- like a version of feudal Japan that has had its serial numbers filed off. It basically exists as a setting for Oima to tell the story she wants, but it doesn’t add anything to the story itself at this point
So it’s a good thing that the mangaka does a good job of getting us invested in her characters’ fates here. “Familiar but satisfying” is a good way to describe this first volume of “To Your Eternity. The story still has an observable arc to it, even with its weird points. Yet those points help to invest us further in a cast that has its own appeal and is worth following on from here.