「最後のひとり」 (Saigo no hitori)
“The Last One”
Without any question, Spring 2021 looks like it has a chance to be the best anime season since at least 2018 (though that’s still no lock by any stretch). It’s gotten some help no doubt, in series like Fumetsu no Anata e being pushed back due to the pandemic. But the thing is, even though To Your Eternity was my top pick of the season and it’s among the very last shows to premiere, I felt no stress here. For once, the top dog didn’t have to come through to keep the season from being a disaster – it was already good, whatever happened. And that was a damn nice feeling.
I knew it would come through, though. And that takes the heat off too. This is a terrific manga (by Koe no Katachi mangaka Ooima Yoshitoki), and while Murata Masahiko may not be a name known to most anime fans he’s a seriously good director who’s been at this a long time. With Baby Steps, he proved he could take a masterpiece of a manga – and a limited budget – and successfully transition it to the screen. The only real mystery element here was Brain’s Base, once upon a time maybe my favorite studio but a shadow of its old self since much of the talent left to form Studio Shuka in 2013.
I was surprised, frankly, that Brain’s Base got this adaptation. It’s certainly the most high-profile series they’ve produced since the schism. But in the end, it just makes the fact that Fumetsu no Anata e turned out to be as great as expected that much sweeter. This is a phenomenal start but it feels so sweet to see Brain’s Base flying high again, at least for a while. I don’t know about the budget here (better than Baby Steps for certain), but the first episode is beautiful. It looks like the manga, but it also looks like a Brain’s Base show. And this isn’t the sort of story that’s going to require a ton of lights-out animation in the first place.
This is one of those prologue premieres, like Cross Game, that tell a self-contained and heartbreaking story that sets up the main story. It spins the tale of (as he’ll eventually be called) Fushi (newcomer Kawashima Reiji, sounding a bit like Yamashita Daiki), a boy living alone in an abandoned village in what appears to be the Arctic. It’s also the story of an immortal being cast down to Earth as an orb of light by an omnipotent narrator (played by Tsuda Kenjirou – nice to see him get some work at last). First it exists as a rock, them moss. Eventually it takes on the form of a white wolf that’s just died of a wound. That wolf is the companion of the boy, who’s very glad to see it when it arrives back at his lonely hut on the ice.
Fushi looks about 13, and he reminds the wolf he calls Joann that the others in his village left him five years earlier, setting off to find greener pastures to the south while he remained with the elderly. They died off one by one, eventually leaving him all alone apart from the wolf (the circumstances of its departure are never explained). The running conversation Fushi has with Joann is clearly the boy talking to himself – both to try and stay sane and to help his mind process the brutal choices he has to make. It’s a hard, bitter existence, but the boy retains a stubborn optimism in the face of it.
I knew what was coming of course, but even if I hadn’t, it would have been pretty obvious. Fushi is in a no-win situation – in his heart he knows the others aren’t coming back, even if he doesn’t know the reason. He can stay and scrape out an existence until the eternal whiteness claims him, or he can embark on a hopeless mission to find the others and the green paradise they sought. It takes courage to choose as he does, but Fushi is certainly not short on that. Every small victory – an arrow scratched onto a rock, a scraggly bush he calls a tree – feels like crying out into the eternal emptiness.
The really sad part of all this for me is the way Fushi lies to himself, and the facade slowly wears down as things get more and more desperate. That, and the way Joann stares at him – understanding more than a wolf would, but not truly understanding something so alien. It’s not necessarily subtle, this intro, but it’s certainly effective. Murata delivers all this with quiet, dignified reserve – he doesn’t dwell on the obvious tragedy of it, but let’s that speak for itself. Whether the Immortal will be able to grant the boy’s final wish – to be remembered forever – is unknown. But if any being was in a position to do so, this one is.
The real story begins now, and of course it will be quite different from the prologue. But I think one can get a good sense of what Fumetsu no Anata e is about, just the same. Murata-sensei has 20 episodes with which to deliver the essence of the ongoing manga, and that’s more than enough time to accomplish the task in my view. This season is pretty loaded, but even in context To Your Eternity is a very special piece of work – profound and melancholy, reflective and often unsparing. There was never much doubt that the anime would be great, but that does nothing to lessen the pleasure in seeing that it is.
OP: 「PINK BLOOD」 by (Hikaru Utada)