「変わりたい少年」 (Kawaritai shounen)
“The Boy Who Wants to Change”
The equation with To Your Eternity is pretty straightforward for me. The weirder this series is the better it works. Sometimes that takes the form of unconventional narrative (like the premiere, and last week). Sometimes it’s abject quirkiness, like we saw this week. As long as it stays away from the conventional, which was pretty much where it resided for the whole Yanome arc (including the ending). This section, for me, is much better. Fumetsu no Anata e has a strange and often wonderful way of looking at the world, and the less hard it tries to be ingratiating the more charming it is.
At the center of this new arc is Gugu (Shiraishi Ryoko), who we met at briefly at the close of last week’s episode. He resides in Takunaha, the village where Pioron’s lover lives (in fact, he lives with him). But first we take a little step back into the past, a few months before Pioran and Fushi arrive. Gugu is a cheerful and hard-working boy saving pennies so that he and his older brother Shin (Abe Atsushi) can live a better life. Gugu dreams of escaping hardscrabble daily life and moons over the pretty girl he sees when selling vegetables in the market, but he faces his existence with plucky aplomb.
That all changes when Shin steals their savings (which it looks to me like Gugu did most of the building) and abandons his brother. This is a cruel blow on every level, and though Gugu does have a ring the girl (Iwami Manaka) gave him as thanks for returning her wandering dog, Gugu is existentially wounded by what Shin did to him. Soon enough though his wounds are real enough, as a stray trunk from a logging cart starts rolling downhill towards the girl. Gugu selflessly races to save her and does, but is seriously injured in the process. Not that the girl’s minders take any notice.
Fortunately for Gugu he’s found by Jiji (Tone Kentarou – fun fact: the seiyuu for Gugu and Jiji are the same age) the weird old sake brewer the villagers are sure is up to much weirder things than distilling. But thr boy’s face is badly damaged and, convinced he’s not a monster, Gugu takes to wearing one of Jiji’s masks to hide himself from the world. Even so, he throws himself into this new life – working hard for his keep – and that’s what he’s doing when Fushi and Pioran arrive and change everything.
In theory, not all that much happens for the rest of the episode. But because Gugu and Jiji are such interesting characters, the four-way interaction betwixt this odd pseudo-family is extremely winning. Gugu’s true nature shines through – he takes Fushi under his wing, literally peeling him out of his filthy clothes, teaching him new words and new activities, and generally playing the role of big brother. Jiji is clearly a smart fellow and what’s more, totally non-judgmental. And Gugu is a kid with a strong moral center and far more resilience than he gives himself credit for.
One of the best parts of this sequence is when Jiji and Pioran jokingly (I think so in her case, anyway) suggest turning Fushi into a sideshow freak or boiling down his fingers for immortality wine, and Gugu is outraged at the barbarism of it. Another is when the girl – whose name turns out to be Rean – shows up at the shop and sets Gugu’s heart aflutter. But she only has eyes for Fushi, which sets Gugu on the path of despair, then self-improvement. His actions throughout this episode are very authentic for a kid his age (albeit one brighter than average). And again, I love how accepting Jiji is of Fushi – the oddballs are all together, conveniently out of sight for the villagers who’d rather not have to see them every day.
As light-hearted as this ep is at times, we know Fumetsu walks some very dark paths (and even here things are pretty depressing if you look beneath the surface). That it’s capable of great tonal range is certainly one of this series’ strengths, and they’re best displayed when the narrative is relaxed and meandering like it was here. Great comic moments cutting through the pain that is mortal existence – if anything described To Your Eternity at its best that’s it, and that’s why episodes like this one most represent the series as I love to see it.