On the surface, the manga series A Silent Voice and To Your Eternity couldn’t be farther apart, despite being written by the same author, Yoshitoki Ōima. The former, adapted into anime film in 2016 by director Naoko Yamada, is a slice of life about a former bully and his victim finding self-acceptance through mutual recognition, while the latter, now an anime series directed by Masahiko Murata, is a grand action-adventure that follows an extraterrestrial being exploring a fantasy world. But in depicting the evolution of an alien’s consciousness, To Your Eternity asserts the transformative power of love, depicting how our capacity to love one another is the bedrock of our conscious experience. In this way, the series takes the core ideas of A Silent Voice and puts them in a cosmic context since the classic film is all about how. The two texts are entangled and essential to one another.
A Silent Voice is a story of transformation and starts with the teenage protagonist, Shoya Ishida, wallowing in self-loathing. In middle school, he viciously bullied a deaf girl and, as a result, became a pariah. Friendless, and burdened with guilt, Shoya sees himself as unworthy of love and wishes to die. The film begins with Shoya contemplating suicide but, on a whim, he decides not to end his life, instead endeavoring to find Shoko, the girl he tormented. This spark of compassion and desire for connection initiates a healing that occurs over the course of the film and allows him to finally connect with himself. As Shoya becomes closer to Shoko and expresses caring for her, even risking his own life near the end of the film to save her, he finds his own inner goodness and the courage to reenter society.
When Shoya saves Shoko from her suicide attempt — and nearly dies in the process — he isn’t thinking about what a bad person he is or how he needs to dedicate his life to making up for his sins. He is thinking about engaging with people and making new friends. He is seeing himself as a lovable person. The beginning of the film echoes this; the thing that stops Shoya from taking his own life is the sound of fireworks — a direct reference to Shoko’s suicide attempt, which occurs during a festival filled with fireworks. That is to say, saving Shoko also saves Shoya.
The ending of A Silent Voice depicts the impact of this love on Shoya. (Shoko and Shoya never become explicitly romantic but the film heavily implies they probably will in time). Attending a school festival, Shoya walks around, and like always, feels alone in the crowd with everyone around him blurred from his vision (ever since middle school he has not been able to look strangers in the eye and their faces are obscured to him, blocked by giant Xs). However, in the presence of Shoko and the other friends he has come to know, the Xs fall away and people’s faces become clear to him. Shoya finally becomes a part of society, feeling worthy of loving, and being loved by, other people.
Shoya and Fushi, the alien protagonist of To Your Eternity, share much in common as both characters find themselves through the experience of love, though Fushi’s journey enters the realm of the ontological, concerning the birth of consciousness itself. At the start of To Your Eternity, Fushi is just an alien orb, with no kind of awareness. He gradually evolves thanks to his unique ability: he can copy anything that stimulates him. This begins small and occurs without intention; Fushi’s first form is a rock he bumps into upon first landing on Earth. Eventually, as Fushi takes on more complex forms, the nature of this stimulation changes and becomes tied up with the experience of emotion. When Fushi takes on his second form, a wolf, he meets and befriends a boy, who shortly after dies from blood loss and hypothermia. Upon the boy’s death, Fushi briefly grieves, tugging on the boy’s cloak trying to wake him. This emotional and physical stimulation causes Fushi to take on the form of the boy (which becomes Fushi’s default form and why he is referred to as he).
Despite having a human form, and some experience with emotion, Fushi lacks human consciousness. It is when Fushi encounters March, a sweet toddler, that his sense of self truly begins to take form. Like the boy who passed away, March cares for Fushi, naming him and showing him how to procure fruit for sustenance. Up to this point, Fushi has shown no agency or will to act on his own, soiling himself and dying repeatedly before resurrecting. Even when he is attacked by a bear at the beginning of episode 2, he doesn’t respond or defend himself, possessing no sense of the concept of self-preservation. However, when March is threatened by the same bear, Fushi engages in combat to defend her. Fushi’s creator, the narrator of the series and known as the beholder, even comments on this development saying that emotion precedes action. Fushi cares about March, and so he acts in defense of her life, transforming into a being with motives and drives. Soon after the incident, he gains sentience and begins to act and learn autonomously, picking up the meaning of words on his own and taking the initiative when necessary. In essence, a person is born.
Fushi’s transformation occurs not simply because he is loved by others: He begins to feel thanks to the love of the boy and March, but only he gains humanesque consciousness once he, himself, loves. This is also true of Shoya. Shoya doesn’t accept himself simply because of Shoko’s affection. He changes once he connects with his own capacity to love and desires to save her. The beauty of these works is how they focus on this personal, individualistic aspect of love. Yes, relationships are profound and important but they themselves are not the source of love: we, individually, are.
In this way, both A Silent Voice and To Your Eternity break anime and manga convention. They depict a truly egalitarian view of love, something we can all obtain by our own capacity to love, rather than something limited to a perfect relationship. Most anime tend to view love purely through the lens of romance — and an idealized romance at that. Even emotionally sensitive series like Fruits Basket fall into the trap of portraying romance in such a way that every protagonist finds their one true love and said love is the only person they ever date. Such depictions of love feel elitist, as though unless you have this specific experience you can never understand true love. In contrast, To Your Eternity and A Silent Voice take a democratic approach and present love as something deeply personal and universal since love is not tethered to any specific person or relationship but comes from within us, expanding and growing through our interactions with others.
Even when we suffer loss or go through a bad break up, love still exists within us, a fundamental part of our being. A Silent Voice and To Your Eternity both proclaim this profound truth: the very nature of our soul is love. This is why A Silent Voice’s actual, literal title is “The Shape of Voice,” love being the shape. To Your Eternity takes this assertion and adds a metaphysical spin to it, portraying a protagonist who becomes conscious because he experiences love.
To Your Eternity is currently streaming on Crunchyroll. New episodes simulcast every Monday. The film adaptation of A Silent Voice is streaming on Netflix.