Let’s talk about an anime I haven’t heard too much talk on! I wrote this piece sometime last year, during a phase when I missed university essay-writing dearly, but never got around to proofreading and posting it until now.
*This post contains spoilers. You can’t really spoil much of the film though, when it pretty much spoils itself within the first minute of its run-time.
Volatility – “the tendency of substances to evaporate at normal temperatures” (OED). It took me a while to come up with an adequate word, but I think it encapsulates this gem of a film well. Now, it’s obvious enough that I have praise for the film and wish it was discussed more. It was quite surprising to see that when it is discussed on platforms I frequent, the verdicts aren’t always as enthusiastic.
A few say that the movie is too deliberate of a tearjerker, or that Sakura is an unrealistic dying teen. The majority of reviews I read, however, agree that the story is pleasant in a middle-of-the-road way – perhaps a bit too uncommitted to the romantic tragedy that it set up – and that the animation is agreeable but not outstanding. Setting aside the animation portion (because I rarely have much to say regarding that), I think this “half-bakedness” that some see is very much what makes the stories and characters special.
I think I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is a sincere exploration of a classic genre that doesn’t try too hard to subvert or satirize anything. To a good extent, you can say the same thing about the heroine’s attitude towards life. Instead of fighting her disease, or fighting death, Sakura lives with death, as she declares in the title of her diary. Her struggle is marked by fears and uncertainties, but it is ultimately a capricious one.
This capriciousness, in how Sakura lives life and how the protagonist Haruki gradually starts to live, as well as in their undefinable relationship, grants the characters agency and lures the extraordinary out of the mundane.
Escape from Fate
Sakura’s fate is hardly a spoiler. The fate of her death looms over the entire film, and all actions taken by the characters (except the post-credits) unfold within this inevitability. The film opens with a funeral scene, and ends with a grave site visit.
In direct contrast to the ceremoniousness of death is Sakura’s interest in mundane high school life. Her bucket list consists of the extraordinarily unprecedented activities of stuffing herself with yakiniku, eating a ton of dessert, spending a hotel night with a dude, and doing “naughty things”.
Luckily enough for Sakura, she runs into a guy who cares so little about anything that he has no regard for her imminent death, and would comply with all of her requests only because she made them, and not because she’s dying. This is important because pity or special treatment from others would ruin the setting for normalcy, and also force her back into the role of a dying patient. Sakura’s quest for “normalcy” is very much her break from dying.
Romancing the Mundane
Is Sakura an escapist at her core then, despite her determination to live with death? Based on what happens in the plot, can you even say that she’s committed to her escapades? At a closer look, Sakura’s version of “normalcy” is anything but.
Although this appears a bit later in the story, Sakura’s favourite book is Little Prince. When Haruki reads her diary, the images that we see (either Sakura’s mental landscape or Haruki’s reconstruction of it) allude to Saint-Exupéry’s novel, in all its extraterrestrial glory. When alive, Sakura’s vibe is also ethereal and princess-like. She mistakenly puts fiction into the history section, makes the natural demand to be princess-carried (but is shocked when it actually happens), and is admired by everyone in her class for her natural charm.
Sakura is much more sophisticated than what she attempts to pass as, and her façade slips many times in the film. Most notably, despite putting “naughty things” on her bucket list and constantly teasing Haruki about it, she doesn’t actually want to fulfill this “wish,” and struggles fiercely when Haruki tries to go one step further. Her relationship with youthful mundaneness is always flirtatious rather than serious.
Haruki himself is hardly a “normal” guy, and Sakura is perfectly aware of that. First of all, he’s an extreme loner. Second of all, even if he was perfectly ordinary, the changes Sakura brings to his life and that he brings to Sakura’s are beyond the normalcy that Sakura originally asked for. Sakura shows Haruki that he is capable of feeling for others, and Haruki gives Sakura the courage to celebrate her life by bearing witness to it.
Their relationship dawdles between friendship and romance, and for Sakura at least, it’s never in any hurry to be either.
Agency in Volatility
In the end, even Sakura’s death, which she tries to normalize with some success, fails to follow the plan. However violently and unexpectedly it happens though, Sakura does not fail at “living with dying.” Her diary-keeping in Living with Dying is a practice at being aware of volatility, and this awareness grants her power.
At one point, Sakura defiantly tells Haruki that it’s not fate that brought them together, but choice. They met because she chose to speak to him, and he chose to be in her presence. Thus, her choice of a mundane life also makes the life worth living. I feel like this is best illustrated by her kabedon of Haruki near the beginning, when she corners him to recruit him for her perfectly “normal” adventures. Oh, and tells him that she wants to eat his pancreas. It’s an active and cognizant choice that bursts with her own passionate flavour.
Sakura’s final message to Haruki is that living = bonding. She also addresses how their fluid relationship is a manifestation of her capricious worldview. This is a bit unfair to Haruki, who finds solace in boundaries, but maybe dying girls get to be a little bit selfish. Sakura unravels boundaries for Haruki, so that he can see for himself that people are interconnected and that nothing is unchangeable.
Even if the story of the film has been set from the start, down to Sakura’s death, the unreplied message, and Haruki’s renewed reclusion after all of it, the anime manages to surprise us by how things happen, and furthermore, how the choice to bond enables things to happen. Haruki’s friendship with Kyoko—a part no longer dominated by the film’s foreshadowing of Sakura’s death—attests to this.
A note on the title of the film, I prefer the anime’s title “I want to Eat Your Pancreas” over the drama’s “Let me Eat Your Pancreas.” It expresses a playful and active desire for connection rather than an oddly demanding passiveness. Sakura says, “If someone else eats you, your soul will live on inside of them.” This doesn’t really address what happens if they only eat one of your organs, but if I am to infer, when Sakura says she wants to eat Haruki’s pancreas, it reveals her desire for a normal and healthy life. When Haruki texts the same line to Sakura, it’s not just a commemoration of her spirit (he doesn’t even know that she’s dead), but possibly a desire to internalize her tenacity for life.
Sakura doesn’t seek to defy or deny death—the only fate she acknowledges in her life—but to live on in spite of it. Maybe the combination of a bright heroine and changed protagonist has been done more than a few times, but in terms of storytelling, I find this one quite earnest. Not quite a rom-com, not quite a tragedy, and not exactly typical of high school anime drama. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas tells a story of volatility, and connects with its audience by working within, and sometimes capriciously transcending, familiar and relatable genres.
My wanting to post this now is a little influenced by news of my high school Spanish teacher’s passing. He was the kind of guy who really lived life with zeal and made sure everybody could see that.
Essay-writing Moya might be a first on this highly inconsistent blog? I hope you enjoyed it, because apparently I do enjoy writing more organized posts sometimes. I’m curious about what everyone else thought of this movie, so comment away if you have anything to say!