Anime Movie Review — I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (Studio VOLN)

It’d be funny if there was a subtitle that said “also, your tears are delicious”.

Recent years have been particularly kind to anime movies in terms of getting recognized by the mainstream and achieving memorable acclaim, and this year we seem to be continuing that trend not even two months in with Dragon Ball Super: Broly and I Want To Eat Your Pancreas. We’ve already talked about the former and the impact it’s had, so now it’s time to focus our eyes on the latter. I’ve had my eye on Pancreas for a while due to its absurdly high score on MAL combined with people saying it was an absolute tear-jerker on the level of Your Lie in April aka the reigning king of anime tear-jerkers these days. And while tear-jerking romances seem to be what all of the big anime movies are these days, they all differ from each other in important ways, and more importantly they’re all good, so I didn’t have have any reason to believe this wouldn’t be good as well.

And Studio VOLN isn’t exactly a slouch when it comes to anime production companies. If you haven’t heard of these guys before, that’s because they haven’t really produced much in the four or so years they’ve existed. They’re mainly known for collaborating with Masao Maruyama’s companies and playing second banana to them for projects like Ushio & Tora and the upcoming Garo: Crimson Moon movie, with Karakuri Circus (which isn’t popular in the least) being their only solo-produced series. My opinion of them from what I’ve seen is that their production values are rough and they have a lot of growing to do, but they have potential to be a major studio in the future. And with their first ever movie being as successful as it is, I’d say they’ve got a big head start when it comes to making a name for themselves.

Can’t say the same for the director himself though. I haven’t heard his name mentioned once whenever I read a review for Pancreas, and a quick look at his resume shows that he’s only ever worked on a few episodes of some really popular anime prior to this, so he’s yet to achieve significant clout. Sorry Mr. Ushijima. Maybe next time.

Now before I get to talking about the actual film, let’s go over a little history regarding the property. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas started off as a web novel by a Japanese writer named Yoru Sumino around 2014, and a year later, it was published into a full-on novel thanks to the help of publishing company Futabasha. I’m not sure how popular the book was in Japan, but it must have had at least some kind of moderate success, because before this anime was created, the novel spawned both a manga adaptation and a live-action adaptation, none of which I’ve had any personal interaction with.

I can’t find any information on how well the movie did in Japan, but it’s definitely acclaimed in the West. Enough so that people demanded it be in the 2018 Crunchyroll Anime Awards despite the fact that there was no way for most Western fans to see the film last year. I’ve heard from some people that the story was predictable, the characters were melodramatic stereotypes, and the author themself didn’t like the film. But seeing is believing, so one theatrical experience later and all I have to say is: it was alright. Probably need a rewatch to have a more firm opinion, but I thought the movie was good for what it was.

Pancreas is somewhat of an artificial film in abstract. For the majority of the movie, you don’t know what the lead character’s name is, and he acts like your typical anime protagonist loner who coincidentally gets himself involved with a pretty girl that’s dying from a serious illness. You know the girl is going to die too, because the film opens with her funeral and the lead crying like he’d gone through three breakups at once before flashing back to the day where they first met at a hospital. No explanation for what the guy was doing there. Maybe being surrounded by people less fortunate than him gives him inner peace.

After discovering the girl’s diary detailing how her days are numbered due to pancreatic cancer and learning that her name is Sakura, he ends up being forced to hang out with her because it turns out she found his loneliness attractive from the very start and him knowing her secret was all the excuse she needed to start a beautiful friendship. You know, at least Hachiman from Oregairu had to unwillingly save his love interest’s dog before she became interested in him. I was lonely all the time during college and the only girls I ever attracted were ones that had boyfriends I somehow never met. But because there’d be no movie otherwise, we just have to accept this setup in order to appreciate all of the fun activities that Protagonist-kun and Sakura go through, as well as the inevitable conflicts that arise when Sakura’s friends notice she’s hanging out with that lonely loser.

One big point in Pancreas’ favor compared to other boy meets girl stories is that despite a few moments, the relationship between the two leads is never explicitly romantic. Sakura teases Protag-kun a few times and he nearly submits as well, but the film makes sure to toe the line between friendship and romantic in the long run, as Sakura’s impending death would make any future with her an ultimately unhappy one. Which is kind of ironic, because I think these two hang out more in one movie than most romantic couples do in twelve episodes.

There are only five other important characters in this film. Two of them are the mothers of each protagonist, with Protag-kun’s mum supporting his dating life and Sakura’s mum only being plot-relevant in the last third. There’s Kyoko, Sakura’s best friend who doesn’t approve that some random loner is stealing Sakura away. There’s Sakura’s past boyfriend, who has very little screen time and isn’t interesting enough to dwell on. And finally, there’s Gum-boy. Who is Gum-boy? He’s basically everyone’s favorite character and always has a stick of gum ready for anyone who needs it. Don’t question the man, okay? He’s very complex.

I don’t have a lot to say about the plot as for the first two-thirds, it’s basically Protag-kun and Sakura getting to know each other whilst contemplating death and how we’re all living on borrowed time and said time can be taken away unexpectedly, but Sakura is guaranteed much less time than other people. It’s not the most in-depth way for a story to handle memento mori, but it works well for what the movie is trying to say. And before you ask, no Sakura doesn’t show any of the more serious effects of pancreatic cancer that would damage her pristine anime female complexion, but part of the reason for that is due to the third act, which I’ll get into later because it’s a major spoiler.

Don’t misunderstand me though, as a lot of the first two-thirds is pretty fun, balancing out slice-of-life moments with Sakura’s impending fate and the consequences of not telling any of her friends whilst hanging out with a total stranger. One of the highlights for me was a scene where the two leads stay in a hotel together, where Sakura just resists doing naughty things to Protag-kun whilst Protag-kun playfully resists, only to be brought back to reality when he sees the amount of medicine Sakura carries around with her. After the discovery, he continues to treat her like normal as best as he can, but you can tell her fragile nature eats him inside, and I appreciate how a lot of this is shown visually rather than through monologues. Honestly can’t remember if there were any monologues in the movie, but I do recall “show don’t tell” being used for the majority of its runtime.

The animation itself isn’t the highest movie-quality production you’ll ever see, but it’s definitely film-worthy for the most part, particularly in said third act where the visual storytelling gets pretty creative. There are two unanimated montage moments that really stood out and made me go “well that’s disappointing”, but other than that, I think this movie solidifies VOLN as a production company with a promising future if they can produce TV series more consistently. And for the record, I know they had help from other production companies like J.C. Staff and such. Still, I doubt the majority of their work was put on those montages.

One thing I heard about this movie before going into it is that tries too hard to make you feel sad for the characters. But considering how they only cry when it’s appropriate and none of their problems come off as overblown aside from maybe Sakura’s past boyfriend being a waste of space, I’m going to chalk this up as people mishandling the criticism “forced drama”. All drama is forced at the end of the day, and how we recognize if it’s trying too hard depends on personal preference, but personally I say it’s when the story being told through the drama isn’t good or if a particular problem is being dragged out too long. Like I said, Pancreas’ story isn’t revolutionary, but I’d say it’s good enough to justify most of the dramatic moments, particularly given the “not really romantic” relationship between the leads.

I can understand why people don’t like Protag-kun because it’s pretty obvious he’s meant to be an audience avatar with how he has no friends “just because” and people don’t associate with him “just because”. He doesn’t really go through any growth that’s unusual for a person in his situation, and I don’t see anyone cosplaying him anytime soon. Personally, I don’t mind. He kind of reminds me of the lead character in My Sassy Girl, that really critically acclaimed Korean movie from almost two decades ago, in that he doesn’t quite enhance the film, but he does drive it forward in interesting ways and his blank slate nature doesn’t necessarily impede anything. Particularly Sakura since she’s ultimately the heart of the movie given how it’s her life that drives the plot.

And Sakura is very likable in an eccentric manic pixie girl sort of way. It’s hard to dislike a girl who deals with bullies by kicking them in the balls, plus she shifts between vulnerable and optimistic fairly well to the point that I really did not want her to die, even though I knew she was going to. At the same time, I was confused how exactly the death was going to happen because pancreatic cancer hospitalizes you for quite a well before you end up pushing daisies, the funeral seemed to indicate that the death was more sudden, and Sakura ends up doing so many activities throughout the film that I thought they were just going to kill her off in typical “die suddenly and beautiful” fashion. Then I realized that the TV was always on in Protag-kun’s hourse for a reason.

Time for that great big spoiler I mentioned earlier, so if you’re planning to see the movie for yourself, don’t read any further. Trust me, it’s a bit of a doozy. Or cheap if you’re pessimistic. Either way, skip the next three paragraphs if you haven’t gotten a chance to see Pancreas yet.

In the third act, shortly after recovering from one of her hospital episodes, Sakura gets killed off-screen by a serial killer, who is briefly mentioned throughout the movie at various points but never actually seen in person. Apparently, this is Pancreas’ way of conveying its message regarding how death can come from out of nowhere no matter how much time you actually have, as well as a convenient way to make sure we don’t see Sakura dying whilst looking like she just took a mug shot at the police station. A bunch of my friends saw it coming, but I personally got misled by how these diseases usually play out in anime. It’s a bit silly in execution either way, but I can look past it because the final arc that occurs as a result is pretty good.

It basically consists of Protag-kun attending Sakura’s funeral at the very last day, having some one-on-one time with her mother and Kyoko, and finally realizing how much Sakura meant to him in some beautifully animated moments of heartwarming. We even learn Protag-kun’s real name and how it relates to the story, although you have to understand Japanese to get the full impact of it. There’s even an epilogue that’s pretty cute and wraps up the story fully in a way that’s both satisfying and appropriate for all of the characters involved. Honestly, I preferred that Sakura got killed off the way she did, because at least it’s somewhat different, plus it’s less soap opera-ish even if you can argue that it’s more stupid.

Admittedly though, this act does go on for quite a long time. I’m not sure how long, but it felt like thirty minutes. I do admire the ambition to make a post-death act its own developed story as a lot of dramatic stories would usually just show us a quick timeskip to after the death and end it there, but your mileage will vary on how well the film creators succeeded in keeping your attention without the lead female. I’m honestly not sure myself. But hey, at least I’ll have something fresh to look forward to when I get to owning the blu-ray.

All in all, I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is good at what it tries to be, and what it tries to be is pretty touching. The reactionary protagonist and the fact that it’s not the most creative take on death (it’s probably the most creative in a high school drama setting, but I don’t believe we should restrict story potential to genres) does hold it back from me giving it more praise than that, but it’s definitely something I want to revisit when I can, and I think the accusations that it’s cheesy and emotionally manipulative are greatly exaggerated. The way it never crosses into true romance between the two leads and the last act in general do a great job in making the movie overcome its more cliched moments, and if nothing else, I think it deserves at least one watch for what it gets right.

Can definitely see why people wanted it to be nominated for “Best Film” in the Crunchyroll Awards. Too bad it ain’t going to win, because 12th highest grossing anime film of all-time, bitch!

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  • Also, whoever decided to put that interview that basically spoiled parts of the film before the movie started rather than after needs to be put on sabbatical.
  • So is the title of this movie the third biggest lie after Yuri on Ice and Bunny Girl Senpai?
  • For those who are curious, the opening and ending songs are sung by the guys who did the Wotakoi OP. Personally, I like both tracks.

3 responses to “Anime Movie Review — I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (Studio VOLN)

  1. Pingback: Anime Blog Posts That Caught My Eye This Week (March 8, 2019) | Lesley's Anime and Manga Corner

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