The aloof protagonist: a bookworm who is deeply detached from the world he resides in. He has no interest in others and is firmly convinced that nobody has any interest in him either. His story begins when he stumbles across a handwritten book, titled "Living with Dying." He soon identifies it as a secret diary belonging to his popular, bubbly classmate Sakura Yamauchi. She then confides in him about the pancreatic disease she is suffering from and that her time left is finite. Only her family knows about her terminal illness; not even her best friends are aware. Despite this revelation, he shows zero sympathy for her plight, but caught in the waves of Sakura's persistent buoyancy, he eventually concedes to accompanying her for her remaining days. As the pair of polar opposites interact, their connection strengthens, interweaving through their choices made with each passing day. Her apparent nonchalance and unpredictability disrupts the protagonist's impassive flow of life, gradually opening his heart as he discovers and embraces the true meaning of living. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
A lot of anime fans seem to be under the impression that as long as some sort of tragedy is featured and said tragedy happens to a cute girl, an anime automatically qualifies as “good” with its flaws being dismissed due to its label as a ‘tearjerker’ or ‘feels’ anime. Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai, or ‘I Want to Eat Your Pancreas’, is a recent addition to this label and, while falling into the same traps as many of its predecessors, the movie manages to accumulate even more flaws on its own, resulting in something that is ultimately underwhelming.
[Note: This review was written following the movie’s premiere in Australian cinemas. I have not read the source material. Once again, the review is NOT spoiler-free]
Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai’s story, having been done dozens of times before, is very basic: it revolves around an unnamed protagonist (let’s call him Character A) as he spends time with Yamauchi Sakura, a popular classmate whose days are numbered due her terminal pancreatic disease. As Character A helps Sakura ticks off her bucket list, he develops a close relationship and eventually falls for her. Following her death, Character A breaks free of his shell and learns to befriend those around him. On the surface, the plot structure is sound and has the potential to pull the audience’s heartstrings, if done right.
Except it wasn’t.
By treading ground on what has been done to death before in the plot department, Pancreas exposes itself to the risk of being extremely predictable. While this is not inherently a flaw, the movie’s presentation seems to be fully set on sapping the enjoyment of the audience, being narrated in the most uninteresting way possible by Character A. While one could argue for his lack of energy in the delivery of lines to be tied to his characterisation, it doesn’t change that Character A’s monotony worked against the intended emotional impact of many scenes.
And yet, this wasn’t the biggest issue with the plot. In fact, for something so cliché, Pancreas’s greatest vice, ironically, is its attempt to subvert audience’s expectations.
Given the synopsis, most people in the audience would expect the movie to eventually lead to Sakura and Character A’s tearful farewells as she lets go of her last breath on a hospital bed, succumbing to her illness with a satisfied smile on her face. Although this is very conventional, it would have worked. However, in the actual movie, Sakura died from being stabbed off-screen. Yes, stabbed. By a serial killer on the loose.
There is no excuse for this “twist”. Even if the killer did not appear out of nowhere (thanks to an extremely poor attempt at “foreshadowing” or Chekhov’s gun or whatever earlier in the movie), to remove Sakura from the story in this way is, at best, questionable, and, at worst, utterly nonsensical. One could greatly reach in linking this stupid development to the philosophical message that “death may come from every corner” but the sheer silliness of the situation completely nullifies the intended emotional effect. When you look past the shock value, all that remains is, quite frankly, comical.
After this shocking twist, the plot quickly resumes its original course until the conclusion, leaving much to be desired due to the lack of originality and monotonous presentation.
Pancreas’s art is conventional but pleasing to look at. Except for Character A (who looks completely unremarkable), the character design is serviceable. Background art for the movie is quite good and up to the expected standard of a theatrical anime production. Animation is nothing exceptional for the most part aside from a couple sequences that are animated in much more detail. A minor complaint is the movie’s use of still-shots montages, which cheapens the audience’s impression of the movie’s production.
The best part of the movie. sumika did a great job with the opening and ending songs, and the OST, while nothing exceptional, did its job when required.
Character A is a blatant self-insert for the audience. From the generic ‘anime male high school student’ design to demeanour, he is utterly unremarkable as a character for most of the movie’s running time. He has little personality on the outside, exuding no energy in his narration and interaction with other characters. While the behaviour is not completely unrealistic considering that he is a loner, it makes for a jarring watching experience as the audience is forced to follow the perspective of someone who almost never expresses his opinion. The lack of more extensive inner monologue makes the unnamed protagonist hard to relate to or like. On the rare occasions that Character A vocalises something other than some form of “Yes”, a large amount of his dialogue revolves around the gag that he has no friends. While it was somewhat funny (in a sad way) at first, the excessive repetition of this character trait got old very quickly and only highlights how little Character A has going for him outside of his status as the outsider in the class. As a result, the development that Character A later received after Sakura’s death felt unnatural and forced due to plot reasons.
As for Sakura, the movie desperately tries to sell her as an emotionally fragile girl hiding behind a carefree mask. In reality, her character is never effectively explored past the ‘cutesy anime girl’ act. How the movie examines the more sensitive side of Sakura’s psyche is anything but subtle, with her telling Character A (and the audience by extension) outright that she was fragile underneath her cheerful demeanour. With that being the case, Sakura is more like a caricature of a person close to death rather than a relatable character to be invested in. Pancreas’s failure to bring out and develop Sakura’s character in a poignant way is a major reason why the movie lacks any meaningful emotional impact and fails as a ‘tearjerker’.
The relationship between the two characters is questionable, to say the least. By conventional (anime) logic, the combination of a quiet character (Character A) and a lively character (Sakura) provides an ideal environment for them to play off each other’s personality traits. Yet, there is little dynamic between the them, to the point that one must wonder how the relationship is able to sustain itself without the plot requiring it to. Character A appears perpetually uninterested in pretty much everything he does, as if he was sick of her shenanigans. Interestingly, this is probably the most realistic and interesting part of his character considering Sakura’s characterisation. She acts selfishly and becomes increasingly more obnoxious as the movie goes on, forcing Character A to tag along with her to anything she feels like. Despite his reluctance, Character A always plays along with Sakura’s whims anyway, the cause of which can be traced to Sakura’s regular mentions of her dying soon in a cheerful demeanour. All this shows is that Sakura is manipulative and is constantly guilting Character A into feeling bad for her. The impact of Sakura’s unnecessarily cruel antics comes to a boiling point during the bedroom scene. While the protagonist’s behaviour is undoubtedly wrong, Sakura is not at all faultless in bringing about the situation. What is more disappointing is that this MAJOR conflict, despite its serious implications on the nature of the relationship, is not explored in a meaningful way at all. Instead, it is trivialised and resolved lazily with the intervention of a third party: Sakura’s ex who serves no other purpose other than uniting the main couple through his douchebaggery (and waltzing out of existence as soon as he accomplishes his mission). Sakura’s selfish behaviour is, once again, played off lightly as part of her being a cute anime girl and Character A never stops to think for himself or reconsiders participating in the toxic relationship.
The side characters of Pancreas are unnecessary and insignificant in the grand scheme of the plot. Kyoko, Sakura’s best friend, incessantly harasses the unnamed protagonist for hanging out with Sakura. Worse yet, she never attempts to sort out their differences, perceiving the protagonist in an overly negative light that is never justified due to her lack of characterisation. Takahiro, Sakura’s ex, serves no purpose but to resolve the climactic conflict between the two main characters, appearing in a total of two scenes in the movie. Without exaggeration, he disappears and is never heard from again after he fulfils his role. The most mindboggling side character is, without a doubt, Miyata, not for any of his personal intrigue but for the sheer pointlessness of his inclusion in the movie. For anime with a school setting, the dumb sidekick character has traditionally been a staple. With that said, Miyata does not even satisfactorily fulfil that role. He has nothing resembling a relationship with Character A, only occasionally offering him gum and getting refused. While his character’s action can be interpreted to mirror Character A’s growth as a character, what is presented to the audience falls short, resulting in a pointless, random and unnecessary husk of a character. None of the side characters has any business being included in the movie considering their (lack of) characterisation and nothing would have changed in the grand scheme of things if Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai only revolved around the unnamed protagonist and Sakura.
Despite my low initial expectations, I left the cinema feeling wholly disappointed. From feeling bored at how cliché everything was since minute one, I was aggravated by how in-your-face the movie got as it went on, treating the audience like complete idiots who could not think for themselves. The philosophical statements on life and death from the main characters are shallow, bringing nothing new to a topic that has been done to death already. From an emotional perspective, Pancreas falls flat, its supposedly climatic or shocking moments eliciting little due to how unrelatable the main characters are. Overall, Pancreas was unenjoyable and had me wondering when the movie was going to finish as it trudges through a tired, uninspired narrative.