I Want to Eat Your Pancreas follows a recent trend of YA fiction depicting teenagers grappling with mortality and finding meaning in their lives despite facing uncertain futures. Studio VOLN’s theatrical anime adaptation of Yoru Sumino’s novel also joins the pantheon of high-profile anime films grappling with these themes, joining the company of trailblazing trendsetters like Your Name and A Silent Voice. While not as lavish a production as those films, it’s nonetheless a compelling and emotionally charged narrative that is plenty deserving of praise and comparison. Much like its heroine, the film’s obtuse title masks its melancholy in morbid humor, betraying the fraught emotions at its heart. The significance of the title is only truly apparent towards the film’s conclusion, but it captures its thesis better than anything else; a declaration of wanting to live your best life and being your best self.
While the film’s heroine, Sakura, is afflicted with terminal pancreatic cancer and destined to die young, this premise is almost secondary to the film’s core. Though Sakura is motivated to live fearlessly because of her impending death, she questions why anyone else would live otherwise. After all, while Sakura has a shorter lifespan than most, her perspective is that everyone eventually dies and every day could be someone’s last. Hence the tragedy of the film isn’t that Sakura is going to die, but that she will not live to experience everything she wants to in the time she has left. The film asserts the importance of enjoying one’s life to the fullest; taking risks, being adventurous, and indulging in what makes you happy.
Moreover, the film emphasizes why it’s important to have people in your life to share your experiences with. Sakura could go on her adventures alone but finds the experiences meaningless if she doesn’t have someone to share them with. Yet she’s unable to let her friends know about her ailment because she fears they’d treat her differently and distantly. Her friendship with Haruki becomes important because he allows her to be herself without being alone. Their relationship is the emotional core of the film because just as he helps her live life without fear, she encourages him to start living in the moment and be a part of the world around him. In spite of their polar opposite personalities, they bring out the best of each other, and neither could mature emotionally without the other’s support.
The film’s worldview is humanistic, believing that one’s self-perception is informed by the people they surround themselves with. Both Sakura and Haruki aspire to be like each other, seeing what they lack in the way the other person approaches life, culminating in the declaration of “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas,” or rephrased, a sentiment along the lines of “I want you to be a part of me.” The film expresses that people find their greatest happiness in the company of others and that it’s important to value the people in your life and continue to bring more people into your life in order to grow emotionally and become a more well-rounded person. By extending a friendly hand to Haruki, Sakura found someone who she could express herself more intimately than she could anyone else. Similarly, thanks to her influence, Haruki is able to make new friendships even past her death and live a happier and more fulfilling life as a result.
While Pancreas’ themes are emotionally poignant, its greatest strength truly is the central relationship between Sakura and Haruki. Their dynamic draws upon the familiar light novel staple of the genki manic pixie dream girl and the stoic, cynical and nihilistic male narrator, most popularly encapsulated in the iconic duo of Haruhi and Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Pancreas subverts these archetypes by gradually peeling back the emotional walls between the characters as they become closer until their insecurities and truest selves are exposed, revealing the vulnerability beneath their facades. On a comedic level, the back-and-forths between the hyper-optimistic Sakura and snarkily blunt Haruki make for plenty of laughs. This dynamic changes as the film progresses and the sadness behind Sakura’s self-deprecating humor becomes more apparent, while Haruki grapples with the responsibilities he has as her friend. This culminates in an emotionally raw scene when they’re alone at Sakura’s house and tensions escalate to a point where they both hurt each other, forcing them to realize not only how much they care about the other, but also how scarily dependent they’ve become and realizing what walls have been broken between them and navigating what boundaries need to be drawn. This sequence is the moment where these characters truly feel human, and where the themes of the story really begin to resonate. What happens between them is uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but how they pick up the pieces and the relationship the forge afterward is inspiring and heartwarming. Pancreas is emotionally provocative thanks to the compelling relationship between Sakura and Haruki and the ways in which they complement and complete each other’s emotional needs.
While the film excels narratively, it flounders slightly in its aesthetics. Yuichi Oka’s character designs aren’t particularly unique, and it’s unlikely a layperson would be able to distinguish between these designs and similar ones from any number of series. While a few design choices are inspired, namely Haruki’s unassuming normalness, they mostly fall towards the forgettable side and don’t really embody the interiority of characters at first glance. Thankfully, the designs are imbued with personality thanks to excellent character acting that breathes life into them. Unfortunately, characters often look flat against the backgrounds, which are beautifully drawn but lack a sense of depth. There are also seem to be a few rendering issues, like lines glitching in the background when they should be stable. While the film’s character animation is generally strong, the lack of depth and polish in its compositing really mar the emotional potency of its imagery, and this is one area where it definitely falls short of similar films like Your Name and A Silent Voice. However, there are still many memorable visual moments that will tug at the heart and stick in the mind, and its overall a strong first-time theatrical effort from the young and promising Studio VOLN.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas wears its heart on its sleeve and confidently explores its themes of love and life with laughs and tears aplenty. Having seen both the live-action and anime film adaptations of this story, I’ll admit a slight preference for the live-action take, which provides more development for the supporting cast and a really effective framing device that was sadly missing from this animated interpretation. Regardless, this is a story well worth experiencing for anyone interested in stories about young people navigating their lives while making peace with adversities beyond their control; or, as Sakura aptly names her diary, “living with dying.” The film can get a bit over-excited, and self-indulgent in its monologues and musings about the meaning of life in a characteristically light-novelly way, but its spirited optimism is endearing, and its heroine’s passion for life is inspiring. Moreover, it’s a film that will make you cry hearing the line “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas.” If that’s not the best endorsement I can give it, I don’t know what is.