May 25, 2018 by bck1402
(Sora Yorimo Tōi Basho) – A Story that leads to the Antarctica
Taking a stab at reviewing an anime series here…
In typical anime fashion, we have a bunch of schoolgirls coming together to participate in a particular course of action across the season of episodes, or as it has come to be known within the slice-of-life genre – CGDCT: cute girls doing cute things.
As in a majority of anime within this particular genre, the girls are approximately around the ages 14 or 15, and they are stepping out into the great big world. In this case, they are working together and heading off to Antarctica. Yep, we have four girls in Japan brought together by unusual circumstances and ending up with one goal in mind: Antarctica. If you’ve watched enough anime tho, it’s probably not that unusual because we’ve had cute high school girls get together to form bands (K-On), create manga (Comic Girls), go biking (Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club), climb mountains (Yama no Susume), go camping (Yuru Camp), form idol groups (Love Live), fight demons (Beyond the Boundary), go gun crazy (Sabagebu!: Survival Game Club), fight zombies (High School of the Dead), or generally just hang together (GJ Club, A-Channel, Yuru Yuri, etc), and so much more beyond these few I’ve seen.
In A Place Further than The Universe, it starts with Mari wanting to make sure her youth isn’t wasted, although her personality doesn’t entirely lend itself to taking massive risks. An attempt to cut school for a day gets aborted with the excuse that it was raining. When she chances upon meeting Shirase, whom other girls in school have mockingly nicknamed Antarctica, because of her constant declaration of her intentions to go there, both girls team up to make the journey come true. By episode 3, Hinata, a store clerk who overhears their intentions interjects herself into their group and now there are three. Their discussion on a train one evening brings around a fourth girl, Yuzuki, who is a celebrity of sorts and is supposed to go on a trip to Antarctica as part of her celebrity activities. She offers to let the others go in her place so long as they can do the job of reporting on the trip for her online channel. By episode 5, all four girls are set to go on the trip.
All that is obviously a simplification as we get to learn quite bit about each of the girls and the reasons for going (or not in Yuzuki’s case), and how they come together. The dramatic moments juxtapose very nicely with the comedic moments, such as when Mari’s mother finds out about the trip before Mari has a chance to inform her parents. Mari’s father arrives home at that exact moment, evaluates the situation between mother and daughter, and quietly closes the front door and remaining outside the house instead of interfering. What’s unique here is that very often with shows dealing with these CGDCT is that we really never see the parents. Here, it’s part of the drama and family dynamics, and that includes Shirase and Yuzuki, particularly their relationships with their mothers.
The trip to Antarctica (if you have any doubts the girls would make the trip, we know for sure they do because the opening credits on every episodes say they do) takes the middle four episodes. Episode 6 marks their first stop over in Singapore, complete with some personal drama over a lost passport that threatens their journey as a group. Episode 7 has them loading up in Fremantle, Australia and getting used to the ice-breaker taking them the rest of the way. Crossing the seas and getting there make up episodes 7 and 8, including life on the boat and getting to know the members of the expedition team they’ve joined to make the trip. The rest of the episodes take place in Antarctica leading up to the resolutions of several dramatic plots.
Given the nature of the plot, it’s not hard to figure where the story would be going, so laying it out as I did in the paragraphs above isn’t really spoiling it. After all, this is a TV anime series and I haven’t given much in way of spoiling the fun of enjoying the journey with these girls, each with very distinct personalities that are a step above the usual tropes we get in these CGDCT shows. Even Hinata, who comes across as the very independent happy-go-lucky type who is fazed by almost nothing, has some hidden layers beneath that cheery demeanour. The character dynamics and nature of ‘friendship’ among these girls, who are essentially strangers to each other, is what drives much of the narrative.
The character designs are good, with an eye on simplistic features, each or the main four clearly colour-coded. The rest of the characters, and there are quite a few, are also well fleshed out as well. The key cast for the main four are excellent, giving each of the girls unique vocal cadences that evolve and mature as their journey goes on. Most evident is Shirase who can be confident in certain moments in pursuing her intentions, and embarrassingly shy in other moments of self presentation at the beginning of the series, and is clearly changed by her experiences by the end. Then again, how many people wouldn’t be changed by a journey more than halfway across the world?
The overall design and production by Madhouse is sublime in capturing the world and environments of the locations, particularly the ethereal beauty of Antarctica itself. The colours in particular are a standout, evoking the right balance of mood lighting and wonder. All put together, Madhouse delivers on all points giving the show a sense of timelessness. Yet, nothing surpass the beautiful balance of humour and drama, giving us a very satisfying journey to the edges of the world, a place further than the universe, and home again.
It’s worthwhile seeking this out and taking in the 13 episodes. While I could have done it all in one go (it’s that good), I split it over two days, with the first six on one day and the last seven on the next. Locally, the DVD set is available from select Popular Bookstores.
Rating: ****1/2 /5
Series Directed by Atsuko Ishizuka
Written by Jukki Hanada
Inori Minase as Mari Tamaki
Kana Hanazawa as Shirase Kobuchizawa
Saori Hayami as Yuzuki Shiraishi
Yuka Iguchi as Hinata Miyake