Yuru Camp△ 2 – 13 (Fin) – It Goes Both Ways

From the first shot of the episode, we know something has ended, because the girls are walking down the mountain after watching the sun come up. It’s the last sunrise on their Izu trip, and indeed of Yuru Camp’s gloriously healing second season. Rin, seemingly sensing this end, makes sure to thank the others for inviting her.

Rin also leaves her moped at the campground and piles into Toba-sensei’s sister’s Lafesta with the others for a visit to the Iidas, where Toba, Ena, Aki and Aoi bow their heads in apology and thanks. The Iidas, being nice people tell them to think nothing of it, as it was fun to have a big group that night.

As Toba stocks up on the good libations, Rin and Nadeshiko meet Choko, only to for him to speed right past them to the more familiar Aki, Aoi, and Ena. The Iida daughter decides to accompany the group to Mt. Omuro, a perfect place and the perfect time of year to walk her heat-averse Corgi.

Rin and Nadeshiko share a chair lift and are startled by the automatic souvenir camera, resulting in a deer-in-headlights shot for the ages. As the girls again race to the peak, Toba and Iida take it easy, and Toba admires Choko’s spectacularly cute butt (a Corgi trademark).

From there, the group heads to a zoo beside the mountain, where Akari finally gets to encounter the Capybara Hot Spring in person, which turns everyone watching into the naturally chill-looking capybaras themselves; Akari comes right out and remarks “This is so healing” while snapping a picture. And really, that’s been Yuru Camp in a nutshell: a capybara hot spring.

Which is why, after the zoo visit, when Iida parts ways with the group and Rin hops back on her moped for the long ride home, it really starts to feel like the end. Because what else could really come after a capybara hot spring but the ride home? Nadeshiko snaps a picture of Rin on her moped before they part, and after they do, Nadeshiko’s smile fades. I know why, too: with Rin headed home, the ending to their Izu trip is really starting to hit her.

It hit differently for me in particular, since I only just recently started Yuru Camp from the beginning, and only needed to hit “next episode” when the first season concluded (and you better believe that’s exactly what I did!) But this time, there is no next episode readily available. I’m reasonably sure we’ll get a third season, but who knows when.

This final episode perfectly captures that unique and powerful bittersweet feeling one gets of the end of a fun trip and the journey back home to the status quo. Nadeshiko is the only kid to stay up as Toba drives, knowing Toba would be lonely if she napped too. Even Rin feels a bit lonely in the saddle after experiencing so much liveliness with so many other girls in so short a time.

But as Aki said in her military general voice, the camping trip isn’t over until everyone is home safe and sound. There was even a foreboding quality to the photo Nadeshiko snapped of Rin, as if it would be the photo she’d chose to put on a milk carton should she turn up missing.

Of course, this isn’t that kind of show at all and would never take a turn like that, but it was still in my mind, just as Nadeshiko remains worried when Rin doesn’t answer her texts. So when her sister comes home, Nadeshiko asks her to drive her out to Minobu town border so she’s there to greet Rin the moment she finally does arrive.

It turns out Rin knew the way back and was focusing on driving, and so didn’t use her phone, which…good for her! When Rin is about to tell Nadeshiko she didn’t need to worry, she remembers when she was sitting in that massage chair and couldn’t help but worry about Nadeshiko on her first true solo trip. Realizing that concern goes both ways, she expresses her appreciation for Nadeshiko.

As they gaze on the now-familiar hometown view of Fuji-san, Nadeshiko remarks how it’s kind of sad the trip’s over. And it is! They’ll never have another trip quite like that one, with that collection of people going to those particular places and eating those particular things. Even if that was all arranged, it wouldn’t be the same, and it would be missing the point in the first place, which is to experience something new with each trip.

And that’s how Rin replies: it may be a little sad, and a little lonely but they can always go somewhere together again, and the options from there are almost limitless. If they were always on a trip, the trip wouldn’t be special, would it? We watch Aki, Aoi, Akari, Ena, and Toba all returning home to their families, then Rin returning to hers and eventually mailing her gramps a thank you letter and some Izu miso-pickled meat for camp cooking.

School starts back up, and Nadeshiko, Rin, Aki, Aoi and Ena all reunite at the ramp that leads to their school, no longer in their cozy puffy camping outfits but their school unis. Life may be back to normal, but they still carry in their hearts all the warmth, joy, and magic of the time they spent together in the great outdoors.

I’ll vicariously carry all of that in mine as I hope for third season of Laid-Back Camp. But even if we don’t get one, I’ll always treasure this show as a singularly cozy therapeutic experience. And you better believe I’m going camping as soon as I can!

Vlad Love – 12 (Fin) – Interview with Vampire Girl A

The Vlad Love finale begins with one of its typical pop culture tangents, this time with Maki talking about the 1994 film Interview With the Vampire, which not only affirmed her inherent fujoshi nature and that of countless other young women, but was about the sorrow and suffering of vampires, so often the baddies (Other contemporary works working with its themes include the anime Shiki and the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive.)

Maki wants to interview her own, real-life vampire, but when she goes to Mitsugu with the idea, even promising to protect Mai’s identity, Mitsugu demurs, not wanting Maki to make waves in her “happy little life” with Mai. Maki wonders out loud if Mitsugu’s true issue is she’s scared of what she might learn about Mai. Grudingly, Mitsugu agrees to let Maki ask Mai, and Mai is excited to be interviewed.

The problem is, Maki’s non-confrontational interviewing style means she doesn’t get much from Mai, other than her insistence that she was raised not to be picky about blood and would never insist on her preference (the blood of aggressive men)—at least not until they (meaning vampires) “win the war”. During a dinner break, Chihiro-sensei drugs Mai and intends to use hypnotherapy to bring her memories to the surface.

It’s a dastardly, profoundly unethical choice, but we’re talking about Chihiro, who’s had no qualms throughout this series about drugging (and slapping!) her students and stealing the blood of all her past lovers. The truth is, Mitsugu probably is scared of learning more about Mai’s past, but she allows Chihiro and Maki to press on.

Chihiro puts Mai into a semi-conscious trance and we learn how she, her father and birth mother were driven from their home when they were attacked by humans. Mai recalls an entire world consumed by flame. They eventually arrive in a fine house in a different part of Europe, but they’re tracked down once more, and this time her mother is murdered.

Mitsugu doesn’t want to continue, but again Chihiro hits her with the fear card, and the next session begins. Mai and her father arrive in America, and settle in a plantation in the south not unlike the one in Gone with the Wind —AKA “that long-ass movie”. Her father soon introduces her to her first friend: Caroline Irene, or Carreen, and the two soon become as close as sisters.

Then one day her father announces the true reason he brought Carreen into Mai’s life: not merely for companionship, but a live human on which to practice her vampirism. Up to that point, Mai had lived off of her father’s blood, but vampires, like raptors, must learn to hunt their own prey. Hidaka Rina pulls out all the stops with the entranced Mai’s narration throughout this episode—it’s truly some of her best work.

When Mai refused to use Carreen in this way, her father punished her with fasting. Mai suffered unspeakable suffering as a result, until her hunger led her to Carreen’s room, and she ended that hunger, killing her friend in the process. The pain and shock of these resurfaced memories cause Mai to scream out, startling Mitsugu, Chihiro, and Maki, and the “interview” ends there.

The images of Mai’s memories throughout the hypnotherapy sessions are some of the most gorgeous Vlad Love has yet presented, and are given that much more weight by the fact there’s a distinct reason for showing them other than they look cool. The images, in turn, are enhanced by Kawai Kenji’s haunting score. One cannot dismiss the fact that Chihiro extracted Mai’s memories without her consent, but because she did what Mitsugu could not, Mitsugu has gained a deeper understanding of her dear friend.

Now that she has, does Mitsugu run from that knowledge? Of course not. Later that night, as Mai cheerfully leads the others in calisthenics, Maki says she won’t be using the footage she shot after all, while Mitsugu assures Chihiro that she doesn’t have to worry about Mai, because she’s not alone anymore. She has her, and her blood brothers and sisters.

Chihiro sternly tells Mitsugu that one day Mai may drink her blood, and she’d better be prepared. Mitsugu, no stranger to blood, promises she will be. The beaming smile Mai wears at the end while clutching Mitsugu’s arm is something Mitsugu will do anything and everything to protect, and she’s not alone in that commitment either.

I must say, I didn’t expect Vlad Love to get so serious and dramatic on us, but as with typically comedic show like SKET Dance, by doing so it churned out its best outing. Some of the early eps were a bit too heavy on indulgence and audience-winking and too light on substance, but that wasn’t an issue here, with gags taking a backseat to Mitsugu and Mai’s happy little life together, complementing the drama rather than drowning it out.

May their happy little life continue as long as Mitsugu lives, and then, someday before Mitsugu gets too old, perhaps Mai will turn her into a vampire so it can continue beyond that!

Vlad Love – 11 – Undead Bait

Here it is: the Vlad Love Beach episode. When the Blood Donation Club requests a “training camp” trip to cut loose, Chihiro brings up the club’s utter lack of a budget. No problemo; Kaoru finds a steal of a deserted tropical island vacation: just ¥10,000 (bout $90) per person.

Unfortunately, the low cost means they travel by boat, and end up in a homage to The Great Wave off Kanagawa with crippling seasickness; only Mai seems to be having fun. However, they do eventually make it, and the summer sun, white sands and blue sea deliver as advertised.

As the sun sets, everyone save Nami (who goes for a solo swim in the ocean) check out their dilapidated accommodations, which are in such a state due to the immense age of the innkeeper and sole employee, the tiniest of obaasans. When Jinko searches the beach after sundown, Nami is nowhere to be found, save her swimsuit, which means wherever she is, she’s nakked.

The obaasan innkeeper tells them the legend of a Fishman who for five hundred years has been visiting the beach on hot summer nights ever since he and his true love, a beautiful young human woman, were separated. Maki goes on a Creature of the Black Lagoon tangent, but the group decides to head out to the beach and lure the Fishman out, and rescue Nami from his clutches.

After Kaoru dancing erratically in fishgirl cosplay yields no results, everyone agrees, and Mai volunteers, to be the blonde bait sea creatures seemed to love so much in the movies. Tied up like Andromeda as an offering to Cetus, the Fishman emerges from the waves: a hilariously awkward giant beast with the head and body of an eel and muscular human legs—more Trogdor than Gill-Man.

When Katsuno cosplaying as Perseus is smashed under the Fishman’s foot, an 80% charged Franken is activated and transforms into Hulk Mode. In his somewhat lest than three minutes of operating time, he’s able to give the larger Fishman a German suplex, knocking him out cold. The battle is too brief and uneventful to be deserving of the cool poster that flashes on the screen.

Back at the inn there was a running gag of the tiny old innkeeper’s yelling literally bringing down pieces of the inn. It’s revealed she was the woman who fell for the Fishman 500 years ago, and the sight of him unconscious leads her to let out a scream that causes the entire island to explode, ripping everyone’s clothes and giving everyone fluffy perms.

The final loose end is Nami, whom Mitsugu had completely forgotten about as she’d been too busy worrying about Mai. Turns out she’s fine too, as the fisherman’s daughter emerges from the Fishman’s mouth naked but otherwise unharmed and unfazed. The group lines up on the beach to watch the Fishman swim out into the sunrise.