Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 07

While attempting to follow Ishii’s route to the ration production facility, Chito and Yuuri find themselves utterly lost in a labyrinth of pipes. Chito’s intense fear of heights rears its head, and naturally Yuuri has a little fun with that, as she doesn’t fear heights in the least.

Still, Yuu takes pity on Chito, lets her tie them together with rope (so either one of them will keep the other from falling, or they’ll both go down), and stays close during the scary bits. Even so, they have to find flat ground at some point; they’re getting tired and it’s getting dark.

While Yuuri is the one obsessed with foot, it’s Chito whose slighter weight breaks through a weak spot of the pipe, revealing a bright light that makes Chito look like she’s glowing (in a way, a callback to Yuu’s belief Chito resembled the gods whose idols populated the temple).

They enter the pipe and are treated to a well-lit route with arrow signs pointing in the right direction. Yuu whimsically suggests they “explore” by ignoring said signs, but Chito isn’t having it; wandering aimlessly will only make them hungrier and more tired, and they only come upon one last measly potato in what looks like a vast airpoinics bay.

The arrows lead deeper into the production facility where Chi and Yuu encounter heavy-duty industrial food production machinery that’s still operational, a testament to the now-long-gone people who designed and built the stuff.

It’s been a long time since Yuu not-so-playfully pulled a gun on Chi, leading me to wonder the next time she’d play with her only companion’s life. That comes when Yuu switches on the gigantic potato masher…when poor Chi is on the conveyor. She switches it off…then on again…then off again, and Chi makes her pay by roughly handling her cheeks.

Still, Yuu proves particularly useful this week, both with her courage in the pipe labyrinth and the highly detailed memories of baking with Gramps. That knowledge is put to use as she and Chi gather powdered potatoes, sugar, salt, and water, and start mixing and kneading ration dough.

The dough is cut into bricks and popped in the giant oven, and a bit later they’ve got a decent supply fresh rations, which pass the taste test with flying colors, even calling forth the girls’ patented “headmelt of satisfaction.”

With the Kettenkrad and nearly all sight of the outside world sidelined, this was all about Yuu and Chi on their own, giving each other a hard time but also having each other’s backs. While the rations won’t last forever, they’ll last a while (unless Yuu goes to town while Chi sleeps).

adding a welcome measure of optimism to the conclusion of an episode on the heels of last week’s failed flight. Better still, it was packed to bursting with wonderful Chi-Yuu banter and interactions. Honestly, I could listen to Minase Inori and Kubo Yurika read the phone book together.

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Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 06

The girls are in a spot: a gear has snapped clean in two, stopping the Kettenkrad, and their “last tour” in its tracks. If they can’t get it going, their chances of survival plummet. Chito can’t get it going, and Yuuri won’t help (probably aware there’s little she can do). She just cheerfully sings a little song with one lyric: “hopeless, hopeless.”

Then Yuuri spots an airplane flying in the sky, and Chito spots a woman in a white coat running after it. Hope has arrived, in the person of Ishii, who has taken up residence in an old underground aircraft hangar.

Ishii is a quietly kind yet no-nonsense person. She knows she can’t live in the base forever, so she’s using the plans she’s found to design and build an airplane to fly to the next city (the plane seen in they sky was a prototype).

More than a base, the hangar appears to be some kind of repository of aeronautical history, and just as Chito and Yuuri may be the last two people operating a Kettenkrad, Ishii is possibly the last aeronautical engineer and aviator left.

The girls help Ishii compete construction of her plane, and in exchange, she provides them with food, shelter, a bath (aaaaahhhh) and the part and repairs needed to get their ‘Krad going again, thus probably saving both their lives.

The day of the flight comes, and there’s a sense of finality and longing for the status quo that’s about to be blown to bits by the winds of progress. It won’t stay warm and calm for long; Ishii has to launch now. And she’s glad she has human witnesses for what could be the last manned flight.

After all, it’s only history if someone besides the one making it saw and documented the event. The takeoff sequence is appropriately epic in its portrayal, as is the awe in the girls’ eyes as they watch Ishii achieve flight.

For a few magnificent moments, the plane soars majestically over one of the widest and clearest views of the city we’ve yet seen; loaded with enough fuel to fly 2,000km, more than enough to reach the nearest city, just visible from Ishii’s giant telescope.

But a few moments is all the plane gets; it breaks up in midair, the pieces pathetically plummeting to the ground far, far below. Chito collapses in reaction, but Yuuri spots Ishii in a parachute, slowly descending. She’s okay, but she failed.

Still, Ishii feels a great sense of relief, to the fact she even smiles, which Yuuri interprets as her finally “embracing the hopelessness” all humans in this wrecked world must embrace in order to keep going. She falls and falls and falls, perhaps to the lowest level, but there’s every reason to believe she’ll survive.

As for Chito and Yuuri, they load up on as many ration potatoes they can find and set off in their repaired Kettenkrad, bound for still higher levels of the city. They, like Ishii and Kanazawa, are also a part of history…likely the tail end of it. When they, and whatever other scattering of remaining humans, have passed on, there will be nobody and nothing left but the ruins.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s hope somewhere out there, waiting to be found. And maybe Yuuri wants to be proved wrong.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 05

(Click here for an ambient accompaniment to this review)

Dwarfed as they always are by their vast, abandoned urban labyrinth, the girls come upon habitations. They grossly underestimate the number of people who could live there—millions, not a mere thousand, but it that speaks to their extended isolation in general.

They explore inside one and find a place that, in another time, and if the city around them wasn’t totally dead, they might’ve lived. At least for one night, they stay in the room, and as they each imagine how they’d furnish it, those items magically appear, as if the girls were sharing the contents of their minds’ eyes.

Still, they decide they can’t stay any longer; they’d run out of food for one; the automatic lights would keep them up for another (unless they find a switch). Their “house” is now the Kettenkrad; they feel most comfortable aboard it, always on the move.

But due to the little amount of sleep they got under the lights, Chito falls asleep at the handlebars, and only Yuuri waking up and rousing Chito stops them from crashing. Still, they need to stop and rest, which they do in an eerily gorgeous geometric landscape, surrounded by clusters of buildings suspended on tall poles.

While their brainstorming in the house was more magical realism, Chi’s bizarre dreams enter the world of the surreal, and also highlight what could be some deeply-ingrained anxiety over Yuuri. Her more aggressive personality and “bigger” presence give her monumental scale, suddenly of a piece with the colossal surroundings, and only Chi alone, small and vulnerable.

First MegaYuuri blows Chito off a carefully balanced pile of rocks (like the one they built before going to sleep), then Chito finds herself in a vast ocean, riding the same kind of fish they ate a couple episodes back, only for Yuuri to appear in monstrous fish form to try to eat Chi, who wakes up with a start. To her irritation, Yuuri, still asleep, seems to be dreaming about eating something…or someone.

(Now let’s switch it up to some rain.)

Girls’ Last Tour has always been a very immersive, atmospheric, and for all its fantastical ruined landscapes, naturalistic show, but the last segment, “Sound of Rain”, really kicked those qualities up to eleven. When it starts to rain, the girls find shelter under a partially-collapsed structure of unknown purpose. There, they dry their jackets, Chito reads, and Yuuri gets bored.

But when she focuses in on one raindrop hitting a surface, then another, she decides to place objects under those drops, eventually creating a relaxing orchestra of sound that is random-sounding at first but suddenly snaps into a musical rhythm—which turns into a new song that plays as the credits roll.

The sounds took me right back to the last time I sat on the porch and simply listened to the gently falling rain. Kino doesn’t have the monopoly on the “Beautiful World”; it’s here too, in all its glory.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 04

On this installment of Girls’ Last Tour, a foreboding title if ever there was one, Chito and Yuuri mess around with the digital camera Hanazawa gave them as thanks for sharing their food. Now on a much higher level, the scenery is all new, and we’re treated to vastly wide shots of the dwarfed Kettenkrad trundling along, Chi driving as Yuu tries to capture it.

Throughout this new abandoned cityscape are numerous curious stone columns with faces, kind of like idols. As Yuu is trying to take a picture of Chi, they crash into one and knock it over, but there’s no harm done to their ride save a small dent in the fender – and Chi’s pride as a driver.

That night Chi corrects Yuu that the camera’s capacity can be filled up, albeit after 50,000 photos have been taken. Yuu marvels at such a number, and how even if all of the things they take pictures of crumble and fall, the pictures will still be there as a record they existed.

With that sentiment in mind, Chi fires up the camera’s timer walks over to Yuu’s side, gets just a little bit closer, and says “Hi Chizu,” as is the tradition; a cute little moment of friendship, and a desire to capture it for posterity.

In the second half, the girls arrive at the central building that seemed to glow at night. Upon entering they find it very dark and full of the tall stone idols; Chi deduces it must be some kind of temple; a house for a god. When Yuu asks what a “god” is, we get this priceless, perfectly delivered exchange:

“A god is like…I dunno.”
“Can you eat it?”
“You can’t.”

When Chi’s lantern goes out, Yuu suddenly feels very alone. She calls out to Chi, but there’s no answer. I shared her tension as she stood there, in the impenetrable pitch black darkness, musing at what she’d do if she lost Chi. Then she bumps into Chi, who was beside her all along, and admits she didn’t answer Yuu because her reaction was hilarious.

You could also call it a bit of revenge for making her crash the bike. Chi may be serious and strict most of the time, but she has both a mischievous and a sentimental side.

Suddenly, the blinding light they witnessed outside suddenly switches on, and they finally see where they are: the central nave of the temple, where a giant idol stands tall among giant chimes, below which glass pools of fake water, lilies, and fish.

Chi seems impressed, but Yuu is disappointed…mostly because the fish are fake, but also because she wonders why they’d try to make “paradise on earth” (as the wall carvings described) with a bunch of fake stuff. Chi explains that even a fake paradise must give people comfort, solace, and hope in a world that’s sometimes dark and lonely.

For Yuuri, the thing that gives her comfort, solace, and hope in the dark isn’t a thing, it’s Chito. She wonders if Chi is a god…until Chi demands an offering of food; then Yuu names herself a god.

It’s always been clear that between Chi’s smarts and Yuu’s shooting skills, it’s always been best for the two to stick together to survive. They left their home together, and haven’t split up since.

These two stories continue building their relationship as not simply two people putting up with each other for the sake of the greater good, but because they’re friends, and want to explore, eat, sleep, and laugh together. It scarcely matters that there’s virtually no one and nothing else around; they have each other.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 01 (First Impressions)

The premise couldn’t be simpler: two girls on a bike in a world of nothing. They are, as far as they know, the only living souls left in that world; the rest is in darkness and ruins. Yuuri and Chito are their names. The more serious, reserved Chito drives the Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle; the more Yuuri rides along and carries a rifle.

Ever since they were thrust out of their home (which looked on the verge of falling to an unknown enemy force), they’ve had no direction except towards fuel and food; no directive except survival. And somehow, for an unknown period of time, they have managed to survive.

Their stomachs are always growling. They’re often cold, though warmer when huddled together. Food is never plentiful. They’ve been meandering through the darkness of a vast system of underground spaces for so long, that when they finally find themselves back outside, they’re blinded…by the starry sky, full of shooting stars.

They also behold a sprawling landscape of ruined, snow-covered civilization. These are kids, and they mess around and get on each others’ nerves, even as they work together to survive. They seem almost blind to the destruction and have perhaps compartmentalized the fact the two of them are all they have and possibly all they’ll ever have.

Things get a bit testy when they find a chest full of chocolate-covered ration biscuits that come five to a pack. Yuuri, the one with the rifle, unexpectedly turns that rifle on the unarmed-by-choice Chito, taking the fifth biscuit for herself. Even though they escaped and survived a larger war, the war to stay alive wages between the two of them, and one day one biscuit may make all the difference.

Chito is pissed, beating Yuuri up as punishment, and Yuuri seems to laugh off the incident, but it sure didn’t seem like a silly joke at the time. It seemed like a petty thing to do when they had a whole box of biscuits, especially considering a warm Chito to drive the bike and sleep beside (rather than a cold corpse) is surely more important to survival as the difference between three biscuits and two and a half.