DanMachi IV – 02 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp

On the verdant final floor of the middle floors, Bell’s awesome mega-party makes camp. Haruhime was initially worried about whether Bell could still fight and kill monsters after his dealings with the Xenos, but Bell tells her he’s committed to being a “hypocrite hero”.

Bell’s performance against the monsters thus far earn him high praise from his comrades, though Lili worries he’s “drifting away”. Welf says it’s then the job of a supporter to keep chasing after him. Aisha also remarks that Bell is having a positive influence and looking like a true hero, not just dragging everyone along but making everyone around him grow stronger.

After a meal ’round the campfire, everyone retires to their tents, where we get some nice combinations of characters chatting. There’s Mikoto swearing to be Haruhime’s shield (any shippers?), Daphnie praising Lili for her Strategist performance thus far (Daphnie is so cool!), to an increasingly agitated Cassandra warning a drowsy Chigusa about her premonition about a creepy Green Moss that covers everything.

We also have nice moments between Bell and Welf as well as Bell and Aisha when he relieves her for the change of watch. It’s a welcome reminder that as affable as things have gone so far, they are still in dangerous territory. And Aisha warns that it’s going to get a lot more gnarly as they descend into the lower floors. If Bell gets himself killed, he’ll likely take the whole party with him. To Aisha’s delight, Bell doesn’t flinch at these words.

The landscape turns from green to a vivid blue as the party descends to the 25th Floor and the Great Falls of Water City. DanMachi puts out some serious Abyss vibes here, as our heroes are absolutely dwarfed by the massive waterfalls and rock formations.

Their first encounter with monsters (blue crabs) is relatively uneventful, but just walking a bit too close to the water’s edge nearly costs Haruhime her life. Thankfully, Mikoto isn’t just talk, and impresses all when she dispatches the giant piranha.

When Welf spots an extremely rare and valuable material, even the level-headed Lili decides it’s worth the risk (especially considering how expensive this expedition is costing the Familia). Part of a Strategist’s job is deciding when the risk is worth the reward, and even when another monster ambushes Mikoto in mid-air, she shows how much her training paid off by delivering a dazzling somersault kick.

The haul of expensive material and Mikoto’s heroics leave the party feeling confident about descending just a bit lower before heading back to their 24th Floor camp…and then Cassandra’s premonition begins to come true. They spot a wounded Luvis emerging from the darkness, and right behing him is the most formidable monster yet.

Bell rushes ahead to take it on, but it seemingly reads all his moves, and he identifies it as an “enhanced species”. When it unleashes a hellish fusillade of woody projectiles, everyone does their best to avoid them, but Chigusa gets caught by one—only one—and her resulting shoulder wound is infected by a rapidly growing plant that no doubt threatens her life.

Proof positive that adventuring in the Dungeon is all fun and games…until one of your party gets struck down. Now comes the true test of Bell’s leadership, Lili’s guidance, and the other party members’ physical mental fortitude. Can they overcome this setback, or is it only the first of the dominoes?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 10 – Reina’d-Back Camp

When Ishikawa and Satou suggests that their group of friends go on a camping trip, Reina is as excited-looking as Raidou can remember seeing her. Miyahara-sensei is happy to transport them to the campground and pick them up at the end of the trip, drifting her minivan along the way just for shits and giggles. Reina offered to bring all the ingredients for dinner and comes with an overstuffed backpack that turns out to contain no food.

No matter; the group fishes and forages for their supper, making sure to check with the campground manager that everything is safe to eat (nobody wants to go on a camping trip). Reina whips up a sumptuous feast that’s probably all the more satisfying because all of the ingredients were procured with their own hands. When Ooshiro turns in early, keeping to her sleep schedule, the others go on a bit of a test of courage.

Ishikawa and Satou, revealing that they are as invested in Aharen x Raidou as the audience, strategically withdraw to leave the lovebirds alone together. The two stargaze, and Reina is on the cusp of saying something important when a beast rushes them; it turns out to be Nui with the food she forgot.

Later that night Ooshiro wakes up to find Reina hasn’t slept a wink. Reina wants advice on how to tell Raidou how she feels without ruining what they have. Ooshiro has watched Reina and Raidou long enough to confidently assure her that everything will work out fine.

When Raidou emerges from his tent for some midnight ramen, Reina follows Ooshiro’s advice and joins him. After they split the cup ramen, Reina says…something that is obscured by a sudden breeze, which also keeps us from hearing Raidou’s response. All we see is Reina leaning in to kiss Raidou, her eyes filling with tears, and running back to her tent.

While we’re left to ponder what was said and the meaning of Reina’s tears, things more or less return to normal, which is probably what Ishikawa, Satou, and Ooshiro should have expected. These two have never made a big deal about being the couple they so clearly have been for some time; it stands to reason they wouldn’t make a big deal out of making it official (if that’s indeed what happened).

One thing’s for sure: the two are as close as ever, and possibly even closer, as observed by master esteem detector Toubaru-sensei, whose throes of esteem overload twist her into increasingly romantic positions with her friend and colleague Miyahara-sensei, further adding fuel to their side-ship. Will the remaining episodes address what was said under the stars that night, or the kiss and tears that followed? I sure hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 12 (S2 E01) – New Home, New Hope

86 is back…and there are some changes. San Magnolia’s awful system hasn’t changed, and Lena is still stuck in it (for now), but she’s adjusted the way she operates within it. Demoted to captain, she wears a streak of blood red in her hair and wears a black uniform to set herself apart from her drunken peers. She has a new squadron of Eighty-Six led by Iida Shiden, AKA Cyclops.

She handles them as she handled Shin’s squad; with as much compassion and care as she can. She learned their names from the start and has built a good rapport with Cyclops, who calls her “My Queen”. Most importantly, Lena is doing what she promised Shin and the others she would do: live on; survive. For her, that means preparing for the massive Legion offensive she senses is coming, even if her superiors are doing nothing.

Lena is maintaining and biding her time. As for her old friends Shin, Raiden, Anju, Kurena, and Theo? Amazingly, they’re all still alive, which is tremendous news. 86 really ripped my heart out, but it went a long way towards repairing that emotional damage by bringing them back without it feeling contrived or out of left field. Shin and the others are now honored guests of Giad, which is no longer the empire that created the Legion, but a diverse inclusive federacy.

That said, they should consider themselves lucky Giad’s President Ernst Zimmerman is, at least on the surface, a man of conscience and compassion, who wants only to give these found children, cast out of their homeland after fighting so long and hard, a measure of peace. Of course, Zimmerman is also a politician, and while I don’t know what his ultimate plan for the five is, I’m certain there is a plan, and his smiles and politeness are probably hiding darker intentions.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Giad is far better adjusted nation than San Magnolia, what with there not being apartheid and battlefield slavery of non-Alba citizens. Alba and non-Alba share the same streets and have families together. Zimmerman also wants his five new guests to be as comfortable as possible, and so arranges for them to live in his presidential mansion. That mansion also happens to be occupied by a haughty little spitfire of a girl named Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno Misaki).

Her hair and eye color suggest some kind of connection to Shin, while it’s clear Zimmerman is hiding the fact she is the last surviving Giadian Empress from the general public; officially, she’s his adopted daughter, as are Shin and the others. You can tell after their ordeal the five are simply tired, but they also look uncomfortable and awkward in such plush surroundings.

Between their new situation and Lena’s maintaining, there’s going to be a lot of adjusting and adapting in store for them. The new OP also indicates it’s only a matter of time before the five are back in the cockpits of war machines, but the president is right about one thing: that’s probably where they want to be because it’s all they know.

Giad is battling the Legion the same as San Magnolia. It’s obvious that if the two nations worked together, and San Magnolia, say, was run by Lena and not opportunists and drunks, that nation would be far better off. Shin & Co. certainly seem better off, while Lena has at developed a thicker armor.  We’ll see if it all pays off.

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

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!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 12 – Crossing the Rubi-tombolo

Yuru Camp takes a quick look back at when Nadeshiko was saying a tearful goodbye to her best friend Ayano; and I agree with the commenter that Kurosawa Tomoyo is a perfect voice to match Aya-chan’s personality—I just wish Kurosawa voiced a main character! Aya assures Nadeshiko that she’ll make new friends (which she does) and says that once she’s in a new place, she should try a new thing.

That new thing turns out to be camping up an absolute storm, culminating in this latest group trip to the geospot and lookout-packed Izu peninsula. After a refreshing breakfast of sashimi rice bowls, the group heads to Dougashima and the famed tombolo of Sanshiroujima. Akari is heartbroken to learn, her big sis was having her on; “tombolo” isn’t food, but the sandy bridge between islands that appears during low tide.

Removing their boots and braving the frigid waters, the group crosses the shallows and explores the island before the tide comes in. Nadeshiko thinks this would be a perfect spot to visit in the summer when the water is warm enough to swim in, leading to what I believe is the series’ very first cutaway to the girls in swimsuits.

From there, Rin takes point in her 30km/h moped for the drive along the glorious Nishiizu Skyline to their campsite. I can’t help but recall a similar drive I took up Mount Evans, on the highest paved road in North America. Evans is 2km taller than Fuji-san, so you can imagine words will hardly do the majesty of the scenery justice. It truly is, as Rin says, like driving in the sky.

Once they arrive at the Daruma Forest Campsite on the Darumayama highland, Aki, Rin and Ena start prepping for dinner early, while Akari leads the birthday girls Nadeshiko and Aoi away to check out the baths near Cape Mihama (which is sometimes mistaken for Cape Ose). To Akari’s shock, they already know a birthday meal is being prepared, since Aki specifically told Aoi that back at school, and their grocery shopping included things like whipped cream.

But even though it’s not a complete surprise, Nadeshiko and Aoi are still delighted by the celebration prepared by the others, who go all-out with decorations, a (pancake-based) cake, and the gift of durable and easy-to-maintain wooden cooking pans.

A suitably sumptuous feast of shrimp and tomato risotto awaits, made with spiny lobster broth and made extra-shrimpy by the addition of a highly-concentrated shrimp sauce. While Toba-sensei is enjoying the snacks the girls prepared to go with her booze, she gets a call from her Ryouko, who is herself solo camping much closer to Fuji-san out of her sister’s Suzuki Hustler.

Ryouko can tell her sister isn’t that drunk (yet) and congratulates her for being a good advisor. Minami admits she “wasn’t too keen” on becoming one at first due to the time it took up, but watching her students growing up before her eyes, she totally gets the appeal now!

With everyone now on the same sleep clock, the girls eschew movies and head to bed early so they can get up in time to watch the sun rise from the peak of Duramayama. The extra 500-meter climb nearly kills Aki all over again, but Rin and Nadeshiko reach the top first with time to spare, and Nade prepares instant miso soup with more of the spiny lobster broth, telling Rin the shell can be used more than once and even ground down into powder for future use.

While Toba-sensei stays in the van with a still-sleeping Akari, Aki, Aoi and Ena join Nadeshiko and Rin at the top, and the three formally bow and thank Rin for saving them. They also intend to visit the Iidas to properly thank them (and play with their adorable Corgi, Choko).

Then that sun rises and begins to bathe the landscape in its warm, silky light, rewarding the girls for their effort. Did I mention that shortly after starting this show I’ve started getting up early to watch the sunrise? There’s really nothing quite like that light. Yuru Camp isn’t just about immersing yourself in its warm and fuzzy therapeutic goodness, but inspiring you to get out there and give something new a try, as Aya urged Nadeshiko to do.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 11 – Mamashiko Ajiii!

As expected, the highest point of Hosono Plateau offers a view that’s well worth the climb…or the race to the top if you’re Nadeshiko, Akari, or Chiaki. Also as expected, Nadeshiko won, securing her revenge for Akari telling her the camping was over when she woke up. Part of the reward is seeing the Izu Islands, technically part of Tokyo Prefecture and potential island camping location.

But Izu is vast—thanks to all the volcanic activity inthe last 20 million or so years—and the hour grows late, so the van-and-moped convoy leaves Hosono in search of a hot spring near the campsite. Once they find a suitable one, Nadeshiko relays it to Rin, who lets out a BIG ol’ yawn in response. She’s been riding since three in the morning, after all!

After Akari imagines a hilarious TV commercial for a Rin-themed frozen treat, the group has a sunset-lit soak at the Dougashima hot springs, which almost claim the increasingly drowsy Rin. Then Toba-sensei makes the mistake of chugging a post-bath beer, and has to call in a replacement driver, which is apparently a thing in Japan!

Still, bathing at Dougashima was the lemonade they made from the lemons of being turned away from their original campsite, and getting to their new site in Nishiizu a little late doesn’t faze the group in the slightest. Rin is too sleepy to be fazed anyway!

When it’s time to start a fire, Rin wakes up and teaches Akari how it’s done. You can tell Rin hearing it’s Akari’s first real campfire takes her back to her first campfire…which didn’t go nearly as well but was salvaged thanks to an experienced helping hand. With the tents and camp galley set up, a very well-rested Chef Nadeshiko enters Yuru Cookin’ Mode.

She first prepare a Spanish-style chunky Ajillo in an earthenware pot, while Ena and Chiaki grill some spiny lobster. Toba-sensei learned from her Christmas Camping error and brought the perfect booze for every possible meal. Her sister Ryouko texts her a quick reminder not to overdo it as she’s gotta drive tomorrow. I kinda wish Ryouko had joined them!

Having chosen meals as much for their ease of preparation and clean-up as their deliciousness, Nadeshiko innovatively uses the leftover juices from the Ajillo to make a totally different one-pot dish: alfonsino acqua pazza pasta. Yuru Camp does a good job giving you the gist of the recipes without turning this into a full-on cooking show…but as I’m a huge fan of both Great Chefs and Food Wars, that wouldn’t have been the worst thing either!

One thing’s for sure, Nadeshiko upped her game considerably, and her friends can be certain that going forward camping with her means rib-sticking gourmet-quality meals that take full advantage of the local ingredients to the max. But the  umami and sleepiness double-whammy finally does Rin in, which is when Nadeshiko becomes Mamashiko, ensuring Rin brushes her teeth and uses lotion before retiring to her tent.

The fact that Nadeshiko, Rin, and the others are all on totally different sleep cycles works in the episode’s favor. When Ena can’t sleep, she encounters Nadeshiko is also still up, enjoying a dramatic view from the picnic area. The two have proceed to have a wonderful little low-key heart-to-heart. Nadeshiko mentions how the relaxing waves remind her of her hometown, admits she knows about Ena’s konbini job.

Ena says it’s not just for camping expenses, but because she wants to get her drivers license at eighteen so she can take Chikuwa camping. Ena then remarks how much things have changed since Nadeshiko moved to Minobu, and Nadeshiko says a lot’s changed for her since meeting them. They head to bed, as it’s past three, and at four on the dot Rin wakes up totally rested…and all alone.

This is no problem for Rin, who takes the opportunity to get a little Me Time in before the others wake up. She hops on her moped to check out some local geospots, from Cape Kogane to Sawada Park, which she learns has an open-air hot spring right beside the sea.

Ena and Aoi are the next to wake up, but when they see Rin’s text they retreat back to their sleeping bags, joining the still-dozing Nadeshiko. Then a panicked Chiaki shows them Rin’s message “Please don’t come looking for me” and assumes Rin’s run away from “home”. The other two understood: Rin just wants some solo time. Here’s hoping getting up so early doesn’t render her too sleepy for the group’s adventures later that day!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 08 – Wabi-Sabi Worrywart

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena take the episode off this week, as aside from a sprinkling of Sakura it’s a totally Nadeshiko & Rin show, and every moment of it is superbly sublime. It may be my imagination, but this is also an episode that gets a little more creative with camera angles and techniques.

We start with a very cinematic opening shot of Nadeshiko walking through a tunnel. It almost appears like Nadeshiko is walking down the tunnel to enter a Space Shuttle, but the drama is nicely subverted by her singing to herself about towns and the foods they’re known for.

In the middle of her uphill trudge, she stops to soak up the gorgeous view, only to stop herself lest she spoil the view from the campsite. Once she’s arrives, she revels in the wide open space, inspects the clean facilities, and says hi to a camping dad and his two kids.

Nadeshiko gets swept off her feet while laying out her ground cover, and bends one of her tent pegs (just like Rin did once), but is otherwise able to get her tent up without any trouble. She then breaks out all the groceries she bought and prepares for some culinary experimentation. The older of the two camping kids is bemused by this “loner girl”.

Meanwhile, Rin fakes out the audience by first lamenting another path closed for the winter (with another cool camera angle), but it’s a tunnel she already knew would be closed, which coincidentally leads to the Yashajin Pass, where she met the tea shop lady. After arriving in famously scenic Hayakawa and attempting to cross the suspension bridge over the lake, she continues on the Rindou Ikawa Amehata Line to the hot springs.

This also marks the first time a character in the show has uttered the term wabi-sabi, an aesthetic philosophy centered around the “acceptance of and appreciation for transience, imperfection, and incompletion”. In its depictions of Japan’s infrastructure and nature, Yuru Camp and its characters have been uniformly enthusiastic devotees of this worldview.

We get a Sakura sighting as she’s at a store that sells wild game considering whether to buy some deer or some bear paw, but after a quick Googling reveals a far-too-laborious process for cooking said paws, she goes for the easier deer. The final shot in the store is a novel fish-eye surveillance camera filming her from behind and at a distance.

After soaking in the pleasantly not-too-hot spring, Rin enjoys a spell in a massage chair, which must feel especially heavenly after all those hours in the moped saddle. She notices that Nadeshiko hasn’t texted her anything since the photo of her at the Tomato Mart, and decides to give her a call, only to get an automated “phone turned off or out of range” message.

That would be that, except that Rin is both a caring friend and feels responsible for Nadeshiko’s safety after getting her so interested in solo camping. Try as she might to put worries out of her mind, she instead envisions how she’d worry about her at various stages of her own camping trip.

She decides the only way to allay those fears is to take a slight detour and go check on her. Sakura seems to be on the same wavelength as Rin, as she uses the Find My Family app to discern Nadeshiko’s precise location.

Nadeshiko is actually doing just fine, having wrapped all of her veggies in foil and roasted them in a campfire she made inside the cooking pavilion. But when the two camping kids go to the pavilion to heat up their konbini dinners, again the older sister is bemused and a bit weary. Nadeshiko breaks out a little old country granny, further adding to the witch-like aura.

The little brother is the first to approach her, and learns that if she is a witch, she’s a good and kind witch, and one that’s great at outdoor cooking! She roasts a little bit of everything, with the tomato, potato, eggplant and sweet potatoes being particularly successful, the avocado less so, and the carrot gets over-charred.

Nadeshiko not only makes friends of the family, but also inspires the kids to cook next time they go camping, after finding out how easy it can be—literally just wrap a cheap sweet potato in foil, toss it into the flame, and wait! As they part ways, Rin arrives at the campsite to find that Nadeshiko is find, and cell phones just get spotty reception.

When she returns to the parking lot she encounters two glowing eyes and is scared shitless, but it’s just fellow worrywart Sakura, secretly checking in on her sister. The two decide, while they’re there, they might as well go up to the top to see the famously awesome nightscape. I mean, it’s a nightscape!

They do so—and the view is indeed awesome—but are almost caught but for the fact they could hear Nadeshiko coming from her singing to herself. They dash into the tall grass as Nadeshiko beholds the nightscape, takes a selfie, and then wanders around the area trying to find a bar with which to send it.

Rin and Sakura make it out of there without being seen, and as they drive off together, Sakura gets the selfie from Nadeshiko and has Rin stop so she can see it too, then offers to buy her dinner in town. As for Nadeshiko, she sets herself up in her cozy, toasty caterpillar-like sleeping bag on a bench overlooking the nightscape.

I for one am glad she didn’t spot Rin or Sakura, as it preserves the spirit, if not the letter, of the “solo-ness” of her trip, since she didn’t actually ask anyone to stop by and check on her, and there was no need to do so as she was perfectly fine on her own. That said, I’m sure she would have felt good knowing her friend and sister wouldn’t hesitate to do so, even if it diverted them from their own plans. That’s love, baby!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 07 – Going Solo

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena were a lot of fun these past two episodes, but by the end of their Lake Yamanaka trip I was ready for some Rin and Nadeshiko time, and that’s what we get here! After Ena shows Chiaki some photos from their almost-ill-fated trip, it finally happens: Rin’s little grill is used as an offertory box, as they drop a coin in and praise their mutual savior. Rin’s deadpan reply is simple and perfect: “No worshipping.”

Ena splits, enabling Nadeshiko to talk solo camping with Rin. Rin’s a little surprised someone as gregarious as Nadeshiko has taken an interest in it, but is happy to offer all the advice she can. In what seems like an intentional contrast to Chiaki mostly winging it, relying on luck, and paying the price, Nadeshiko is determined to plan her first trip The Right Way, and not bite off more than she can chew.

Rin’s insights and advice prove indispensable as Nadeshiko makes a master list of things to do. First, she tells her family she’s going solo, and Sakura quickly and clandestinely downloads a GPS app so they’ll know where she is—a move that’s as wise as Nadeshiko’s curious “What are you doing?” is hilarious.

She finds a spot that won’t be too cold that’s within walking distance of a train station (and in cellular range), checks the weather and in particular the day-to-night changes in temperature, and makes a list of things to do while she’s there so she doesn’t get bored. The big day arrives, and after sliding all of her gear onto her back with a “hup”, she’s off to Fujikawa by way of Fujinomiya.

Rin, who also has the weekend off, decides to take a solo trip of her own, this time heading to Lake Amehata in picturesque Hayakawa, first stopping at a super-cozy home café in Akasawa for mamemochi and amazake (with barley tea on the house).

Nadeshiko reports via photo of her arrival in Fujinomiya, and after praying at the temple there for a safe and fun solo camping trip, she stays the growling of her stomach as she passes restaurants on the way to the yakisoba place her sister recommended.

Sakura, who is also getting her sister’s photo updates, is driving … somewhere. Where precisely, we’re not told, but it looks for all the world like she’s trailing Nadeshiko like an overprotective parent, even though that seems like overkill. Nadeshiko even senses she’s being followed and looks behind her several times.

Rin leaves Akasawa and visits the Giant Cedar of Yushima. All the gorgeous scenery she rides and walks through really gives you the warm exciting feeling of exploring new and unfamiliar places. And then, as she pulls into a café near the Lake Narada Hot Springs, the Sakura mystery is solved, with Rin finding her car parked in the lot.

As Rin spots Sakura and starts to follow her, Nadeshiko finally gets a spot in the yakisoba place, and once seated, she quickly learns she’d better shout out her order when requested or she’ll be passed up. Trusting in her fellow orderers, she gets a gomoku shigure-yaki, a thoroughly rib-sticking local specialty of okonomiyaki and Fujinomiya yakisoba.

Due to the set up, we’re able to watch along with Nadeshiko every step of the way as her food comes together, and the opposite is true as well: the cook is able to see Nadeshiko’s patented “This is Super Tasty” Face. She snaps a pic for Rin, who is viewing it just as Sakura walks up to her.

Her “cover” blown, Rin decides to have some tea with Sakura, and while initially finds their silence awkward due to Nadeshiko not being there, Sakura is always ready to talk Moped Stories, the show Rin watched with the others during Christmas Camping. Rin also learns that Sakura is a fellow solo-er, taking a drive once a month or so to places featured on travel shows.

When talk turns to Nadeshiko, Rin can tell Sakura is worried, but right on cue Nadeshiko texts both of them a photo of her superbly round and jolly face standing outside the Tomato Food Market, where she’ll shop for dinner supplies before heading to the campsite.

Sakura heads to the hot spring, Rin continues on to her campsite, and Nadeshiko arrives in Fujikawa. She’s only a 5.5km (around 3.4 miles) walk from the “Fujikawa Healthy Greenspace Campsite”, the fictional version of Nodayama Health Ryokuchi Park. Thanks to the physical conditioning her sister forced upon her, it should indeed be a walk in the park!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 06 – Ice Station Yamanaka

Their dreams of cape camping dashed, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena set up their two tents and their tarp as close to it as they dare, then break out their brand-new (and IMO somewhat overpriced) camp chairs. Chiaki opted for the two-chair set-up to a lighter hammock.

A group of hobbyists are flying RC planes over the lake, while they’re visited by a friendly Corgi named Choko (named after the cup in which you drink sake) and his owner. The girls aren’t alone on this cape, and that proves to be of vital importance to their very survival later on.

But first, this trip starts out like many others we’ve seen before; with the participants basking in the beauty of their natural surroundings and bracing themselves against the cold with blankets and something warm to drink. For the latter Chiaki whips up some delectable non-alcoholic hot buttered rum, the recipe for which she got from a co-worker.

While Chiaki demonstrates she can be an angel when she offers one of her two chairs to the chairless Ena, she also shows she’s got a devilish side when she sends a picture of them relaxing to Rin back home. Rin is airing out her bag and cleaning her grill—all the maintenance required to keep your gear in ship shape. Chiaki’s photo puts a smile on Rin’s face, but it quickly turns to a look of concern as she checks that night’s low temperatures at Lake Yamanaka.

At the very end of every episode we’ve been told the same message: It gets cold during the winter. Stay warm and be well-prepared! No duh, right? Except that there’s cold, and then there’s COLD. At 4:30PM, before the sun even goes down, it’s already two below (28° F), and all three girls’ phones’ batteries die due to the cold.

It wasn’t anywhere near as cold in Asagiri for their Christmas Camping, but that was over 1,300 feet lower elevation! And it’s only going to get colder. Chiaki curses herself for not checking the weather forecast, and it would seem like the Outclub got “a little in over their heads” once they started getting all gung-ho about winter camping.

Still, the three come up with an emergency plan to stay warm through the night: build a fire and cook the hot pot to warm themselves up, then pile into one tent with every blanket and coat piled on top of them. Aoi and Ena don’t have the heavy-duty hand warmers, so Chiaki volunteers to run to the konbini to buy more, as well as some cardboard for insulation.

But the plan soon falls apart when Aoi and Ena arrive at the administration building to find the manager has already locked up and is driving off. Unable to buy or even access proper firewood, the two search for twigs, only to find the ground completely immaculate! With the sun fully down and the temperatures dropping fast, things look grim…but for the grace of their fellow camper and owner of Choko.

By the time Chiaki returns from her odyssey to the konbini and back, their campsite is worryingly abandoned. Then she’s called to the dog lady’s big teepee-style tent, which is both blessedly warm due to the continuously-burning wood stove, and large enough to accommodate the three girls. The lady and who I presume to be her dad are even preparing their own hot pot.

The dad may say with a laugh that the girls would have been “goners” if left out there, but he’s not wrong. Toba-sensei ends up showing up to check on them, and while looking in their tents gets the shit scared out of her when Chiaki sneaks up on her. As she explains, Rin notified her of their plans to camp at Lake Yamanaka, where the temps get down to 15 below (just F!), and weren’t answering their phones.

Toba-sensei puts on her Adult hat and firmly scolds the girls over the seriousness of their error. The greatly varying elevation means drastically varying temperatures and unpredictable shifts—stand on a mountain any time of day and you’ll learn that quick! Furthermore, their gear is woefully inadequate for even a normal Lake Yamanaka winter.

She impresses upon them the absolute necessity of thoroughly researching their campsite and preparing accordingly. The girls bow in tearful apology, but Toba-sensei is also sorry, for while she knew the three of them were camping, she didn’t ask where. From now on the must be sure to talk to each other about where they’re camping.

With all that settled, the dad/(or husband?) invites Toba-sensei to join him in imbibing a big bottle of sake—the good stuff from the store they own in Itou. Within minutes, Serious Adult Toba-sensei devolves into Drunk Toba-chan. Then they prepare their two batches of hot pot: both motsu and kiritanpo. A magnificent feast ensues within the toasty tent.

Toba-sensei is too drunk to drive, so she and the girls spend the night in her Hustler with the heat on. I once thought this was a bad idea, but only if your car is parked on ice! Turns out as long as your car’s battery and alternator are in good working order, as long as you’ve got gas in the tank you’ve got a warm car to sleep in. And it’s not like they had another option in this instance!

Just prior to sunrise, Ena is the first to wake up—quite uncharacteristic for the girl they’ve always cut to in the past curled up in her bed with her pup well into the late morning. She’s soon joined by Aoi and Chiaki, and their reward for braving the outside is another truly majestic sunrise complete with soaring orchestral score, which as by now become a Yuru Camp specialty.

Once Toba greets the morning, Ena gets to work on tempura smelts for breakfast. Ena snaps a photo with her newly car-charged phone, and all three girls send Rin their heartfelt thanks for worrying about them. Chiaki adds that she’ll never forget this, and Rin immediately cashes in by playfully warning them they’d better have gifts for her from Lake Yamanaka!

While cleaning her trusty but lately quite dingy moped, Rin gets a call from Nadeshiko, who just got off work, and voices her intent to try solo camping like the kind Rin does. Whether this leads to her trip to Lake Motosu in which Rin and Nade end up soloing at the same place (the epilogue of the first season) or a different, truly solo trip, we shall see.

But yeah, this week Yuru Camp got real with us, showing how quickly laid-back can become life-threatening! Winter camping can be wonderful, but it is not for the ill-prepared. No doubt Chiaki, Aoi, and Rin learned their lesson, and between doing their research and maintaining clear communication, they’ll be ready for their next excursion in the cold.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 05 – Chiaki’s Perfect Plan

Rin has her bookstore job and Nadeshiko has her new gig at the restaurant, so for the first time in a while we’ve got a camping trip involving neither of them. The entire episode is carried by Chiaki, Aoi, and an Ena who is suddenly just as crazy about camping as the others. It’s a combo we haven’t seen before and it’s refreshing, fun, and usually hilarious!

Their destination is Lake Yamanaka, the southeastern-most and highest of the five lakes around Fujiyama. After a roundabout route after Kofu and Ohtsuki, they arrive at Mt. Fuji Station, and purchase two-day passes just in time to catch the bus that will take them to the campsite on the lake.

Chiaki touts her “perfect plan” which starts with a trip to the Caribou in Fujiyoshida. There, we learn the ultimate fate of Chiaki’s infamous wooden bowl (it’s a cactus pot now) when she takes a look at plastic cookware, then Aoi ponders whether to buy a high or low chair. Chiaki wants a hammock, but can’t find one light enough, so a store rep demonstrates a hammock “hack”, the nature of which we’ll have to wait until it’s implemented at the campsite.

From the store (which features the eminently huggable Caribou-san) the girls head to a Lake Yamanaka Hot Spring, where they bask in 38°C water while out in 1.4°C weather. Chiaki counts down from three for everyone to get out at once, but she’s the only one who leaves.

After the bath Ena joins Chiaki and Aoi for their traditional pre-camping ice cream, and Aoi has to literally pick both Aoi and Ena off the ground to avoid another Hottokeya incident, when they all overslept.

From the Hot Spring the girls hit up a supermarket to buy all the food they’ll need. Chiaki will be making homemade kiritanpo hot pot, following a lot of suggestions by Hot Pot (nabe) Master Nadeshiko, AKA Nabeshiko, whom all three girls promise to marry some day. They also decide to pick up some local lake smelts for tempura.

While on the way to the campsite, the girls notice a lot of foreigners on the bus, as they’re technically near some major tourist traps. Chiaki annoys Aoi when she uses a broken Japanese accent to direct one such foreigner to his proper right stop. When Chiaki continues the accent, Aoi simply says “Stop.”

Chiaki’s seiyu Hara Sayuri is the only member of the voice cast with whom I wasn’t familiar until Yuru Camp, but she’s done nothing but put on a clinic this whole time. This week in particular is a showcase for her goofy, emphatic style that’s seemingly always “on”—much to the chagrin of Aoi (Toyosaki Aki), who plays the perfect straight girl in their comedy duo.

When they finally reach the campsite, Aoi and Ena are a little skeptical of Chiaki’s choice of picking a spot on the cape, on the other side of the lake from all of its attractions. But they get it when they arrive at the cape, which is its own attraction. Sadly, the clerk won’t allow them to pitch their tents directly on the cape as they’d hoped—it’s too dangerous—but there’s nothing stopping them from pitching them next to the cape!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 04 – One Step Closer to Fancy Camping

This week there’s no camping, but plenty of Outclub hijinx, starting with Chiaki buying a new tarp for their next trip only to forget to bring the posts. She and Aoi have a tree serve as one temporary post, and Nadeshiko as the second. The moment Nadeshiko wordlessly just stops holding the tarp up had me rolling!

Chiaki bought the tarp with her New Years pay, while Aoi is planning on buying a comfy low chair like Rin’s. Nadeshiko, of course, is just counting down the days until her temp job pay is deposited so she can buy her beloved Coleman retro lantern, which she visits at the Caribou store several times simply to bask in its beauty.

Nade sends Rin a photo of her holding up the tarp, to which Rin says the Outclub girls sure are “free spirits.” Rin doesn’t really want to buy anything in particular, so she’s probably just going to save it for her next trip. As for Ena, she spent her money not on a tent for herself, but a dog tent for Chikuma—one that is nicer than many human tents!

When Ena asks what Rin would do with 100 million yen (i.e. a million dollars), Rin says she’d “start by putting a sleeping bag on top and sleeping on it”. Toba-sensei only has one scene in the faculty lounge, but it’s a sweet one, as she finds some local treats at her desk and a thank-you note from her Outclub girls.

Back at Caribou, the employees there are fascinated by Nadeshiko’s fascination with the lantern. It takes one of them back to the excitement of spending her first paycheck—even though she doesn’t remember what she even bought! I doubt that will be a problem for Nadeshiko; she’ll never forget this lamp!

While at Minobu station waiting for her train home, Nadeshiko finds herself on a completely empty platform. It’s just her, the mumbling of the PA and the buzzing of the lights. There’s quite a long stretch where nothing happens…and that’s the point: Nadeshiko has been thinking long and hard about what Rin said about solo camping being an opportunity to contemplate and embrace solitude. As we saw in the first season’s epilogue, at some point she’ll solo at Lake Motosu only to run into Rin.

Of course, with no costs to share with others, soloing can be pricey, and Rin saved a lot by inheriting a lot her her gear from her gramps. That means Nadeshiko has to find a new job. Unfortunately, that proves difficult. She imagines herself playing a Chihayafuru-style game of karuta and slapping a card that says “Minobu” among scores of cards marked “Kofu” (she says Kofu so mournfully!)—only to find it’s a full-time position requiring experience.

Aoi suggests looking into working at a camp or a resort, although those don’t really start until it gets warmer. Chiaki breaks out the latest issue of Bivouac magazine, the cover of which depicts a solo winter camper not unlike one Shima Rin. In it, Nadeshiko discovers that reusable hand warmers using warmed oil exist. That night, Sakura invites her out to dinner at a tempura bowl shop in Minobu, and Nadeshiko races there with all due haste.

It’s only when their jumbo head-on shrimp tempura boxes arrive that Sakura says she’d hope Nade would treat her for once, using her newly-earned holiday pay. Nade freezes and all color fades from her, but her sister is only joking. The real reason Sakura asked her to come to this particular restaurant is because they happen to have just started hiring part-timers.

The next day after school is THE day Nade finally purchases her lantern, one of which the employees kept on hold for her just in case the ones on the shelves were all sold. Nadeshiko poses for a photo with sparkly eyes and an ojousama laugh, and just after being told to be careful, she trips on a box and nearly drops her treasure, catching it at the last second.

One step closer to “fancy camping”, Nadeshiko trys the lantern out at home. Her folks praise her purchase and the three gather around the warm cozy light it provides. The credits roll with her lantern still glowing in the living room, and Nadeshiko sneaks outside to Sakura’s car before going up to her room to enjoy the lantern’s light a bit more.

Early in the morning, Sakura is the first to leave the house. Upon entering her car she finds a gift-wrapped box on the dashboard with a note: it’s a reusable hand-warmer, purchased by Nadeshiko as thanks for being such an awesome big sister. You’d better believe I got a little choked up at the surpassing sweetness of the gift, and Sakura’s warm reaction to it, ending with a shot of Nadeshiko curled up in bed, sleeping soundly…and deservedly!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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