Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 12 (Fin)

Aboard the derelict sub, the girls find a clean boat, chocolate…and a kind of patchwork history of everybody and everything that came before them, thanks to the camera auto-syncing with the monitors on the bridge. In addition to all the pictures they took, and those Hanakawa took before them, the camera is a veritable cornucopia of visual (and audiovisual) information.

The content ranges from simple images of life and death, to the reports of a school robotic research club, to news reports of a worsening geopolitical situation that leads to large-scale war and genocide. On the whole, though, Chito and Yuuri feel less lonely, now that they were able to watch how others lived.

Suddenly processing more information than they ever had before proves exhausting for the girls, who fall asleep under the consoles and dream of their escape from their town.

When Chito wakes, she’s too late to do anything about Yuuri getting swallowed up by a giant version of Cut. Chito suspects Cut might’ve been some kind of lure used by the bigger ones, but Cut’s body language suggests that’s not the case.

Chito runs through the submarine, desperate to find her one and only companion, and eventually emerges from the conning tower to find the Big Cut isn’t interested in eating living humans, and spits Yuuri out. It then transforms to reveal it’s a kind of semi-sentient mushroom.

The mushroom has a mix of good and bad news…though I guess it’s mostly bad for humanity. They are systematically ridding the earth of toxins leftover from the human population after it destroyed itself with war. Yuuri and Chito are the last two humans left, by the mushrooms’ reckoning.

All machinery will shut down around them, and after they’ve passed away, the world will enter a period of rest and inactivity, as the mushrooms hibernate. With that all said, mushrooms emerge from the nuclear missile tubes of the sub and they all ascend into the sky, likely to start “cleaning” the higher levels.

There’s not much for Chito and Yuuri to do but continue on their tour, with the goal of reaching the highest level. Even with their companion/pet Cut gone off with its brethren, Chito and Yuuri aren’t lonely, nor do they care if the world ends, because they have one another.

As with so much relating to this show, it’s simultaneously a deeply bittersweet ending, conveying the lesson to not be troubled by things life you can’t control (like the ending of the world) and take comfort in those you can—like who you choose to spend your days with.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 08

Girls’ Last Tour starts with a somber tone, as Chito and Yuuri roll into what looks like a network of enormous filing cabinets that I immediately identified as graves. If they don’t contain remains, they do contain remnants of the lives of those whose names adorn them: a radio; a bit of cloth; a shell casing; a button.

Yuu brings these along thinking they might be able to use them for something, but Chi reprobates her: if these objects are removed, they lose the meaning they already carry: to remind people—in this case, Chi and Yuu—that they existed.

The only other witness to the memories contained within those endless graves is one of the tall, sidelong glancing stone idols Yuu likes so much (and believes somewhat resemble Chi). She takes photos of both the idol and Chi, in order to preserve both for posterity. Indeed, Yuu wouldn’t have remembered Kanazawa if he hadn’t given him the camera.

In the next segment, it’s finally time to ascend to a higher level. Thankfully, no rickety elevator is needed; there’s a spiral ramp they can ride the Kettenkrad up. The only problem is, the spiraling gets so repetitive, Chi gets dizzy, and Yuu has to snap her out of her trance before she drives the ‘krad right off the ledge.

They can bypass the sudden gap in the ramp by driving out to a metal ramp, but it’s a lot more rickety than the concrete surface inside, and the weight of the vehicle causes it to fail. Yuu has Chi hit the accelerator, and after a particularly harrowing few yards, they’re back inside, and the ramp they were just on plummets to the ground.

There’s no doubt it was a risky move, but the reward is that they are now on a higher level, just as night falls and a full moon rises. Yuuri, perhaps somewhat bewitched by said moon, picks up the nearest metal stick and starts trashing what looks like an abandoned office. That is, until in her excitement she whacks Chi on the head with that stick, and Chi tackles and disarms her.

Then the girls find several sealed bottles containing some kind of liquid. Chu reads the label as “Beeu”…or beer.

Yuu pops open a bottle, pours the “golden water” into a clear glass, and holds it up to the moon, thinking the moonlight is melting into it. She and Chi both take generous gulps of the stuff, and find that it agrees with them.

Before long, the stoic, dour, practical Chito dissolves into a fun-loving lush much more similar to her companion Yuu. She affectionately embraces Yuu, stretches her face, dances with her in the moonlight, and eats her hair.

The next morning, after celebrating in style (and violating laws that no longer exist since there’s no one around to enforce them), they begin exploring the new level. Chito has a nasty hangover, but Yuu unsurprisingly seems to be no worse for wear.

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.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Weekly ED: “More One Night”

We began the week with a duet by Minase Inori and Kubo Yurika; might as well close with one too, eh?

This number is arguably even more catchy than the OP, as long as you’re on board with the inherent cutesiness the vocalist bring to the table. For some reason I love what I’d describe as their “bored harmonization” inserted throughout the song.

This song is called “More One Night”, which sounds like it should be “One More Night”, but isn’t.

In a nice touch, the black-and-white visuals are hand-drawn by the source’s mangaka herself, one Tsukumizu.