I was going to write a “Winter 2017 wrapup” post, but then I realized that it would be almost entirely about Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho. This show has been unexpectedly good, refining the “genre” of cute-girls-do-cute-things to focus solely on the characters, making it seem a hell of a lot more meaningful than all of its otaku-pandering peers. Its depiction of a growing friendship was very heavy-handed at times, but never pointless. From the girls running in Shibuya to overcoming their past regrets in Antarctica, every moment felt like a tangible increase in their friendship levels.
At the start of this episode, I was planning on giving the show a 9/10. I kept thinking about the quick resolution to Shirase’s plot in the last episode, and it just felt so jarring compared to the incredible amount of time they spent saying goodbye in this one. Yet I felt emotions welling up as the episode went on, and I realized that I would be missing this show dearly. I’m not going to remember the plot of A Place Further Than The Universe (in true CGDCT spirit, there wasn’t much), but the characters are going to stick around in my memory for years to come.
Last time, I said Antarctic Girls was obviously going downhill, and with good reason! The episodes of the trip to Antarctica (Ep 6-9) were a lot weaker than the first third of the series introducing the girls (Ep 1-5). The conflicts either felt petty and small or were getting resolved too quickly.
In contrast, episodes 10 and 11 were the best we’ve seen so far.
So some of the concerns I had in my last post are getting worse. The conflicts in each episode feel more and more fake and contrived, to the point where the (forced) sense of closure doesn’t really satisfy me. Instead, it feels like everything is getting trivialized. The girls’ feelings of uselessness on the ship? Bam. Resolved. Shirase’s lifelong awkward relationship with the expedition leader? Bam. Resolved. (sort of)
Related to this is how besides the main conflict of each episode, everything else is pushed aside. In episode 9, Shirase took center stage while the other three girls melded into one emotionless unit, with no personality to speak of. Instead of showing the fun and varied personalities of the girls (like in the OP and in the first 4-5 episodes), the show has basically made them act and talk the same.
For example, maybe instead of focusing on Shirase’s reaction on getting to Antarctica, there could have been some inner dialogue from each girl. Nothing much, maybe just 5 seconds/one line for each of the three. Mari could have touched on how she’s finally doing something cool. Yuzuki could say how glad she is to have made it with her new friends. And Hina could say… something? I dunno. But instead, we got:
Mari: We’re here!
Yuzuki: We made it!
It’s the same damn thing! Even though the episode focused on Shirase, it doesn’t have to be all Shirase all the time. In such an overdone genre, it was the small refinements that made the girls so likeable and unique early on in the show, and that’s slowly getting sucked out.
Anyway, it’s still a 9/10 for me overall. These last few episodes have lost the magic that made it a 10/10, but it’s still great.
From this point on, I’m switching from weebanese to English. Why use “Sora yori mo Tooi Basho” with basically arbitrary capitalization when I can use the actual English title?? Related to this: I noticed the other day that “Boku no Hero Academia” sounds pretty dumb in English compared to “My Hero Academia,” but I guess I just get used to whatever I see first… usually on reddit discussion threads.
Anyway, these past few episodes have been excellent. They’ve taken this genre, whatever it is, and perfected it. There’s one point in Episode 6 where Hinata loses her passport, and then there’s a shot of the hotel wall. I was half expecting/half dreading the stereotypical shriek of panic, and then a scene of Hinata frantically looking through her stuff. But as always, this show doesn’t fall prey to the tropes. The next scene is actually all of Hinata’s stuff on a bed, with the girls looking at it. I don’t think it’s very realistic that they’re not panicking, but it’s better than the over-the-top scene I was picturing.
I do have a gripe with the show, though. It treats conflicts like the monster-of-the-week. Every episode is a neatly wrapped bundle of conflict -> resolution -> next episode. I’d like a bit more continuity in the character development instead of the current formula of focusing on one character at a time.
The worst offender of this is actually what I thought was the best episode so far: episode 5. This episode focused on Mari’s glasses-wearing friend Megumi. Her annoyance at Mari and passive-aggressive attitude was spot-on and I felt so uneasy watching her try to hold Mari back. But then the end of the episode felt like such a cop out! I can understand why Megumi would want to break her ties with Mari: Mari can then enjoy her time in Antarctica without worrying about her friend back home who doesn’t get to have such fun experiences. But it felt more like the friendship was ending conveniently, to both wrap up the episode neatly and to have the audience enjoy watching Mari in Antarctica without worrying about Megumi.
If this was the only instance of this sort of conflict-of-the-week, then I’d be fine with it. But episode 6 strolls along and presents another one-episode minor conflict. Without a big, multi-episode goal like “trying to get on the expedition,” it seems like this show is floundering a bit. I’d much prefer just a fun episode about the girls having fun in Singapore, or multiple episodes in Singapore to make the conflict seem… important. In the end, it’s all resolved with a few cheap laughs. I hope this isn’t the end of Hinata’s character development, but it sure feels like it.
Still, this stuff is all minor. A Place Further Than The Universe is the best show of the season so far, miles above bigger names like Darling in the Franxx and Violet Evergarden.
… has had one of the best opening three episodes ever.
So far this show has perfected the moe slice-of-life genre of “cute girls do cute things” (CGDCT). While pioneers of the genre (Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, K-ON) featured cute girls doing either boring-as-fuck or purposely cutesy things, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho makes what happens interesting by itself. The actions, rather than the characters, are cute. Look above at Hinata and Mari’s stupid-looking grins as Shirase panics.
What about Mari’s “sexy pose”?
It’s with good reason I had to look up the characters’ names while writing this post. I don’t remember them, and moeification/sexualization is not the point here. So far this show has succeeded because it hasn’t wasted time deliberately trying to make waifu material (a la Mio of K-ON), as shown in the really low number of favorites for the four main characters on MyAnimeList: 20, 9, 8, and 5 favorites out of over 25,000 people watching the series.
These past three episodes have been fantastic, but with the gang all together, I’m a little worried about the future. As long as the series can stay away from overused, stereotypical scenarios and dialogue I can predict minutes in advance, it should easily break into my top 20.