A Place Further Than The Universe Ep. 2: Stumbling blocks

Oh, what’s that?

Welp, show’s over then! Nothing else to see here.

What, you’re still here? Fine. It turns out there’s going to be a “Civilian Antarctic Expedition,” and this is how Shirase’s going to make her way to the icy continent. What luck… her first and only opportunity in years also coincides with her bumping into Mari, a kindred spirit. I mean, what are the odds of that? But we can’t leave just yet. We know from the OP that they still need two more recruits to join them. We’ve also just learned that they need airplane tickets to Australia. Fremantle, to be exact. I’m not exactly sure how much that would cost, but while Shirase has some funds saved up, Mari must be starting from zero. Let’s get started.

I’m actually warming up to this show. This isn’t a slice-of-life anime where cute kids idle in high school and do nothing. This is an adventure. As unrealistic as this high school expedition to Antarctica might be, at least they’re embarking on something fantastic and dreamworthy. Anyway, the girls’ personalities aren’t grating, and we’re making good headway. The pace of the show seems just right. Do I wish the girls were a little less trusting and exuberant? Kinda. I don’t think we need to be grimdark or anything, but I feel like the show is still missing an emotional component that would truly make me buy in and invest myself in the girls’ journey.

Right now, the anime embodies excitement but little else. With her mother’s uncertain fate looming over her, Shirase has the most potential to be the most well-rounded character. There’s potential there that I hope the series will eventually explore. In the meantime, we add another party member, but she’s just as happy-go-lucky as Mari. I’m holding out hope that the fourth member will provide a voice of reason to counterbalance the current group dynamic, but we’ll see. Too bad we already know Megumi won’t be joining them. I rather like her character. In any case, my notes are pretty extensive this week, so I don’t want to waste too much time here. To make a long story short, I liked the episode.

Notes & observations:

Me too, girl, me too.

— That’s actually kinda sad if she’s been sending emails to her mom all these years. Like legit sad, not pathetic sad. Maybe there’s more darkness lurking beneath the surface that we previously expected.

— “She’s got some friends on the civilian Antarctic expedition that’s going this year, so…” Wait, how did she make these friends? One angle that needs to be explored is Mari’s instant trust of Shirase. Isn’t she being a touch naive? Actually, I think I’m underselling it. There’s no way in hell I would hop on a boat to any country with a girl I barely know, much less Antarctica. But who’s going to be the voice of reason? Who’s going to be the skeptic to help balance out the show’s exuberant and reckless charge towards Antarctica?

— Go, Megumi, go: “I did some research, and it sounds a little dicey.” Basically, the last civilian expedition faced a few issues. That doesn’t mean things haven’t been ironed out by now, but it would be wise not to charge forth without any thought. The problem is that Shirase does all of the thinking, and Mari is just there for… for what, exactly? Last week, I postulated emotional support. But really, she doesn’t currently contribute much to the plans, and she’s far too trusting. I wonder how her character will develop from here on out. I almost feel as though the show’s quality will hinge on this.

— The way the kids are drawn, it looks like they’re all laminated. It’s a great looking show, but this aspect of the art direction is just weird.

— More importantly: “…and the safety of participants may not be ensured.” Let’s face reality: these girls are not battle-hardened explorers with numerous expeditions under their belts. They’re just kids. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. What matters is experience. Can they even survive on their own for a week in the woods of Japan?

— But look at the blackboard: “Why does he assert that love and courage are everything?” Cheeky.

— Later in the day, Shirase berates Mari for being late and adds, “A few minutes can mean the difference between life or death.” Sounds reasonable. Again, where are these girls are going to get their experience to survive Antarctica’s extreme conditions?

— They are both naive; they both went for the same “hospitality” job. Mari even teases, “I guess you can be pretty stupid sometimes, too, Shirase-chan…” Look who’s talking.

— Oy vey, Shirase is now parroting the same weak answers that Mari was giving Megumi: “I’m the daughter of Kobuchizawa Takako, after all.” The girl doesn’t have everything planned out, after all. She has her own blind spots to overcome. In these moments, you remember that she’s still just a kid. She’s not invincible, she’s not infallible. She’s still just a scared kid chasing after a dream. Her mother must be out there somewhere, waiting for her. Any setback is another nail in the proverbial coffin, so she doesn’t even want to consider that she might fail — that her plans might have holes.

— Shirase tries to storm off angrily, but she eventually returns and says, “I really am aware of the whole situation. I’ve thought up a plan, too. I’ll explain the whole thing, so you should keep making your preparations.” I can’t tell how much of that is truthful. She needs Mari more than Mari needs her. Mari has friends. Mari doesn’t have a deep-seated reason to go to Antarctica. This is Shirase’s odyssey, and hers alone. I wonder if she could be selfish enough to string Mari along. She’s not exactly looking at Mari as she makes her promise. Instead, she’s staring at the ground as if she’s hiding something. Then once Mari buys in, Shirase gives this glance before turning to face her friend. Body language can say a lot. Even if she does have a plan in mind, it might be a fishy one.

— We want to automatically assume that these girls are wholesome because of the show’s tone — y’know, slice-of-life, feelgood nonsense — and I’m not suggesting at all that Shirase’s a bad person. But we have to consider the fact that she’s just a kid, and like any kid, she can be a little self-centered. Is the story strong enough to allow that potential?

— All the luck in the world: Mari spots an ad for part-time employees.

— Meet the third girl. She goes by Hinata and she has straight bangs too. All four do, actually. Bruh, someone’s got a fixation.

— I’m kinda thirsty.

— Hinata straight up wants to tag along with these two to Antarctica. Well, that was easy, but… why? Apparently, the new girl has been listening in much to the others’ chagrin.

— Shirase tells Hinata that it’ll be dangerous, expensive, and she’ll also have to miss school. But the new girl just beams: “I’m okay! It’s all good!” These kids are all nuts, haha.

— Hinata apparently doesn’t go to school. She claims she already has her certificate. She intends to go to college, too. She just needs to pass those exams that we heard so much about in Just Because! I didn’t know this was a possible route in Japan. Can you really just drop out, get your high school certificate, and get into any top university? Don’t Japanese colleges care about their kids having a balanced education, i.e. extracurriculars that you can only get through high school?

— There’s also the fact that you can’t just trust some new girl, but Mari’s already convinced.

— For the time being, Shirase seems more concerned about her position as the leader.

— And at the moment, Hinata isn’t distinctive enough from Mari in the personality department. They make the observation that Shirase’s the irritable type. So far, Hinata seems pretty cheerful. What dynamic does Hinata bring the group that isn’t already covered by Mari?

— Hinata seems kinda lonely. Well, she’s skipping to high school, so she doesn’t get the same shining high school life that all these dumb kids talk about. It sounds like she’s always wanted to reach out to these two girls, but I wonder if she would’ve done anything if Mari hadn’t applied for the part-time job.

— Later, the girls take a trip to Shinjuku to attend an informal meetup regarding Antarctica. I mean, I guess if you can’t survive Shinjuku, you can’t survive Antarctica. Shirase also demonstrates her strength and weakness in one quick gag. She acts all confident as if she has an ironclad plan, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Much, much to be desired. I also like how all slimy playboys in Shinjuku look the same. I’ve seen the same guy in Persona 5 and the Yakuza games.

— More silly gags. The girls want to get information from a prospective expeditionist, and since those tend to be guys, someone’s going to have to use their wily feminine charms. Of the three girls, Mari gets thrown to the wolves first, and she quickly bombs it. I would think she’s the least charming of the three…

Again, execution…

— There are women there, and they even recognize Shirase. They all immediately take off running on Shirase’s command, because she already knows that she won’t get a favorable answer from the women.

— This is a gorgeous anime, though.

— Oh Christ, Shirase’s plan was to get a dude to smuggle them onto the ship. No wonder she looked so suspicious earlier.

— The women in the civilian expedition group reiterate that they can’t take high schoolers with them, so Shirase explodes with both anger and desperation. There we go; a little pathos never hurts.

— Since the last civilian expedition had money issues, Shirase has been saving up money to sponsor the team. She then just plops the envelope with a million yen down onto the table. Luckily, the women don’t take the money and still reject the girl’s overtures. But do you know how foolish and naive this was? Assuming they had accepted her money, Shirase had no way to guarantee a return on her investment. How was she going to make them stick to their word? No contracts were drawn up or anything. Yo, I wouldn’t just hand an envelope full of cash to people I barely know. She easily could’ve been scammed out of a million yen right there and then. The fact that the other girls don’t even bat an eyelash at this move speaks to their inexperience.

— Hm, one of the women knows Shirase’s mom?

— It turns out the team still needs money. They definitely could’ve used that million yen, but it seems they turned Shirase down for her sake. In their minds, they probably believe a high school girl shouldn’t be going to Antarctica, and honestly, I can’t say I disagree. She’s young; she’s got her whole life ahead of hers. She can still go to Antarctica later. The only reason she wants to go now is because of her mother, but that’s… that’s not healthy. It’s been three years, after all. You’re not going to find your mother alive in Antarctica after three years. I think Shirase seriously needs therapy to help her cope with the loss, but that’s never a solution that is actually explored in anime.

— In the end, the three girls return home defeated… but the series is still young. We still need a fourth, after all.

— Oh lord, is that her? Coincidences on top of coincidences. Not only that, she’s an eavesdropper, too.

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2 Replies to “A Place Further Than The Universe Ep. 2: Stumbling blocks”

  1. I’ve also enjoyed this episode quite a bit, it turned out much better than I initially expected.

    The cinematography during the chase scene was also top-notch and the more melancholic elements of the show were handled well enough that it didn’t disrupt the overall light-hearted atmosphere of the anime. So it is a shame that the cast is so homogeneous, I think it could be even better with some of the characters being male, or older.

  2. This episode was pretty great. It’s true that Hinata and Mari have very similar roles so far, but I was pleasantly entertained by the surprise skills Hinata is revealed to have (e.g. actually being super smart, being incredible at sprinting). My speculation is that she’s the most idealistic but also the most intelligent one in the group.

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