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Laid-Back Camp at Otakon 2019

by Kyle Cardine,

The cold winter air that stings, the warmth of a fire after a long hike, the view of the sunrise in the early morning—The small joys of camping can be experienced anywhere a tent can be set up. Afro, a manga artist from Yamanashi prefecture, set to capture these small pleasures in their series Laid-Back Camp, later adapted into a TV series by C-Station in 2018.

Laid-Back Camp chronicles the trips of the Outdoor Activities Club, a small high school group of girls who love nothing more than to check out camping spots around Japan. The series holds an incredible wholesome tone throughout its entire run with stories that feel more grounded and human than anything else: Rin Shima, one of the main characters, is elated when she gets a new portable grill to try out. The biggest dilemma she ever encounters is trying to check into a campsite before it closes because she spent too much time enjoying a cute cafe.

The series struck a chord with fans both in Japan and abroad, enough that Otakon invited some of the show's top creative staff to this year's convention. Director for the series Yoshiaki Kyogoku, planning producer Shōichi Hotta, and Sayuri Hara, the voice actress for Chiaki Ōgaki, made their way to Washington, D.C. for a slate of panels and interviews to talk about the production of the series, its global popularity and what the future holds for the little camping club.

Hotta said plans to produce a Laid-Back Camp anime started in 2015 back when he first read the manga. He said the cute characters, interesting setting and Afro's ability to capture the unique characteristics of each campsite, and the nature of Yamanashi prefecture, made for a great series to adapt.

“As a Japanese person, I feel like a lot of Japanese people might not understand what it is about Japan that is beautiful,” Hotta said. “I feel like as an anime, we were able to illustrate that.”

Afro would regularly go to Tokyo from Yamanashi prefecture for scenario writing meetings with the staff and, according to Kyogoku and Hotta, was very receptive to whatever the team wanted to do. From there they began gathering staff and funding, which is when they approached Crunchyroll Japan for distribution and co-production. Hotta said it was natural to go to a foreign investor because the outdoor theme of the series could sell well overseas.

“We started by asking them about helping us spread the word about the show,” Hotta said in an interview with Anime News Network. “The Crunchyroll people were very helpful and were able to publicize it. I hear the streaming was very successful. They were a great partner to have.”

Since there's not much “drama” (as Kyogoku described it) in the series, by far the most important task for the staff was to capture the real-life locations in a way that would even make winter camping appealing. They said while the manga was not well known when they started pre-production, Kyogoku said he was moved by the people he met during their location research.

“Maybe even more so than scenery, we were struck by the humanity of the people,” Kyogoku said. “That's what we were trying to convey too.”

The staff, in fact, did a lot of camping themselves to prepare for the series, but Kyogoku appeared to have the most dedication: He even went camping by himself to understand why the character Rin appreciated it so much.

“I had this preconceived notion that camping was going with a bunch of people and having a good time, but then going alone was a whole different beast,” Kyogoku said. “It really opened my eyes to the beauty of camping.”

The group also described one of their most notorious trips: the time they stayed overnight at Lake Motosu, the campsite featured in the first episode. Hotta, Kyogoku, the scenario writer and production leader went for what they described as a very cold and wet time. “I thought 'We got to start a fire or we'll die,'” Hotta said, describing how they all had to collect firewood the night they stayed.

“It was raining all day and night. Then in the morning the rain stopped and Mt. Fuji looked really beautiful,” Kyogoku said. “Having that experience moved me and that's what made me include that in the first episode.”

The voice cast joined later in production with Hotta noting the team auditioned about 40 people for each character. Hara said she was only allowed to audition for two characters out of the main cast and chose Nadeshiko Kagamihara and Chiaki Ōgaki, and eventually made the cut to play Chiaki. Hara told Anime News Network she was drawn to them because they are both “very frank with their emotions.”

“Like when they're eating they'll just shout out that it's good,” Hara said. “I wanted to play them because I could relate to emotions just coming to them.”

A notable addition to the voice cast is Akio Ohtsuka, famously known as Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, as the narrator. Usually, when the club is learning camping tips and tricks, Ohtsuka's low, almost “voice of god” like presence will appear to explain camping best practices. Kyogoku said he was quite surprised when he saw Ohtsuka's name on the audition list as he primarily knew him as Batou from Ghost in the Shell. Hotta said when Ohtsuka read the explanation for starting a fire with pine cones from the first episode, the staff found it too hilarious and fitting to go with anyone else.

“Since it's just a cast of girls, I think we needed something with more of a chill tone, so we chose a male narration,” Kyogoku said.

“We originally planned on having a female narrator,” Hotta added. “For an anime all about girls camping, having a male narrator was kind of taboo. We decided to throw down the gauntlet and try something new.”

Laid-Back Camp's unique soundtrack was also of interest to fans, including the peppy opening "SHINY DAYS" by Asaka and the calm, collective ending "Fuyu Biyori" by Eri Sasaki. Kyogoku and Hotta explained the aim for the opening was to feel like you're in your car, excited to be heading to a campsite, while the ending theme left you feeling like staring into the late-night fire.

When asked about the original soundtrack by Akiyuki Tateyama, Hotta and Kyogoku emphasized how they wanted to make a particularly distinct sound for the show. “In Japan, it's labeled as 'Irish Music.' We wanted it to have this kind of “dancing' feel to it,” Hotta said.

“Usually in TV anime, you just make music that can be used as you need it, but for Laid-Back Camp we made seven different tracks for each of the camping sites,” Kyogoku said. “The feel of each of the campsites is different, so we wanted to make sure that each place was individually represented.”

After the premiere of Laid-Back Camp, Yamanashi prefecture would see a boom in tourism with scores of people going out and camping at places featured in the show, even tripling the visitors at the Lake Motosu campsite according to the campsite's owner. Neighboring campsites also reported an influx of campers hoping to experience the same sites as the Outdoor Activities Club. Kyogoku described this rise in camping interest as “a huge victory for us.”

The popularity of the show also completely surprised the staff. Hara even admitted she thought the series “was super Japanese.” Hotta told Anime News Network the staff never made any specific distinctions between Japanese or American anime fans during production, but rather focused on just trying to make a good show. “I believe there isn't anything too different between the audiences. The overlapping theme is global. Back then, if we made something that captured Japanese fan's hearts, it would capture American fan's hearts too.”

“Yesterday, a lot of American fans said they related to Rin and I had Japanese fans say the same thing. I believe there's lots of common ground,” Hotta said.

During Anime News Network's interview with the staff, the topic of Nadeshiko's future selling camping equipment came up and it was noted that an REI camping goods store was located near the convention center. Hara and the others would later post a photo on Twitter from their visit to the store. Just as the team hoped, the joy and connection that camping brings truly has no borders.

With a new short series "Heya Kyan△" premiering in January 2020, a movie and a second season scheduled, Laid-Back Camp has a lot on the horizon. While fans eagerly wait for any details, Hotta told Anime News Network they are currently working on the scenario writing. Kyogoku described the team's process of reflecting on season one and how it will flow into future works.

“Season one was about Nadeshiko, finding a group and showing what makes camping appealing. In the second season, we might kind of move away from just small camps to further journeys,” Kyogoku said. “When you travel alone, it gives you an opportunity to reflect. I think the cast reflecting on themselves and their relationships will be the central theme on their journey. That's all I can say!”

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