The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Girls' Last Tour
How would you rate episode 1 of
Girls' Last Tour ?
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How was the first episode?
Of all the things I was expecting Girls' Last Tour to be, "happy" and "comforting" were not in my bracket at all. Okay, "happy" is kind of a stretch. It's hard to describe these two girls scraping for bullets and eating snow for sustenance as "happy," but they do seem at peace with their situation, which makes this first episode alone an extremely comforting experience. I also wasn't expecting the main duo of the series to be so down-to-earth and relatable in their characterization, because their character designs are about as close to a literal "moeblob" as you can get. But I realize now that this assumption based on too many "sad moe girls in the snow" experiences was completely off-base.
Frankly, Girls' Last Tour might be the most hopeful and unexpectedly rejuvenating depiction of the apocalypse I've ever seen, relishing in the silence of a world that's not quite dead, just sleeping for a while until it is ready to be reborn. Our central duo are simply passing through this process, leaving no mark on the world beyond the bond they've forged with each other. Rather than being a "healing" show in the sense of comforting escapism or nostalgia, Girls' Last Tour evokes the unique emotion of going outside to look up at the stars in silence after a particularly hard day. It's the sense that even when things are at their darkest, you will be okay if you have the right person by your side to savor those flecks of joy life still has to offer you. I was expecting either a salve of treacle or low-level sadness porn from Girls' Last Tour, so I was completely blindsided by its strange sense of gentle joy that really tugged at my heartstrings by virtue of not trying to pull too hard.
It helps that the initially off-putting character designs turn out to be wonderfully expressive in motion, conveying unusual degrees of subtlety alongside the many bouts of silly cartoon excess. The dialogue helps with this a lot, drawing a clear and surprisingly deft line between Chito and YUURI as the laissez-faire airhead who snaps to attention in a serious situation and the would-be scholar who isn't as aware of her surroundings as she might like to think. Its deliberately sluggish pace and determination to wallow in extremely specific emotions for their own sake won't work for everyone, but I greatly enjoyed my time with this episode, and even if it's headed down a melancholy path, I can't wait to see where these Girls' Last Tour takes them next, because there's sure to be a light at the end of every tunnel.
The biggest negative to this series for me was immediately evident: I am not at all a fan of the character design style, and I could easily see that getting in the way of taking anything here too seriously. However, I grew to appreciate a style I didn't initially care for in Made in Abyss and I can see that happening here. Besides, being supported by a solid animation effort from Studio White FOX and nicely expressive faces certainly helps.
Or it could be that the two girls here are utterly charming – a key point when they are the only characters who appear in the story outside of a brief flashback. There's nothing complicated about them, but their personalities contrast in a complementary fashion and they have the kind of chemistry which makes them convincing as long-time friends and companions. Each plays off of the other well even in simple moments, such as when Chito is resting her head on YUURI's stomach and then for seeming amusement just slams her head back into her companion or when Chito has to extract her hand from being sucked on by YUURI as she sleeps. Between them they get into some surprisingly light-hearted moments for being wanderers in a desolate, ruined environment where they seem to be among the last survivors; in fact, I found myself at least chuckling several times during the episode.
Unsurprisingly, the episode also finds some time to wax philosophical about the nature of the war which led to their current situation. This is Philosophy Lite, where they speculate on why others might go to war and then perform a pointed demonstration of that over the last bar in a ration pack, a moment which also involves Chito's reluctance to carry a weapon. The seriousness of the moment doesn't last for too long, however, before they are on to eating snow or trying to move a rusted plane propeller. That is, I think, a good balance, as this series could easily get too grim if it took itself too seriously. While a grim, desperate struggle for survival might also be entertaining, a simple story about the importance of companionship when there's literally nothing else left has its appeal, too.
Kudos also have to go here to the background art design, which does a fantastic job of evoking the sense of loss and devastation while also raising questions about how these two happen to be alive and roaming with their modified Kettenkrad when no one else seemingly is. I don't see much direction or overall story coming out of this title, but I think the series can survive that just fine.
On paper, Girls' Last Tour should have been one of my favorite premieres of the season. Pitching its young duo of YUURI and Chito against the cold and unforgiving wasteland of some geographically ambiguous apocalypse, GLT plays like Made in Abyss by way of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which are two stories that resonate with me deeply. Surprisingly though, this left me feeling surprisingly ambivalent; when the credits rolled at the end of the episode, I had some nice things to say about the production overall, but almost no emotional reaction whatsoever.
A lot of this has to do with the framing of the stories, I think, by which I mean the literal composition of most of the shots in the episode. When I think of a good post-apocalypse story, I'm immediately reminded of properties that managed to make their vision of the world's end distinct from one another. The Road Warrior's post-civilization wasteland is a very different one from the ruined world we see in The Last of Us, for example. Girls' Last Tour struggles throughout its premiere to approximate that tone of the true apocalypse. Almost all of its scenes are framed in tight medium or close-up shots, with the girls or their truck serving as the point of focus. Even when the two finally make their way to the outside world halfway through the “War” vignette, the show's dull color palette and lackluster composition fail to provoke a sense of awe, emptiness, or general loss of humanity. There is no sense of place; instead we have claustrophobic sets (a curious sensation, given that GLT is a work of animation). This isn't so much a world forsaken as it is a tunnel, a snowy field, and a pair of abandoned military vehicles.
This wouldn't be so much of a problem were it not for YUURI and Chito's lack of impact as protagonists, which is especially an issue given that they're portrayed as being completely alone in the wasteland. Outside of one scene near the end, their “Slice-of-the-Last-Life-On-the-Planet” antics are surprisingly routine, essentially focusing on them wandering around and commenting on relics of the old world. The girls drive, scavenge, and make such revelatory discoveries as “War sure is dumb!”. The moment where YUURI pulls a gun on Chito over a candy bar was the one scene that managed to get me emotionally invested in the story, but even then, the commentary at play was so thunderously blunt that it took me out of the moment. “See!” exclaims Girls' Last Tour, “If you look at war as if it were two children fighting over some chocolate, doesn't that make it seem stupid?" This potentially being the extent of GLT's allegorical ambition is worrying for the show's long-term prospects.
This is all sounding rather negative, but I didn't actually hate this premiere; I just found it profoundly underwhelming. The premise still has a lot of promise, and there is some decent art to be found here too, when you look past all the oppressively plain lighting and visual direction. Consider the score of 3 to be bumped up purely for potential's sake, because I really do want this show to be good. If “war is like two kids fighting over chocolate” is the best Girls' Last Tour can do though, I'm tempering my expectations.
Girls' Last Tour was a show I had my eye on before the season began. Based on its striking promotional art and inherently melancholy premise, it seemed like it might be striving for that same combined note of tragedy and warmth embodied by shows like Sound of the Sky. Post-apocalyptic narratives and slice of life shows don't seem like they'd easily mix, but I've actually found many to be beautiful combinations. The inherent hope and focus on small pleasures of slice of life can be a lovely complement to a cold and desolate world, where hope and small pleasures are often all we have.
Such is absolutely the case for Girls' Last Tour's first episode, which succeeds as an emotional journey in spite of a variety of small hiccups. The show stars Chito and YUURI, two girls traveling across a land that seems absolutely ravaged by war. They don't run into any other survivors, but the machines and scars of battle lie all around them, and much of this episode involves the two of them picking over old wrecks for food and supplies. There's a powerful sense of solemnity to this episode's wanderings, a sadness over mankind's failures that is occasionally highlighted through the girls' bewildered commentary on how the world came to this. From its beautiful backgrounds to its lovely mix of orchestral and vocal backing tracks, Girls' Last Tour nails its atmosphere from start to finish.
It also helps that Chito and YUURI are such strong leads. The two demonstrate an instant rapport that seems to speak to a long and sometimes uneasy partnership, like the bond between two very different sisters. The comedy can get a little broad, but the relationship expressed through dialogue and body language is immediately clear, and each of the two girls establishes a clear personality across the course of this episode. Girls' Last Tour's first episode succeeds as both post-apocalyptic meditation and slice of life.
On the negative side, the show's heavy reliance on CG for all driving segments already feels obtrusive. The show's minimalist character designs naturally lend themselves to traditionally animated character acting, but the CG models end up feeling so minimalist that they look more like props than characters. I also wasn't entirely sold on this episode's final dramatic moment, when YUURI briefly seems to turn traitor. Though I could see that moment working as a reflection of the show's overall thoughts on human nature, it was a weird tonal shift that didn't seem supported by the material either before or after.
Still, Girls' Last Tour's first episode presents a fairly strong case overall. I'd have liked just a bit more of a real hook, as this episode didn't seem to conclude so much as run out of minutes, but balancing the needs of a slice of life and semi-war drama is undoubtedly a difficult task. There's plenty of real potential here.
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