The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Laid-Back Camp ?
What is this?
Nadeshiko Kagamihara has just moved to Yamanashi prefecture, and the first thing she wants to do is bike up to Lake Motosu to see the famed view of Mt. Fuji, though she ends up falling asleep and getting lost on the way. Luckily, Nadeshiko runs in to Rin Shima, a fellow high-schooler who also happens to be an expert solo camper. Spending an evening out under the stars with Rin ends up showing Nadeshiko just how fun camping can be. This chance meeting eventually leads Rin and Nadeshiko to their school's Outdoor Activities Club, where both girls will make new friends and have plenty of adventures with each other as they celebrate the joy of camping in the great-outdoors. Laid-Back Camp is based on a manga, and streams on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
This season really seems to be front-loading the cute girl shows. That's not an inherently bad thing, but it is a little odd that Laid Back Camp is the second such series to focus on cute girls being outdoors in cold weather. Unlike A Place Farther Than the Universe, Laid Back Camp sticks close to home – the heroine we meet this week, Shima Rin, is a camping enthusiast who prefers to camp lakeside in the off-season so as to better enjoy both the great outdoors and the views of Mt. Fuji. There's definitely a lot to be said for that – ask anyone who lives in a tourist-drawing area, and they'll tell you the same thing.
What makes this a little less charming is the execution. Rin's cozy camp setup comes with no only the thrill of watching someone else assemble a tent and gather firewood and kindling, but also with random narration informing us of what Rin's doing and why. Despite these displays of camping know-how, Rin's inappropriately dressed for the activity in a dress and a shawl and doesn't seem to realize that digging a firepit before igniting a blaze what looks like mere inches in front of her might be a good plan. Add to this the improbably and annoying character of Nadeshiko, who cheerily falls asleep outside in 41 ̊F/5 C (which admittedly sounds tropical to me right now, but still) weather with nary a problem, and this is looking less like a camping show and more like an excuse to put adorable high school girls outside. And they are cute – although the character designs adhere to the sort of generic post-K-ON look that the genre has taken on, they're still attractive and Rin's outfit is adorable. The scenery is gorgeous as well, and apart from one kind of awkward squirrel, this really is nice to look at from an aesthetic standpoint.
With a school club looming on the horizon, it doesn't necessarily look like Laid Back Camp is going to be much more than what this first episode indicates: girls going on fall and winter camping trips that will be narrated for our benefit. That means that as of right now you've got two choices as to how you want your cute outdoor girls: with bittersweet plot or just hanging out together. It's tough to complain about that.
So far this season we've already had a series debut about cute girls going to Antarctica and a cute girl enjoying ramen. So why not a series about cute girls going camping, too? At least anime is trying to broaden its horizons on “cute girls do cute things” shows.
Of course, given the lush background visuals that the first episode features, this series could just as well be “cute girls enjoy scenery porn,” as Mt. Fuji is nearly as much of a character in it as the two girls we get formally introduced to and has almost as much personality. Though all of the girls in the opening scene make at least brief appearances in the episode, it focuses on Rin, who looks like she will fill the role of the quiet, pragmatic one, a small girl who seems to like camping out on her own for the solitude it delivers but doesn't necessarily seem averse to camping with others. The pink-haired girl – Nadeshiko, I think? – seems primed to fill the obligatory role of the ditzy but energetic girl, which makes her the fully-expressive contrast to Rin. That's a good pairing to start off with, and there already seems to be a certain degree of chemistry building. Given that the next episode bears the title of the club that both girls will presumably join, I'm guessing that the rest of the quintet will be formally introduced then.
It also looks like an educational experience on camping is intended as a prominent aspect of the series. I went out camping a few times every summer when I was a kid, and even I learned a few things I never knew before from this episode, like how dry pine cones make ideal kindling. (I will somewhat disagree about getting the marshmallows too close to the fire, though, as you can sometimes get the best results from actually briefly getting them caught on fire.) The content also seems determined to show off camping gear, and the procedure for setting up the tent is very meticulously-portrayed. So it looks like this series could be as much for camping enthusiasts as CGDCT fans.
The big question at this point is whether or not the character dynamic is going to be sufficient to carry the series for those who aren't into camping at all, but given the personability of the characters introduced so far, the effectiveness of the light humor, and the good visuals and suitable music, I can see it working.
The pursuit of comfy is equal parts art and science, a complicated goal whose best results often belie the difficulty of their creation. Shows like K-On! come across as effortless because the appearance of ease is key to their emotional appeal, but actually making a show you can completely sink into is a massive artistic undertaking. Every element of a coziness-focused slice of life must be working in sync; shows like this can't simply ride on good narrative hooks, they must succeed as holistic aesthetic experiences, or the illusion of being transported to another world and emotional “feel” are lost. And our first dedicated slice of life of the season, Laid Back Camp, absolutely nails it.
This premiere's first scene essentially acts as a statement of purpose: though the show will take some time gathering its cast members, we're first greeted with a comfy fireside snack starring the whole crew. The contrast of cold air being warded off by a warm fire and close friends comes through clearly, the sequence's in-universe camera framing putting us on an equal level with its stars. And then, after a giddy, whimsical opening song, we spend the rest of the episode joining Rin Shima on a trip to view Mount Fuji.
Slice of life shows tend to hang on their tone and setting more than other genres, and Laid Back Camp's own peaceful, meditative tone is beautifully established across sequences of Rin biking through autumnally colored hillsides. Rin herself seems designed to evoke comfiness; instead of initially saddling us with the overenthusiastic newbie, we instead first accompany the mellow steady hand, whose swaddled scarves and giant hair bun make her seem like some stoic stuffed animal. As Rin goes about setting up her camp, careful attention is paid to the mechanics of activities like pitching a tent and gathering firewood, the inherent satisfaction of completing these tasks adding both small internal arcs and a sense of meditative effort to her motions. Gentle string arrangements, warm flute melodies, and creative percussion further underline the satisfying peacefulness of the moment. Watching Rin set up camp feels intimate and invigorating, like the audience is lazily watching a friend do their camping chores after having just finished our own tasks.
Eventually, Rin does run into camping newbie Nadeshiko Kagamihara, and the last act of this episode is more conventional “getting to know you” slice of life setup. But by that point, Laid Back Camp's mastery of scene setting had already sold me entirely. From its pleasant art design and lovely backgrounds to its well-employed music, genuine fascination with the mechanics of camping, and likable characters, Laid Back Camp's first episode nails the fundamentals of its particular brand of slice of life. Real-life camping is a pretty serious undertaking, but Laid Back Camp seems to distill the appeal of watching the sun rise over a cold lake into charming twenty minute installments.
Laid-Back Camp is nothing if not extremely upfront about its intentions: It is indeed a show about camping, and it is a very laid-back one at that. I haven't always been the biggest fan of these types of supremely chill hangout series, but I've been warming up to them more and more over the past couple of years, and Laid-Back Camp seems to be a perfectly pleasant addition to the Iyashikei fold. It's got pretty vistas, cute girls doing cute things, and more enough camping tips and tricks to satisfy any otaku with an itch to explore the great outdoors.
While the larger focus of the series will inevitably focus on all five of the girls in the Outdoor Activities Club, this premiere episode is focused squarely on two very different teens: Rin Shima, who is a whiz when it comes to setting up her own little campground paradise, and Nadeshiko, who literally falls asleep outside some toilets and gets stranded in the middle of the night. It's a classic comedy setup to pair the well-traveled expert with the inexperienced klutz, and the two girls’ scenes late play the trope pleasantly enough, though I'll admit I actually got the most cozy-and-cuddly-vibes from the first half of the episode, which simply has Rin out on her own, setting up camp and getting comfortable on the shore of Lake Motosu. I always enjoy it when a slice-of-life show takes the time to get the small details right and get a little educational, and Laid-Back Camp uses both Rin's inner-monologue and its infrequently heard narrator to get the show's cozy and informative tone just right (plus, the little talking pine-cone was adorable).
Production wise, this is a solid effort, with clean and crisp visuals that do well to communicate the natural beauty of the outdoors that makes camping so enjoyable in the first place. There isn't anything particularly exceptional happening here, aesthetically, but it never gets in the way of Laid-Back Camp being a gently entertaining good-time. One positive exception would be the soundtrack, which I found to be pretty delightful. The only other show I've seen that composer Akiyuki Tateyama has worked on before is Shimoneta, and I can't recall the music being particularly memorable for that show. Here, though, he produces a bright and folksy soundtrack that perfectly complements the breezy visuals and overall good-natured spirit of the show.
At the end of the day, Laid-Back Camp is a show with modest but admirable goals, and it rises to meet them with grace and ease. It has likable characters, a pleasant aesthetic, and never strays from delivering an experience that is anything other than “nice”. I wouldn't say that it goes so far as to be exceptional in anything that it pursues, at least so far, but I can see Laid-Back Camp being a reliable fall back show for anyone that just wants to kick back and watch some anime girls be cute out in nature.
I've grown up in the Pacific Northwest my entire life, an area that's known for nine-month rainy season and as a fantastic entry point to the great outdoors. I grew up camping, at least as long as my parents could force me to be outside, but it always at one of those sites that rented out asphalt slabs to park your car or RV and set camp up next to it. I haven't been camping since and I hardly thought I was missing out on much.
Laid-Back Camp has me questioning that entire rationale. C-Station's adaptation of Afro's manga introduces us to Rin, a pint-sized high schooler to who is surprisingly self-sufficient and her camping convert Nadeshiko. The premiere episode could best be described as “calming” as Rin sets up camp at a lakeside beach in full view of Mount Fuji. She builds a fire from pine cones and fallen wood, enjoys a novel, and waits for the clouds to part to get that picturesque view of the mountain. The episode is slow and mostly quiet but oddly very relaxing. It taps into a specific type of comfort, and I couldn't help but remember how nice it was to wake up to the chill air at 7 am when my parents would cook bacon and eggs from out of the portable ice chest over the mini-propane stove.
There's also something oddly empowering about watching Rin be entirely self-reliant in the woods and enjoying her chosen hobby. I left the episode feeling like maybe I could also enjoy a side-trip into nature and not get devoured by bears (or frost bite, or cougars) despite being a tiny person.
Laid-Back Camp must be checked out, even if you aren't a tried and true slice-of-life fan. The pacing will probably keep some away, and the plotting is unlikely to go beyond cute girl friends enjoying nature's beauty but it invokes a specific mood, at least it did for me, that was just as motivating to try out what I was watching as it was to simply enjoy it passively.
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