A Place Further Than the Universe
Episode 11

by Paul Jensen,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?

Grand adventures sometimes have unwanted side effects, as Hinata discovers in this week's episode. As the girls run some tests for a live broadcast, some of Hinata's former classmates show up on the other end of the video feed. It turns out that when you do something as impressive as traveling to Antarctica, people suddenly want to be your long-lost friends. Hinata immediately ducks out of sight, and while she tries to play it off as no big deal, Shirase isn't convinced. When Shirase's clumsy investigation reveals the truth, Hinata has no choice but to tell the full story of why she dropped out of high school.

Having Shirase and Hinata share the spotlight worked out well for the series during episode six's passport crisis, and the chemistry between them is equally effective this week. There are quite a few structural similarities between that storyline and this one, with both episodes forcing the characters out of their comfort zones. Faced with unpleasant memories of her time in high school, Hinata slips from her usual place as the group's reliable rock and finds herself needing the same kind of support she normally provides. Meanwhile, the typically abrasive Shirase ends up being the only one who can get Hinata to open up about her troubles. Instead of leaning on their strengths, the girls are forced to make the best of their weaknesses. There's something inherently compelling about that setup, even if it is our second time around the block with this particular pair of characters.

It's especially interesting to watch Shirase deal with the situation, if only because she's so desperately awkward when it comes to nuanced social interactions. The way she sticks her nose into Hinata's business is clumsy and heavy-handed, and that's exactly how it should be. Blatantly spying on Hinata's email might be a terrible idea from an objective standpoint, but it feels like the kind of idea that Shirase might come up with in the heat of the moment. Flaws and mistakes are a big part of what make these characters feel believably human. On Hinata's side of things, bottling up her anger until she thinks no one's watching also feels like a believable course of action. I do wish the backstory behind her decision to quit school had a more original twist of some kind, but the standard sports drama approach works well enough.

As all of this plays out, A Place Further Than the Universe sprinkles in some comic relief with mixed results. Mari's goofy tan lines make for a funny image, and I love that her family's instinctive response is to immediately make fun of her for it. On the other hand, the ongoing side story of one expedition member waiting for an email from her boyfriend could have used an extra round of rewrites; it's far too repetitive and doesn't add much to the episode. There's some more Antarctic busywork to be done as well, which has the benefit of getting the characters away from their increasingly familiar base camp and into the great outdoors. The scenery offers up some striking images and provides an excellent backdrop for one of the episode's most poignant scenes.

The one-on-one conversation that Shirase and Hinata have next to the pool of melted snow releases the storyline's pent-up dramatic tension wonderfully. It plays out in a way that feels authentic to the characters, with Shirase trying to talk her way through the situation until Hinata finally loses patience and tells Shirase exactly how to make her feel better. It brings back just enough of their usual dynamic while still allowing Shirase to be the supportive friend Hinata needs. The show then goes on to hit it out of the park a second time during the girls' New Year's broadcast. Shirase and Mari's on-camera rant feels authentically messy and spontaneous, and yet they cut straight to the heart of the matter. While it's a bit surprising that we don't see the reactions of Hinata's old friends back in Japan, it's also appropriate that they're left out of frame. The point is that Hinata has moved on to a new stage in her life and found new friends who will stand up for her, even if it means completely derailing a major PR event. Much like their long-overdue apology, whatever response her former friends might have is irrelevant.

A Place Further Than the Universe needed to get back into its groove after last week's underwhelming performance, and this episode is exactly the kind of swift comeback I was hoping for. Sure, we've seen this kind of two-person drama from Shirase and Hinata already, but there's nothing wrong with revisiting a familiar formula when it works this well. Both the humor and the drama feel authentic to the characters involved, and the emotional payoff at the end is well worth the journey. This show is once again measuring up to its own high standards.

Rating: A-

A Place Further Than the Universe is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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