A Place Further Than the Universe
by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?
To call this week's episode of A Place Further Than the Universe “heavy” would be an understatement. The series brings out the big guns as it dives straight into the heart of its story. The expedition crew is finally going back to the inland station where Takako disappeared, which means Shirase is finally going to reach the place she's been striving for all this time. Her reluctance to face that final moment of closure is about as clear a warning as the show can give that we've got some seriously emotional scenes headed our way.
While this episode's big narrative priority is to get the main characters to the inland station, I'm glad the series takes a moment to let Shirase think about what she's getting herself into. Her initial reluctance to sign up for the trip is a good example of the show's ability to look beyond a character's central motivation. The question Shirase poses is an important one: what if she finally reaches the goal she's been pursuing for years, only to find that it doesn't give her the closure she's hoping for? It creates a very human moment of hesitation for her, and I like that she's more worried about finding disappointment in success than she is about simply failing. It's a more nuanced perspective than the basic win-or-lose mentality that often defines anime protagonists, and it serves as a reminder that a goal is only important because of the emotional investment someone pours into it.
That sentiment is echoed during the snowcat trip, especially in the late-night conversation between Mari and Shirase. Mari's response when asked if she likes Antarctica speaks to both her own perspective and the show's continued focus on the bonds between its characters. The message is that, at least for Mari, the specific destination of Antarctica is less important than the relationships she's formed with the people around her. It gives us an interesting lens through which to view some of this episode's other scenes, such as the crew's outdoor barbecue or the montage that accompanies Shirase's narrated letter to her mother. You could swap out the Antarctic setting for any number of different locations, and the emotional core of these moments would remain more or less unchanged. Whether it's Shirase's personal search for answers or the expedition crew's quest for redemption, A Place Further Than the Universe has set its focus on the way these difficult journeys unite the people involved. As simple and common as that theme may be, there's something deeply compelling about seeing and hearing what those bonds mean to the characters.
Despite all the “friends forever” stuff, there's plenty of room for mixed emotions and even genuine conflict as the trip inland plays out. As Shirase continues to waver between her need for closure and her fear of not finding it, the other girls are torn between the desire to help her and the need to step back and give her some space. While Gin and Kanae are mostly limited to supporting roles here, the show does at least acknowledge that the two of them have their own mixed feelings about returning to the place where they lost Takako. All this tension finally boils over when they reach the inland station, and the way it plays out is surprising. It's ultimately Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki who frantically search the place for a tangible sign that Takako was there, while Shirase is the one asking them to let it go. It's a reversal of expectations, but it also makes sense; the girls are desperate to act on that pent-up desire to help Shirase, but she still doesn't feel prepared to face the end of her journey. From a critical perspective, it's a fascinating moment of conflict that's cleverly set up by everything that came before. From an emotional standpoint, you'd be hard-pressed not to get swept up in the moment yourself.
Of course, that's just the warm-up for this episode's final scene. A Place Further Than the Universe has delivered its fair share of tear-jerkers already, but watching Shirase open up her mother's old laptop hit me even harder than I expected. This scene would've been a huge emotional release no matter how it was presented, but some artful direction makes it all the more compelling. There's no big monologue from Shirase, nor is there a convenient message left behind by Takako; it's just a simple email program that slowly retrieves all the unread messages that Shirase has sent to her mother over the years. As that number climbs higher and higher, it tells us everything we need to know without actually saying anything outright. The audience is left to imagine what might be written in each of those emails, along with the range of emotions Shirase might have gone through while sending each one. That overflowing inbox forces Shirase and the audience to confront the entirety of her experience distilled into a number on a computer screen. The presentation is clever and even subtle in its own way, and yet the emotions it unleashes are almost overwhelmingly raw.
Ending the story here would make for one heck of a mic drop, but every source I can find suggests that there's a thirteenth episode on the way. There are still some loose ends to tie up, and our heroines could certainly use some more time to process everything they've just been through. That said, this episode summed up the core themes and conflicts of A Place Further Than the Universe in spectacular fashion. The emotional and narrative buildup flows neatly from one scene to the next, setting the stage for a fantastic payoff at the end. This is damn good character drama.
A Place Further Than the Universe is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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