A Place Further Than the Universe
by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?
Well, we ain't in Antarctica yet, but we're getting there. This week's episode sees the characters complete the first leg of their journey with a plane flight to Singapore. After the obligatory round of sightseeing, some genuine drama arrives in the form of a lost passport. Mari and company are faced with a choice: they can stick to the schedule by leaving Hinata behind, or they can run the risk of having the expedition leave without them while they wait for her to get a replacement. The decision is ultimately made by Shirase, who has the most to lose if they don't make it to Antarctica.
It takes a while for the passport story to get going, so much of this episode's first half plays out like an ordinary travel story. It's mostly light and entertaining, with each of the four girls reacting to the experience in a different way. Yuzuki ends up acting as the leader of the group for a change, with her experience traveling for work proving to be an asset. This is an interesting little moment for her as a character, as it shows a positive outcome of her career instead of constantly portraying it as a weight on her shoulders. Mari also gets a brief moment in the spotlight as she makes an obvious yet significant observation on how the world continues to turn even as they set out on this grand journey. It's good that both of these characters get a chance to contribute to the episode, but the big stars this week are definitely Hinata and Shirase.
Once we learn that Hinata has lost her passport (and that there's not enough time to get a replacement), the situation naturally sets up a conflict for both her and Shirase. On Hinata's side of things, this storyline pushes her out of her comfortable spot as the group's reliable “big sister.” Whereas in the past she's often been the one to help other characters put their troubles into perspective, now Hinata is the one facing a dilemma she can't resolve on her own. She can either cause trouble for the other girls by asking them to wait for her, which goes against her desire to be independent, or she can take one for the team and drop out, which is uncomfortably close to her past decision to drop out of school. There's some good writing at play here, with both of Hinata's options forcing her to confront something that cuts close to who she is as a person.
Not to be outdone, Shirase finds herself in an equally tough spot. While Mari and Yuzuki have some input to offer, it's obvious that Shirase will have the final say by virtue of having the greatest emotional investment in the trip. Her inner conflict differs slightly from Hinata's in that it's less a matter of confronting past regrets and more a question of priorities. As Hinata points out, Shirase's first priority should be making it to Antarctica at all costs. After all, that's the mentality she's been embracing up to this point. The question is whether or not that long-standing goal is more important to Shirase than the bonds she's built up with Mari, Yuzuki, and Hinata. When she eventually commits to waiting for Hinata's new passport, even at the cost of buying everyone new plane tickets with her precious million yen, that decision creates a tangible and compelling moment of personal growth. In slamming that envelope down on the counter, Shirase effectively declares that this is no longer a solo mission for her; no matter what happens, these four girls are going to succeed or fail as a group.
As much as I like all of this character drama, there are still a couple of flaws to be found. The smaller of the two stems from the basic nature of the series; because this is a story about all four of the protagonists finding themselves through their journey to Antarctica, the threat of Hinata getting left behind never feels all that credible. Thankfully, the show minimizes that issue by focusing on what the conflict means to the characters on an emotional level instead of trying to convince us that she might actually end up stuck in Singapore. My bigger gripe is with the end of the episode and the way it cheapens Shirase's decision by having everything work out fine. The passport was never lost to begin with, the girls can stick to their original schedule, and Shirase is able to exchange the extra set of tickets. I realize that there's a need to keep this show upbeat and positive in tone, but the lack of any significant cost to the characters makes this otherwise excellent story arc feel kind of inconsequential.
The reason I'm willing to let that last-minute cop-out slide is that it doesn't change the fundamental meaning of the episode. The main priority is not to create tension by putting the voyage in jeopardy, but rather to bring the characters closer together by having them confront their own desires and motivations. In that context, Shirase's willingness to delay the trip at her own expense is more important than whether or not she actually has to do it. This is the second week in a row that A Place Further Than the Universe has shown some serious ambition with its character drama, and it's delivered in a big way once again. As the expedition slowly starts to come together, I'm finding myself more and more emotionally invested in these characters. That alone is a sign that the series is moving in the right direction.
A Place Further Than the Universe is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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