A Place Further Than the Universe
by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?
If last week was the airplane episode, then this is definitely the boat episode of A Place Further Than the Universe. With their travel troubles safely behind them, the girls finally link up with the rest of the expedition and board the ship that will take them to Antarctica. It should be a time for wide-eyed optimism, but Yuzuki can't help noticing that something seems to be amiss. The crew is understaffed, the ship is light on supplies, and everyone on board seems to be harboring doubts about whether the voyage will go as planned. As Mari and friends wonder what in the world they've gotten themselves into, Shirase has an enlightening conversation with the expedition's captain.
If I had to sum this episode up in a single word, I'd call it “busy.” A Place Further Than the Universe packs a lot of new information into a short amount of time, all while shifting its focus back and forth between different groups of characters. We see plenty of new faces this week, though the introductions are informal at best; the new members of the crew serve mainly to set the tone for the expedition, given very little time to establish their own personalities. Returning characters like Gin and Kanae get more chances to interact directly with the lead characters, and as a result the show is able to develop them more. As for our core quartet, they split their time between increasingly well-delivered comedy and some light soul-searching.
That's a lot to get through, so this heavy narrative workload comes with a predictable downside. Because it's wedged in alongside all the fresh exposition, the conflict surrounding the expedition's shoestring budget never quite hits home. The possibility of failure barely has time to sink in before Shirase has her little heart-to-heart with Gin, which means the tension is released before it ever builds up to a compelling level. This storyline also suffers from being old news; the series already established these challenges in previous weeks, so the lack of supplies and personnel isn't as surprising as it might have been. I'm glad the challenge of sending people to Antarctica isn't being glossed over, but the show hasn't quite figured out how to turn those obstacles into properly gripping drama.
On the positive side, A Place Further Than the Universe continues to make up for the shortcomings of its “big picture” conflicts with its smaller, more personal story arcs. This episode opens the door for a long-overdue conversation between Gin and Shirase, and that interaction fills in some major gaps in the backstory. We finally get a clear picture of the role Shirase's mother played on the previous expedition, along with Gin's motivations for going back to Antarctica. By placing some mixed emotions behind Gin's stoic personality, the series moves her away from the standard archetype of the cool-headed commander and toward a more complex (and more relatable) role in the story. The flashback scenes are equally important for Shirase's development as a protagonist, as they forge more tangible links between her and her mother. Between the paint on the cabin ceiling and the shot of Gin and Takako in high school uniforms, there are a lot of deliberate visual links that reinforce the idea of Shirase following in her mother's footsteps.
Thanks to that added context, this episode ends on a surprisingly compelling note. The girls' on-stage introduction to the crew is quite funny in places, and it also marks a key step in the show's overall narrative. Through her endearingly awkward speech, Shirase removes an emotional barrier between herself and the crew's adult members. Instead of just being an uncomfortable reminder of Takako's disappearance, she helps the crew to see her as a separate individual with her own reasons for joining the expedition. Much like last week's “all for one and one for all” moment, this scene helps unify the cast and deliver an emotional high point at the same time. Where the previous episode solidified the group bond between Shirase, Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki, this scene integrates them into the larger crew.
So while this is a crowded and rushed affair, but A Place Further Than the Universe makes the most of it. This series has clearly found a formula that works: set up a conflict with the potential to drive characters apart, then use that situation to help them find common ground instead. That cycle is a good fit for the tone of this story, and it tugs at the ol' heartstrings with impressive consistency. If past performance is anything to go by, the show should have no problem developing this week's new faces into compelling characters. Now that everyone's stuck together on the same boat, there should be plenty of screen time to do so.
A Place Further Than the Universe is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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