A Place Further Than the Universe
Episodes 1-3

by Paul Jensen,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Place Further Than the Universe ?

Anime loves a good coming-of-age story. Be it through sports, music, or giant robot battles, countless animated teenagers have found their place in the world while pursuing some kind of lofty goal. For the cast of A Place Further Than the Universe, that goal happens to be going to Antarctica. For Shirase Kobuchizawa, it's a journey with deeply personal stakes. Her mother went missing on an expedition several years ago, and Shirase is determined to find her. Shirase's single-minded focus on going to Antarctica drives away most of her high school peers, with the exception of Mari Tamaki. Desperately searching for some kind of adventure to go on, Mari decides to join Shirase on her journey. Now if only they had a workable plan for actually getting there.

This show's first three episodes place it somewhere between the “cute girls doing cute things” niche and a more traditional youth drama. As charming and entertaining as the antics of the lead characters may be, this story is clearly going somewhere specific. The first steps of that narrative are compelling in their own tentative way, as our first look at the situation comes through the lens of Mari's teenage restlessness. We see her try and fail to seek out adventure on her own, and there's something very relatable about that tension between her desire to do something extraordinary and her fear of failure. I like the way the series sets up this conflict, as it helps to ground the story in reality before moving on to the whole “let's go to Antarctica” business.

After Mari's initial false start, the story quickly turns a corner and begins building up to the promised voyage. It's here that A Place Further than The Universe begins to hit its stride as a coming-of-age story. As Shirase and Mari try to con their way onto a civilian expedition, we see that the process will be difficult enough to be worth watching but not so daunting as to render any success implausible. That's the ideal balance for this kind of story, and the hijinks of the second and third episodes keep things entertaining while moving the plot along. Even if the girls haven't actually left Japan yet, their progress has been steady enough to convince me that they'll get around to it soon enough.

Another point in the show's favor is its cast. All four members of the central quartet have been introduced already, and there's some welcome variety within the group. Each girl has a distinct personality and her own particular motivation for making the trip, and they're all compelling enough to carry their share of the story. There's also some genuine depth to their characterization: Mari seems to have a thoughtful side that belies her “generic teenage heroine” role, while Shirase has enough moments of clumsy enthusiasm to temper her normally serious attitude. The show's most interesting dynamic at the moment may be between Shirase and teenage celebrity Yuzuki Shiraishi; Shirase can't find a way onto the expedition no matter how hard she tries, while Yuzuki is desperate for an excuse to get rid of her own golden ticket. I'm curious to see how some of these relationships will play out, but for now just having a compelling group of protagonists is more than enough.

On the production side of things, the folks at Madhouse appear to have a good handle on this series' look and feel. The character designs aren't particularly colorful or outlandish, which seems like a good fit for the more grounded atmosphere of the show. While the animation quality is pretty strong, it's the visual direction that's been catching my eye thus far. Many little details add to a scene's impact; one good example is Mari hiding Shirase's giant envelope of cash in an ethics textbook while she struggles to figure out how to return the money to its owner. It's a clever touch, and these “blink and you'll miss it” moments add to the overall impression that A Place Further Than the Universe is being assembled with care.

In some ways, it feels like this show hasn't put all of its pieces together yet. It doesn't deliver any big emotional peaks in these first three episodes, choosing instead to lay the groundwork at a slow but steady pace. The upside is that it's been able to achieve its modest narrative ambitions without any trouble, and that foundation should give it plenty to build on over the course of the season. Since this is an original production rather than an adaptation, I'm cautiously optimistic that this story will be able to get where it needs to go by the final episode. In the meantime, I'm happy to watch these characters get to know one another as they take the next step toward their goal.

Rating: B+

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

discuss this in the forum (183 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

back to A Place Further Than the Universe
Episode Review homepage / archives