Laid-Back Camp Season 2
Episode 8

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Laid-Back Camp (TV 2) ?

It's time to see if Nadeshiko can withstand the slings and arrows of her harrowing solo camping venture. Will she survive the many slithering, growling perils of the untamed wilderness? In her attempt to throw a yoke around the neck of Mother Nature, will she too, like so many pioneers before her, find herself bucked and trampled into some unknown corner of the earth, never to be seen again except by the rays of some future sun bleaching her microbe-kissed bones into stark whiteness? Or will she look really cute and bond with some kids over roasted veggies?

Yeah, probably the last one.

This week, Nadeshiko earns her distinction as Laid-Back Camp's de facto protagonist, using her pleasantly ovular head and stalwartly sunny disposition to carry the episode through its funny, charming, and magical highlights. She's a fun character, and the series has a lot of fun with her, but I also appreciate how deftly the show's direction uses her as the audience's POV. The opening of this episode takes the simple act of Nadeshiko frolicking up the mountain and artfully invites the audience to soak in the scenery alongside her. Whenever I'm walking anywhere, especially a rural area I've never been to before, I know my eyes naturally start to wander and look for incidental scene compositions I can capture with my phone. Laid-Back Camp does a lot of this work for us with its beautifully-illustrated background art, which is as important a character as any of its human ones (look at how often Nadeshiko is dwarfed by the scenery this week). This front-and-center evocation of the natural world is one of the reasons why the anime feels so therapeutic to watch.

Rin brings up another salient point about what makes Laid-Back Camp work so well: wabi-sabi. I'm actually a little embarrassed that I haven't thought to look at the series through that lens in these reviews yet, because it seems so blindingly obvious in retrospect. Wabi-sabi is a complex aesthetic concept with a long history, but in the simplest terms, it's a way of finding beauty in the inevitable imperfections of a physical object. A wabi-sabi lens, for instance, would find a simple and worn wooden bowl much more desirable than a flashy or pristine one. The Japanese tea ceremony was the example I remember my professor using way back in my art history class. And along those lines, the background art in Laid-Back Camp also evokes wabi-sabi ideals. Nearly every shot of scenery in the show feels weathered in some way, whether it's showing the rust caked on an old fence, or texturing the smoothed surface of a public bench, or drawing the tufts of grass encroaching into the sides of a path. These aren't idealized portraits of the countryside, but they're gorgeous nevertheless in their commitment to depicting the natural rustic charm of places that won't (or can't) hide the evidence of time's passage. There's a bittersweetness to this flavor of beauty, and this also helps Laid-Back Camp feel like a much fuller experience than most other club-based anime.

Laid-Back Camp clearly loves to proselytize about camping as a fun and accessible way for people to commune with nature more closely, but I like that it isn't preachy about it. It would have been so easy for the show to scold the siblings who brought a laptop full of anime to their campout; instead, it makes zero judgment calls. Nadeshiko just befriends the kids and expands their horizons with a bunch of delicious (and a few not-so-delicious) food experiments. The episode even has fun with the image of Nadeshiko as a devious temptress beckoning some wayward children into the sinful world of roasted produce. It's a thoroughly wholesome scene that embodies the best qualities of Laid-Back Camp. When your anime is this well put-together, you don't need to be petty or guilt-trip the audience to make your point. You can instead be like Nadeshiko, kindly inviting people over to check out what you're doing so people can decide for themselves whether or not they like it. That's the Laid-Back way.

Speaking of wholesome, Rin's contributions to the narrative this week only further cement her as the perfect mom/wife complement to Nadeshiko. Her funny-faces-per-minute ratio might be smaller than her round and pink friend, but she can also undergo some good blobification when it counts. It's also just really adorable to see her so concerned over her friend's well-being. Obviously we, the audience, know Nadeshiko is safe, but considering what happened the last time Rin's friends went camping without her, it's no wonder why she can't help but imagine the worst. It's cute, too, to see her walk into the similarly-pessimistic Sakura. They both love Nadeshiko dearly—in fact, they love her enough to resort to some Looney Tunes stealth antics to protect Nadeshiko's illusion of a “true” solo camp. Next time, I'm sure they'll all be able to rest a little easier, including Nadeshiko herself. But she doesn't need to rest now when she has the sparkle of the city lights below her, the twinkle of the stars above her, and a cozy sleeping bag in between.

It's awfully cruel of Laid-Back Camp to end one of its finest episodes yet with a punishing reminder that Aoi and her Caribou boo (or, as I like to call him, Cariboo) must continue to be separated by the cruel walls of capitalism, but then again, ¥360,000 for true love seems like a steal. Regardless, I feel bright and rejuvenated after spending another twenty minutes with this show, and I'm already looking forward to my next fix. While it might not be my favorite anime this season, it's definitely the one that earns my broadest possible recommendation.

Rating:

Laid-Back Camp is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is thinking about those eggs. Please direct all egg and egg-related inquiries towards his Twitter


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