Laid-Back Camp Season 2
Episodes 1-3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Laid-Back Camp (TV 2) ?

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

How would you rate episode 3 of
Laid-Back Camp (TV 2) ?

As Nadeshiko cheerily chomps down on a cracker, Ayano remarks out loud that her pink-coiffed childhood friend can make anything look good enough to want to join in yourself. Beneath her stone-faced exterior, Rin cannot help but enthusiastically agree. This is Laid-Back Camp's thesis statement. It hasn't changed since the first season, and the series has only grown more powerful in its realization of it. Laid-Back Camp is a meticulously-engineered precision strike of ultimate comfiness aimed at the intersection of your heart and stomach. It's the apex of iyashikei, and it's so good to have it back.

After a nice prologue about Rin's first camping experience, Season 2 of Laid-Back Camp picks up more or less right where the first season left off. It's still the middle of winter, and the members of the Outdoors Activities Club are all spending their New Year's break doing some combination of chilling, working, and chilling while they work. This is hardly a plot-driven series, so there's not much to catch up on. This too, however, is by design. Laid-Back Camp aims to be a welcoming experience wherever it can, so making its characters and their relationships impenetrable would run counter to that goal. Even if it's been three years since your last vicarious camping experience, the girls' personalities (and that of the show itself) should all rack back into focus by the time Nadeshiko gives Rin a parting gift of cup noodles at the end of the first episode. The girls are cute, and they haven't stopped doing their cute things, but that's only a fraction of Laid-Back Camp's appeal.

Laid-Back Camp is first and foremost a tactile experience. It's a synthesis of sensory information, both real and implied, crafted by a team of talented animators infusing the beauty of the natural world into your screen as best as they can. There are already upwards of a dozen scenes I could choose to focus on, but let's take Rin's pit stop at a beach this week. Immediately, the sight of fisherman at the water's edge evokes the bright brine of the sea's scent, alongside the pungency of freshly-caught fish. The soft shuffle of the surf going in and out soundtracks the entire scene with its mellow rhythm. As she sits down, Rin places her hand on the sand and lets it linger in its surprising warmth. Even in the dead of January, the vivacity of summer days is not all that distant, and the sparkling sunlit waters of the sea only reinforces that point. This isn't one of the more explicitly memorable scenes, but that doesn't stop Laid-Back Camp from utilizing all five senses here and inviting its audience to project themselves into another place. This is the level of care that goes into making Laid-Back Camp such a soul-warming experience.

This is, unfortunately, the paragraph where I have to talk about Covid-19. I don't want to have to do this yet again, and you're probably as sick as I am of dwelling on it, but there's no escaping my thoughts on Laid-Back Camp's brand of escapism in these pandemic times. I haven't traveled anywhere out of state in a year. I haven't dined in a restaurant. I haven't gone inside of a friend's place. I work, I get groceries once a week, and I go home. That's pretty much it. However, I have gone on a few local nature hikes, and after each one I've returned to my car sweaty and soul-soothed. Though obviously not to the same degree, Laid-Back Camp is similarly therapeutic in its animated adoration of the great outdoors. And one advantage this anime has over my local nature preserve is its ability to transport me halfway across the globe and invoke the qualia of places I might never visit. I don't know if I'll ever sample eel at Lake Hamana, but now I know I sure as hell want to. Laid-Back Camp is not just a show about camping; it's also a travelogue about the sights and experiences of Japan outside of the major metropolitan areas. Like Anthony Bourdain, but slightly less profane.

Basically, I'm looking forward to each week's Laid-Back Camp more than ever, because it provides genuine respite amidst turbulent and lonely times. It's appropriate, then, that (according to the show's producers anyway) this season will focus on its campers' experiences during solo ventures. Rin muses at the end of the third episode that “solo camping is a way to appreciate loneliness,” and even as I type this stuck in my chilly apartment, I think that's a beautiful sentiment. This is a refrain the second season has already embraced by using Rin as its focal character so far. Not only does it now make sense why last year's spinoff short series ROOM CAMP focused on the other three club members, it also lets Rin's comfort with being by herself set the tone for the episodes to come. Humans are social creatures, and I'm aching for the day when I can hang out with friends again, but I've always valued my alone time. It'll be nice, even transiently, to once again be able to appreciate loneliness as a choice rather than suffer it as an imposition.

That sure was a lot of serious words on the weight of human existence, so let me conclude with the reassurance that Laid-Back Camp is just as cute, funny, and relaxing as ever. These colorful blobs are the queens of iyashikei. Every instance of food makes me hungry, and every wide pan over the countryside makes me want to pick up some camping supplies at L.L.Bean. I bought a pack of cup noodles explicitly so I could eat them alongside the premiere. It feels like a weird anime to be writing about after reviewing the nail-biters Akudama Drive and Talentless Nana last season, and while reviewing the trauma-dense Wonder Egg Priority at the same time. However, I think that's also all the more reason why I need Laid-Back Camp in my life. These opening episodes both flex confidently and linger languidly in their embrace of our world's intrinsic natural beauty, and I'm ready to be comfy as all heck for at least 20 minutes per week over the next few months.

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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