by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Laid-Back Camp ?
It's taken nearly the whole season to get the entire cast together at the same campsite, so it's kind of fitting that a good chunk of this episode is devoted to just watching the characters meet up and check in. Once that lengthy process is finally complete, it's on to more familiar fare like setting up tents and indulging in impossibly delicious outdoor cooking. Yep, you'd be pretty hard-pressed to mistake this for an episode of anything other than Laid-Back Camp.
Having the characters arrive one or two at a time makes for downright glacial pacing, but it has the advantage of giving each member of the cast some time in the spotlight. These scenes play out along familiar lines, with each one leaning into established relationships and personality quirks. For Aoi and Chiaki, this means taking their usual clubroom antics outdoors and bringing Toba along for a little variety. Rin gets a chance to run through her solo act briefly before meeting up with Nadeshiko, who basically spends the whole episode eating. Saitou is left for last, which provides ample fodder for another one of her goofy text exchanges with Rin. In short, everyone does about what you'd expect at this point in the series. There's not much new here, but the natural ease with which it's presented speaks to the amount of time Laid-Back Camp has spent quietly developing its cast. Whether it's Aoi giving Chiaki a hard time for forgetting everyone's names or Rin instantly ditching a bundle of firewood after deciding it's too heavy to carry, the script is able to step back and let the characters do their own thing. The resulting humor has the kind of conversational vibe that's so important for this genre.
In fact, it's surprising just how little difference uniting the whole gang makes to the show's atmosphere. While this is technically the first time the entire cast has gone camping in the same place, the changes from previous storylines are minor at best. Rin knows the Outclub members well enough that there's no need for introductions, and Saitou is so easygoing that her presence has little to no effect on the group dynamics. The addition of a faculty advisor might have changed things up under different circumstances, but Toba doesn't do much besides eat, drink, and sleep. Her biggest contribution to the episode is as a comedy prop for Nadeshiko to cover in hats and blankets. Whether this is a point for or against the episode will depend on your perspective; it's disappointing if you're hoping for some fresh material, but it's good news if you're more interested in the atmosphere than in new gags or moments of insight.
Part of the reason for that relative lack of change in the status quo lies in the way the episode integrates Rin into the larger group. While she fits in easily with the other characters, the episode goes out of its way to let her do her own thing too. Her arrival at the campsite is straight out of the solo camping playbook, and the end of the episode gives her some extra time alone with her thoughts while riding on her scooter. Laid-Back Camp's willingness to let Rin do things at her own pace has become one of the show's defining characteristics. Even the most easygoing slice-of-life titles usually drag their “loner” characters kicking and screaming into the harsh sunlight of friendship after a couple episodes, but that's never been the case here. It's not easy to let a character act independently without making them seem isolated, but walking that line continues to be worthwhile for Laid-Back Camp. There's something authentic about the way Rin finally admits, grudgingly and silently to herself, that camping with a group is enjoyable in its own way.
It remains to be seen if next week's episode will bring anything special to the table, but for now this storyline is sticking closely to the established Laid-Back Camp formula. There are some downsides to this approach, namely that nagging feeling that we've seen all of this before, but it's certainly an understandable decision. This series does some of its best work when it dials back the hijinks and trivia to let the characters just be themselves. By not throwing anything too unusual into the mix, this episode is able to lean into that easygoing attitude with positive, if overly familiar, results.
Laid-Back Camp is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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