Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Rin Shima enjoys the freedom of camping out all by herself. The brisk air, the comforting solitude, the time spent with your own thoughts… Rin loves simply escaping it all, and so often spends the winter months journeying out to campsites on her personal scooter. But one day, while camping in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Rin stumbles across a strange girl named Nadeshiko napping out in the middle of nowhere. Rin's friendship with Nadeshiko will expand her frame for the joy of camping, in a story that celebrates both the beauty of time alone and the cheer of time with friends.
I did not think I was going to end up in the target audience for Laid-Back Camp. Not only do I just tend to enjoy one or two slice of life shows a year, but camping itself simply doesn't hold any appeal for me. I like the beauty of the great outdoors, but I'm generally pretty content to appreciate it through a sturdy glass window from within a well-heated room. I'm a proud homebody, and the idea of setting up a tent and cooking over a fire just sounds like a lot of work to me.
In spite of all of that, it only took three or four minutes for Laid-Back Camp to charm me, and over the course of its twelve episodes, I came to understand precisely what can be so appealing about camping, even if I never felt tempted to embark on my own trips. Laid-Back Camp is both a terrific salesman for the joy of camping and an excellent show in its own right, a sturdy slice of life that alternately comforts and cheers through atmosphere, humor, and a clear understanding of its own strengths. And it all starts with the show's beautiful evocations of Rin's private journeys.
As Laid-Back Camp begins, we're treated to beautiful roadside backgrounds and a perky, whistle-infused soundtrack, courtesy of talented Kemono Friends composer Akiyuki Tateyama. His unique songs are perfectly suited to illustrating the peaceful atmosphere of Rin's first trip, as we watch her putter across the countryside and arrive at a quiet lakeside campsite. Rin's process of setting up camp is illustrated in full, careful animation detailing the physical mechanics of propping up a tent, searching for firewood, and settling in for the evening. Even if you've never been camping, Laid-Back Camp's attention to detail and tonal holism in these early minutes brings Rin's experience to life, relaying the unique appeal of camping all by yourself.
As the episode continues, Rin is introduced to Nadeshiko, whose goofy expressions, odd non-sequiturs, and general enthusiasm make for a dramatic contrast with Rin's quiet solo material. This contrast is Laid-Back Camp's secret weapon, underlining a balance that steers the show from first episode to last. Rin's solo trips consistently offer a vividly realized iyashikei appeal, succeeding through their understated aesthetic strength and powerful atmosphere. Meanwhile, Nadeshiko spends Laid-Back Camp's running time steadily recruiting more camping buddies, whose boisterous adventures consistently nail the appeal of traditional “girls in a clubroom” slice of life. Laid-Back Camp thus represents two very different but equally appealing subgenres of slice of life through each of its leads, and balances the prominence of each throughout.
As that rapturous description of Laid-Back Camp's early minutes might imply, I'm personally more fond of Laid-Back Camp's iyashikei material, and appreciate the show's dedication to honoring Rin's desire for personal space. That said, the material focused on Nadeshiko and her friends is just as compelling in its own way, if a little more genre-standard. Nadeshiko's personality falls somewhere between K-On!'s Yui and Nintendo's Kirby, and her enthusiasm is just as infectious as Yui's. The show offers great expression work, a believable rapport between close friends, and plenty of standout gags, with even its style of comedy adjusting to suit the tonal needs of Rin and Nadeshiko's very different stories.
In terms of visual execution, Laid-Back Camp is a solidly above par production. The show's backgrounds are easily one of its standouts, and great care is taken to impress Rin's various destinations with a sense of both beauty and realism. The campsites these girls visit feel lovely even in their mundanity, the careful detailing of camp benches and ill-kept roads feeling just as enchanting as the long shots of Fuji. The show's animation is mostly just functional, but its expression work is excellent, and the aforementioned music is a consistent highlight. And that's before mentioning the terrific opening song, which builds from the opening notes of I Want You Back to offer one of the most catchy anime songs of the year so far.
I have nitpicks about Laid-Back Camp, but they're minor issues that don't really dampen the appeal of the whole. It's clear enough that some of the show's episodes were outsourced to studios that couldn't manage Laid-Back Camp's usual aesthetic standard, leading to some forced simplicity and episodes that lean on Nadeshiko's comedy simply because they can't manage Rin's atmosphere. Not all the show's gags are winners, and if you don't have at least some fondness for both iyashikei and club comedy slice of life, you'll likely end up with a pretty lopsided experience. All in all, the show possesses just a slight roughness around the edges that keeps it from the highest tier of slice of life, but none of that prevents it from being an extremely worthwhile show.
Laid-Back Camp isn't really a journey with a clear destination; it eventually builds to a group campout starring the entire cast, but it's clear that this is just one step in an ongoing adventure. On the way, it offers consistently soothing outings with Rin, balanced by upbeat shenanigans starring Nadeshiko and her friends. As someone who's more engaged by slice of life's iyashikei end than its comedy end, I greatly appreciated Laid-Back Camp's balancing of the two, and thoroughly enjoyed my time camping with this crew. Laid-Back Camp is a terrific time, and I hope to see these charming campers again soon.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Delivers a terrific balance of comedy and atmospheric slice of life, brings the joy of camping to life
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