by Rebecca Silverman,

Laid-Back Camp

GN 1

Laid-Back Camp GN 1
Rin enjoys winter camping – not because she's a big fan of the cold, but because she enjoys the peace, quiet, and solitude of the off-season. That last part may be about to change however when Nadeshiko moves to town. Exuberant as a puppy, Nadeshiko instantly becomes captivated by Rin's camping skills and decides that she wants to join her. She immediately joins the outdoors club at school only to find that Rin's not a part of it. Will Rin eventually give up her solo trips in favor of learning to enjoy camping with everyone else?

Like many people who live in areas popular with tourists, Rin has it all figured out: she enjoys camping, but she prefers to do so in the off season. That's when she's more likely to be able to have the campgrounds to herself to truly enjoy views of Mount Fuji or just relaxing in the great outdoors with a book. She's not unfriendly, but she does seem to prefer her solitude, whether that's just because she's basically an introvert or for some other reason. Her preferences are about to be blatantly disregarded, however, when she notices a girl sleeping outdoors at a campsite – or rather, on the bench outside the bathrooms near a campsite. That girl is Nadeshiko, a new arrival in town, and while she's got the common sense of a wild turkey, she's also got more enthusiasm and goodwill than she quite knows what to do with. When Rin saves her by feeding her and warming her up, Nadeshiko immediately becomes enamored of the other girl, and is determined to become her friend.

What Rin thinks of all of this is, oddly, kept fairly below the surface. I say “oddly” because Rin is the primary point of view character – although we see things through Nadeshiko's eyes at a few points, as the seasoned camper, Rin is the character cast in the role of protagonist for most of the volume. (It does appear as if that might be shared going forward, but as of this book, it's mostly solitary.) We do get the sense that Rin finds Nadeshiko annoying and an interruption to her quiet alone time, especially in the first chapter when they meet. That's resolved fairly quickly when Nadeshiko's older sister manages to find her and bring her home, but Rin's reaction when she realizes that Nadeshiko's transferred to her school is anything but enthusiastic; in fact, she deliberately tries to avoid being seen by her. Again, it's not entirely clear whether this is because she prefers being alone or because she just thinks the new girl is a pain, but Rin makes her feelings about not being seen obvious.

That's why her (only? best?) friend Saitou's actions form the major sticking point of the volume. Even if Rin hasn't voiced her feelings about Nadeshiko specifically, she has said that she enjoys solo camping, something that Saitou, as her friend, would certainly know about. That Saitou would deliberately text Nadeshiko where Rin is camping without Rin's permission – and in fact without even telling Rin why she wants to know that information, which Rin gives her – seems like the act of a very bad friend, especially if Rin uses these camping trips to recharge. Of course, Nadeshiko thinking that it's fine for her to crash Rin's trip out of the blue is also an issue, but given that she hasn't known Rin for very long and that she hasn't explicitly been told that Rin prefers to be alone, it's a bit less of an issue. Still, it feels like Rin is being disrespected, and that's not a great start to a relationship of any kind.

Of course, it does seem likely that Rin will learn to enjoy sharing her experiences. Full of puppylike enthusiasm as Nadeshiko is, she's a highly receptive audience for Rin's lessons, and she's thrilled with every new piece of knowledge she's fed. She's also clearly got more going on beneath the surface than at first appears – when she barges in on Rin's camping trip, she comes fully prepared to cook a delicious meal over the campfire…and she's completely capable of doing it. Since Rin spent the previous pages lamenting the fact that she wasn't able to do so and was stuck with more ramen, Nadeshiko's skill is both an excellent ambassador for her as a camping partner and also a good sign that she's more than just raw enthusiasm.

For the most part, the information about camping appears sound. I am leery of the fact that no one seems to think of digging fire pits or marking out one with stones (even on sand, I was taught to do one of these two things), but there's a sense of fun and satisfaction that comes with each bit of lore that author Afro dispenses. This is due to the fact that girls themselves are so clearly enjoying their tasks – Rin loves gathering firewood and pinecones and pouring over camping equipment catalogues brings unfettered delight to Nadeshiko and her new club pals. The result is that the information feels organically part of the story rather than awkwardly included, and if the girls aren't always dressed appropriately, well, it is fiction. The art is cute in a round way, and the girls are more proportionately drawn than in similar “cute girls” series. There's a nice attention to detail in clothing and camping equipment, although the campsites feel a bit sparse.

Laid-Back Camp's first volume definitely feels introductory, but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable gateway to the rest of the series. Although it suffers from some annoying decisions on the part of characters who aren't Rin, it does a fine job of showing us not just that camping is fun, but why camping is fun. It may not make an outdoorsman out of a homebody, but it certainly makes for a lovely escape into the world beyond your walls.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B

+ Makes camping appealing, some nice details in the art, Nadeshiko is more than just a one-note character
Some poor decisions made for Rin, some pieces seem like poor camping choices, outdoors lack detail

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Story & Art: Afro

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