A Place Further Than the Universe delivers an Antarctic twist on high school dramedy. This week in anime, Nick and Steve explain what makes this unexpected gem so endearing.
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Well Steve, after all the internet memes and jokes, it's finally happened. We finally have a vore anime.
I can't help but feel responsible for this. Not that I'm going to apologize.
It was inevitable really, something had to take the place of Attack on Titan.
Hey, for all we know, there could be Titans somewhere in Antarctica. Actually that would explain a lot about Shirase's missing mom...
Anyway, that does bring us to the topic at hand: a big surprise favorite of the season, A Place Further Than The Universe!
or as I like to call it, Antarctica-bu
I don't know if it's everyone's favorite, but it's certainly mine. Though it's not totally a surprise either. I've been excited and wary ever since it was announced because I've been a lowkey fan of its director, Atsuko Ishizuka, for ages now. I first discovered her through her episode of the Aoi Bungaku anthology anime, which were fantastically creative adaptations of their material.
Atsuko Ishizuka has been on my radar ever since she made the No Game No Life anime way more tolerable than it had any right to be. And with Antarctica-bu, she could be making her best show yet by far. She's super talented, and I'm glad she's finally directing a story that seems to pair well with all her strengths.
The story on its surface isn't all that special: four spunky girls prepare to travel to Antarctica, so one of them can search for her mother who disappeared there years ago. But in execution, it's far and away the most charming slice-of-life show I've seen in ages.
I'd argue the premise is actually a pretty big draw. Before I even knew about Ishizuka's involvement, the outline of a group of high school girls going to Antarctica struck me as a pretty out-there concept, even for anime. Most high schools I'm aware of don't have an Antarctica club.
I guess I'm just so used to anime girls doing anything and everything that the relative mundanity of going to a place that exists on planet earth didn't strike me as weird.
But the execution is absolutely what raises it from quirky concept to compelling character drama.
Yeah, the characters are far and away the biggest draw. They're all such distinct personalities that feel grounded in a way I rarely see in fiction. Just the way some of the dialogue is structured is amazingly refreshing.
Like this bit where Yuzuki flubs a comeback
And the others sit there in silence for a good few seconds just trying to decide if they should call her out on it or let it go, until they make eye contact and bust out laughing before giving her shit over it. It's the kind of friendly ribbing you only get when you're really comfortable with your friends, and those 10 seconds are maybe the realest thing I've seen in anime this decade.
Yeah, we have a core cast of four girls, and the show deftly establishes their personalities, ambitions, and anxieties in a short amount of time. They all feel like real fleshed-out characters, not bland archetypes. And their rapport with each other is consistently as charming as your example.
I love the bit where Mari calls Shirase out on being a jerk, and Shirase just retorts with a smile and "yeah, so what?"
it's not real friendship unless you're constantly dunking on each other
It's a really good dynamic that makes everything in the show feel engaging. I especially love that they're not all just nice and pleasant to each other all the time. Some anime tend to portray female friendship in rather alienating ways, where it feels like the people writing it have never spoken with teenage girls. But the Antarctica-bu girls are casually acerbic, blunt with each other in a way that feels like how I talk with my own friends when we're out having a good time together.
I especially love how Shirase isn't just focused on going to Antarctica to find her mother; she's also doing it to tell everyone who doubted or discouraged her to suck it. That kind of human pettiness makes her feel real.
She totally is a jerk sometimes, and that's why she's such a great character. The episode titles are also stylized as Instagram/Twitter posts, which is another nice little touch that makes the show feel in step with how real teenagers engage with the world.
In general there's this really interesting undercurrent to the series of working toward your ambitions both for yourself and to show up those who underestimate you. We see it with Shirase and her trip to Antarctica, but also with Hinata and her ambitions for college.
and even with the adults who are organizing the Antarctic expedition themselves
Antarctica is both a symbol for the grand, seemingly impossible dreams we all carry with ourselves, and a safe haven for misfits and outcasts who don't fit in with normal society. All of these characters have either been rejected by or themselves rejected a normal life, and that's a chord that always hits me hard in anime.
Also, regardless, I'd follow this lady anywhere.
Though I don't want to make it sound like the series is all bite and seriousness. The most endearing aspect of Antarctica-bu is just how funny it is. The comedic timing is near perfect and makes even familiar punchlines land with a gut laugh. Especially the scene where Mari's mom finds out about the expedition. Lady found out her daughter was planning to leave the continent without telling her, and instead of a confrontation she went on the world's most passive-aggressive grocery trip just to let the girl dig her own grave.
Ishizuka's snappy directing makes the comedy pop, but she also knows how to craft a grand emotional statement, even out of a seemingly silly scene. One of the most memorable parts of the show for me is the chase scene through Kabukicho. On paper it would seem like a fun diversion, but Ishizuka injects it with the thrill of adventure and the swell of emotions that come with the girls' newfound resolve.
It's a delicate tightrope to walk in terms of tone - sincere enough to resonate but not so overbearing that it tips into schmaltz - but Ishizuka and company make it look easy. The show at once understands and respects their aspirations, but it also never lets you forget that they're still goofy teenagers finding themselves, not prone to thinking things through all the way.
At first she seems like your standard cold, wise-beyond-her-years anime protagonist, but the more time you spend with her, you realize she's also a huge dork who gets excited about penguins and can't speak in public to save her life. And her contingency plan for when they're caught trying to sneak their way into the expedition is to just cheese it, which is exactly what I would have done at 17.
she also frequently brings the good faces
They're great faces
BUT again, her seriousness and dedication are always present, and it's never a question why Mari fell so hard for her passion.
The cast is just really well-rounded, and it's clear a ton of care was put into how they think and act. Like Yuzuki seems like a familiar yamato nadeshiko
character at first who's shy and can't make friends. But then it turns out she's nothing like that when she's in her element.
Meanwhile, Hinata appears laid-back, but she's done a ton of work to carve out her own path in life and even dropped out of high school to pursue it. I can't think of many other shows that star a high school dropout and respect her decision to do so. That's pretty cool!
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention possibly the best scene in the show so far, when Mari's best friend Megumi admits she's been secretly trying to sabotage her plans because she's become dependent on her for a sense of purpose.
Like, I expected their confrontation would be from Megumi being over-protective or doubting Mari's capabilities. I wasn't expecting it to turn out to be about codependency and self-loathing.
God, her arc is so good. You could see her resentment simmering just behind her facade for the past several episodes, and when it finally comes to a head, everything makes sense and it's heartbreaking.
Both Mari and Megumi have to confront their codependency, and I have so much respect for Mari for rejecting the dramatic breakup in such a baller manner.
Oh I didn't realize we were talking about Citrus now.
Sshhhh, that's for a future column.
Though while I'm on the subject, I just wanna highlight the little Anime Fistbump that Mari and Shirase share.
But yeah, the resolution is at once surprising and makes perfect sense. We already know that Mari's been dealing with her own bout of self-loathing since episode one, which is why you know immediately why she won't let Megumi run away from their issues. They've got a complicated and messy relationship, but it's not going to be solved by running away from the confrontation. It's what pushed Universe over the edge into my favorite of the season, and we haven't even made it to Antarctica yet, so I'm thrilled to see what's coming next.
It's so much more than Cute Girls Doing Cute Antarctica Things, and I think it's going to end up being very special.
That said, it is
still Cute Girls Doing Cute Antarctica Things, and that's good too.
All in all, it's a thoroughly well-crafted show with thoughtful writing, gorgeous direction, and a ton of heart to back it all up. Plus a great entry into the Pantheon of Anime Moms.
So if you've been wondering, "Why should I watch A Place Further Than The Universe?" there's your answer: