A Place Further Than the Universe, this season's hidden gem dramedy about four girls chasing a dream to travel to Antarctica, has finally come to its bittersweet conclusion. This week, Nick and Micchy break out the tissues and talk about what this show meant to them.
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Well Nick, it's taken 13 weeks of thorough research, but I think our team has finally solved the most pressing question of our times: the girls are indeed Alright.
The person who's not alright is ME
Y'know, going into A Place Further Than the Universe, I was expecting to like it. I was not expecting it to punch me in the gut, throw me overboard, and leave me adrift in an ocean of my own tears.
We all knew this was coming the moment the show introduced Dead Mom, but I still was not prepared for the emotional freight train.
I thought I was prepared. I've spent a lifetime soaking up Sad Mom media. I thought I could handle it.
I could not handle it.
So, how's it been hangin' with the ice girls since the last time we checked in on them?
Our girl Shirase has always been a bit blunt, but she really got to shine in the last few episodes. On top of her "in your face" spiel, she's also ready to call out jerks so other people don't have to. Shirase is great.
If she doesn't at least get nominated for Best Girl next year, we'll know the Anime Awards are an illuminati scam.
All the girls are alright, but Shirase is Extremely Alright. Ever since the girls got to Antarctica, YORIMOI has been the Shirase and Hinata Show, and it's somehow even stronger for it. The ensemble dynamics are still there, but for Kimari and Yuzuki, the big step in their lives was going on this trip in the first place. For Shirase and Hinata, it's all about what the journey offers them: closure, escape, what have you.
That episode is really great because it takes an angle on bullying and forgiveness that I didn't expect from a show this optimistic. Turns out Hinata was the victim of petty high school drama, and now that she's mildly famous, the people who picked on her want to apologize. It's all super awkward because she feels like she's supposed to forgive them or something, but then Shirase comes out and says that when people apologize to ease their own consciences, it's not your responsibility to make them feel better about themselves. They hurt you, now they gotta deal with the guilt themselves. That's a pretty bold stance to take for a show that's all about friendship, y'know?
It's a fantastic direction to take Hinata's character arc. Just about any other lighthearted friendship show would emphasize forgiving the people who hurt her as a way to show she's moved past it and is the Better Person or whatever, but sometimes you just gotta tell people to fuck off. And what's better, Shirase saying this proves that Hinata's found genuine friends who will go to bat for her rather than just give pep talks when it's convenient. It's the kind of thoughtful writing that made Universe so engaging every episode.
Apparently the characters' interactions were inspired by director Atsuko Ishizuka
's own group of friends in high school, and it really shows. The girls are close and supportive of each other, but they're also petty and love taking jabs at each other for funsies. You know, like real girls do. As optimistic and starry-eyed as the show is, it never feels like somebody's rose-tinted idea of what girls' friendship should be like. I really appreciate that! Besides, savage dunks are the mark of a true bond.
I firmly believe that a lasting friendship needs a certain amount of good-natured trash talk. You're not real friends until you've made a running gag about your short friend needing a booster seat to drive.
I'm sorry, I can't hear you from all the way up in the stratosphere, would you mind stooping down and saying that again?
Don't worry I'm bringing you a stepladder for Anime Boston so people will be able to see you over the table at your panels this time.
But for real, the humor and camaraderie between Universe's main characters is a huge part of why its emotional moments work so well. Anybody can make a show about dead parents and friendship, but making the cast feel real, down to earth, and relatable is another feat entirely that this show accomplishes in spades.
She devoted the last three years of her life to reach the place where her mother died so she could find some kind of closure, but even making it all that way hasn't helped her get over it, and this scares her so bad that she hesitates when it's finally time to take the last step. It's a part of grieving I don't think I've ever seen articulated so well before.
It's a terrible feeling to single-mindedly pursue a thing only for it to be kinda underwhelming once you actually get there. But that disappointment just makes Shirase's later revelations hit even harder.
BORN TO CRY
ANTARCTICA IS A FUCK
I am ice girl
410,757,864,530 UNREAD EMAILS
But yeah, that one scene is a fucking gut punch like nothing else. The direction, the timing, the gut-wrenching catch in Kana Hanazawa
's throat as Shirase's defenses finally come crumbling down. It's unimpeachable.
Literally watching three years of her life scroll by as it finally sets in that yes, her mom is truly gone. It hurts so good!!!
It simultaneously shows Shirase finally reaching some closure on losing her mom, all while confronting the audience with just how much this journey has dominated her thoughts all these years. Somebody give Atsuko Ishizuka a trophy dammit.
I've been waiting forever for Ishizuka to direct something with this much heart, and she delivered pretty damn good. Not to disparage her work on more otaku
-targeted stuff like NGNL or Prince of Stride: Alternative
, but this is the first of her shows that proves to me that she can make the emotional beats really land as a director.
That scene's so good that the show could probably have ended right there and I wouldn't have had any complaints. But of course, it had just enough left in the tank to kick me in the heart.
For one thing, Shirase finally making up with her second mom is just super sweet.
They don't call her Gin and Takako's daughter for nothin'.
We also finally get context for Takako's last message to Gin; she was talking about the aurora and trying to send an email to Shirase that never got delivered. Three years later, Mom #2 finally clicks send
I swear, I was fine for the whole finale. Even the speeches. Even the goodbyes. But that one god damn text message turned me into a soggy ball of emotions.
Shirase's here following in her mum's footsteps, looking up at the aurora with her friends like Takako did back in the day. Even separated by time and mortality, they're on the same wavelength. I don't even have words, this gets me so emotional.
It's a (literally) stellar moment that compounds everything I loved about this show and cemented Universe as my favorite anime of the season. Though I will say, I do have one issue with the finale.
That Kimari didn't get back together with Megu?
Nah, that had the perfect bookend:
Mari not only inspired Megu to break out of her own restraints and do something crazy, she also taught her how to dunk on friends like the best of em. No, my issue is that for all the show's dedication to realism and all the effort they put into making the girls' journey feel grounded, their departure didn't feature a single mention of the fact that by law when you leave Antarctica, you have to take your poop with you.
I did not need to know this. Thanks Nick.
Like c'mon, we got a whole episode about barfing your guts out and not ONE shot of everyone awkwardly avoiding eye contact as they load the crap tank onto the helicopter.
I don't quite understand your priorities, but whatever you say.
Look I only know like three trivia facts about Antarctica and I wanted to use em at some point. But other than that glaring oversight, A Place Further Than the Universe was a fantastic and wonderfully sentimental show the likes of which we don't get often, and I can't wait to see what its creators make next.