We’re about three-fourths of the way through Winter. Anime has only gotten better as new episodes come out. Alongside all of the more popular action and supernatural shows, a lot of simpler anime get lost in a rotation. As someone who personally tends to zero in on the best fights, I get this a lot. But this season introduced several anime that converted this longtime shonen fan. One of these slice-of-life shows in particular, A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE, hooked me within minutes. While the story seems simple and basic, there’s more to it than I could ever have imagined.

A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE is able to capture the common feeling of youthful uncertainty. Those times when you considered trying something risky, meeting new people, or going on an adventure are common to most. Initially, I feared the simplistic nature would be a major detriment to the show. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The long-term goal of the characters in A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE is to visit Antarctica. But, like any good story, its less about the destination and more about the journey. This journey is one of phenomenal character development and heartwarming scenes.

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What’s the Incredible Journey?

Mari Tamaki is a good person, a capable student, and a sincere friend. What she does best of all is being good to the people around her and following a routine. But she has a desperate desire to break her patterns and take simple risks. For Mari, the prospect of something as simple as skipping school is simultaneously titillating and nerve-wracking. She tries to do something that simple but is unable to follow through. The instant she realizes that skipping school entails a lot of possible bad outcomes, she panics. It’s not the sort of anime-style, hyper-exaggerated panic over something simple though. Mari’s anxiety is a kind that is extremely real and really reaches you through the screen. From the expression on her face to how she excitedly tries to make excuses to her friends for backing out, everything is real.

Mari speaks to her friend and tries to explain why she decided against skipping school in A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE
Mari hastily trying to make excuses for backing out of skipping school | Image: Crunchyroll

Mari meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl with a much different approach to tackling the unknown. Where Mari is hesitant, Shirase is steadfast and direct. For Shirase, Antarctica is more of an absolute destination than a wish. Her mother vanished during an expedition, and Shirase is committed to finding her. Given this sort of setup, the anime would seemingly concern journeys in Antarctica. However, even once Mari joins Shirase, there’s a lot more to be done. They must find companions and a travel group. On top of that, working jobs to raise money for an expedition is pretty daunting. This is where the journey really comes through. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE develops character within these small components. Because every member of this wannabe explorer group is inexperienced, they have to support each other.

Character Crossovers

Also joining this journey to the southern tip of the world are two more girls. Hinata Miyake is high school dropout who works at a convenience store. She’s incredibly childish compared to the others. Her often infantile enthusiasm can cut through serious conversations like a knife. Despite that though, she’s shown herself to be incredibly perceptive and aware of the emotional needs of her companions. The final member of the group, Yuzuki Shiraishi, is the only girl who seems genuinely reluctant to embark on any kind of journey. Yuzuki has been a child star her entire life under the thumb of her mother. She’s initially reluctant to be involved with the journey at all, but her professional connections and wisdom often save the group a lot of trouble.

The four walk through icy terrain dressed in warm gear.
Gotta stay warm! | Image: Crunchyroll

This sets up some intersections with the personalities of the four girls. Mari is nervous and scared of taking any risk. Therefore, being led on a journey by Shirase, who is quite confident and resolved to one goal, is quite comforting to her. But Shirase pursues her goals like a soldier would a mission. Hinata’s childishness helps mellow Shirase out a bit and keep her from getting too upset. Yuzuki has tragic wisdom that lets her add dashes of realism to plans.

By crafting characters that simultaneously supplement each other and cover others’ deficiencies, A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE develops of all four girls at once. After all, they’re just teenagers and still learning from the world around them. Rather than relegating them to a role that is super situational,  A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE builds its cast into real, distinct people. There is no stereotypical anime trope that each girl fits completely, and that’s refreshing in and of itself.

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Incredible Animation

The art style has an incredible amount of detail across nearly every scene. Oftentimes, action anime put the most care into animating brief, massive fight scenes and explosions. For a slice-of-life show without those moments, the animation quality is consistent across the entire series. There’s a subtle bit of light bordering every person, creating a slight separation between them and the background. Apart from softening scenes, this also serves to sort of pop characters out.

Shirase extends a wry smile.
Shirase smiles as she befriends Mari | Image: Crunchyroll

Expressions are incredibly important for this show. For Shirase, a slight, wry smile is an indication of trust despite her seriousness. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE lacks very much internal dialogue or conversations specifically about feelings between the girls. Instead, it opts for showing their rapidly increasing closeness through friendly expression and relaxed interactions.

In more active scenes, motions are beautifully crisp and upbeat. For example, minor details like the way someone’s clothing billow as they run are often repetitive motions. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE incorporates dynamic and changing motions when characters move. Prior to befriending Yuzuki, Shirase, Hinata, and Mari meet with an expedition party, but some women recognize Shirase and begin to chase them. Shirase implies that people generally push back at her wish to be involved with an expedition despite being so young, creating a sort of us-against-the-world mentality for the scene.

So, as the three dash through city streets, it’s like they’re literally running through a world that resists them. But nevertheless, they persist along this journey toward the southern tip of the world. They smile in exhilaration as they embark on experiences they had seldom imagined having in the past. It’s these sorts of active scenes that really make the show aesthetically pleasing and incredible to observe.

Fresh Realism

This is just one example of the many ways plans fall through. Because of how young this group is, most expedition parties would flat out reject them. Traversing Antarctica is physically tough, and seasoned explorers often die. The concerns of those who reject them are actually pretty valid. The next expedition, which Shirase has her eye on, is one of the first that will allow any civilians. The bar is already quite high, so it’s easy to understand why high school students might not be the best candidates. This brings a level of realism into the show. At a time like this, anime would completely ignore what are reasonable difficulties for a student to have. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE forces its characters to progressively solve problems, either via moments of maturity and careful planning or seeking help.

Mari runs through the city, dodging the world and moving forward with a smile.
Mari runs through the city, dodging the world and moving forward with a smile | Image: Crunchyroll

While something like being told “you’re too young to go Antarctica” seems rather simple, it’s incredibly important to the show. The central theme is always trying something risky and embracing the unknown. As most people will remember, adolescence has plenty of moments where hearing you can’t do something is enough to destroy your resolve. People like Mari need to psych themselves out of constant, internal worry, but someone like Shirase has had to deal with being an outsider. Most people only saw Yuzuki as a celebrity they could snap selfies with. Nothing is ever simple, but this group finds reassurance and comfort in each other. Alone, all of them exist in cycles of nervousness, rejection, and powerlessness. But together, they break each other’s cycles and move forward as a unit.

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This remains one of, if not the, purest anime of 2018. It departs from the standard formulaic romances of most slice-of-life. Its characters break molds and have unique personalities impressively set with compelling backstories. Because lots of shows try to explore extremely complex plots, they oftentimes sacrifice a lot of realism. This is the component of slice-of-life that’s most important though. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE does extremely well in preserving this aspect of life’s struggles. In doing so, it makes every leg of this journey a micro-adventure that I can’t stop watching.

More importantly, the show is heartwarming in a super special way. Finding new friends and bonding is great on its own. But when, in as little as a week, those friends are sharing experiences like dashing through city streets with you, that bonding is even stronger. As we approach the inevitable seaward journey to Antarctica, the series is sure to get more serious. Once preparations for this journey are complete, everything will slowly become life and death. These girls have already grown to defeat youthful fear and uncertainty. The question that remains then is a simple one: will these girls overcome the perils and struggles waiting in Antarctica? You’ll have to watch and find out!

Featured image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

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