A Place Further than the Universe has taken the Winter of 2018 by storm. Though… not from the get go. It is something which has crept up on all of us. Rallying over the weeks, as its MAL score grew and grew to something which its cute girl aesthetic never foreshadowed at the beginning of the season. In fact, it was pegged to be just ‘one of those shows.’ One of those forgettable, Slice-of-life shows produced on the cheap, made to appeal towards a large number of people who accept their flaws… their complete lack of semblance and individuality in what is already a bloated genre.
Or maybe it is…
Slice of Life
A Place Further Than the Universe is a Slice of Life show by definition and execution: It’s about the lives of four high-school girls who decide to join a civilian expedition to Antarctica (that’s the Southern icy place – I always get mixed up… I failed Geography, it’s really not my fault). In itself, the plot is beyond simple. In fact, you could say there really is little plot to speak of at all, as is the trend with Slice-of-Life. This is fine, at least here it is. Characters, and character is where it is at. That’s all A Place Further Than the Universe truly is, characters. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It has no pseudo-intellectual shit going on, there’s no social commentary sewn into it to bore us all to death.
It’s about four girls, and that’s it. Because, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to be anything else.
In recent times when Slice-of-Life has become little more than a regurgitation of the same tropes, the same boring surface-level characters, the same themes, and the same visuals, A Place Further Than the Universe establishes itself somewhere near to top of the board. Not necessarily breaking free of these things, but doing them significantly better than everyone else. This is what’s important in such a competitive market; in a market that is bombarding every anime fan with dozens of forgettable, and quite frankly terrible shows every season.
The Catalyst of Loss
At the heart of A Place Further Than the Universe is loss. Shirase is the foremost catalyst for the show’s narrative. It is her mother who goes to Antarctica on a civilian mission, without ever coming back, without Shirase ever knowing what really happened, without even a final goodbye. Where does a character go from here, where would you go? Growing up throughout her teenage years without a mother? The idea and nightmare of her still being out there, in the ice, waiting to be rescued; yet knowing (however deep down) she is dead, gone, and never to return. These feelings culminate in what is my favourite episode, Episode 12. When the expedition announces it will be heading near to where Shirase’s mother last was. Here, we witness her frailty, her built-up grievances she has carried around for so long.
We see her as the person she believes herself to be, rather than the image of herself.
This loss crafts Shirase’s personality… because how could it not? Shirase is quiet, calculated, mature. At least she seems to be from the exterior. The idea that her interior might not match up with her steely exterior is developed through her interactions with the other characters. It’s as though they slowly peel back her skin, not weakening her, but opening her up to be a more sensitive character. This is the kind of development we crave. Learning who and what a character is – witnessing a change in them over the length of the show. It makes her – and the others – seem more human, rather than a 2D projection of some supposed humanity.
These feelings are also represented throughout in the environments: The claustrophobic boat, its tiny cabin for four people, the surrounding ocean and the growing distance to Japan. Then the true bleakness of the Antarctic wilds – the deftness, and blinding white of snow. It’s a juxtaposition between the often and usually warm characters, highlighting their ability to remain passionate and energetic in the moments permeated by chills, both literal and figurative. It’s this that makes all the characters so attractive: their abilities to thrive, despite the odds, and despite each of their personal battles and contrivances.
Friendship and Becoming Friends
The ideal of a ‘perfect’ friendship is often played out in anime, usually to the tone of some dull, inexplicable existence. A Place Further Than the Universe manages to step mostly clear of this, especially in the ways its characters are presented. However, it does contain much of the same stereotypes: cute girls, cute friendships, cute and amusing moments. Despite this, nothing in A Place Further Than the Universe seems out-of-place and forced, nothing seems… Further Than the Universe. What’s so great is how genuine the girls seem, how relatable their personalities, and interactions are.
They are more than simple flag-bearers of moe.
It’s easy to place their characters into the high school life I experienced – of course there are differences in culture, in location, and of course I am not a woman. But still, I have been in class with people like Shirase, with people like Mari. I can see those personalities in people I have known, people I interacted with on a daily basis – for better or worse. And this is what is so endearing about A Place Further Than the Universe, all of us can see something in it, something that reminds us of those years. Years that were bittersweet. Moments that seemed dark. Moments that now seem at the very least illuminating. Moments indoors all together in the tight spaces. Moments outside, feeling the chill, remembering things we’d rather forget.
Yuzuki most comes to mind when thinking of friendship. She’s grown up in the modelling industry, something which no doubt shortens what a person might be considered childhood, and her teenage years. Despite being mature in this aspect, Yuzuki doesn’t know much of friendship. The moment in Episode 10 touched me – Yuzuki likening friendship to a constructs.
Love and the girls
Love is a strange thing… How one person defines it, and how another does – two different sides of the same coin; actually, the coin has endless sides. After all, what is love? Shirase loves her mother, and yet she loathes her going on expedition, leaving her all alone. Love of that kind permeates through all other emotions; it’s layer and layers, but that love is always there regardless, unrequited.
The girls come to know what it is like to feel this love. Not in a romantic way one might traditionally ascribe love to, but love in an outstretched sense, spanning across emotion and experience. This is most visible in Shirase, in her drive to follow her mother’s footsteps, inspiring Hinata, Mari, and Yuzuki along the way. For – although the show does not go into too much detail – each has their own ‘demons’ dwelling somewhere. Something which Antarctica can soothe, much in the same ways it soothes Shirase.
After all, placed into that lonely environment there are two outcomes: intimacy, or distance.
Intimacy is something important between all four of the girls. This is what cultures our emotional response to their actions and their feelings. And, these are actually feelings we care about, because the characters are created and portrayed in a decent enough manner (something which made me pray to numerous deities). This is what holds A Place Further Than the Universe just above the water. Characters. Characters. Character.
And, with that I wish you a good night!
What did you think of A Place Further Than the Universe?
As always, thanks for reading!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter, and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon!)