A Place Further Than the Universe

Mari Tamaki wants to do something bold with her life, but she can’t even skip school because she lacks the imagination to go anywhere. Everything changes when she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl who is hell bent on getting to Antarctica as soon as possible, and has forsaken friends and hobbies, working herself to the bone to gather the money for the trip. When Mari expresses her sheer admiration at Shirase’s tenacity and drive, she finds herself becoming part of the plans and soon they are joined by two others, Yuzuki Shiraishi, an actress who just wants to make some friends and Hinata Miyake, a boisterous, easygoing girl.

I really appreciated the pacing of this anime – I had expected the entire anime to be about the girls’ friendship in the run-up to the trip, but by episode five they’re already packing their bags and getting ready to go, and it’s clear that this anime isn’t afraid to step out into a bigger scale. I will say that sometimes the pacing can be unrealistic. When the girls set off on the ship, they’re plagued with seasickness and overwhelmed by the fitness level they’re expected to attain in order to have the stamina for the trip, but by the end of the episode they have seemingly overcome this and adjusted in the space of a day or two. Though this feels a bit unrealistic it does allow the anime to continue plowing forward and dealing with different issues each episode.

The girls had some work to do to find Antarctica appropriate clothing…

A Place Further than the Universe offers some beautifully detailed characterisation, often grounded in fairly typical real world situations which work well to keep the unusual situation from feeling too fanciful and fantasy-like. One example of this I thought worked particularly well was Megumi’s jealousy of Mari’s situation. A childhood friend, Megumi had always been the mature one that Mari looked up to, and when Mari begins to step out from under her wings in preparation for the Antarctica trip, Megumi instinctively tries to sabotage it out of fear of losing her friend.

Leaving friends behind is hard

When Mari finds out, she’s angry and upset, but she still rejects Megumi’s offer to end their friendship. This short exchange brilliantly showcases how quickly Mari has grown whilst still retaining her kind and considerate nature. Not only that, but it’s great to see an anime that recognises real, emotionally weighted consequences of big life decisions, even for ‘secondary relationships’.

This emotional depth runs throughout the entire anime, and is particularly impressive in relation to Shirase, whose main motivation for going to Antarctica is that it was the last place her mother was seen alive, and whilst she knows her mother is gone, she needs closure. The conversations she has with her mother’s old expedition members who are also going on the trip, and her friends’ gentle understanding of her situation all serve to create a mature acknowledgement of death and grief that reflect the fact that the journey for the teenagers will be arduous and dangerous, and Antarctica may be a beautiful place, but it is also a barren and harsh environment that should not be taken lightly.

This is a beautiful anime that tackles the complexities of grief, friendship and family with grace and optimism. It may be cold in Antarctica but A Place Further Than the Universe has a warm heart!

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Laid-Back Camp

Rin has always enjoyed camping alone, until a pink-haired girl called Nadeshiko breezes into her life and asks to share her food. So used to doing her own thing, Rin is genuinely taken aback by the warmth Nadeshiko brings to her camping experience, and the two gradually become friends. Nadeshiko in turn also realises that she loves camping but knows nothing about it, and joins her school’s camping club (which Rin has shunned in favour of doing her own thing).

Yep, that’s right, this anime is that feeling you get when you’re drinking a warm drink on a cold day, in an oversized jumper, sitting by a crackling fire while it’s raining outside. It’s cosy, it’s relaxing, it doesn’t ask too much from you. The visuals are soothing, like a brushstroke painting, but like the music, they’re never there to pop out of the screen but to evoke a lush, soothing nature environment that you can enjoy getting lost in. As you watch the characters enjoying the breeze in their hair or taking in the verdant Japanese countryside you’ll wish you were there yourself.

Rin soaks up some nature

I really liked that the narrative of Laid-Back Camp doesn’t follow the expected formula of the outgoing character latching on to the introvert to force them out of their shell. Nadeshiko sometimes pops up unexpectedly to hang out with Rin, from their first encounter when she wants to see Mount Fuji, to another surprise appearance when she makes a stew for Rin to thank her for sharing some noodles with her. But from this point on, she accepts Rin’s loner tendencies and preference for camping alone, and doesn’t try to force her to spend time with others. One sweet scene even features the two of them texting from their respective campsites and deciding to send each other pictures of their breathtaking starry night sky views.

Rin’s all about that solo camping experience

There’s a decent helping of humour in this anime, most of it is a wholesome slice of life style humour. Over the course of the series, much of the humour serves to build a picture of the camping experience, and it varies from adorable scenes such as the girls trying to work out the best cheap insulation they can use to stay warm, to Rin sending cute pictures of things she sees while exploring a campsite to her friend. Just like the rest of the anime, the humour is always incredibly fluffy and heartwarming.

Another thing that really makes you feel cosy (and hungry) is the anime’s occasional sharing of recipes, sometimes while the characters are putting together a campfire stew or similar meal. From the character’s own reactions to their culinary creations, to the occasional lingering shot of a bubbling pot or ramen cup, you really get the sense that a hearty meal is an important part of the Japanese camping experience and that it’s a vital part of creating your own ‘home away from home’ while you’re sleeping outside.

Rin was a little unsure about Nadeshiko’s culinary experience…

If you’re interested in learning more about camping or are already a camping pro, you’ll appreciate the little camping tidbits in this show too. I know next to nothing about camping and really enjoyed picking up little things like the fact that there are different kinds of campsite (lake, forest, vista) and that you’re not allowed to have fires on the ground at some campsites. The show peppers its episodes with this knowledge, without overdoing it or getting too bogged down in technical details, so if you have no interest in learning about camping it’s still really easy to enjoy the show.

If you’re looking for a cosy cute anime to warm the cockles of your heart this winter, look no further than Laid-Back Camp!

I’ve Always Liked You

Is there anything more heartwarming than a bunch of teens in love? I’ve Always Liked You is an anime that does what it says on the tin, revolving around a group of students who are each carrying a secret torch for someone.

We open with Natsuki who is trying to confess her love to her childhood friend Yu (against a picturesque sunset backdrop of course for dramatic effect). Natsuki manages to get her feelings out, then chickens out and tells Yu she was joking and ‘practising’ her confession for a real one to someone else.

The relationship was doomed when Yu told Natsuki her hair looked like a rice bun…

Then we have Mochita who wants to confess his feelings to the purple-haired Akari with just one obstacle – he’s never even talked to her before. And then there’s Ayase who has feelings for Natsuki and hopes he might stand a chance with her if he makes a bishie boy anime transformation…

Although there are plenty of romantic crushes between the characters, Natsuki and Yu’s ‘will they, won’t they’ remains the central focus of the anime, with Natsuki’s inability to tell Yu her true feelings being further complicated when Ayase asks her to a concert and makes Yu jealous.

I enjoyed this anime from start to finish. The various romantic situations all felt quite natural for a high school romance – from the friends who don’t have the courage to move into something more to the teen who’s crazy about someone they’ve hardly even spoken to. Natsuki’s obliviousness to Ayase’s romantic interest in her even after he invites her to a concert with him also felt like a common romantic misunderstanding.

It was time to compare the results of their Cosmo romance quiz…

If you enjoy romance anime I think you will enjoy this movie. I’ve Always Liked You veers to the fluffier side of anime, but still invests in its characters with simple but well-created storylines and effective close-ups of shining eyes and clenched fists to really hammer home all those angsty teen feelings.

Gamers!

Keita is a teenage boy with a one track mind – games, games and more games! He overlooks socialising and hobbies in favour of pursuing his hobby so is taken aback when pretty, popular academic Karen Tendou asks him to join her Gaming Club. To her shock he turns down her offer as he prefers to play games for fun and not in a competitive way.

“I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to play video games with her.”

I had expected Gamers! to play out with Keita joining the club, getting to know the other members and attempting to win Karen’s affection, so I was happy when everything was turned on its head so spectacularly. Keita is nonplussed by turning down Karen’s invitation and is socially inept enough that he doesn’t realise he’s done something radically against social norms by rejecting a girl much higher than him in the school social hierarchy. He also doesn’t realise how much he has embarrassed Karen with the rejection. Things get hilarious pretty quickly when another popular kid, Tasuku confronts him about his behaviour in what turns into an over the top melodramatic slanging match on a bridge.

Gamers! continues to play with expectations as we see Karen completely fall apart over Keita. She falls for him hard, and is completely reduced to cartoon ashes, a sparkly eyed gooey mess or a jealous monster over Keita’s interactions with other girls and his utter obliviousness to her feelings. In fact, the show sets up such clear roles and types for each character with the sole purpose of destroying these setups. I really enjoyed this ‘in your face’ method of letting the audience know that comedic chaos is about to unfold in the very first episode.

All’s fair in love and games

Although gaming is continually mentioned and referenced throughout the anime as you’d expect, there’s a smaller focus on it than I had thought, and really I’d define Gamers! as a romantic comedy. The show sets up increasingly more elaborate and wacky misunderstandings between characters, who think X is dating Y when actually Z is dating Y and X wants someone else altogether. Although it seems over the top, it works really well a lot of the time as each character has their own foibles – Karen’s pride, Keita’s inferiority complex – and these form the heart of misunderstandings and miscommunications just as you’d see in real life.

Gamers! is a sweet anime packed full of laugh out loud moments, and romances you’ll want to root for, even if only for more humourous moments.

Gamers! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

New Game!

Aoba is fresh out of high school and greener than green when she starts her first job at the game developer Eagle Jump. Inspired by a game she loved as a child she is thrilled to find out she’ll be working on the sequel. But with such zany colleagues she’s in for a heap of wacky misadventures along the way…

As someone who is a few years into the working world, I immediately recalled and related to the feelings that New Game! immediately conjures up as we see Aoba meeting her team and adjusting to their quirks, trying to work out when to ask for help and how to do it, and feeling excited about her first paycheck. Each episode focuses on a different topic with titles such as “What Happens if I’m Late to Work?” and “That’s How Many Nights We Have to Stay Over?”. You can dip in and out of them if you just want some light office-based humour but you’re likely to enjoy it more if you watch them chronologically as the series also charts Aoba’s adjustments to adult and working life and it’s enjoyable watching her learn and grow as she takes advice from her teammates.

I enjoyed how realistically the office environment is rendered, admittedly with some otaku feeling touches to the environment. There are multiple shots of Aoba looking at her computer clock across the episodes, a really simple but effective way that I found made me feel more immersed in her working life and routine. I think this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that features an office environment for most of the scenes and the little touches are really nice and really help give the impression of a creative company’s working space.

New Game! renders a colourful but realistic office environment

The relationships in New Game! also feel natural, with Aoba quickly finding her place amongst her female colleagues in spite of a few newbie mistakes like locking herself out of the office every time she goes to the bathroom because she forgot her key card. The humour flows nicely, with some one-off gag moments that remind you that the anime is based on a four panel manga, as well as some more cleverly built up jokes – there is a great one in particular where Aoba walks in on her colleagues in a compromising situation, but it’s too good to spoil here!

New Game! also makes a few nods to yuri relationships in a way that repeatedly threatens to cross the line into something explicit, but then always wimps out at the last minute. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an anime so exclusively about female friendships and relationships would hint at this to try and widen its audience but also bewildering at times when moments are created then not built on any further. There are also light fanservice-y moments in general with the odd butt close-up but it’s so infrequent and brief that it never feels like you’re watching a fanservice anime.

“What do you mean our romantic relationship can only be implied?!”

I’m really enjoying this anime and definitely recommend it. New Game! offers a sweet and happy story about a young woman’s first foray into the working world, and as she pursues her dream it’s impossible not to remember being the newbie and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. With a great assortment of characters and genuine laughs I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a funny anime set in the working world that offers up lots of great office humour.

Yugioh! The Dark Side of Dimensions

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I am a huge Yugioh fan. The series was the bedrock of my childhood. I would spend hours playacting as the characters with my sister, to the point where we had moulded them to our own and created our own stories. So it was with some excitement that I sat down and prepared to watch a brand new movie, and I was not disappointed!

Dark Side of Dimensions picks up where our characters had been left off. Pharaoh Atem has ascended to the spirit world, leaving the Millennium Puzzle in pieces, and Yugi is missing him but carrying on with his life and thinking about life after high school graduation with his friends Tristan, Tea, Joey and Bakura. Things are not set to be peaceful for long though as Seto Kaiba seeks to reassemble the puzzle and challenge the pharaoh once more, and a mysterious man named Aigami has a special interest in Yugi…

The movie gets off to a very cheesy start as Yugi meets up with his friends for school, almost introducing them one by one. I was afraid the dialogue would be as slow and corny throughout the rest of the movie as it was in the scene in which Yugi and his friends discuss what they plan to do with their lives after high school, but their responses are effectively a quick way to get the essence of their character for anyone who is coming into the movie with no prior knowledge of the story. I was also pleased to see that whilst the character styles had been updated a bit, it wasn’t so much as to lose the heart of the original character designs.

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“Hey Yugi, does my hair look slightly different than it used to or is that my imagination?”
The antagonist for this movie is Aigami, a blue-haired bishie boy who takes an interest in Yugi and his friends. I instantly warmed to him, because he was a fairly understated villain, which is probably a good thing with Seto Kaiba’s planet-sized ego already filling the screen on a regular basis. Aigami’s backstory is nicely tied in to the character of Shadi and how one character acquired their Millennium item. Aigami has his own kind of magic which he can use to create special “dimension” duels, which makes duelling him all the more complex and difficult for Yugi and Kaiba.

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Aigami – not your average bishie
So what did I enjoy so much about this movie? The humour was a big one, and I was pleasantly surprised by how often I laughed. Eric Stuart is on brilliant form as Seto Kaiba, with so many hilarious lines referencing his own colossal ego, and a great one in which he refers to painstakingly recreating the pharoah’s “perfectly coiffed” hair for a simulation duel. The movie makes numerous hilarious nods to the fandom as well, with Bakura’s acknowledged entourage of fangirls (“it’s the accent”), Joey dressed as a dog (again) and more over-the-top Seto Kaiba behaviour (Space elevator? Check. Casually jumping out of a moving jet? Check.)

Although there’s much that feels comfortably familiar, it also feels like characters have grown a bit too. Yugi is the heart of the series and he gives a gentle and touching speech at the beginning about missing Atem, but we nonetheless see him go on and do battle with Seto and Aigami on his own as brave as ever. Even when not mentioned, Atem’s absence is very much felt, and as Kaiba seeks to reconstruct the puzzle we wonder if we will see a return of the figure everyone is missing so much.

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Yugi may be one Pharaoh down, but he’s stronger than ever
I won’t spoil it, but the ending of the film is touching, and ends on the most thrilling tease of what I hope will be the start of a sequel movie or anime series. Even if it doesn’t, Dark Side of Dimensions reminded me of what I really love about Yugioh, and it’s vastly superior to its two predecessor movies (in my opinion). If you’re a fan it’s a must-see, and if you’re brand new to the Yugioh world, why not give it a try?

Amanchu!

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Ooki is a shy girl still preoccupied with her old life and friends on moving to a new town. When she meets Hikari, a bubbly and eccentric girl who embraces everything in life from her new desk seat to that fresh textbook smell with equal enthusiasm, things look like they might be set to change for the better. Hikari is an experienced diver, and Ooki is persuaded to join the school’s diving club.

Hikari is initially the main draw to this anime. If you don’t like characters who are positive to the point of eccentricity you might find her peppiness grating, but her excitement for everything in life sets Amanchu! up as a positive and sweet anime. Hikari’s outlook is juxtaposed with Ooki’s sadness about trying to adjust to a whole new life – we see her apathy about joining any high school clubs and excitement for getting texts from her old friends. Hikari is the catalyst for change and when Ooki joins the diving club she gradually begins to re-emerge from her shell.

Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with
Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with

Ooki’s thoughts and behaviour indicate someone who struggles with anxiety and low self esteem that has been made worse by having to try and process the changes in her life, and the sensitive way her peers respond to this adds deeper emotion to what would otherwise be a simple fluffy story. The anime focuses closely on Ooki and her immediate peers – Hikari, and two other friends who are part of the diving club. The fact that scenes often include no more than four or five people really cements Amanchu! as an intimate anime and allows Ooki and Hikari’s characters in particular to be focused on to a stronger emotional effect.

Hikari is endearingly in love with life
Hikari is endearingly in love with life

Yuri fans will also delight in the ongoing subtext of Hikari and Ooki’s chemistry. Ooki’s tendency to get flustered and blush around Hikari can easily be explained away as part of her introverted and bashful nature…but there’s enough there to suggest an underlying attraction too. Their relationship forms the heart of the show and Hikari’s unquestioning support of Ooki in diving and beyond often tugs at the heartstrings. Although their scenes together are moving, they have strong moments alone too. One moment that really warmed my heart was when Hikari takes a train journey just to catch a brief but stunning glimpse of some blooming hydrangeas on its route, (she plans to get off at the next stop and then head back). She frequently embodies this “live in the now/enjoy all of life’s little wonders” attitude that slowly rubs off on Ooki. Hikari’s carefree attitude also works well alongside the anime’s aesthetic of light pastels, sparkling oceans and a relaxing soundtrack which make this a perfect summer watch.

You won't have to dive too deep for lesbian subtext here...
You won’t have to dive too deep for romantic subtext here…

Amanchu! disguises itself pretty convincingly under a veneer of fluffiness and light comedy, but from the get go it grounds itself in emotional honesty with a strong character arc as we see Ooki opening up to others and learning to embrace a new life that resonates across even the goofiest of scenes. The parallels of learning to dive underwater with learning to dive into a new life are a beautiful metaphor as we see Ooki overcome her sadness and anxiety step by step.

Check out this warm gem of an anime, Amanchu! is now available on Crunchyroll.