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.
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.
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!