A promise remembered.
This is a second season that takes everything that was good about the first, and then improves it immensely.
I watched the first season of Yama no Susume because it was given the Best Short award in RandomC’s Best of Anime 2013. It took little over a half-hour to watch, and I knew right there that it definitely deserved the award. This was an anime that knew what it was talking about, and actually had something to talk about. The mix of cuteness and mountain climbing may have seemed like an odd combination, but it worked wonders with what it could. The only problem was that it was over before it begun… until the second season came around.
When it was announced they we were going to get 24 weeks of 12 minute episodes, I was over the moon. Finally, such a well done short anime was being given the treatment it deserved! I tried to keep my expectations fairly neutral, but this series slowly captured my heart. Every aspect of the series was improved from the first season, which is what any fan would want.
The mountain climbing was, as expected, a sizeable chunk of the experience. With most of the setup out of the way, it was time now to climb some actual mountains – and that they did. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, and Kokona took to the hills and it was everything I was hoping for; we got an abundance of cute moments, the scenery was stunning, and surprisingly enough, there was some really intense drama as well. I always thought this was going to be a light hearted take on a strenuous hobby – and for the most part, it was – but as it turns out we got a look at the effects of exhaustion, of facing the failure to climb, and painful side-effects that some feel harder than others. And because of that, things didn’t always end up rainbows and sunshine, so I must give Yama no Susume credit for tackling every aspect of mountain climbing with seriousness, even if it was wrapped up in a ‘cute girls doing cute things’ package.
I personally enjoyed the series just as much when it didn’t involve hills and mountains. After those tense episodes where emotions were high and the stakes were higher, it was lovely to just sit back and enjoy seeing all the characters living their lives. Each of the cast got their own episodes dedicated to showing off who they are outside of their hobby. Whether it be walking with new shoes, revisiting your middle school friend, or finding a part-time job over the summer, everything was consistent and very easy to enjoy. Funnily enough, the highlight of the series was the episode where they all went out to see the fireflies. That was such a well directed episode with a shift in art style was a one-off treat.
But if there is one thing I’ll remember Yama no Susume for (other than learning all about the difficulties and realities of mountain climbing) it would be its honest depiction of friendship. This may be a bold statement, but Aoi and Hinata may just be the most realistic friends I’ve ever seen in anime. Their interactions felt so genuine – they loved each other, they fought over the stupidest things, they inspired one another, they argued and fell out from time to time, they made each other laugh, and they annoyed each other at the same time. That’s what friends are all about, experiencing the positives and negatives of a person and accepting them for who they are. Aoi and Hinata were just that, and I can’t think of many examples of anime friendships that showed the highs and lows without ever turning it into drama just for the sake of drama.
I’ve been fairly positive with everything I have to say, so let me just note that it wasn’t a perfect run. One gripe I have is the brief (thankfully so) sexualising of the girls. I saw it in the OVA between the two seasons, and only once or twice in this season, but when it was happening I was not amused. I can accept fanservice in a series when it works, and for me it was not a welcome addition to Yama no Susume. It just felt wrong on every level, and I was very disappointed that they had to dip that low in a series that did not need to.
In the end though, Yama no Susume: Second Season was a pleasant surprise. It may not be among the top anime of the year, but we got such an improvement in its second run, which came down to it being allowed to take time and tell the story it wanted to. For that, I am grateful to have been part of its journey.