「きっとまた旅に出る」 (Kitto Mata Tabi ni Deru)
“We’ll Go On Another Journey Someday”
Wow. That is how you do a finale of an anime. It’s a good thing they skipped the OP, because so much happened this episode. Let’s see if I can do it any sort of justice, because there’s a ton to talk about just in this last episode—and then the finale impressions below. Let’s get to it.
As far as story structure goes, this is what the pros call “Taking a victory lap,” or possibly “Spiking the ball.” (Note: no one says that but me.) There wasn’t much additional character development, nor was the 50,000ft synopsis anything other than what we expected, i.e. “The girls leave Antarctica and go home.” What this episode did was tie a bow on everything, and let us luxuriate in the journey these girls took. (Compare this to the end of ReLIFE, where there was no such luxuriating time.) It was about showing how far they’d come, letting them do things they’d always wanted to do, and was filled with touching moment after touching moment. Meaningful haircuts! Stirring speeches! This was a weapons-grade salvo right to the feels, and I found the screen getting blurry more times this episode than any others. I can’t even make an onion joke! It was happy tears all the way down. This was the YoriMoi team running up the score, and it was absolutely the perfect thing to do.
That’s because what this episode really was, was a celebration. That sounds indulgent, and it is! But it was absolutely the best thing they could have done. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest is that it’s earned. The climax of the final main character’s story, and of the series’ most thorny arc, was last episode; Hinata, Yuzuki, and Kimari all had theirs earlier (episode 11, 10, and 1 or 5, respectively). We had gone through all sorts of trials with these characters, and they had truly earned the confidence and expertise they were showing by the end. This indulgence wasn’t an extravagance; it wasn’t a silly fanservice episode mid-season when there was still plot work to do. This long goodbye was about celebrating all the things that made this series great, in the way the final battle at the end of The Avengers was a celebration of pulling the whole crazy experiment off. That’s why we got four insert songs. That’s why we got call backs to damn near everything. The girls earned it, and so did we.
The other thing this episode was about was promise. Promise of the future, as symbolized (to the other expedition members) by the high school girls, and of the promise of girls’ own futures to themselves. Kimari saying that they should stick around through the winter was, of course, silly; the writers spent the right amount of time on that, which is not much. Kimari knew she was being silly, she was just voicing what they all felt—that they didn’t want it to end. That’s why their promises to each other—Kimari with her serious question, and Shirase with her serious answer—started the tearducts working. That extended through to the end of the episode, when they were narrating about journeys and what you learn. But these girls also symbolized so much promise to the expedition members. Why do you think everyone was crying as they left? Because they were part of the team, certainly, but also because of the promise their presences in Antarctica entails. It’s not even that the expedition members saw themselves in the girls, though there might have been that. It’s that these people, who sacrifice so much (jobs, relationships, stability, and sometimes their lives) to work in this place they love, are able to glimpse the bright future these girls represent. I’m probably just rambling at this point. There’s so much in this episode alone.
Shirase has healed. With the cloud lifted from her heart, she is finally able to smile—though she still gets nervous about public speaking when she lets herself think too much. Yuzuki got to be reminded once again that, even here on Antarctica, people are looking forward to her drama. Every interaction with Gin was lovely, and Shirase giving her Takako’s laptop was cheesy in the best of ways. It also opened up the scene where I damn near lost it completely, when Gin noticed the unsent email Takako had meant to send Shirase. The girls seeing the aurora on their last day was just perfect, right? Impossibly perfect, but I don’t care. This is our victory lap. And Gin sending along that final message, about the aurora—the final thing Takako will say to her daughter, and perhaps, one of the final things she saw—I mean, jeez. And Shirase smiled. She can smile! This episode was beautiful.
But it saved one of the best moments for last. In between all the tearful reunions and happy moments, they left us with one more whammy. Kimari texts Megumi, only to find that she’s not there—she’s in the Arctic. At the end of an episode where happy tears were gripping me, I let loose a big ol’ belly laugh at that. It turns out there was one other character who had an arc, it just happened mostly off screen. In order to be worthy of her friend, Megumi went to the top of the planet. Kimari opened the door to a world with a better Megu, and to Megumi’s credit, she stepped through that door. It was so cheeky, but Megumi was smiling at the end. A good story changes people. The characters, obviously, but in its audience too. I like the messages YoriMoi is telling us. Let’s talk about that more in the final impressions below.
- No matter the world, HanaKana characters are good at mahjong. Those Shirase is a good bit more ruthless than Kuro-chan, for sure!
- Only part I can’t really comment on is Shirase leaving the 1 million yen ($9470 at current rates!) in Antarctica. I found it pleasantly cheeky, but I also can’t stop from thinking about how much time that would buy me to write books, so probably best if I just leave that one where it is.
- She brought some of Antarctica back for her mom. I only just realized that and now I might have to have another cry neeeeeh!
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I had a sneaking suspicion that Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho might be good. In my preview I focused a lot on Ishizuka Atsuko’s directing, and how her amazing track record (along with Hanada Jukki on series comp) made me sit up and pay attention when the premise didn’t grab me. Not to toot my own horn too much (note: some tooting will happen), but this was my called shot. I thought if anything would be a dark horse this season, this would be the one. I also said, “… characters striving for a grand goal is strong fodder for a good story.”
Boy, how right I was. (Horn tooting over.)
YoriMoi is quite possibly one of my top five anime of all time. And I’ve seen a few anime. I’d have to do the math to give you an exact number, but I can’t imagine it being less than top ten. I know I say this after having just seen the finale, and that these feelings do fade, but I’ve suspected this would be the case for a while now, if the series continued to avoid faltering. Not only did it do that, it kept exceeding expectations. That’s a tough feat when expectations get as high as they were by mid-season, but Ishizuka-san and her team kept managing it. This was a stunningly well told story throughout.
There are so many reasons why this series worked so well. One of them is its relationship to its premise. “High school girls go to Antarctica” isn’t especially compelling, but it takes this premise and treats it seriously. For a near-reality story like this—as opposed to crazy sci-fi or bonkers fantasy—that’s important. There’s basically only one change between the real world and this world—the Shirase I was sold to civilians—and it clearly approaches the difficulties of getting four high schoolers on a boat to Antarctica. That’s typified in how they tried to buy their way onto the expedition—and how it didn’t work. Even then, getting them on the boat was probably the shakiest part of the whole series, since it required the writers to introduce a golden opportunity in the form of Yuzuki. That and Hinata’s hasty decision to join in on the quest are about the weakest elements of the whole series, and they don’t even make for bad episodes! They’re minor issues at worst. That’s stunning in and of itself.
Another thing this series does really well is accurately depict what it’s like to be on an expedition to Antarctica. Some of the scenes we saw were shot-for-shot recreations of actual pictures or film of Antarctic expeditions. Basically, any time they were outside refueling or working on an experiment or cleaning, it was faithfully reproduced from real Antarctic images. Only two elements—the civilian expedition and the high school girls in Antarctica—are fantasy. Everything else is extremely faithful to the truth. The same is true of the episode in Singapore. It shows an attention to detail that you can use as a selling point to convince your friends to watch. Someone who cares enough to get all the little details right will probably care enough about the big story beats. And convince all your friends! Please. I want the industry to make more shows like this.
But the biggest reason this show is so damn good is the characters. Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki all have their own arcs throughout the story, and they have a collective arc too—like Shirase says in the finale, Antarctica is a place “where you have no choice but to overcome things with your team, with nothing else to get in the way.” All the Antarctica stuff matters, but the writers also picked a premise they thought they could work with—characters striving for a grand goal is strong fodder for a good story, right?—and then crafted characters who would both not only be the type of people who would opt into this journey for one reason or another, but who would grow and change through their experiences there.
Kimari’s arc is early. The very act of deciding to do something, rather than continuing to drift through life, is her big decision point, and the fact that she keeps not giving up culminates in her victory (of a sort) when Megumi comes clean about spreading rumors and tries to break up as friends. (That Kimari doesn’t accept the break up speaks volumes about her as a person.)
Yuzuki’s is all wrapped around how her job has prevented her from making real friends, and if the writers hadn’t followed this thread through to its conclusion, it would have been incredibly frustrating that they used this to get the girls on the boat in episode three. But they did, with Yuzuki’s uncertainty and naivete in friendship coming up many times, until it culminated in a delightfully messy dissertation on the nature of friendship.
Hinata’s had to do with how much she doesn’t like to be a burden, doesn’t like others to worry about her, and the scars she gained from her so-called friends betraying her in the past. Hinata is an incredibly difficult character to write because she’s naturally predisposed to defuse conflicts, which is why the writers were so wise to often pair her with the uber-stubborn Shirase, who barreled through her defenses eventually. Hinata’s anger in episode 11 was so true, and Shirase’s big speech that led to Hinata breaking down in tears was catnip to my soul.
And then there was Shirase. She in some ways had the most classic arc, centered as it was around the more typical dramatic fodder of a dead parent. Her quest was also classic: My mother died doing X? I’m going to go there and figure out why, to get closure. “Classic” doesn’t mean “cliché,” though, and Ishizuka-san’s team executed the climax well. What I found most impressive was how many layers they gave to Shirase throughout the story—stubborn, mean, wild, nervous, impulsive, implacable—so that, when she finally reaches closure and seemingly changes in the final episode, it all works. All of that was in her all along. It was just twisted, until she could finally begin to heal.
These characters were tailor made for this story. That might seem an obvious move, but that’s actually really hard to do; trust me, I’ve tried. This is the promise of original anime: that they’ll tell a story we’ve never seen before that’s fit specifically for this medium, and designed to fit the number of episodes they have. There was no wasted space in this series—it was neither too long nor too short. The writers made it so. Even all the secondary and minor characters were full of personality—wise Kanae, forceful Yumiko, aloof Yume, weepy Nobue, flighty Hanami, hopeless Toshio, silent Dai, taciturn Gin—and Megumi even had a stealth arc off screen. Hell, Takako even ended up being a huge presence in the story, not just as “Shirase’s mom” but as a character in her own right, and that’s a pretty smooth trick considering she was dead before we arrived. (She reminds me of Shiro of Ao no Exorcist in a way, in the outsized impact she had despite being dead for most or all of the series.) It all really gives you the feeling of a fully realized world. There’s that attention to detail I was talking about earlier. I get the feeling that the writers had so much other content they could have used, but they didn’t. They didn’t try to stuff. They made sure they needed each of the thirteen episodes to tell their story, and then they filled in any small pockets with cool Antarctica stuff.
Most of all, what I love about Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho is the messages it conveys. Though not without its dark points—one of the main character’s mothers is dead, fer crissakes—this is a story with a relentlessly optimistic worldview. It shows us that persistent effort can be rewarded, that journeys are worth taking, and that taking that first step can lead to amazing things. It shows us the right kinds of friends to be—to be honest and open, to be stern about failures and forgiving of mistakes, and to defend those friends against people who would hurt them, even if it means being a Shirase-level jerk. (That’s the best kind of jerk to be.) It shows that it’s okay to have dark, petty feelings, and that sometimes, “In you face!” will take you much farther than high falutin ideals. It even shows, with Megu’s picture in this last episode, that living your best life can lead to those around you climbing to greater heights themselves.
I love this series deeply, and I wish I had watched it when I was a freshman in high school. I was a cynical little bastard, far more so than I am now, because I hadn’t yet realized that calling myself a “realist” actually meant I was a cynic who didn’t want to admit it. I have a feeling that, had I seen something like this—or Sakurasou, or a handful of other stories that have shaped my outlook—I may have done a few things differently. Great art can do that—it not only gives you something to think about, but can change you for the better, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series did for me. To take a grand journey, and learn more of what life has to offer while still young… I’ve taken a few of those journeys, and they’re grand. Nothing so impressive as an expedition to Antarctica, of course. But still. If only.
I tell you what though, if I knew an anime-curious high schooler, or am related to one in the future, I’ll be making sure this series gets in front of their eyeballs. This was a marvelous story, from start to finish, which is why I’ve written a small novella on it. The bottom line is this: They took a premise that’s better than we thought it was, characters that were tailor made for the situation, and told a story so breathtaking that it kept exceeding expectations up to the last episode. I laughed. I cried. I felt more optimistic because this story now resides in my head.
Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho is one of my favorite anime of all time. I couldn’t place it exactly right now, but definitely within the top ten, and quite likely within the top five. AOTS certainly, AOTY quite possibly. We’ll have to see. What I know is that you should watch it, all your friends should watch it, and any self-respecting purveyor of fine character-focused coming-of-age dramas should watch it. It’s one of a kind, and we’re lucky to have it.