Quito Barajas is a San Diego native interested in anime and fiction. He attends university where he studies and tutors English.
It’s been some time since A Place Further Than the Universe finished airing, but I’m watching it for the first time, so I wanted to share my findings with you.
To refresh our memories, let’s create a quick case file of each girl.
Mari “Kimari” Takami
The binding force of the group.
Clownish. Light-hearted. Friendly. Airheaded. Cries for you. Smiles for you. Will be your friend in 5 split seconds. Wants to take hold of her youth and make the best of it.
Clingy. Relies on others often.
The leader. She’s the reason the girls go to Antarctica.
Filled w/ conviction. Dislikes judgmental people. Persuasive.
Obdurate. Pedantic. Reactionary. Irritable
Highschool dropout and loner.
Witty. Cheerful. Great communicator.
Uses cheerfulness as an emotional wall others can’t cross. Dislikes people. Keeps them at a distance. Skeptical of people.
Celebrity singer actor. Has never had any friends until Kimari, Hinata and Shirase.
Intelligent. Resourceful. Experienced traveler.
Distrustful. Pessimistic. Thinks everyone who comes into contact with her only wants to for business or their own self benefit.
Now let's get to it.
Ishizuka Atsuko, the director of No Game No Life who is known for her colorful auteurism, creates episodes that loosely feed into each other in A Place Further Than the Universe, almost as though blending an episodic format with the type of partitioned narrative progression common to television. This makes watching the four high school girls’ journey appear like a coherent stream of consciousness, effectively making viewers feel like the trip to the Arctic is authentic. The show doesn’t feel staged. Some have attributed this to the cellphone use and vlogging aboard the Arctic research vessel. However, I think there’s more to why it all feels realer than that. Let’s explore.
The reader connects with each girl, a truly laudable feat. One way the show achieves this is through travel. Travel in this show is realistic. There are seemingly millions of never ending preparations that need to be made, set backs, or trifles among the girls.
It’s well known relationships between people traveling together are more intimate. Personal vulnerabilities come out from under the rocks they’ve been hiding, and true natures and personal flaws are unveiled. The show puts all that on display as the girls work together to get to Antarctica.
Episode 6, Welcome to the Durian Show, displays those issues loudly. The girls relax on a layover in Singapore, but that R&R comes to an end when Hinata loses her passport, and they have to really ask themselves how they’re going to resolve the setback.
Most importantly, it is the first time the girls really confront their personal vexations and character flaws.
Shirase recognizes how pedantic she is.
Hinata gets frustrated when she’s being treated kindly by the people affected by her mistakes.
But accepting these personal problems won’t go away is essential to working through them. The girls recognize equipping their limitations constructively helps them resolve their issues and become closer as friends.
The episode is comedically resolved when Shirase finds Hinata’s passport in her purse, but the drama isn’t undone. The characters simulate a very real stress response to the lost passport when looking for a solution. Should we delay the flight? Should we still fly out together? Should we leave behind a member? It’s like panicking over having misplaced your phone when it’s been in your hand the whole time. Granted, the fret in believing you’ve lost a passport is far more serious, but the comedic relief of finding out you had your phone all along doesn’t mean that panic wasn’t real. The same goes for the passport found safely in Shirase’s purse.
You can assume the quality of each character’s predicament is as well handled as the passport episode, so there’s really no reason to talk about each girl in full. Just watch the show. However, I’d like to mention one relationship that doesn’t feel quite as authentic: Mari Taki’s deteriorating friendship with her bff Megumi Takahashi.
Their time together just wasn’t developed enough to justify their drama. Admittedly, my disbelief was suspended—perhaps only because dir. Atsuko was so good at leaving me feeling caught up in every moment of the show, the sheer momentum of the the tone carried me smoothly through Megumi and Kimari’s break-up. Incompletely as she’s written, I won’t being focusing on Megumi. She is necessary for Kimari’s character development, but the other girls are far more essential. That said, Megumi wasn’t an absolute loss because Kimari rejects her declaration to cut their ties before departing for Antarctica, leaving room for development; and to be fare, the whole thing comes up again near the end of the show. It’s used to inform Yuzuki’s development. It makes me wonder whether the mangaka or director, whoever wrote Megumi’s character the way it appears in the TV series, knew she would fade into the background as focus shifted to the trip.
MINOR SPOILERS START NOW.
Nevertheless, A Place Further Than The Universe does an astounding job showing Shirase wrestle with her mother’s death. It’s the cathartic denouement in the show. It’s unclear when her mother becomes the backbone of our emotional investment up to this point. She only receives ephemeral appearances in flashbacks yet the woman’s death throws our heart’s out before we notice. And to be clear, it’s not the death itself that makes us emotional. It’s Shirase’s response.
Confronting hang-ups means more than staring them down. Shirase walks away stronger than she was at the beginning of the show. In the beginning she’s distrustful, reactionary and uncompromising. But that changes. We see her at the end of the show having gone from this...
Closure is a revelation that involves reflection and settling for answers to questions only the person asking them can provide. Shirase answers hers with her friends, as if it isn’t obvious. But that’s what makes it great. The resolution to Shirase’s arc—the end of the show—doesn’t present itself as closure for the sake of fulfilling the plot, and definitely doesn’t use why?-because-friendship! logic. Looking at you Naruto and Fairy Tail.
Friendship isn’t some magical power. It’s a tour de force. Believing it solves problems simply because friends support us no matter what defeats its substance. Understanding friends come and go legitimizes friendship as an unrestrained support system, hence the commentary above. Each girl has resolved her issues; so when Shirase needs them, they can all show her their support for her becoming stronger for herself. She’s able to grow past her grief having started by forging her friendship with the girls on her own. It would only make sense they’re able to be there for her when she finally confronts her mother’s death. They’ve already helped themselves grow. Each girl shows the other girls what they’re capable of. Therefore at the end of it all, the girls serves to remind Shirase she has the strength to carry on. That’s her revelation. That’s what makes the relationships between them so great. If they grow beyond each other, no one’s to blame if their friendship fades. That’s the sad part about the final episode. Their time together in Antarctica is over.
I hope you found my take on the show somewhat helpful! I’m looking forward to more girls like the ones I wrote about. I’ll probably be watching Love Live Sunshine next, but until then.
© 2018 Quito Barajas