Living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States means nature is always a short distance away. Day trips to the mountains for a bit of sightseeing, hiking, and picnicking are common. Having grown up in Alaska, I’ve always respected the wilderness in all her beauty and danger, but I never actively sought out my own adventures outside of required family and school excursions. When I moved to Washington State and spent more time in the city, I started to crave the meditative woods. For the first time, I researched different hiking trails, even going so far to look into hiking groups on Facebook and Meetup. Washington has a fantastic online resource that not only listing and mapping the trails, but also describing each step of the way and allowing users to upload pictures and their own seasonal trail reports.
Not many people have the fortune of such readily accessible resources, and it can be intimidating getting into the hobby alone. It’s no surprise that Yama no Susume’s Aoi hesitates to accept Hinata’s offer to go hiking; she’s never had the occasion to venture into the wilderness for most of her life. It’s her lack of knowledge and insecurity fuel the sense of adventure that permeates every aspect of this series.
There are currently two seasons available for Yama no Susume (Encouragement of Climb). The first totaled only twelve episodes at a short three-minutes-long each. I did try it when it first aired, but dropped the show after only one week. The pilot episode covered little ground and I didn’t find the characters particularly engaging. If you are able to get past that point, like I eventually was, then you’ll find the momentum picks up with snippets of education on hiking, like the recommended safety precautions and tools, as well as popular walks and trails near Saitama. The episodes start to feel longer than they actually are. As Aoi grows to love exploring hills and mountains, she gradually opens up to her desire to go further and higher. We see her strengthen in both body and mind.
The sequel season aired just a year later with double the weeks and quadruple the former episode length. This is where the series really started to run, and I began to take it more seriously than just a convenient way to pass a few minutes every week. The characters we were introduced to in the first season–Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, and Kokona–took on more color and depth. The hikes became more challenging, and thus more rewarding. We even experienced a surprising moment of disappointment that broke up the positivity of the series.
If anything particularly weak about Yama no Susume jumps out at me, it’s the unassuming start where I first felt the need to drop the show. Nothing about the people or the characters offended me, but there wasn’t much encouraging me to “climb” on. And with only three minutes per episode, I couldn’t see how we’d get anywhere meaningful.
I also thought the two main characters, Aoi and Hinata, annoying. Aoi timidly avoided anything that scared her, while Hinata seemed to have no sense for personal space. It really wasn’t until their first “hike” together where Aoi over-prepared that I started to soften up on my first impressions.
The first season also lacked clear direction, though you could argue that wasn’t the point. There are plenty of other shows that aimlessly enjoy the setting and characters without any destination in mind. All Hinata wanted to do was get Aoi hiking again, which is a noble enough goal on its own. The relaxed pace actually makes it easier to absorb the hiking tips so that they don’t feel like a lecture. Walkers of all abilities are invited, from beginners to mountaineers.
Once the girls do regularly explore their surroundings and pick up a couple of other friends along the way, a couple of goals start to emerge. The first is to hike Mt. Fuji; the second is to revisit Mt. Tanigawa and watch the sun rise. These arcs provide the perfect structure for the sequel. In preparation, they climb smaller mountains and research gear they’ll need to bring, like head lamps and down jackets. When Aoi hits a small bump with her fear of heights, the girls address it together. When she hits a big bump on her climb of Mt. Fuji, her friends and the viewers cross our fingers that she’ll persevere.
The physical and inner struggles encourage us to not only get out there and explore the world around us, but to also share those moments with others. A story I found relatable featuring Kaede showed that she frequently hiked on her own. I have a friend like this too, and it scares me imagining her out in the middle of nowhere alone in cougar country. Once Kaede found someone to share in her hobby, we didn’t really see her hiking alone anymore. I’ve found that once you walk with someone and see a vista by their side, it’s hard to feel satisfied later without that shared emotional connection. You can help one another when the going gets tough, celebrate together at a checkpoint, and wonder at the vastness of the world at the summit.
Rating: 1 dango