It’s long past time to talk about the show that’s exciting me most this winter season: A Place Further Than The Universe. From the title, you might expect the anime to take us somewhere far away, either in our own universe, or perhaps to another world. Neither would be particularly surprising. Instead, the goal is Antarctica, a continent both familiar and strange to us viewers and the characters in the show. We’ve learned about it in school growing up, and you’ve probably seen some documentary about it, perhaps about the penguins, or about the famous sled dog team from which only two members survived the long months before rescue. But very few of us have likely considered actually going there. Some like to relax on the beach, while others prefer to suit up and hike into the mountains. Antarctica is a whole different beast, one uninhabited and untamed—the true last frontier. It’s a place where teamwork is necessary for survival, a fact tantamount to the success of the expedition in A Place Further than the Universe.
This anime starts out feelings much like a standard high school slice of life. When Mari Tamaki (“Kimari”) makes Shirase Kobuchizawa’s acquaintance, I fully expected to go the club route, with the two of them taking almost the entirety of the anime season recruiting members for their trip to Antarctica. I did not expect them to form their core team so quickly, nor for them to join a legitimate expedition made up of the same adults who journeyed with Shirase’s mother, who went missing three years prior. There’s a clear sense of momentum to the events taking place, which is also reflected in the overall writing of the show. The dialogue is snappy and humorous without feeling overbearing, and cuts between scenes are perfectly timed to keep us moving forward. A couple episodes in, and I’m already thankful for what we’ve been given.
A large part of what works so well in A Place Further than the Universe are the relationships between characters, beginning with Kimari. At the start, we see her gliding through life on autopilot, well within the safety lines of normal. Her idea of risk is skipping a day of school and taking a train to somewhere unknown, which she doesn’t actually follow through on when push comes to shove. Kimari is clumsy and playful, and dreams of bursting free of her self-made walls. Her best friend, Megumi Takahashi, prides herself on her own practicality and dependability. She gives advice to Kimari, and clearly enjoys her almost parental role in the friendship.
There’s nothing particularly alarming about their relationship at the start; we see ones like it often enough in other shows played up for comedy and charm—consider Slow Start’s Eiko and Kamuri. It’s only after Shirase quite literally runs into our view when we start to see the limits to Kimari and Megu’s current relationship. As Kimari begins to stretch her legs and work towards a separate path, Megu’s fears surface. She won’t admit to it, but she looks forward to saving the day. Seeing the one person who depended on her embarking on an unknown path brings out emotions she didn’t know she had. There are some great essays out there highlighting the visual representations of their split I encourage you to read if you’re interested.
Kimari’s decision to join Shirase on her goal of Antarctica quickly bears fruit in her own personal growth, as well as drives a wedge in her connection to Megumi. The notion that strangers can be brought together just as strongly by a shared vision as by an existing friendship isn’t new, but certainly underrepresented in anime. As a result, the ties binding Kimari, Shirase, Tamaki, and Yuzuki together feel organic and lasting. This isn’t your typical anime friendship formed from a quick introduction; these girls found one another through their genuine desire to venture into the unknown and hopefully grow as individuals.
The bond between these four girls remind me of the advice to surround yourself with people who push you to be a better person. Find friends who motivate you, not ones who hold you down. This rings true even for existing friendships you may not want to admit to being unhealthy or even one-sided.
This isn’t to say that these types of relationships are un-salvageable. While people naturally drift apart over time and distance, there are those bonds that remain with care. Zubat wrote a wonderful article about Megu and Kimari’s friendship, its past and a promise for its future. Yes, Kimari also played a part in their decaying friendship. She neglected to perceive Megumi’s true feelings about her new direction; she also failed to invite her along for the adventure. Kimari was so focused on moving past her own stagnant pool and dependence that she missed out on the comfort they provided to her best friend.
Instead of taking out her frustrations about Megumi’s hurtful words and actions on their friendship, Kimari acknowledges her own shortcomings and reaches a hand out for support. Just like how Shirase, Tamaki, and Yuzuki push her to be a better person, she has now come full circle to do so herself for her childhood friend. It’s a beautiful line of human connection we should strive to take on for ourselves.
Watch A Place Further than the Universe on Crunchyroll.