A Place Further than the Universe – Find the Ones Who Push You Forward

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Watch A Place Further than the Universe on Crunchyroll.

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3 thoughts on “A Place Further than the Universe – Find the Ones Who Push You Forward

  1. I think there are some things that you just can’t invite your friend to go on. Especially when said friend has already declined your invitations for smaller trips (at least the dependency ones). Saying “come to Antarctica with me!” when that person is giving off huge “It’s a terrible idea” vibes is just a no-go. Even the last-ditch time Kimari says it, Kimari doesn’t mean it. I think it’s more of a “is that what she actually wanted, even though she totally wasn’t interested?” as well as a “I grew a lot, maybe you would grow too!” kind of thing.

    I really don’t find much to blame Kimari for in her relationship with Megu, to be honest. People change, and while we don’t get too much of a feel for how their relationship was, I would find it hard to believe that Kimari was that dependent on Megu. It’s not like Kimari shifted her dependency to Shirase or Hinata. It’s more like she found a small bit of courage within herself that she hadn’t needed to find. Plus I think it’s probably overblown that Kimari was even very dependent on Megu. It was more that Megu stepped in to “save” her from minor slights and was her closest confidant. I mean, I don’t think not being able to go through with skipping school for a trip to the city reflects particularly poorly on a person (I have to admit that I was incapable of skipping school, or even a class when I was in high school. I just couldn’t do it). But that’s why I think Megu felt more of a loss of their connection than Kimari did, because what was going on was more one-sided than some sort of co-dependency. To me, it’s more of a Kimari continued with the status quo, and Megu was the one actively harming their friendship out of jealousy.

    As for one thing that I think is underrated by viewers of the show that contributes to it being so impactful, it’s when you mix good writing with great acting. This show went with an all-star cast of voice actors. I don’t know much about relative costs within anime, but the VA budget for this show has to be way higher than the average show for the 12 episodes, and there isn’t a single probationary / first year actor on the list. Even the bit parts like Kimari’s little sister and mother are veterans with significant main role experience. If you’re going to go with that much talent, and you have good source material and screenplays, it would almost be impossible for it to not be a moving, wonderful show. Could it have been ruined? Yeah, probably (see most Project No. 9 shows, which don’t live up to their cast). But Madhouse isn’t going to screw that up, especially with getting Atsuko Ishizuka to direct it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s true. I’ve definitely been in both positions, turning down friends one too many times, as well as giving up on someone who never said yes. The bigger the commitment, the less inclined am I to “inconvenience” someone else with an invite. I do still think that Megumi wanted Kimari to try to convince her more than she did, even if she never would have agreed.

      I definitely see most of the fault with Megumi, and what we saw of their relationship growing up was heavily biased by her point of view. I’m still glad that Kimari reached out once again to continue their friendship, and relieved that Megu seems to have acknowledged her own weaknesses. Caring for someone sometimes means taking yourself out of the equation in some form or another.

      Once again, I’ve neglected looking at the voice actors, but I do without a doubt appreciate how natural they all sound in their characters. They work so well as individuals, and even better bouncing off one another, don’t they? Thank goodness they have the foundation of strong writing to support them.

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  2. This series is probably the biggest darkhorse of the season for me – I have been continually surprised at the attention and detail it has brought to each of the characters time and again; for such an initially outlandish premise it has delivered, and delivered consistently. Blindsided is a good word for describing its effect on me – and yeah, the end of ep 12 was especially well done … I found myself tearing up while being simultaneously moved and impressed. ^^

    Liked by 1 person

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