As busy as life has been for me these past several months, I’ve come to cherish even more the interludes of calm between all the little storms. One oasis that soothes me time and time again is this season’s continuation of Encouragement of Climb, the third in its series.
As the title implies, this is a journey along the trails and mountains of Japan as presented by a group of girls of varying skills and styles. We began with Aoi, but have since met with many others over the course of their adventures. Encouragement of Climb has always been about more than just the physical climb; it encompasses our characters’ personalities and their relationships not just within their immediate circles, but also with the people around them.
We have all heard this saying in some shape or form: “Life is a journey.” We travel down a path in hope that we reach a goal or destination, but the travel in getting there isn’t always easy. Along the way, we encounter some personal struggles. It is in those moments where we must overcome an adversity to complete our journey or take a different route or path instead. In this month’s OWLS post, we will be discussing the personal journeys of pop culture creators, icons, and characters. We will explore the journeys that these characters went through, discuss the process and experiences they had on their journeys, what they discover about themselves, or share our own personal journeys.
In the beginning, there was Aoi. She had just moved to a new town and started her first day of school. But then something amazing happened: she found Hinata, a childhood friend with whom she had experienced one of her most cherished memories. To be more specific, it was really Hinata who discovered Aoi, who could not have cared less about the world around her, opting instead for solo hobbies. At least, that’s what she told herself.
Rekindling that friendship with Hinata and exploring the possibility of leaving the indoors for the outdoors started Aoi and us on a journey with a largely educational tone. We started with some of the more approachable mountains overflowing with children, elderly, and plenty of rest stops. We learned about the tools meant to aid hikers, like different types of back packs.
Then we met Kaede and Kokona, who brought with them unique perspectives like mountaineering and wildlife viewing. Their different passions and abilities combined together into an interesting group dynamic that encouraged each others’ growth as hikers and human beings. This is where we started to delve deeper into Aoi’s fears and Hinata’s desire to help.
At the start, we met an Aoi who professed a preference for solo activities like knitting and cooking, despite her difficulty making friends. It’s one thing to turn a negative into a positive; in Aoi’s case, it was more about avoidance. Her relationship with Hinata and the other girls set her on a path she previously ignored. We see her growth in the greetings she gives other hikers on the trails, and in her reaching out to her friends for advice. This personal strength parallels her improvement as a hiker, which culminated in a series of events in season two when the girls attempted to climb Mt. Fuji. This climb is literally their highest and most difficult pinnacle to date, the aftermath of which forced Aoi to confront herself in new ways.
Now we’re here in the currently airing third season with Mt. Fuji still firmly in everyone’s minds, most especially for Aoi. She declares right from episode one her intent to conquer the mountain once and for all, something I could never have imagined from her in the previous two series. Perhaps the most astounding scene for me was where she accepted her classmates’ invitation to hang out outside of school. Until that point, the only times we saw her interact with others were at work or out hiking. While she still struggled to fit in with their conversations and interests, she eventually figured out the best thing she could do for herself and for them was to just be herself. For an episode utterly devoid of hiking, “Having Fun with Classmates” still succeeded in filling me with a sense of accomplishment and motivation.
Hinata helped Aoi break out of her shell, even pushed her friend to spend time with their classmates, but we are beginning to see her own fears emerge. She has always been the sociable one, that friend you could always depend on to brainstorm activities and actually go through with them. I’m reminded of Kimari and Megumi in A Place Further than the Universe—while their personalities are much different from Aoi and Hinata, I sense similar roles of supporter and dependent in them. To see the friend who always spent their time with you move on to spending times with others can feel as if an invisible barrier has been erected.
As much as this show has been about Aoi and hiking through these past seasons, I’ve always thought the meat of the story was in Aoi and Hinata’s relationship. We’ve seen them reunite, conquer mountains together, revisit old promises, and make new ones. They laugh and bicker like those in any kind of relationship do, but this is the first time where I’ve felt a real shift in their friendship. While Hinata might like to think she “saved” Aoi, perhaps the need was more reciprocal than expected.
We’re at a point in the show now where these two have to decide whether or not to let their misunderstandings and jealousy get in the way of a bond stronger and more long-lasting than before. Climbing mountains may seem impossible sometimes with all the physical and mental effort required, but navigating human relationships isn’t any less strenuous. More often than not, the paths are even more entangled and overgrown. From everything we have seen our characters overcome, I’m certain Aoi and Hinata can move past this steep incline and reach an outlook all the more beautiful for the effort put into reaching it.
My submission follows on the heels of Dylan of DynamicDylan’s “Galaxy Express 999 and Family!” and will be followed by Lita of Lita Kino Anime Corner. Feel free to check them out, along with many other wonderful OWLS writers!
For more about Encouragement of Climb, check out my review of the first two seasons. You can also watch the show on Crunchyroll!