Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: A Place Further Than The Universe

Original Run: January 2, 2018 - March 27, 2018
Number of Episodes: 13
Genre: Adventure, Comedy

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Sora yori mo Tooi Basho. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Mari “Kimari” Tamaki (voiced by Inori Minase) craves adventure. She wants to see the world and do many of the amazing things in it. Too bad she has a habit of chickening out right before taking the first step. Ashamed of her timidness, Kimari finds herself drawn to a person who seems to know exactly what it is they want.

For years, Shirase Kobuchizawa (voiced by Kana Hanazawa) has dreamed of reaching the one location on Earth humans have not touched, Antarctica. Not only does she see this land with great awe and wonder, but it is also the place that took something dear from her. With so many people telling her the futility of what she is trying to do, Shirase uses others’ lack of faith to drive her forward. And it is that kind of attitude that convinces Kimari to accompany Shirase on this journey.

Against the odds, Kimari and Shirase do everything in their power to reach the frozen continent. Along the way, their spirit inspires others to follow them. Hinata Miyake and Yuzuki Shiraishi (voiced by Yuka Iguchi and Saori Hayami) join the duo.

With the group set, they head off to face what many say is the impossible. But as they go down their path, they begin to realize what it is they are truly searching for. Together these four form a friendship forged in a place further than the Universe.

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Series Positives

This series being good or bad was a secondary matter. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho had my attention because of its premise alone. I mean, there aren’t many stories about Antarctica that come to mind.

Despite never really wanting an anime concerning the southernmost continent, the moment I learned that was what this series was, I knew I had to check it out. Even if this ended up being a typical slice-of-life show, I was all for the change in setting. In fact, Sora yori mo could have been a complete rip-off of something else, and I would have praised it for at least trying to be different.

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I won’t say that would have been enough for me to recommend Sora yori mo, but credit where it’s due I suppose. Intrigue aside, it would have been nice if this show had a strong story to go with its freshness. Except I have become wary of asking for too much. Sometimes you are not going to get everything you hope.

Then again, sometimes you get shows like Sora yori mo that not only deliver, they knock it out of the God damn park. This series was fantastic.

I enjoyed this one a lot. That is why it makes sense Sora Yorimo reminded me so much of Rocket Girls, a series that, to be nice, wasn’t anywhere near decent. I say “to be nice,” but I assure you, Rocket Girls was maddening. I bring it up here because Sora yori mo utterly destroyed it. That wouldn’t have been hard to do, but if you choose Rocket Girls over Sora yori mo as your next anime to watch, you might as well be saying two plus two equals five.

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Sora yori mo reminded me of Rocket Girls in a comparative sense. As in, this series was way better and here’s why.

Both shows had a similar focus. They took a group of high schoolers and put them in a challenging, larger than life scenario. The one area you could say Rocket Girls had the advantage in is with the level of challenge it presented.

Although traveling to the Antarctic is full of dangers and is by no means an easy thing to do, it doesn’t quite hit the same difficulty spike as outer space does. And given the magnitude hike of Rocket Girls, that only adds to how much of a mess it was.

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It was Sora yori mo, not Rocket Girls that emphasized the inherent risks at play. This show realized what it would take to make sure a high schooler was ready for the trip it proposed. There was no equivalent stupidity in thinking anyone, let alone a teenager could pilot a rocket after only a month’s worth of training.

Before getting ahead of myself, there were a few conveniences in Sora yori mo’s story that helped push it along.

For example, there just happened to be a once in a lifetime civilian expedition to Antarctica. There also just so happened to be a high school celebrity, Yuzuki, scheduled for the voyage who wanted off. And it just so happened Kimari ended up working at the same convenience store as Hinata who had also been envious of the trip.

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These details and more were prevalent throughout the first half of Sora yori mo. If you think about them too hard, it’s a little unbelievable how easy everything fell into place. But there are several factors you need to consider.

For starters, while this setup does seem improbable, it’s not impossible. Or at least it wasn’t impossible for what the story wanted to do; go to Antarctica. That’s not an easy place to get to. But what mattered wasn’t the destination itself.

Rocket Girls had its fair share of conveniences as well. Unlike Sora yori mo though, those conveniences were much harder to accept since they came from a story that didn’t understand the gravity of what it was doing and what it was having its characters do. Sora Yorimo, on the other hand, had a sense of responsibility.

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What I’m trying to say is, a show doesn’t instill much inspiration when it has its main group of rational adults threaten to charge a kid with sabotage because she refused to pilot a rocket with untested fuel in the engines. Or how about when that same group ignores all safety protocol when that same kid throws a temper tantrum.

In Sora yori mo, our main four couldn’t be burdens on the crew. There were no special rules to accommodate them being high schoolers. The team couldn’t afford to treat the girls as anything less than adults.

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But the most important distinction of all, Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki wanted to be on the trip. It was something they had been working towards. Nobody strong-armed them into doing anything they weren’t already eager to do.

Sora yori mo knew what it could push, and it knew what it needed to do to keep itself grounded. Antarctica wasn’t a gimmick like high school girls in space. It was a goal to achieve and a backdrop for our main four to grow.

What started as a neat idea in my eyes turned into an engaging tale of adventure. Sora yori mo was an absolute blast to watch. Many things about this show are worth talking about.

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Strangely, Sora yori mo felt like two seasons smashed into one. But the thing that was beyond impressive though, this show felt like two complete seasons smashed into one. There was a definite divide in this story, and there was nothing this series left behind.

For this section, and for reasons I will explain more about in a moment, I will mostly be focusing on the first half of this show. There are fewer opportunities for me to give away unintentional spoilers.

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Sora yori mo did eventually get to Antarctica. I can only speak for myself, but this was kind of the thing I was looking forward to the most. It was the element that sold me on this show. That said, the story didn’t even begin the actual journey to the continent until episode six.

I’m not going to lie, for most other shows this would be total BS. How in the world do you justify spending half the entire runtime before ever getting to the main point? Well, you could do what Sora yori mo did.

The first half of this series was establishment. But it was necessary establishment.

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As I mentioned, this show had a sense of responsibility. You do not start talking about going to Antarctica and then the very next day end up there. There is a process. Things need to get done first.

Not only that, our main four had to meet and get to know each other. They were going to be living together in close quarters for a long time in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. It’s okay to take a second to give introductions.

During this part of the show, the story gave us working motivations behind why the girls wanted to make this trip. These reasons never became invalid, but these were the surface traits too much more profound characters. Sora yori mo was great in letting us know more was on the way.

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A perfect example of this was Kimari’s best friend Megumi Takahashi (voiced by Hisako Kanemoto). One look at the opening song or of any of the promotional artwork, you would know Megumi wasn’t going to be part of the group that went to Antarctica. But if you missed all that, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought she might end up there. Sora Yorimo made it clear there was more to Megumi.

One of this show’s stronger points was it not explaining what was going on through exposition. In the case of Megumi, her actions, choice of words, and other small mannerisms told us a lot about her state of mind. But there was never enough to give a full sense of what she was trying to accomplish. Or at least there wasn’t anything until the story was ready to tell us. And boy, it told us.

What resulted was one of the many outstanding scenes in Sora yori mo.

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While this series did spend a lot of time not in Antarctica, that didn’t matter. The show never dragged itself out in this first half. This wasn’t an instance of a story taking its time; it was much better than that. This was an instance of a story using its time well. I will use the second half of Sora yori mo as my proof.

Could all thirteen episodes have been in Antarctica? There is no doubt in my mind, and I’m not going to pretend that’s something I don’t want to see. But for this story, it didn’t need to do that. When the show finally did focus on the expedition, nothing ever felt rushed. And this includes when the girls were exploring Singapour and Australia.

That was two more full episodes that did not take place in Antarctica. And if you’ve been counting, that means most of this show wasn’t on the continent.

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But you know what? These two episodes, especially episode six, Welcome to the Durian Show, were among the best in the series. And that’s saying something since there wasn’t a bad episode.

To finish this section off the show’s finale was satisfying. This was a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. It was a whole package, what more can you ask for? This was wonderful to see since the pacing wasn’t even the best thing about Sora Yorimo.

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The Four Girls

A massive benefit from the pacing of this show was how well we got to know Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki. By the end, we got a pretty well-rounded idea of who the girls were and what this trip meant to them.

I want to get this out of the way now. Kimari was the flattest of the four. That sounds meaner than I intend for it to be, but she was not nearly as interesting as her friends. Except if I had to guess, that was by design.

Of the group, Kimari had the most average life. Nothing terribly wrong or exciting had ever happened to her. It goes without saying that Antarctica was the most significant thing she had ever tried. And that right there was her purpose.

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There was a naivety to Kimari that didn’t quite exist in the other three girls. This allowed her to act as the anchor of the group. Not in a bad way, but she had a simplistic view of the world.

Kimari was a reminder that sometimes the worst thing a person can do is overthink a problem. That was why it was her who was able to get past the rigid outlook of Yuzuki.

Having been working from a young age, Yuzuki never had the chance to make friends. The only things she knew were contracts and schedules. She was the kind of person who needed an answer to every question even when such a thing might not have existed.

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There was one question this series put forth that will get you thinking. And the answer the show came up with was rather amazing in its simplicity.

It was Kimari and Yuzuki who made that happen.

But if you want to talk about outstanding characters, look no further than Hinata and Shirase. These two were brilliant and I have a lot of things I could go into about them. But I refuse. There is no way I’m going to risk spoiling these two’s most prominent moments. What I will say though, there was so much more to their personalities then they let on.

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All four of the girls had at least one scene they could claim as their own. None of them felt unnecessary. They each brought something to the story worth remembering.

Also, before I forget, and how could I ever, this was a phenomenal cast of voice actresses. Inori Minase, Kana Hanazawa, Yuka Iguchi, and Saori Hayami, the voices of Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki respectively, each gave brilliant performances. And recalling some of the scenes they were in, wow. Just, wow.

In addition, and not to downplay the other three, but this series was a nice reminder as to why I always get excited whenever I learn Ms. Hanazawa is apart of a project.

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The Second Half

So do you want to know the reason why I focused more on the first half of Sora yori mo during the pacing section? It was because that was the weaker half of the show. From episode six to the end, this series blew me away.

The story became so good, and it only got progressively better as it went forward. For one, the show dropped the idea of there being only a single main character. In the beginning, it was clear Kimari was the person filling that role.

Once the actual journey to Antarctica started that stopped being the case. The four girls became the center of everything.

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Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki were so close that I tended to forget they only met a few months before their trip. A strong message I took from this show was you can’t measure a friend by how long you have known them. The key is the quality of the time you spend with someone.

In three months, these four girls were closer to one another than some friends that have been together for years. Why was that? Well, you’re going to have to watch the show to find out.

If I said anything about what happened during this part of the series, I would be doing you a huge disservice.

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It is still very early in 2018, but should Sora yori mo make my best of the year list I know the moment that secured its inclusion. I will only refer to this part as the e-mail scene.

And because of this instance, I can see another list of mine this series could find its way on.

I love any series that can leave me in a state of speechlessness like Sora Yorimo did.

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Series Negatives

For this part of the review, I need to double back on something I said earlier.

Sora yori mo relied on a lot of conveniences in its story. Most of them were justified and weren’t what I would consider a problem. There is one though that does bother me a little, and that is Kimari’s motivation for going to Antarctica.

To be fair, I can say the same thing about Hinata, but with one tiny difference. I liked Hinata more than I did Kimari. Therefore I’m going to focus this nitpick more on who, for the most part, was the show’s main character.

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I can understand why Kimari wanted to see the world. That isn’t something that’s difficult to wrap your head around. But know this. Kimari couldn’t commit to ditching class to visit Tokyo. Although I am not advocating students play hooky, if you want to try being adventurous, doing at least that isn’t a bad place to start.

Kimari wanted to cure herself of her cold feet. Thus the perfect solution was to take things up a notch. Or two. Or in this case a thousand. There’s a pretty big difference between venturing into the city for an afternoon and Antarctica.

On more or less a whim, Kimari committed herself to something hazardous. There was a bit of a disconnect between what Kimari wanted to do and someone like Shirase who had made Antarctica her goal for years.

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Also, there wasn’t as much pushback from Kimari’s family as you would otherwise expect. For a while, Kimari kept it hidden what she was planning on doing. I don’t know how she thought that was going to work, but when the secret got out, there wasn’t that much of a need for damage control.

One last thing, because this is not going to be that long of a section, I do find it peculiar that the least interesting half of Sora yori mo was the half that spent the most time focusing on Kimari.

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The show was never dull or painful to get through. But the story picked up immensely when all four of the main characters started getting equal attention.

And to be honest, it felt as though Kimari’s importance waned in the second half. For a character of her stature in this story, that’s not something I should be saying.

If there were a link in this show’s chain that wasn’t that strong, it would be Kimari. But considering how even Sora yori mo’s weakest was still much better than what I have seen in other series, there isn’t much to complain about.

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Final Thoughts

This show has always had my attention. But now it has earned my admiration. This was wonderful.

The story’s pacing was perfect. The characters were complex and interesting. There was a lot to get yourself invested in. This was an adventure tale that didn’t rely on grand epic quests or magic. This was a journey that anyone can conceivably do. And that was what was so great about this series.

By the way, I didn’t even mention the fact this show looked stunning. But that was like point number nine on why this series was so good. It almost slipped my mind.

I can’t say this was a disappointment. Not in the slightest. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho is one I highly recommend.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Sora yori mo Tooi Basho? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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