Time to vicariously camp on a budget again.
I don’t make it much of a secret on this blog that I absolutely love Laid-Back Camp. It not only is one of my favorite anime of 2018 but it’s also one of my favorite cute girls doing cute things/slice of life anime of all time. I’ve previously covered the first season of this show in episode reviews back when it aired. However, I’ve since felt discontent with those reviews, especially with the fourth to ninth episodes as I grouped some of them together to save time (I was dealing with my last and most stressful semester of college at the time). With Season 2 premiering next month, I figured I’d take the opportunity to rewatch Season 1 and redo my episode reviews for it.
For those unfamiliar with Laid-Back Camp, the plot goes like this: five high school girls living in the Yamanashi Prefecture go camping around the country during the winter season…and that’s pretty much it actually. It is as straightforward as a synopsis can get. I’d argue the story does have more of an arc to it and I’ll of course address that as these reviews go on. But as far as basic plot goes…it really does boil down to “they go camping”. That being said, this premise is perfect for the type of series Laid-Back Camp is going for. Camping is so methodical and relaxing that it’d suits the slice of life genre extremely well.
Laid-Back Camp very much gets that point across in its first episode. The story begins with one of our main characters, Rin Shima (Nao Touyama and easily my favorite performance of hers yet) arriving in Lake Motosuko near Mt. Fuji. For about ten minutes or so, the show is completely dedicated to Rin setting up camp at the lakeside and then gathering wood for a campfire. It may not sound like the most exciting event out there but, at least for me, it’s quite engaging. There’s a methodical and calming pace to everything that transpires. Sprinkled in are a few jokes such as when Rin pulls out a machete and pretends to be a murderer when she’s really just cutting wood. The episode alternates between using its soundtrack to enhance the mood and letting silence fulfill the same purpose. Exposition is largely saved for the technical details of camping and it’s provided by a narrator (Akio Outsuka) so that way, you don’t have Rin constantly talking to herself. Best of all, this entire sequence of events informs us a fair amount on Rin’s character. You can tell from all this how she’s a quiet person but she isn’t emotionless, as evidence by her sense of humor. The fact that she’s camping by herself makes it apparent that she’s a self-sufficient and experienced camper. That she’s also camping alone is another thing to note and you soon learn that it’s a big part of her character.
While setting up camp, Rin occasionally takes a trip to the public restroom. Along the way, she notices a girl, Nadeshiko Kagamihara (Yumiri Hanamori), sleeping nearby. I love that this is how the show chooses to introduce its second main character. The fact that she’s sleeping in broad daylight near a restroom is a strange sight alone but it also works by implying her ditzy personality in contrast to Rin’s self-sufficiency. Even better is that it’s through this odd introduction that plot later takes a turn. At night, Nadeshiko wakes up and asks Rin for help (that jump scare she does will always be funny) as she’s recently moved into town and therefore doesn’t know her way around. Rin thus offers to let Nadeshiko stay at her camp and offers her dinner (but not before adding a price on it as a joke and thereby setting up the best running gag in the series: the characters’ wallets).
Immediately, the two girls hit it off. Even though Rin is a bit put off by the circumstances brought by Nadeshiko, she nevertheless finds the new company rather welcoming. This is especially the case when the two of them eat dinner and Rin realizes that the meal is more enjoyable than it would’ve if she’d eaten alone thanks to Nadeshiko’s enthusiasm and appetite. It’s a really charming dynamic, one that grows more endearing and more pivotal as the series goes on.
While largely a slice of life series, some of episodes of Laid-Back Camp actually have a climax of sort. This generally comes in the form of a scenic view the characters either anticipate or stumble upon. In the case of this episode, it’s the view of Mt. Fuji from Motosuko which is akin to the one seen on the 1,000 yen bill. Rin texts to her friend Ena Saitou (Rie Takahashi) about hopefully seeing it once the weather clears up. Nadeshiko reveals that she traveled to the lake in the hopes of seeing it, only for it to be obscured by the clouds. Just as she vents her disappointment to Rin, the sky clears up and the two get to see Mt. Fuji in all its glory. While not entirely intentional on the character’s part, I kind of see this scene as Rin showing Nadeshiko the final element that makes camping appealing. Enjoying the company of others and a good meal is certainly part of the appeal but so is taking in the scenery. Even though there’s patience and luck involved, the chance of seeing such a picturesque view in person is worth it. Rin knows this and thanks to her spotting the view, so does Nadeshiko now. And in doing so, I think that cements Nadeshiko’s interest in camping throughout the series.
Following the climax, Nadeshiko figures out a way home and gets picked up by her sister Sakura (Marina Inoue). Just as Rin prepares to return to her camp, Nadeshiko writes her phone number down for her. While this opens the door for them to meet again, Laid-Back Camp quickly makes that even easier by revealing in the next scene that Nadeshiko has transferred to Rin’s school. Even so, it is telling that Rin chooses to add the phone number. As I said before: even though she’s a little put off by Nadeshiko’s quirks, Rin still enjoys her company and that’s something that’ll come into play as the series progresses.
After the credits, you’re treated with the first installment of a segment called “Room Camp”. These segments are basically short, self-contained vignettes showcasing the antics of the Outdoor Activities Club (Outclub) in Rin and Nadeshiko’s school. For the first episode, you get a preemptive introduction to the club’s two members: Chiaki Ogaki (Sayuri Hara) and Aoi Inuyama (Aki Toyosaki). The two of them banter about their club’s woes and ponder about a tent with a built-in heater, which Aoi points out is more or less a kotatsu. “Room Camp” actually got spun-off into its own TV show (in fact, it aired earlier this year). That iteration has more of an actual story and ironically enough, it doesn’t keep the character stuck in said room nor does it have them camp for most of the time.
Aside from the story and characters, another thing about Laid-Back Camp that stands out to me is its presentation. While the most gorgeous show out there, I really like the show’s art direction. There’s an interesting synergy between the moe looking cast and the comparatively more realistic backgrounds. The characters get to look as cute as possible while the scenery is as serene and scenic as it should given the camping premise. I remember being concerned the combination might be jarring but it surprisingly doesn’t since the coloring of the characters are a little diluted, allowing them to blend well with the locations. The soundtrack also deserves a mention. The use of wind and string instruments as well as the generally folkish tone suits the show perfectly. To be honest, the presentation in the anime makes me feel a bit spoiled. I’ve read some manga and tried some of the live-action drama (yes, one exists for this series) and it’s hard for me to experience the same story without the same visuals or music of the anime. These elements really have become synonymous with the story for me.
OP: “SHINY DAYS” by Asaka
Thanks for reading!
Watch Laid-Back Camp on Crunchyroll