A Place Further Than the Universe

April 25, 2024 · 0 comments

By Zoe Crombie.

Kimari is a high school student teetering on the edge of experience, wanting to live while she’s young but needing the right push to do so. That extra encouragement comes in the form of Shirase, a fellow student whose belief that her mother, a missing Antarctic explorer, is still waiting her in the South Pole, has rendered her an outcast among her peers. Together, along with some friends made along the way, the pair go on an expedition to the far reaches of the Earth to find Shirase’s lost mother and capture the adventure they’ve been craving, with plenty of fun to be had on the way.

Though the main names that come to mind when considering female anime creators are Naoko Yamada of A Silent Voice fame and prolific writer-director Mari Okada, the voice behind numerous popular series, there are many more women in the industry who deserve to be highlighted. One filmmaker has bubbled under the surface since the early 2000s and is finally finding greater recognition is Atsuko Ishizuka, a prominent animator at the studio Madhouse who, in the past decade, has begun to helm more projects of her own. You’re likely to have come across a few of these, most notably No Game, No Life, a popular isekai series following two shut-ingamers whisked away to a fantastical world.

Her other major series, A Place Further than the Universe is also about leaving normality behind in favour of a spectacular adventure. Our chirpy protagonist Kimari has plenty of energy, but lacks focus and motivation, as evidenced by her lament at having never “done anything” with her youth and wishes to change this before she leaves high school for good. This changes when she crosses paths with Shirase, a girl so hell-bent on getting to the globe’s Southernmost point that she is nicknamed Antarctica and bullied by fellow students. Because this is an anime, she is thankfully able to begin her journey, with the help of Kimari and the new friends they make along the way; it’s a corny premise, but one that feels sincere thanks to the show’s more novel elements.

Really, the premise of the series is what sets it apart from similar slice-of-life style escapades that use similar characters with nearly identical dynamics. With a uniquely optimistic protagonist, a seriously focused brunette, and a tomboyish girl loaded with energy, there’s a certain resemblance to KyoAni shows like K-On! and countless other series with high school girls at their centre. But what makes these familiar types work here is the sense of progress brought by the series’ conceit – with each episode, the gang is a step closer to the promise of Antarctica, and the possibility of unveiling the mystery behind Shirase’s mother’s disappearance. This prevents the show from stagnating, and lends genuine tension at points to their quest, testing and developing their friendships while providing the audience with new well-rendered locales to absorb, whether in downtown Tokyo or the tundra itself.

Another element that helps to put some flesh on the conventional bones of this anime is the high energy and exaggeration put into the animation that perfectly captures the feeling of unbound youth that thematically runs through the story. The most memorable moments of the show are exuberant in their camerawork and dynamic editing, a particular highlight being a chase scene in the second episode that makes you feel as breathless as the characters within it. This energy also comes through in the characterisation – their default moe expressions are often swapped out for more intense versions of smiles, frowns, and laughter, occupying a kind of middle ground between gentler shows like Tamako Market and more off-the-wall series like Nichijou. These moments complement the healthy sense of humour the show has around its own absurdity, but also bring a visual goofiness that is surprisingly effective in the show’s more sincere moments.

It’s easy to see why A Place Further than the Universe is so beloved by its fans – between the likable characters, exuberant animation, and sense of adventure, there’s a lot to love here even for those less inclined toward high school anime. For fans of shows like No Game, No Life and its movie who haven’t broached Ishizuka’s other work, this is a no brainer that’s just as effective in portraying a real adventure (without so much reliance on fan service to keep the attention of viewers).

Zoe Crombie is an associate lecturer and PhD candidate at Lancaster University working on Studio Ghibli. A Place Further Than the Universe is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

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