“Alright, magic: a little steel wool, a battery, and we got fire.” –Les Stroud
During a cold autumn’s day, Rin Shima bikes to Koan Campground on the shores of Lake Motosu, where she encounters a girl sleeping on a bench in front of a public washroom. Feeling this individual might get a cold, Rin pushes the girl out of her mind and turns her attention to setting up camp, from pitching her tent to preparing all of her cooking gear. With the beautiful view in front of her, Rin feels that there is no better time than the off-season to go camping, when she can have the entire site to herself. As the chilly autumn winds pick up, Rin relents and builds a campfire, collecting both kindling and firewood to maintain her fire. Evening sets in, and Rin encounters the girls who had been sleeping earlier. After a chase results from a misunderstanding, the girl introduces herself to Rin, who shares with her some instant noodles. It turns out that the girl had gotten lost while biking, and with Rin’s help, manages to get in touch with her sister, who picks her up. Before she departs, she leaves with Rin her phone number and name: Nadeshiko Kagamihara. When classes resume, Nadeshiko makes her way to her new school, which happens to be the same one that Rin is attending. Slice-of-life anime can present seemingly ordinary activities in an extraordinary fashion, and for this season, Yuru Camp△ is doing so with camping: the first episode introduces veteran camper Rin, whose shown to be no stranger to setting up equipment and enjoying the sights of Mount Fuji. Accustomed to camping alone, her chance meeting with Nadeshiko sets in motion things that will eventually lead her to meet new friends with which to share in adventures into some of the most beautiful parts of the Japanese countryside.
I remark partially in jest that Yuru Camp△ is merely an anime version of Les Stroud’s Survivorman featuring high school girls in place of a Canadian survival expert and outdoorsman; the contents of Yuru Camp△ indicate that the anime’s main theme will be friendship and how adventures shared are more memorable than those undertaken alone. However, there is some truth in calling Yuru Camp△ “Survivorman The Anime” – the first episode goes to considerable lengths to showcase some of the smaller details that Rin is familiar with in camping. From her setting up shelter while it’s still light out, to the process of gathering both forest duff and firewood for her campfire, the writers have evidently done their homework on the basics of the outdoors. The anime also takes the pain of explaining to audiences Rin’s actions to familiarise them with camping essentials: Rin’s collection of a dry, easy-to-ignite agent to warm up the fire and careful stoking of the fire to ensure that she doesn’t accidentally blow it out are consistent with what outdoorsman guides recommend. In getting the details right, Yuru Camp△ does indeed feel like Survivorman, where Les Stroud explains his actions in a survival situation, and while Yuru Camp△ is unlikely to put the girls in a situation where they must survive for seven days without a consistent supply of food and water, the first episode does set the precedence for what audiences could expect from Yuru Camp△ – a combination of heartwarming moments between a group of friends, and what might be considered an introduction to the fundamentals of camping.
Screenshots and Commentary
- From left to right, we’ve got Nadeshiko Kagamihara, Ena Saitou, Aoi Inuyama, Chiaki Oogaki and Rin Shima: the first scene of Yuru Camp△ has all of the girls roasting marshmallows together by a campfire. The composition suggests a reasonable familiarity with both one another, as well as the fundamentals of camping: this is something audiences will see later in the series. For now, however, viewers will require an introduction to where things first began.
- The scenery of the lakes and hills in the Yamanashi Prefecture are spectacular. During my visit to Japan last year, while I did not pass by Lake Motosu on my travels, I did visit Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station and had a fantastic yakinuku at a restaurant on the shores of Lake Yamanaka. Yuru Camp△ does a fantastic job with the scenery, and the locations within the first episode are all derived from their real-world counterparts.
- There’s an indescribably endearing and amusing feeling that stems from watching Nadeshiko sleep. She’s described as being an avid cyclist despite her appearances, and while the first episode focuses on Rin, promotional images and artwork feature her as the central character. It is therefore not a particular surprise to know that Yuru Camp△ will be told from her perspective: while the season previews make no mention of this, Nadeshiko is new to the area, which is intended to correspond with viewers who are similarly watching the anime for the first time.
- My cursory Google-fu finds that admissions cost 1000 Yen per stay if one is pitching a tent at Koan, and parking is an additional 1000 Yen: spaces are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and reservations are not accepteed. The public facilities Nadeshiko sleeps outside of is a hundred metres to the northeast of the Koan Cental Lodge, where Rin purchases her admission to the Koan campground. A further 315 meters’ walk is required to reach the spot where Rin has set up camp, so on each occasion where Rin answers the call of nature, she would take a 415 metre walk (which would take roughly 5 minutes one way), which some folks have found a bit inconvenient.
- Koan campground is very popular and so, this is why Rin’s chosen to go camping in November: the lack of crowds means that she has the entire area to herself. A quick glance at reviews of the Koan campground find that visitors are generally satisfied: the facilities and grounds are well-maintained, and the scenery is naturally one of the draws. Folks interested in visiting should note that there are no grocery stores or convenience stores nearby, so anyone looking to have a cookout here would need to bring their food in advance, and from what I’ve heard, the coin-operated showers leave something to be desired.
- Exceptional attention is paid to replicating the surroundings of the Koan Campground, right down to the placement of the chain cordoning off the path leading to the campground and the sign on the roadside from the 709 route. The extent that Yuru Camp△ reproduces real-world environments will almost certainly result in a large number of anime fans in Japan paying the area a visit, and suggests that other locations that the girls visit in Yuru Camp△ will likely get a similar treatment.
- Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the shores on the opposite end of Lake Motosu stand adjacent to Aokigahara, a undisturbed, pristine forest whose trees have grown very dense thanks to the volcanic soils, and deep in the heart of the forest, fauna and flora thrive in the absence of human activity. The location is better known for being home to yūrei, Japanese ghosts from the spirits of those who have perished there either by choice or against their wills.
- In fact, Aokigahara is the second most popular suicide site in the world, and officials are tasked with removing bodies from the forest as they are found. Of course, such a macabre topic is better suited for a horror novel rather than the likes of Yuru Camp△, and so, I’ll return the discussion to the point in the episode where Rin begins debating whether or not she should build a campfire. While she’s initially against it, already having settled in with her book and not feeling inclined to smell smokey, the brisk wind changes her mind.
- Whereas Rin uses pine cones to light her fire, Stroud often uses a variety of materials, from cotton lint to punky wood, to light a fire. After the fire is started, Yuru Camp△ and Survivorman both continue applying larger branches to the burning fire. One of the key differences is that Rin’s not in a survival situation and so, is able to use matches to light her fire, while Stroud often is dropped into a survival situation with few or no matches. One of the more clever actions Stroud has used include starting a fire with nothing more than chocolate and an empty soda can, and he recommends splitting matches in half to double one’s stock of quick fire starters. I’ve heard from some folks that pine cones don’t work as fire starters, but it is more likely the case that individuals with this experience were attempting to light pine cones that had a bit of moisture in them.
- The shores of Lake Motosu are beautifully rendered, and it is here that Rin finally settles down, messaging a friend and reading a book under the cool autumn skies. Lake Motosu is one of the Fuji Five Lakes, being the middle of the pack in terms of surface area and have the greatest maximum depth. One of the lake’s more interesting attributes is that its temperatures do not drop below freezing, allowing the lake to stay unfrozen even during the winter.
- Evening begins setting in over Lake Motosu: by November, temperatures remain in the positives, but when the breeze picks up, it can become quite chilly, and so, Rin’s decision to set up a campfire turns out to be a wise decision: Stroud usually will go about setting up a fire immediately after his shelter is prepared, and cites a good fire as being important for maintaining warm when temperatures plummet during the night, helping in keeping insects and other animals away, and providing a psychological boost with its light.
- On one trip to the bathroom, Rin notices that the sleeping girl has taken off and turns around, coming face-to-face with a crying Nadeshiko. Frightened out of her wits, Rin drops her torch and runs off, with Nadeshiko in close pursuit. However, it turns out to be a misunderstanding, and after hearing Nadeshiko’s situation, Rin tries to work out a way of getting her back with her family. The situation isn’t quite so hilarious in reality, but in anime such as Yuru Camp△, one cannot help but feel bad for characters who suffer misfortune.
- The weather where I am has been remarkably warm as of late, reaching as high as a balmy 9°C: it’s a testament to my Canadian spirit that I consider -16°C “warm”, and anything above zero during this time of year reminds me of spring. However, forecasts are stating that as of tomorrow, winter is going to be back in full force, with a daily high of -20°C. The colder weather certainly does amplify feelings of hunger, and evolutionary theory suggests that it’s a trait we developed to survive colder weather, using the extra calories to keep warm: mid-conversation in Yuru Camp△, Nadeshiko certainly feels the effects of hunger, and fortunately, Rin’s on hand to assist with some instant ramen.
- Nothing beats hot food on a cold night, and while Nadeshiko enjoys her ramen with what J.K. Rowling would describe as “indecent enthusiasm”, I met up with a friend and former colleague from my graduate student days at BIg T’s BBQ, a local institution. Amidst conversation about just how radically different the lab’s been since I graduated, conferences, thesis papers and games, I enjoyed a beef short rib with spicy Andouille Sausage, fried green tomatoes and yam fries. Their BBQ never fails to impress: the meat fell off the bones and was smoked to perfection, being tender and tasty, while the sausage was spicy enough to give a much-needed kick on a cold winter’s night. The Flames game tonight against the Minnesota Wild was being shown, and we’d gotten our first goal of the night shortly after I finished off the last of my fries – the game ended in overtime with a Flames victory.
- Of course, eating ribs in a warm restaurant is a world apart from eating hot ramen under the star light: with Nadeshiko introduced now, I inexplicably feel as though Nadeshiko is supposed to be Yuru Camp△‘s version of Cocoa or Yui. Much like how military-moé anime feature a protagonist sharing similar features, slice-of-life anime do the same, and while some viewers are quick to dismiss these characters as generic, I’ve long held the perspective that such characters provide grounding for viewers, encouraging (or allowing) them to focus on the world the story is being presented in.
- Nadeshiko’s original goal was to bike to the “nearby” Lake Motosu so that she could see for herself the beautiful scenery of Mount Fuji, having been inspired after seeing it on a 1000-yen bill. having tired out and fallen asleep, Nadeshiko found herself in the darkness and panicked. However, with Rin’s help, she’s able to view Mount Fuji under an autumn’s moon and get in touch with her sister: a quick glance at moon phase calendars finds that Yuru Camp△ took the care to get the moon phase correct, as well.
- From the first episode of Yuru Camp△ alone, it’s quite tricky to gauge the characters’ personalities properly, so Sakura’s physical beating of Nadeshiko might just be a one-off rather than something that happens frequently. With this being said, I have a feeling that what I colloquially refer to as “funny faces” will be seen in Yuru Camp△ with a non-trival frequency. For the folks who’re new around these parts, one of the things I’ve come to enjoy in slice-of-life anime are exaggerated facial expressions that are a world apart from their usual characteristics.
- In frustration, Sakura throws Nadeshiko bodily into the back of her SUV, but Nadeshiko later gives Rin some kiwis as thanks for the instant ramen from earlier, along with her phone number. In meeting Rin, Nadeshiko’s interest in camping is kindled, and she asks Sakura whether or not they have any camping supplies at home. While both Nadeshiko and Sakura are named for flowers, I’ve long felt that focusing extensively on names in an anime is not particularly conducive towards understanding what the anime’s messages are, and imprudent analysis certainly isn’t a requirement for a show to be enjoyed.
- With the excitement of the evening over, Rin returns to her camping trip. I’ve heard folks say that the scenery in Yuru Camp△ is not quite up to snuff against anime with truly spectacular artwork, but overall, Yuru Camp△‘s art is of a good quality in general. With this first episode post out the gates, I remark here that even though only Rin, Nadeshiko and Sakura appear, I’ve tagged everyone in preparation for future posts, and further to this, I will be referencing Les Stroud and Survivorman frequently as I talk about Yuru Camp△. This is intended to drive discussions down a more interesting direction.
- Nadeshiko’s bike ride to school really showcases the Yamanaka region’s beautiful landscapes: besides Lake Yamanaka and the fifth station on Mount Fuji, I also visited Oshino Village, Fuji Busshari Heiwa Park at Gotemba and stopped briefly on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi’s eastern end before heading north towards Shirakawa Lake. I occasionally wonder what it would be like to live in Japan close to their mountains, and I’m sure that there are folks in Japan who would wonder what it’d be like to live an hour away from the Canadian Rockies: Japanese tourists love Banff, and this is evident in the Japanese language signs and number of Japanese staff who work there. This is the consequence of a Japanese soap opera that made the location a popular one to visit, which speaks to the power of how fiction can drive up tourism in an area.
The meeting between Rin and Nadeshiko ended up being a riot to watch: despite her quiet nature, Rin is a caring individual. By comparison, Nadeshiko feels to be a bit of a klutz, which suggests that she could be Yuru Camp△‘s main protagonist (this seems to be the trend for a non-trivial number of manga run in Manga Time Kirara). Taken in conjunction with Yuru Camp△‘s focus on details of camping, loving portrayal of the scenery surrounding Mount Fuji and a fitting soundtrack that captures the splendour in nature, Yuru Camp△ is this season’s anime for catharsis. Similar to Slow Start, this season’s other Manga Time Kirara adaptation, things in Yuru Camp△ are taken very slowly, encouraging viewers to take in all of the small elements that are present while Rin is camping. Such anime are not everyone’s cup of tea, but considering the speed of the world that I live in, casual, carefree anime represent the suitable form of relaxation that I’m certain I’ll need as this year progresses. Unlike Slow Start, however, the topic of camping and outdoors activities in Yuru Camp△ is conducive towards some interesting discussion, and as such, I will be writing a bit more frequently for Yuru Camp△: it’s not every day that we have what is essentially Survivorman The Anime, and as I greatly enjoyed watching Survivorman, it’ll be curious to see what sort of parallels exist between the two.