“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” –Julia Cameron
Aoi shares three vignettes surrounding camping to viewers to encourage them to pick up the hobby for themselves. The first segment has her and Nadeshiko using a handy app to rent camping gear, only to learn that they’re missing Chikai for their trip and therefore, decide to rent a Chiaki-in-a-box, too. Later, Nadeshiko’s solo camping takes her to a dystopian camp where her days consist of working in a factory, subsisting on meagre rations, burning hazardous chemicals for warmth and sleeping in a cardboard box. Later, Rin and Nadeshiko roast some marshmallows, and although Nadeshiko begins thinking of all the different recipes she could make with s’mores, the roasted marshmallows Rin gives her turn out quite unlike what she’d been expecting. After all three stories are told, Aoi invites viewers to head out and give camping a go on account of how one can have some remarkable adventures. This is Mystery Camp, the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs that accompanied the second BD collection. The first season’s OVAs were imaginative and fun, being both supplementary materials to the series and sending the characters on adventures that would otherwise be counted as unrelated. Here in Mystery Camp, the trend continues, capitalising on Aki Toyosaki’s excellent voice acting to deliver Aoi’s lies in a compelling manner. The three stories are unlikely to be considered canon in any way, but instead, serve to act as what-if segments that allows the studios to put the characters in unusual situations in the name of comedy. However, unlike the previous season’s OVAs, which were denoted as a part of Heya Camp△, this OVA lives up to its name as Mystery Camp: and Aoi’s stories are so far removed from what Yuru Camp△ had presented as camping that one cannot help but feel that this is yet another one of Aoi’s elaborate lies.
The middle act, which sees Nadeshiko coming across a work camp, was probably the most heart-wrenching of the stories: the reason why it’s so effective is because Yuru Camp△ unfailingly puts Nadeshiko in gentle, easygoing scenarios where she is able to learn and relax, and where any challenge is overcome with creativity. As such, when Nadeshiko enters a work camp instead, traditional camping activities are replaced by something considerably more grim. Seeing Nadeshiko will herself through everything becomes particularly saddening, and while she’s doing her best to hold together, nowhere else in Yuru Camp△ do we ever see Nadesiko look so defeated. Consequently, viewers would be relieved to know that such things don’t actually happen to Nadeshiko as this OVA draws to a close. I appreciate that something similar was done during the first season, when Aoi spent an entire OVA lying to Nadeshiko, even getting everyone to pretend to be Rin and causing Nadeshiko to question reality itself. Because it’s so adorable to see Nadeshiko in this manner, I expect that this OVA was a chance to have Aoi continue on with her tall tales and perhaps drive up the feeling of pity for Nadeshiko, who otherwise has a very happy-go-lucky experience in Yuru Camp△.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Aoi’s pranks are at best, hilarious, and at worst, mean-spirited. This is greatly augmented by the fact that Aki Toyosaki’s delivery of Aoi’s lines is done with a gentle and soft kansai-ben: with her voice, it’s almost impossible for Nadeshiko to tell when Aoi is lying, and this has resulted in a great many jokes throughout Yuru Camp△. I’ve long found Aoi to be an amalgamation of K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and Tsumugi Kotobuki: Toyosaki’s voice and Tsumugi’s eyebrows make Aoi quite standout in terms of appearance, although I imagine that Aoi’s other attributes make her notable.
- The first of the stories indicates that while Nadeshiko and Aoi had made use of a rental service to swiftly get gear delivered to them for their latest winter camping excursion, they’d forgotten to bring Chiaki along with them. No camping trip would be complete without Chiaki, so they decide to rent one, too. This is a hilarious oversight that wouldn’t otherwise happen in Yuru Camp△: of the Outdoor Activities Club members, Chiaki is the most rambunctious of the bunch, and sooner or later, it should have dawned on Aoi and Nadeshiko that they were missing their club president.
- As far as camping gear goes, Aoi and Nadeshiko have brought almost everything of note in this vignette, from the standard tents and sleeping bags, to chairs, campfire stand and cookware: one of the biggest joys of the series was watching everyone in the Outdoor Activities Club grow; as everyone became more familiar with camping and its implements, they were able to tailor their experiences to their liking. Over the second season, Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki begin buying gear to fit their own style, rather than simply following Rin’s setup. This is a pleasant indicator that everyone’s learning their own style of doing things.
- Mystery Camp is the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs to be released, accompanying the second Blu Ray set which had become available back on May 26. I’d been rather looking forwards to the OVAs, and while my enthusiasm is shared by other fans of the series, I cannot say that I am surprised by the fact that there isn’t more discussion about the OVAs, since it’d just come out (at the time of writing, I think this is the only discussion around for the OVA). I’d originally planned on watching the OVA at a later time, but the realisation that I’d otherwise have a tad too many Cold War posts out in rapid succession led me to change things up.
- This weekend, it was to thundering skies I’d waken up to, and with this first thunderstorm of the year, I also caught wind that there’d been a small tornado south of the city. The thunderstorms began in the morning, paused briefly during the afternoon and then returned in full force during the evening before ceasing again. I was fortunate that it was during the respite that my haircut had been scheduled: the skies relented long enough for me to finish, and after I returned home, it hailed and rained briefly. Today, while the skies were quite moody, but much of the day remained reasonably dry even though the clouds overhead gave every impression that a storm was going to happen.
- We did get some rainfall towards the end of the day, and while the sun did appear briefly, it’s overcast again now. Back in Mystery Camp, the second of Aoi’s stories is the highlight; Nadeshiko is geared up for another solo camping trip, but upon reaching the campsite she’d made the reservation for, she’s shocked to find it to be quite unlike anywhere she and the others had previously camped at. Noxious fumes emanate from the site, a far cry from the pleasant mountain air that Nadeshiko had come to expect from camp sites she’d previously utilised.
- It soon becomes clear that this camp is no ordinary camp: it is a barren field of concrete, pole-mounted CCTV cameras, electric fences and smokestacks. Up until now, Yuru Camp△ had always been about displaying the splendor of nature in all its glory, so to see something so industrial and unnatural was jarring, most unlike the aesthetic that Yuru Camp△ is known for. A drone greets Nadeshiko at the gates, and she reluctantly walks towards the central tower to check in.
- A row of androids greet Nadeshiko once she arrives: the cold, monochrome environment is quite uninviting, and the absence of other humans creates a sense of unease. A major part of Nadeshiko’s enjoyment of her solo camping adventures came from being able to explore on her own and meet new people in the process, so to completely strip this away would be to take away the very thing that Nadeshiko most enjoys doing.
- As soon as Nadeshiko’s checked in, she is relieved of her camping gear, given a drab garb and is assigned menial labour as part of camp activities. The look on Nadeshiko’s face is heartbreaking, and she assembles what appears to be an inexpensive plastic toy on the production lines. Because anime are often limited by how they convey emotions, certain cues are retained here – Nadeshiko’s eyebrows speak volumes to how disheartened she is with camp activities. Slice-of-life anime usually feature eyebrows in three distinct styles: ordinary round eyebrows for a neutral or happy expression, v-shaped eyebrows for anger, determination or surprise, and finally, reverse-v-shaped eyebrows for sadness, melancholy or mortification.
- To emphasise things, Nadeshiko’s eyebrows can be seen through her cap, and of the people at camp, she’s the only person with her eyebrows visible. The moment the camera pulls back out and shows other individuals on the same production lines, it becomes clear that Nadeshiko’s checked into a labour camp. Such a topic is no joke, and it was therefore surprising that Yuru Camp△ opted to use this as one of Aoi’s stories. This can potentially be seen as being insensitive, although in good faith to the writers, I will suppose they’d intended to show the dramatic difference in what “camping” entails through Nadeshiko’s sorrow.
- The moment that really hit hard was watching Nadeshiko down camp rations in an empty room whilst sitting on a folding chair – this is so far removed from the joyful meals she’s enjoyed while camping that one cannot help but feel an inclination to offer Nadeshiko a good nabe and perhaps a hug. One clever touch about this segment was that, as Nadeshiko’s day progresses, things become increasingly monochrome. The only detail that suggests to me this camp is more in line with Futurama‘s Spa 5 labour camp (and therefore, that Aoi’s story is meant to be taken lightly) was that when Nadeshiko is given a pile of solid fuel to burn for heat, she’s at least given a gas mask to keep her from succumbing to the fumes.
- While burning these chemicals, Nadeshiko sadly notes that there’s no warmth in the fire. whatsoever. With the day over, a dejected Nadeshiko prepares to turn in, the colour fully stricken from her world. The aesthetics here brought to mind the likes of Girls’ Last Tour, an anime set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with engineering marvels whose purpose were lost to time. Such settings inevitably create a sense of melancholy, and while Yuru Camp△ might not deal in things like finding purpose in a world inherently lacking meaning or similar, there is no denying that when the moment calls for it, the series can create very compelling aesthetics that evoke certain emotions.
- After spotting a cardboard box, Nadeshiko prepares to turn in for the night with naught more than the box as bedding, remarking it’s at least a little warm and wonders where she’d seen such a box before. This segment reminded me of Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales, during which he remarked that his fellow gulag prisoners lived moment to moment and whose sole joy in the day was determined by if their soup was thick or not. If Yuru Camp△ ever creates a vignette similar to this again, there is no guarantee that I will be able to keep my composure: this was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a while, and I think that I’ll need to remedy this by watching Nadeshiko experimenting with fire-roasted vegetables again, to convince myself this is only an OVA at the end of the day.
- I’m always fond of such dinners, since they represent a nice change of pace, and because driving out to the Chinese restaurant is admittedly fun. Hot food on a cooler evening is especially welcome, and with things looking up locally, I am hoping that we’ll be able to return to restaurants, movie theatres and fitness facilities soon. Over dinner, the conversation topic turned to what we’d like to do once things reopen, and while dining out is high on the list, one activity that came up was a potential trip out to the province over: we have our own hot springs here at home, and a year ago, I’d set up an itinerary for such a potential trip before the health crisis put those plans on hold.
- Excited at the prospect of marshmallows, Nadeshiko wonders if s’mores could be made into other things like a spread for toast, tarts or even in ice pops. Because s’mores are just graham cracker, melted marshmallow and chocolate, their colour and flavour can be easily replicated and previously, anything with these combination of ingredients are marketed as having the same great taste of s’mores, only without the need for a campfire. I imagine that basic s’mores could hypothetically be used as a spread on toast, and that would result in a relatively tasty and easy treat to whip up.
- Similarly, if one were to go for the pre-made route, smokes could be made into tarts, too, with the crust standing in for the graham crackers. However, I imagine s’more ice cream popsicle would be a little trickier to make, and one wonders if this is something worthy of Binging with Babish. Of course, if Binging with Babish were to do foods from Yuru Camp△, the ajillo from the Izu trip would probably be more interesting to make. Back in Mystery Camp, Rin finally remarks that things are ready to eat and hands one over to Nadeshiko, who is brimming with joy about this camping confectionary.
- However, Nadeshiok quickly realises that what she’s eating most certainly isn’t a s’more: it’s a King Trumpet Mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii). This reminds me of a classic stunt I’d love to pull off one day using 番薯糖水 (jyutping faan1 syu2 tong4 seoi2): a sweet yam soup. The family recipe calls for Dioscorea alata, or the purple yam, a bit of ginger and rock sugar. The resulting product is sweet and delicious, but when purple yams are used, the soup itself resembles grape juice. The prank would then entail setting aside some of the soup after straining it and the making an attempt to convince people it’s grape juice.
- Because purple yams don’t have a grape-like taste, the shock people would have when eating it would be hilarious. I approve of low-level pranks such as these because no one gets hurt, and Aoi’s stories very much fall into this category: while Nadeshiko might be quite gullible and falls for Aoi’s lies regularly, I don’t believe that Aoi ever means for her jokes to have a malicious outcome. Instead, her enjoyment of jokes and lies seem to derive from the moment of dawning comprehension that such jokes can create.
- It should be to no one’s surprise that Aoi’s been lying through her teeth for the whole of Mystery Camp: in fact, the level of trolling here inexplicably brings to mind Higurashi GOU‘s Eua for reasons even I can’t begin putting into writing. However, it’s impossible to feel shafted, since Aoi’s elaborate lies are always so adorably crafted. The way she rolls the ですか at the end is hilarious, and with this, the first of the OVAs for Yuru Camp△ 2 draws to a close.
Altogether, despite a short runtime of only four minutes and forty-five seconds, the first of the Yuru Camp△ 2 OVAs represents an amusing addition to the series. I am aware that in general, reception to Yuru Camp△‘s OVAs have generally been nowhere near as positive as they are for the anime proper, and this is because most of the effort in the series have indeed gone towards ensuring that the episodes themselves are of a very high standard. By comparison, the OVAs can feel more slipshod, being more of an afterthought rather than an integral part of the experience: we’ve seen Yuru Camp△ at its best during the TV series, and the OVAs are instead, a chance to place familiar characters in scenarios that would otherwise not fit with the series itself, with the aim of eliciting a few laughs. Having said this, the OVAs aren’t always about humour: the first OVA had shown how Chiaki and Aoi founded the Outdoor Activities Club with the aim of sharing their love for camping with others, and more recently, Heya Camp△‘s OVA had Rin head up to Hokuto on a loaner three-wheeled moped. With the upcoming OVA being titled Travelling Shimarin, I imagine that there will be a greater focus on Rin and her explorations to some capacity; while it may not necessarily be a straight exploration episode as Heya Camp△‘s OVA was, it could be fun to see more comedy come into a (non-canon) version of Rin’s solo travels, as well. The second OVA is still a ways off, releasing in July 28, so for the time being, I’ll return my attention to the Yuru Camp△‘s live-action drama, which, despite having fallen behind in, is something I’m still enjoying immensely.