“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” –Henry David Thoreau
On New Year’s Eve, Aoi invites Hinata and Kokona over with the aim of hiking over to Mount Tenran and viewing the first sunrise of the new year. When Aoi’s father mentions that Mount Tenran could be quite crowded and suggests that Mount Hiwada might be a better bet. After he offers to drive them, Aoi, Kokona and Hinata unwind by watching some television (where they see Kaede setting out on a hike) before turning in. Although Aoi and Hinata have a little difficulty waking up, they manage to make it to the trailhead and begin the ascent. To make up for lost time, Aoi and Hinata decide to take the more challenging route up Mount Hiwada, but upon arrival, they’re surprised to find the viewpoint’s also packed. Feeling they’ve still got some time before sunrise, Aoi suggests heading to Mount Hiwada’s summit for a better view. Up here, the crowds are smaller, and as Aoi looks out at the sunrise, she wonders if this is what it would’ve felt like to see the sunrise at Mount Fuji. Later, after Kasumi expresses a desire to visit Mount Takao for a New Year’s shrine visit with Mio and Yuri, she decides to invite Aoi because of her previous experience and an ongoing wish to get to know Aoi better. Aoi decides to bring Hinata along with her, and upon arriving at the gondola station, the large crowds prompt Aoi and Hinata to ascend up the trail. Kasumi, Mio and Yuri decide to come with, and while the trek up the mountain is tiring, Aoi reassures Kasumi that it’s okay to take things at her own pace, and offers to carry her shoulder bag. Upon arriving at Mount Takao’s summit, Kasumi, Mio and Yuri marvel at the views and thank Aoi for having supported them; they’re impressed with how Aoi’s taken the initiative and was able to lead, revealing that back in middle school, Aoi had been very shy and preferred to keep to herself. After making their New Year’s prayers (to stay in the same class), the girls share a photograph together. With this, Next Summit‘s pressing through the winter, and the seventh episode gives Aoi yet another chance to shine.
While Next Summit still has yet to prepare Aoi for the physical aspects of the return to Mount Fuji, the series has spent a considerable effort in showing how the mountains, and spending time with Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka have broadened Aoi’s worldviews, making her more mature, patient and observant. The Aoi who had first tried to take on Mount Fuji was inexperienced and impatient, but here, viewers are shown how Aoi is incrementally improving in both mindset and temperament. Yama no Susume is a series about mountain climbing, but the mountains are just one component of this series; the moments spent off the trails are equally important to Aoi’s development. Her experiences on the trails impact how she conducts herself in everyday life, and ordinary moments feed into how Aoi approaches mountain climbing. For this reason, it is important that Next Summit show these secondary stories and viscerally indicate that, yes, moments in Aoi’s daily life also matter. Aoi’s character isn’t determined solely by her ability to overcome physical challenges – were this the case, Aoi would’ve joined the Mountaineering Club from day one and focused on a more intense, disciplined training regimen. Instead, it is smaller, more subtle cues that speak volumes to the central messages in Yama no Susume. This is where the merits of the series are most apparent, and here in the seventh episode, it is clear that over time, Aoi’s picked up enough knowledge and confidence about mountain hiking, such that she’s now able to share what she knows with others, as she does with Kasumi, Mio and Yuri. In addition, the newfound confidence Aoi gains means that, when the opportunity presents itself, Aoi is willing to push herself a little further and explore, as she does at Mount Hiwada. All of these elements, while seemingly trivial, speak volumes to Aoi’s growth, and among viewers, this instills confidence that, by the time spring comes around, Aoi will be able to fulfil her promise to herself.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Kannon-ji Temple is an iconic part of Hanno, and the elephant statue out front is a popular hangout spot for Kokona, Aoi and Hinata. The site’s changed over the years in Yama no Susume, becoming more detailed and vividly rendered with every successive iteration. The series has previously shown Aoi, Hinata and Kokona enjoying popsicles here, and with winter in full swing now, the popsicles are replaced by steamed buns, perfect for brisk days in Hanno.
- I believe this is the first time Aoi’s father has been shown on screen. Hinata hasn’t seen him for some time, and it’s Kokona’s first meeting. With this, the Yukimuras are now fully introduced, and I’m left wondering if viewers will have a chance to see Hinata’s mother. As the three settle down and watch some television, they’re surprised to see a programme running about hikers who’ve decided to capitalise on the time of year to go mountain climbing, especially after Kaede appears on screen and wishes Kokona, Aoi and Hinata the best.
- Here, Aoi passes some New Year’s soba to Kokona and Hinata; seen in other anime like Yuru Camp△, the tradition of New Year’s soba dates back to the thirteenth century and symbolises new beginnings, letting the past go and cultivating resilience. The most basic version of the dish just consists of soba noodles and dashi, but the Yukimuras have upped their game by adding tempura prawns to theirs. When Aoi’s father mentions the crowds at Mount Tenran and suggests Mount Hiwada as an alternative, I am reminded of my own New Year’s Eve tradition of watching the clock roll over midnight, and then sleeping to 0900-1000 the next day.
- Whereas I’m used to sleeping in on New Year’s Day, the Japanese tradition of Hatsuhinode represents the polar opposite, requiring people wake up just before dawn and finding a suitable spot to catch the first sunrise of the year. This can be quite demanding, since the sunrise in Hanno is 0653 JST, and so, for Aoi and the others to make the sunrise, they must leave by 0530. For me, sunrise on New Year’s day is going to be 0843, so in theory, if I immediately hit the hay after the stroke of midnight, I could get up at around 0700 and be out the door by 0800 for the best viewpoint in town. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do this, since it is more tempting to just keep warm and sleep.
- While Kokona falls asleep immediately, Hinata and Aoi struggle a little. Because they’re now rushed as a result of how hard it was to get Hinata up, Aoi and Hinata exchange barbs en route to Mount Hiwada. I’ve long felt that Aoi and Hinata are closer than any friends – they resemble siblings, and this aspect of Yama no Susume means that, no matter the challenge, the connection between Hinata and Aoi isn’t going to be jeopardised. When hiccoughs are encountered, then, viewers can reasonably expect thing to be patched up.
- Because Aoi and Hinata both wish to hit their destination as soon as possible, they decide to take the more challenging route, and shortly after, the trail appears to vanish. A part of the challenge (and fun) in hiking is working out where the trail is, and more difficult trails are often poorly marked, demanding a modicum of experience to work out where one should be headed. However, the more difficult trail is only slightly more so, and Aoi soon spots the torii gate marking the viewpoint’s location.
- After reaching the viewpoint, Aoi and Hinata are blown away by the sheer numbers up here. The entire mountainside is flooded with visitors, all excited about the first sunrise of the year. Rather than trying to jostle around for a decent view of the sunrise, Aoi takes the initiative and suggests pushing on a little further, to Mount Hiwada’s true summit – she reasons that up here, it’ll probably be a little less crowded, and there’s still a few moments left before sunrise. Thanks to clouds on the horizon, sunrise has been pushed back a little, affording Aoi’s party to reach the summit.
- While there’s still people up here, the crowds are definitely thinner, allowing Aoi et al. to have a pleasant view of the plains below. As the big moment draws nearer, Aoi notices that every single person on this mountaintop shares the same goal, a desire to watch the sunrise, and she wonders if it had been similar on Mount Fuji. The moment provides incentive for Aoi to return to Japan’s highest mountain for this experience, and when she looks over to Hinata, the first rays of light from the year’s first sunrise illuminate Hinata’s face, acting as a subtle way of conveying how for Aoi, her biggest light is Hinata.
- Some of the landscapes of Next Summit take on a near-photorealistic quality – I don’t mind admitting that scenes like these are what make slice-of-life anime so enjoyable for me, and that in reality, one of the reasons why I’m so fond of the outdoors is precisely because I am able to see sights like these for myself. When the sun rises over the plains below, details are vividly portrayed, and the sharp-eyed reader may notice the bit of lens flare here, just directly underneath the rising sun.
- With this hatsuhinode, Yama no Susume joins Tamayura and Yuru Camp△ in celebrating a longstanding Japanese tradition and depicting its magic to viewers. The character animations and artwork here in Next Summit has actually been quite inconsistent – one moment, the characters look like they’re sketches from something like Crayon Shin-chan, and in the next, everyone is gorgeously rendered. Because of how well-animated earlier iterations of Yama no Susume had been, this is a shade disappointing, but in critical moments, the characters fortunately manage to look their best.
- I’m not sure if a future BD release could address some of these elements, but it would be nice to see some segments of Next Summit retouched. With the morning hike done, Aoi and Hinata are feeling quite famished and therefore look forwards to a good, hot meal. Before they turn around and head off the mountain, everyone (save Aoi’s father) receives a message from Kaede, who’s having the time of her life on a hike of her own. While Kaede’s love of solo adventures makes her similar to Yuru Camp△‘s Rin, she’s actually quite sociable. I’ve long found that Yama no Susume and Yuru Camp△, despite their similar topics, actually differ greatly.
- Rather than comparing both, I think it is more meaningful to watch both series and see how they complement one another. Once the first sunrise is in the books, Aoi and party prepare to make their descent. Along the way, Aoi spots Mount Fuji, standing steadfast in the distance – although it’d been a reminder of her failure shortly after her first attempt, Mount Fuji has since become a symbol of challenge, something that inspires Aoi to get out and give everything her best, albeit at her own pace.
- Indeed, “at your own pace” is a recurring theme here in Yama no Susume – the world seems predisposed towards a rat race for having more stuff and arguing this is happiness, but this is plainly not the case. Japan’s always been excellent with regard to treating minimalism and simplicity as the basis for joy, and I have found excellent thoughts in Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that explain how slice-of-life anime are able to evoke joy. In this book’s first chapter, Manson argues that people tend to focus on having more stuff, and by chasing stuff, they choose to care about things that won’t make them happier. Instead, the healthier way to live is to accept that setbacks and failures will happen, and take them in stride.
- Applying Manson to Yama no Susume, Aoi’s failure at Mount Fuji was, while unpleasant, positive in the long run. It forced her to re-evaluate why she wanted to climb mountains, and it opened her up to the people she previously ignored. When Kasumi, Yuri and Mio express a wish to hang out at Mount Takao for a New Year’s shrine visit, Aoi ends up coming with them. Aoi had previously joined the three on a karaoke outing in the third season. Although its core cast of characters dominate the series’ runtime, Yama no Susume also introduced a range of characters so Aoi’s journey (and the outcomes) could be seen more vividly than if the story had focused purely on Hinata, Kaede and Kokona. This is a common approach in long-running slice-of-life series, and the result is that more characters results in a more vivid, immersive world.
- Although Aoi had resigned herself to taking the cable car with Kasumi and the others, massive lines eventually compel everyone to try their hand at walking up the trail to the summit. Despite lacking the hiking gear Aoi and Hinata have brought, Aoi remarks it’s perfectly okay, and keeps Kasumi company when she begins to slow down. This moment was the highlight of the seventh episode – by sharing her knowledge with Kasumi and offering to carry her bag after spotting the latter struggle up the trail, Aoi definitively shows her newfound confidence and competence. The surest sign that someone knows what they’re doing is when they’re able to pass their own knowledge on effectively, and here, Aoi does exactly this.
- Kasumi is impressed with how mountain climbing’s changed Aoi, leaving her more assertive, open and social. In a flashback, Kasumi thinks back to Aoi had always lived in her own world, blissfully unaware of those around her and doing things at her own pace, but ever since she’d taken up mountain climbing, Aoi’s much more attuned to the people in her life. At the same time, she still prefers to do things at her own pace, and the melding of old and new results in Aoi finding a way to explore new ground in a manner most conducive towards her own growth.
- In time, Kasumi, Mio and Yuri reach the summit and admire the view they’d earned under their own power. Moments like these, while outwardly unrelated to Next Summit‘s goal, remain of great importance because they show how Aoi matures as a result of her experiences. While Kasumi, Mio and Yuri don’t make many appearances in Yama no Susume, the fact that Aoi now freely talks to her classmates and is able to express a wish of remaining together is quite moving. An Aoi who has overcome her fear of making eye contact with others has made considerable strides, and viewers therefore get the sense that, if Aoi can get along fine with her classmates, she can also take Mount Fuji.
- This is why I found that it was a nice touch to bring back the secondary characters from earlier Yama no Susume season and have them play a role in Next Summit – Aoi’s world feels filled to the brim with life. Here, I will remark that today marks the one-year mark to possession date: it’d been a foggy evening that I set off to formally pick up the keys to the new place. A year later, I feel like I’ve become a part of my new community, to a much greater extent than I’d felt with my previous community, and nowadays, I occasionally help the neighbours with tech-related things. Although I’m an iOS developer by trade, I have enough generalised knowledge to be somewhat useful in everyday computing.
- At the shrine proper, everyone explores the grounds before heading off to make their prayers. Aoi wishes for a new year where she’ll continue being with the people around her, and she’s aware that, even if they’re not in the same class as one another, there will always be opportunity to hang out with everyone outside of class. Anime tends to portray being in separate classes (or going to different post-secondary institutes) as a death-knell for friendships. This is only somewhat true – while it is the case that separation can cause people to drift apart, strong friendships do persist over the years so long as people take the effort to continue cultivating them.
- I’ll wrap things up with Mio taking a photo of everyone: Hinata ends up blinking, resulting in a hilarious photo that winds up being yet another fond memory. I am hoping that Next Summit takes viewers to spring next: we are now two episodes away from reaching the fourth season’s third quarter, and at some point, Aoi will need to begin preparing for this season’s centrepiece experience. I do realise that I’m coming off a super-large post in the aftermath of the Yuru Camp△ Movie, and traditionally, after putting out something of that size, I tend to take a week-long break. However, I did promise readers that I’d do my best to keep up with Next Summit, so I decided to watch and write about this post today. Having said this, a few days’ break would be nice; I’ll return on Friday to continue my journey with Modern Warfare II.
With Aoi being able to bring discoveries and learnings from her mountain climbing adventures to those in her life, Aoi is beginning to impact the people around her the same way Hinata had when they first reunited. Next Summit has represented a fantastic opportunity to really showcase how different Aoi is in the present, versus how’d she’d been even just a half-year earlier. When the third season concluded, viewers had begun to catch glimpses of this when Aoi takes the initiative and walks Hinata back down the trail after the latter suffered from a knee injury. However, to really accentuate this is what makes Next Summit a clear show of the extent of Aoi’s growth. As important as seeing this in Aoi is, however, Yama no Susume is about mountain climbing, and now that we’re over the series’ halfway point, the question of when the series’ focus shifts back to the mountains arises. Next Summit represents the largest Yama no Susume experience to date. Here in the fourth season, Yama no Susume‘s episodes are full-length; six episodes of Next Summit will be equivalent to the whole of the third season. On this assumption, it means that four full-length episodes can be dedicated towards Aoi and Mount Fuji; this corresponds to Next Summit‘s final quarter being dedicated to the preparations for, and eventual ascent of Mount Fuji. The additional runtime in Next Summit has already been effectively utilised to show personal growth, and it is expected that, once spring returns, Next Summit will be able to see Aoi and her friends returning to the outdoors and gear up for the moment that’s been telegraphed quite clearly to viewers.