Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Laid Back Camp Anime Review

In a season of Devils and beasts, where young women can follow their dreams to Antarctica and a man can crossdress as a lady and be a professional hitman, where two young, adorable girls are the bane of everyone's existence, indeed, there could only be one show that was my favorite of Winter 2018: the one where anime girls go camping. And I am not even kidding. 
Laid Back Camp is a 12-episode slice of life comedy anime that premiered early in January and simulcasted through Crunchyroll. We follow the adventures of Nadeshiko, a new girl in town who has a curiosity for camping, and Rin, who is already an expert in camping thanks to her grandfather. As you can probably guess, the show is all about camping, and fully embraces that, with each episode often taking us to a new camping location across Japan or at least showing us some new mechanic to camping, like finding the best way of staying warm at night or the most efficient way to prepare some food during an overnight camping expedition.

And as the title also suggests, the show is "laid back" to the max. I'd say that if you look up "cozy" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of this show in it. This is not a show with a lot of drama or stakes or anything that will induce stress upon your soul; no, instead, this is just a goofy little romp with some clever jokes, wonderful characters, and a very relaxed background score to allow you to settle into the mood of what the show wants.

A lot of people are going to compare this to other "cute girl" anime like K-On and while the comparison can be made, sure, I do think that this is different because it doesn't focus on how adorable the girls are, but how funny and likable they are. You can look to Rin, Ena, and Aoi for the ones that don't make a big deal of everything and if they do it's usually subtle compared to girls like Nadeshiko or Chiaki.

I think we should start talking about our cast of lovely ladies. I'm rather hard-pressed to say who exactly our main character is; everyone you're going to look it'll say Nadeshiko is our main character, but I'm almost certain that it's actually Rin.

Rin is a reserved young lady who has an extreme passion and knowledge for camping. She goes almost whenever she can, and always goes alone. She does have some friends that she'll talk to about it, but it either just isn't their thing or Rin won't bother to ask since she prefers to camp alone. We get a great feel for Rin's character in the very first episode as she starts to set up camp all by herself near Mt. Fuji.

Rin probably sees the most character development of the girls, despite the show not placing all that much importance on it. This is not a series based, really, around narrative or character drama, but rather just placing the girls in new locations and showing their reactions and how they'll adapt to a certain situation in some clever or often funny way. Rin, on the other hand, as the series progresses, starts to learn what it means to camp with others and that, maybe, it isn't so bad. Her character has a clear arc from the first moment she meets Nadeshiko, and the show takes its time developing that as we learn more about Rin and how she prefers to do things.

It wouldn't be meaningful at all if Rin were to just suddenly start camping with others at every turn the moment she meets Nadeshiko, and it'd be terrible for her to go, have a bad time, and then never go back. The show isn't about that; it isn't about having a bad time, it's all about having a good time camping. There are few times when things go wrong in the show, but they all come toward the middle of the series when you should know what to expect going into it.

Speaking of joy, we have the girl everyone's going to be talking about as the "best girl" of the series, Nadeshiko. She is a ball of adorable and there is no way around it. Nadeshiko is always in good spirits and is always looking for a new adventure. She meshes well with each character of the main cast, including some secondary characters like her sister and Ms. Minami, their substitute teacher at the school.

Nadeshiko's character is riddled with tropes, like how she gets overexcited about everything and eats A TON of food (the opening, to be fair, does give that little aspect away so it's not all that surprising), but she's also nuanced in that she understands what makes people happy and when to keep her distance. She never pries into someone's life; when she discovers that Rin prefers to do her camping alone, she doesn't try to go with her at the first moment, but she does try to understand why Rin solo camps and then start to learn as much as she can about camping so she won't Rin down for when she does get the chance to camp with her. It's very endearing to see her go all that way for someone she considers a friend.

The first episode goes a long way to establish Rin and Nadeshiko as characters as well as how they'll be around each other. Despite the fact that Rin had never met her, Rin does allow Nadeshiko to hang out with her. The two more or less come to understand each other there, even if they think the other is a little weird. Over time, though, the show does well to build on the foundation laid out in the first episode, and by the end of the episode, you do see how far the girls have come in their relationship and can appreciate the little things that happen across the season.

Laid Back Camp is a show all about the moments. I don't per se remember big arcs that the show has, but I do remember some specific moments, like when they try using various methods of wrapping Chiaki to keep her warm, or when Nadeshiko makes the promise to fill the Outdoor Club's room with pictures of their adventures.

There are three other members of the main cast that complement Rin and Nadeshiko incredibly well: Chiaki, the president of the school's Outdoor Club, Aoi, her best friend and another founder of the Outdoor's Club, and Ena, Rin's friend and one that's been pushing her to go group camping for a while. Out of all of them, Chiaki is easily the funniest. Her voice actress absolutely nailed the character and her performance might actually be the most memorable of the entire cast. Every time Chiaki is on screen, you best be ready for some hijinks to ensue.

The show, from a character standpoint, is pretty small scale, but in terms of visuals, it's on a much larger scale. We get some awesome sweeping shots of the countryside and the various campgrounds the girls are at, and all of them are desktop background worthy. Laid Back Camp does a great job in showing you the massive, sweeping shots and builds them up perfectly, with hype both through character's talking about it as well as just giving little teases of the landscapes through the girls traveling around in them for a bit before showing it all off to us at once.

At a basic level, it's a pretty average show, visually. The girls have simple, plain designs and there isn't glossy animation to it. It's almost as if the production staff knew they had to just enough to keep the show visually appealing with good colors in the backgrounds and the characters themselves, and it worked. The aesthetic matches the tone of the show wonderfully. Unlike some other shows, it's difficult to see this story or this world being portrayed in a different style or with slightly different character designs.

The tone of the show is probably the most divisive thing about the series; some people will want there to be more drama and stakes involved, otherwise, they'll think the show gets boring; or, some will just want some show they can sit back and watch without having to give it much regard. I fall more in the latter, but I still appreciate what the show can do from a character and comedy standpoint. I fully understand if you think this show is boring because things don't change up all that much by the halfway point, but I do think it's important to stress that this show is not dramatic, nor does it pretend to be. Laid Back Camp knows exactly what it is and you'll get that right away with the first episode. No need for the standard "three episode test" here, what you see is what you get from the very beginning.

To round things out, let's talk about what might be the thing that ultimately sold me on watching the show: the music. Laid Back Camp has chill characters and moments, but the music is soothing to no end. It's the kind of music you play when you're just sitting out along the countryside and watching the sunset, the music you play when you're hanging out at home and just trying to get cozy reading a nice book.

I always preferred to watch Laid Back Camp at the end of the week when there was little work left to be done, and it was a perfect fit for that because of the music. I could listen to this music all the time and would lose almost any amount of stress in my life because of it.

The opening, "Shiny Days," doesn't necessarily match the tones of the show since it's fast and upbeat, but I think the key here is that it is upbeat. It really sounds like it belongs in a Jackson 5 album, but I honestly love it. I think it may be my favorite OP song of the season; it's just full of life and energy and, when taking the OP from Nadeshiko's point of view, it probably matches her outlook on her journey with Rin and the Outdoor Club. The ED, though, is definitely all about Rin.

Also, Laid Back Camp is one of the few anime where I've willingly sat through the ED song. It's amazing; it takes all of the relaxing music from the show and matches it with great visuals that do give us the overall theme and ideas for the show. I could probably write a full blog article on why the ED for Laid Back Camp is indicative of the story as a whole, so, I won't ramble on it too much longer.

Laid Back Camp was a show I planned on watching just as a supplementary show to chill out to and not really stress about this season, and I got that and more. This was the show I actively looked forward to week after week; I had to know what happened next for Rin and the Outdoor's Club! I found myself surprisingly invested in the final episode, too, not wanting to see the show go and even welled up a bit during the final scene.

Ugh. Emotions.

It's my favorite anime of the season because it was exactly what I needed from it, and it never failed to disappoint. For what the show is and what the show wants to be, there was never a flaw I had with it. I never frowned or found myself disappointed in an aspect of the show. Laid Back Camp always gave me a smile and let me just have fun with a show. I'm going to miss it a lot on Sunday afternoons, but, hey, the manga just released in the US, so, now I get to read that!

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