What’s it about? Mari Tamaki is a by-the-books high school student whose desire to experience new things has always been undercut by her fear and insecurity. When she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a driven young woman determined to follow her vanished mother to the Antarctic, Mari is finally inspired to take a leap of faith.
2018 is putting its best foot forward with this one. One of only six anime this season directed by women, A Place Further Than the Universe already has the makings of an excellent coming-of-age tale about discovery, overcoming self-doubt, and female friendship. While Atsuko Ishizuka’s outings as a series director in the past few years have mostly involved her turning mediocre source material into visually exciting adaptations (hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere), she also worked as an episode director and storyboard artist for josei gems Chihayafuru and NANA, and was named one of Madhouse’s most promising directors.
This will be Ishizuka’s first anime-original project—a great opportunity for writers and directors to put more of their own interests and favored themes into a story—and it’s already a lock for my watchlist. The art is pastel and slightly-but-not-overly cutesy beyond prominent blush stickers, and while there are a couple shots that might read as fanservicey in isolation, mostly the art is content to let its protagonists be goofy teens rather than objects. Mari in particular has shades of Kill la Kill‘s Mako Mankanshoku, and big wibbly tears are the order of the day for both main characters’ emotional moments.
While big emotions are clearly on the docket, the writing takes care with little details and real-world concerns as well. Questions are repeatedly raised about what kind of professional expedition would allow teenagers to come along, and Shirase has basically tanked her social life in order to save enough money to make the journey. The dedication to rooting the on-the-surface absurd premise in real concerns marks it out as different from the average outlandish club and/or cute girls do cute things series, and it’s an exciting setup for future handling of Antarctica’s extreme conditions.
Best of all, Mari and Shirase feel like people rather than archetypes. You can see the shape of the characters they might be in another series, but there are other elements to round them out and make them feel relatable: Shirase is beautiful and aloof, but has a teasing playfulness and enthusiasm once Mari shows support; Mari is cheerful and overzealous but also insecure and afraid of making big decisions on her own, leading her to make grand pronouncements about her exciting future and then find excuses as to why she had to back out. Their rapport is already quality as well, uniting them with a goal and leaving plenty of room for a deeper friendship to grow as they learn more about each other.
Oh, and there’s this endearing dedication to on-screen signage, whether it’s visual gags like Mari fretting over how to return Shirase’s lost money while holding a textbook prominently titled “Ethics,” or implying how Mari became so focused on having an adventure at such a young age by focusing on big classroom banners about ACHIEVEMENTS and LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE. It’s cute and understated (except when it’s funnier for it to not be) and charmed the socks off me, which basically sums up my feelings on this premiere overall. I can’t wait to see more.