Cozy Campfires, Bitter Broth: Female Relationships in Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles

By: Alex Henderson May 4, 20180 Comments
Two teen girls in winter clothes sit under blankets in front of a campfire, smiling at each other.

On paper, Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles sound quite similar. They’re both slice-of-life shows about girls with niche interests or hobbies, portrayed in loving detail—camping and ramen noodles, respectively. Each series also has a small ensemble cast headed by two standout main characters: a quiet, withdrawn girl with the greatest dedication to the special interest that is the subject of the show, and a more outgoing, effervescent girl who wants to be closer to her.

Alike as their premises may sound, the two shows go in very different directions in regards to this central relationship. In Laid-Back Camp, the main characters’ relationship develops over the course of the series and the show becomes a rewarding story about female closeness; Ms. Koizumi, on the other hand, sticks to the status quo established in its premiere, which creates a stale and repetitive story that perpetuates negative tropes about queer women along the way.

A skewed angle of a teen girl with long hair walking away from another girl with short hair. It's spring, and cherry blossoms are in the air.

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles centres around high schooler Yuu, who becomes intrigued and infatuated (hearts in her eyes and everything) with her beautiful and mysterious new classmate Koizumi. When Yuu sees Koizumi in line for a ramen shop, she feigns an interest in noodle-specific foodie culture to try and get close to her.

The series continues in this fashion, formed out of a series of shorts about Yuu and various other characters eating ramen with Koizumi and learning much about it in the process, as ramen is the only thing Koizumi will talk openly about. Her stoic obsession with ramen is treated as something of a sideshow oddity, and much of the show’s humour comes from the rest of the cast reacting in awe and disbelief to Koizumi’s deadpan seriousness about her interest (and the sizeable appetite that comes with it).

A teen girl in winter clothes sits in a darkened tent, looking at her glowing phone screen.

Laid-Back Camp, meanwhile, follows high schooler Rin, who goes camping on her own as a hobby. During one solitary trip, new schoolmate Nadeshiko crashes Rin’s campsite, distressed after accidentally staying out in the wilderness after dark. Rin effectively rescues her, and they share an impromptu dinner under the stars. From this awkward starting point, the two get to know each other, and camping becomes the shared-interest catalyst for their continued interactions in the same way that ramen is the catalyst in Ms. Koizumi.

Though Rin and Koizumi may share some common traits, the way Rin enjoys her hobby is not presented as though it’s meant to be eccentric or ridiculous. The characters around her, and the narrative of the show itself, respect that she prefers to camp alone and do things her own way. She and Nadeshiko bond over their mutual enjoyment of camping, even if they realise that they like to do it in different ways (it’s worth noting in this comparison that, while it isn’t framed as an explicit crush the way Yuu’s feelings for Koizumi are, there’s still plenty of room to read Nadeshiko and Rin’s relationship as a potentially romantic one).

Two teen girls in winter clothes sit under blankets in front of a campfire, smiling at each other.

The emotional core of each series is this relationship between the two leads—the hobbyist and the bubbly newcomer. This key character dynamic, and the way the respective stories handle it, is the aspect that sets these seemingly similar series apart.

The biggest difference is the sense of growth and change. Now, this isn’t to say that a slice-of-life show has to have character development or status quo shifts to be valuable or engaging. Lucky Star is one of my all-time favourite slice-of-life series, and though time passes and new characters appear, there are no big plot twists or moments of major character development. It makes for easy viewing, which is what the slice-of-life genre is all about.

A blonde teen girl looks at a notebook while another short-haired teen girl watches her. On-screen text says "Silence" and "She's not listening"

The problem, however, is that the status quo in Ms. Koizumi is one comprised of negative dynamics rather than positive ones, making for uncomfortable rather than easy watching.

Alongside noodle dishes, the show’s other recurring gimmick is Yuu’s unrelenting yet unrequited crush on Koizumi. Following Koizumi around in a lovestruck haze, trying to rope her into a conversation, is how Yuu (and by proxy the audience) learns so much about ramen.

Unfortunately for Yuu, Koizumi is far more interested in said ramen than in socialising with her, and does not return Yuu’s feelings or react positively to her advances. This leads to a dynamic where the loud and pushy Yuu is pursuing the uninterested Koizumi around constantly, lamenting every time Koizumi rejects her, but then doing it all again the next day anyway.

A blonde teen girl looking dazed glances down. A short-haired girl watches her with a big smile.

The third episode sees a slight shift in their dynamic when Yuu takes care of a sick Koizumi and makes her home-cooked ramen, which sees Koizumi reacting positively to Yuu for the first time. But this turns out to be a blip rather than a sign of change, and for the rest of the series the two revert back to the same one-sided relationship. Even the series finale sees the two of them interacting in exactly the same way they did at the beginning.

The show returning to the same gag over and over—Yuu loves Koizumi, Koizumi is not interested—is not only repetitive and stale; it also stinks of all sorts of problematic tropes. At best, Yuu is the “happy with scraps” queer character who ends up the butt of jokes because of her hopeless same-gender crush; and at worst she’s the psycho, stalker lesbian played for comedy, complete with over-the-top scenes of Yuu stroking photos of Koizumi and drooling cartoonishly.

A short-haired teen girl in a dimly lit room puts her finger to a photo pinned to a cork board. The photo is of the girl with a blonde girl.

With the same scene happening over and again, Yuu is no longer the goofy, lovelorn hero trying to Get The Girl, but a threatening presence who repeatedly invades Koizumi’s privacy and personal space despite Koizumi telling her at least twice an episode that she’s not interested. The lack of character or relationship development strands the show in a stagnant place, repeatedly playing out a gag that wasn’t that funny to start with and becomes teeth-grindingly overdone and tasteless by the end.

Contrast this with Laid-Back Camp, which has a superficially similar beginning: goofy and outgoing Nadeshiko ends up in stoic and quiet Rin’s personal space, gaining an interest in her hobby. Rin dismisses the enthusiastic Nadeshiko as a strange girl and returns to her habit of camping on her own—mirroring, for a moment, Yuu’s open adoration of Koizumi and Koizumi’s disinterest. The big difference is that Nadeshiko and Rin’s relationship changes from this initial point over the course of the series, and changes into something more positive.

A long-haired teen girl in a jacket presses her face up to a window, arms above her head. There's part of a head in the foreground, facing her.

Nadeshiko is eager to hang out with Rin and learn more about camping, but after a couple of episodes she realises and acknowledges that Rin prefers to have her own space. At the same time, Rin does feel herself sincerely drawn to Nadeshiko, and so the two find a happy medium by communicating through instant message and scenery photos while they go on different camping trips. Instead of Rin pushing Nadeshiko away or Nadeshiko forcing Rin to spend time with her, they listen to each other’s differing preferences and find a comfortable middle ground that ultimately lets them grow closer together.

When Rin and Nadeshiko do decide to try camping together, the two share a much more balanced and comfortable night than when they first met. You can see the change in their dynamic as time passes and they come to be comfortable with each other. They start to joke around and willingly invite one another to share the things they enjoy, which is a big deal for the introverted solo camper Rin.

Two teen girls in winter clothes stare up at a star-strewn night sky. A cityscape spreads out below them.

By the end of the series, they’re close companions, Rin having opened up more and Nadeshiko having toned down her bubbliness, each just enough to meet each other in the middle and have a healthy and sweet dynamic. The final scene of the series is a deliberate callback to the very first episode, meant to highlight how much has changed between the girls since they first met. The growth of their relationship is heartwarming to watch as it unfolds at a pleasingly gradual pace.

I watched both Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi all the way through, and they were an effective way to unwind at the end of the week. Ultimately, though, Laid-Back Camp became a story I was genuinely invested in for its human elements, waiting to see what would happen next to characters that I liked and who I knew liked each other; and Ms. Koizumi became a show I was just putting up with, far more invested in the nicely animated ramen than Yuu’s latest attempt to pursue Koizumi.

We can do much, much better than Yuu and Koizumi’s one-sided, creepy, played-for-laughs relationship in terms of queer representation. But also, Ms. Koizumi repeating this joke rather than developing its characters and the way they interact just made the story dull. Not to say that Laid-Back Camp is by comparison exciting, but Rin and Nadeshiko’s slowly blossoming friendship was infinitely more engaging and rewarding to watch.

As fascinating as the looks into the subcultures of camping enthusiasts and ramen aficionados were, it’s the audience’s attachment to characters and investment in their relationships that hold slice-of-life shows like these together. Ms. Koizumi may have gotten its audience to crave ramen every week, but its refusal to change its characters’ cliche-riddled dynamic leaves a bitter aftertaste. For viewers seeking a truly satisfying story about niche hobbies and female relationships, they’re far more likely to find it in the mutual warmth of Laid-Back Camp.

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