On one fortunate day last week, I decided to finally watch a show I promised to watch almost more than a year ago now.
Let’s talk about A Place Further Than The Universe.
This show, if you somehow don’t already know, is about four girls who embark on a life-changing journey to the far-off continent of Antarctica.
What my cynical side told me was that it’s just gonna be another moe blob show that only uses Antarctica as setpiece for these girls to be “oh so adorable”. My optimistic side told me, “Hey, sure it’s a standard Slice of Life, but at least it’s cute and give you a much needed stress reliever right?”
Neither side ended up being correct.
A Place Further Than The Universe is definitely a show about four cute girls going to Antarctica to do cute girl things. What I never expected was how much it delved into what it means to give your life meaning. Antarctica wasn’t just a place for these people to go to. Each and every one of them had different reasons for going, and it’s so captivating to see them explore these reasons with every episode that goes along.
But first you might ask upon seeing the title-
Reconstruction is the act of deconstructing a common cliched character or concept (i.e. tsundere, harem MC, etc.) by showing how the flaws of such cliches would manifest in real life, then acknowledging those flaws to make it better while staying true to the original.
More often than not, this is a response to realistic but pessimistic takes of tried and true cliches.
Deconstruction would be Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Reconstruction would be Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
I’m happy to say that A Place Further Than The Universe is on the high tier of CGDCT characters. I’ve seen people essentially describe the show as “Antarctic K-ON”, and they weren’t kidding.
Like seriously, it is UNCANNY how close the characters are in terms of general personality.
You have your “average” girl who’s a bit simple but wants to try something new and exciting-
The uptight and shy, but surprisingly passionate girl-
The wacky and energetic girl with a caring side-
And of course, the talented, rich lady who just wants more friends-
They even have a glasses wearing, mature childhood friend to the simple girl character!
Not to mention the message of pursuing your passions and enjoying your youth is something that both anime have in common.
The K-ON! influence on the slice of life genre is strong to this day. However, while K-ON! focused on the hijinks of the four main leads (and all the better for it, I love that show), this show focuses a lot more on why these characters act the way they do. I’m not insulting or downplaying K-ON! in any respect. I’m just showing the differences in what A Place Further Than The Universe does with its characters compared to K-ON!.
Let’s break each character down.
Mari and Megumi, Childhood Friends
Let’s start with Mari and Megumi, the first two characters we meet. Our Yui and Nodoka.
Mari is a normal girl with a normal life who suddenly feels like she’s done nothing but waste her youth away. So, she stumbles across a fun and completely new idea. Where for Yui her newly discovered passion was music, for Mari it was the idea of travelling to place she had never gone before.
Of course, Megumi is surprised when she hears she wants to go to Antarctica. Not only that, the fact that Mari might actually BE going.
This is where the deconstruction of their relationship begins.
In K-ON!, Nodoka was a hyper-competent and reliable friend with many connections to the student body. Yui, on the other hand, is at times completely dependent on either Nodoka or her sister to the point of being unable to function without either at times. Both are complete opposites in personality and ability.
This is where the difference lies. Mari and Megumi are a lot more realistic, and so, it’s shown that they aren’t simply the tropes they appear to be.
Mari is simple and a bit lazy, true, but she IS still a very able and driven person. She just lacks the motivation to explore new things until she met Shirase. Shirase’s single-minded pursuit of achieving her goal is what finally gave Mari motivation.
It was the push to try something new and enjoy her youth. Mari’s character is that she’s completely aware of her status as a simple and lazy girl, which is why she wants to change everything up.
Megumi, who up until this point had been Mari’s only close confidant, isn’t very happy.
Her character is a deconstruction of the supportive friend. She has a bad case of the savior complex. Helping Mari out in their childhood then being complimented for it was a huge factor in why she stuck by Mari. She liked being the one Mari solely depended on, because she had always wanted to be a big sister.
Megumi becomes very passive aggressive. She’s realized that she has used Mari as a means to feel good about herself, and is starting to feel guilty over it. She doesn’t want to admit that guilt and so starts to lash out.
Of course, this doesn’t stop Mari from being her friend nor does she even notice all the jabs Megumi is throwing at her. Mari even admits how she wasn’t always happy being so dependent on her.
When Megumi admits to all the rumors she had spread, she asks to cut ties.
Mari refuses on principle. Megumi admits that she’s not a very interesting person without Mari. She has been living for years content playing the role of “big sister” and when the role was suddenly no longer needed, she felt useless.
However, Mari shows her that despite what Megumi’s personal reasons may be for helping her out all these years, she still believes their friendship was nothing but genuine. Mari rejects Megumi’s breakup.
This is where the reconstruction begins. While both characters have shown how flawed co-dependency can be if taken too far, they also both show that separating is not a bad thing. Separation is what will allow the both of them to grow out of each other’s shadows, and become better people. This doesn’t mean they can no longer depend on each other.
It only means they can be fine by themselves.
It’s a great take on this typical friendship duo in anime, and is a wonderful teaser of the things to come for our characters.
Next up, we have Ms. Antarctica herself.
Shirase, Ice Queen
Shirase is our Mio, and the third main character we encounter in the story.
Mio and Shirase are both very scientific in their approach to their passions. They follow the rules, do tons of research, and are generally strict and uptight about it. Both also happen to be extremely shy and dislike having attention on them. This is counterproductive, because their passions require a lot of social interaction.
Now, this is where we start to show why Shirase is the way she is. While Mio’s shyness and uptightness is only ever explained away as a character quirk, Shirase’s is explored much deeper than that. For starters, Shirase’s mother died pursuing her passion.
Not only that, she died during Shirase’s developmental years. This led to Shirase developing an obsession with her own mother’s passion. One of the few things left she has left of her. This obsession led to her neglecting friendships and her youth by working multiple jobs. When she’s not working, she’s focused on knowing as much as she can about going on a trip to Antarctica. Friends wasn’t something she had time for. Of course, people didn’t bother befriending her either.
She’s become a literal ice queen, who wants nothing more than to go to her true domain.
Her shyness and abrasive nature wasn’t really something that was hers naturally. We know from seeing her childhood that she was a relatively imaginative and normal child, albeit a bit quiet. She’s got the capability to be as goofy and fun-loving as her mom, but that was buried deep thanks to her isolation and grief.
That is, until Mari shows up, of course.
Mari is Shirase’s first real friend in years. When she finds out that Mari also wants to go to Antarctica, she becomes ecstatic at finding a kindred soul. It means a lot to Shirase to have her passion finally validated. She makes it very clear she’s bitter at all the rumors and insults that are being thrown her way. In fact, one of her biggest motivators has become proving all the naysayers wrong. By giving reason to Shirase’s awkwardness,it adds a lot more depth to all of her interactions, and makes her that much more interesting.
Next up is our genki girl, Hinata!
Hinata, The Sad Clown
Hinata is our Ritsu. The bombastic and energetic friend who always pushes the others to try pretty much everything they come across. Like Ritsu was to Yui, Hinata has a fun relationship being the goofball alongside Mari. Like Mugi, Yuzuki also goes along with because friendship.
She’s extroverted and friendly to everybody she meets, and it’s almost like she doesn’t have anything to worry about.
This means she definitely has a lot to worry about.
See, being extroverted and friendly does not mean you are an open book. Hinata is proof of that. She keeps a lot of secrets close to her chest, and doesn’t consult the other three whenever a personal problem arises. Since her role is being “the clown”, she shouldn’t bother her friends. Why should they worry about her own personal life, anyways? She knows her place.
It’s true that Hinata is an outgoing and bombastic person. What’s not true is that she’s always outgoing and bombastic. She works hard to maintain the illusion that she is nothing else but the carefree spirit that she makes herself out to be. She never talks about what’s bothering her unless others prod and push her into admitting it. Making her admit it will make her angry, even if she’s smiling while doing so.
She was ostracized by the people she called friends for being herself. A friendly and extroverted person. We even see her getting mad all by herself, when she thinks nobody is looking.
You can only imagine the happiness she felt when she finally found friends who stood up for her. Friends who called out the girls who wanted to apologize when she was suddenly famous.
It’s a beautiful reconstruction of the genki girl archetype in anime. Her character asks the age-old question of “The clown makes everyone else laugh, but who makes the clown laugh?”. Hinata shows us the dangers of being too independent and untrusting of people. That doesn’t mean she isn’t a happy and energetic person. It’s just that there’s so much more to her that people don’t see because she doesn’t let them see.
Gonna get a bit personal with you guys, here. I relate to Hinata the most out of all the characters. I was once (and kinda still am) the goofy friend. In my circle, I was the one who never had any drama and was always joking around with people. I didn’t have issues with family. I didn’t make enemies or have big fights with friends. I was always around for a laugh and if you wanted to stop being serious for a while.
This…….seriously stunted my social skills. Whenever I felt bad, I didn’t tell people about it. They have bigger problems than me. I shouldn’t bother them with my petty problems. Well, as it turns out, those petty problems piled up. When we graduated, I reached a boiling point and basically exploded.
I don’t regret being the goofy friend, though. I like to think I gave some relief to my friends who went through rough patches in their life. However, I wasn’t honest with myself or the people closest to me. It made me extremely miserable whenever I end up alone.
Well, that’s enough about me. Let’s finish up the characters with our up-and-coming actress, Yuzuki.
Yuzuki, The Actress
So, Yuzuki is the last girl we meet, and she’s the closest thing we have to a Mugi. While they are both rich and well-known young ladies who want to make more friends, that’s about where the similarities end. While Mugi is aloof and naturally friendly, Yuzuki’s first impression is cold and distant.
She’s famous for being a bubbly and charismatic idol type, but when the three girls meet her and ask for a picture, she’s quite cold and straighforward.
The monotone delivery with which she said the lines above about uploading images online is proof of how weary she is of her idol lifestyle.
Yuzuki’s reason for going to the three girls was to offer them her spot as reporters for the Antarctica project. She’s very clear about not wanting to go. When asked for her reasons, she simply said she didn’t like the cold.
Throughout the 3rd episode, we see this to not be the case. She wants to stay in Japan because she wants to stay with her “friends”. She wants to live a normal teenage life. Unfortunately, being an actress has robbed her of that.
We see that most of the “friends” she makes are the fair weather kind. The kind who only want to brag to other people that they’re friends with the famous Yuzuki Shiraishi. When they realize that they aren’t actually allowed to take pictures with her, or even hangout whenever they want, they all start leaving her.
This gives her a much more sour view to the prospect of being alone in Antarctica for 3 months.
That is, until she meets these three dorks.
Yuzuki’s mom sent our three girls to try and persuade her to go. Yuzuki is dragged along to a museum of Antarctica stuff, and is subtly ecstatic at hanging out normally with other girls her age.
After all of the day’s events, she opens up to the three about her real reasons for not wanting to go. She even prefaces to the three that they simply don’t understand, because-
She sees how seemingly close they are, and yet is surprised when she is told they’re not even that close (yet). As Mari explains-
But Mari sees Yuzuki’s sadness and can’t help but hug her.
Yuzuki is a reconstruction of the ojou-sama archetype, or the elegant lady types. Whenever we see a rich daughter, it’s always one of two extremes. They are either surrounded by friends or have no friends at all. They tend to be aloof or eccentric.
Not so in Yuzuki’s case. She’s a perfectly normal girl her age. She may have many connections, but in this show, we don’t get a scene of her showing a badge to some restaurant owner to get a free three-course meal. She’s famous but that fame is never really given focus, because that doesn’t matter to her.
Despite her success and talent, people only see her as the actress, not as the naturally timid person she really is. We know that on camera, she can flip a switch and be somebody else. Off camera, we see she’s actually quiet and reserved.
It all comes to a head when she finally realizes that these three, Mari, Shirase, and Hinata, do want to be her friends. Not because she’s famous, or because they want to go to Antarctica. They wanted to because they felt like it. Something genuine and simple as having friends is worth more to her than any fame or success.
K-ON! was a show about music. Despite the tea time and shenanigans, music was always the driving force of the series. In much the same way, Antarctica is the driving force of the series. Like K-ON! does with the music scene, so does this show with Antarctica.
Antarctica isn’t just something the story uses as a plot device for our characters to meet. If it was any other place, it wouldn’t have had that same impact. The crew and the girls went through so much together in the most unique of circumstances.
The icy seas that even gigantic ships have trouble traversing.
The majestic beauty of the icy plains.
The final aurora on their last night.
These are the connections they make in this place farther from everywhere else.
A place where people could see the world in its purest and emptiest. A place so beautiful and yet could just as easily be terrifying.
This place is what made the show mean so much.
They may go their separate ways. They might not meet for several years after this life-changing journey. But they can rest easy, because they’re all connected by that place.
A place further than the universe.