Laid-Back Camp (season 1)
During one of her solo camping trips, Rin Shima meets Nadeshiko Kagamihara sleeping near a campsite office, and then later saves her from hunger. As it turns out, the two of them are attending the same school, and Nadeshiko also later joins the outdoors club, which introduces her to Chiaki Oogaki and Aoi Inuyama and their weirdly narrow club room.
Sometimes together, sometimes by themselves, the girls travel to various campsites around their local and semi-local neighborhood and take in the sights. And they all nerd out over camping equipment while lamenting the cost of a lot of it.
In a weird way, Laid-Back Camp is the closest answer to my request for a full-time Encouragement of Climb I could've gotten, barring an actual third season of the aforementioned. Granted, the two shows aren't entirely the same; while Encouragement of Climb was more about getting to the "top of the world, ma", Laid-Back Camp's menu is a bit more encompassing and, as the show puts it; laid back.
And, granted, while I'm more of a hiking guy than a camping guy, I've still taken part of my share of the latter, and not just during my millitary service. (Albeit admittedly not as much lately.) It still is the mark of a great slice-of-life show -- and also a "cute girls doing.... casual things" (in this case, it's not as much cute as... well...) that it manages to infuse the show itself with a consinstent energy (again, it's "laid-back") about its subject. It explains things once (and trusts that you're intelligent enough to remember it if you had any interest for it) instead of beating you over the head with it with numerous "as you know" explanations, and does so by way of a "storyteller voice" more often than not. Said asides are also often short and to the point, so you'll never feel that the show turns into a lecture about things you might not care about. Although if you don't care about camping, why would you even watch this?
Well, if you're doing it for the characters, you might actually get your time/money's worth even if you aren't all that into camping. That's mostly because the banter between the characters are actually a lot of fun, particularly when it happens vis phones. All the girls have smartphones, so pictures plays a large part of their communication shenanigans, and the girls milk that for what it's worth. But even when they have "regular" conversations, they pop up as phone text messages with dopey smiley representations of themselves on the side of each message. The banter itself is comedy gold, often including made-up stories about kidnappings and dog attacks and whatnot. "I've sent an assassin to your campsite", a text messages says out of the blue while the girls are out there, and OH NO! AN ASSASSIN?! WE MUST HURRY BEFORE.... HE'S.... HE'S RIGHT BEHIND US, ISN'T HE?!
Maybe I should dig out and dust off my ol' "And now you are dead from cute" jokes again.
As for the whole "cute girls" part of the equation, the show does sort of fulfill on that. Designwise, it isn't really that particular about it, and can probably be confused with many other shows of the same kind. The only character who stands out a bit is probably Aoi, who has some kind of weird dog fang shaped lip thing going on. Not an actual tooth; her upper lip sort of shapes itself like a fang, a trait she seems to share with her little sister. She's also relatively voluptuous, as you'll see in a scene at the start of episode 5, but the girls never really comment on that. And despite the numerous hotspring scenes in the show, Laid-Back Camp isn't really all that fanservice-ish in the grand sceme of things, at least when it comes to nudity.
Nadeshiko is also probably the one who comes the closest to the whole MOE things, at least on a generalized level. She's an airhead on an almost aggressive level, but she's also fairly good at looking after herself... for the most part. She's surprisingly quick on the uptake when people are joking around, and will gladly join the comedy act, but she's also rather gullible. And in what is probably the nicest example of her kind, she's a person whose relentless energy and loudness still never gets annoying. Well... probably. Judging by what we see from her parents, it's easy to see that she's their daughter, alright. In fact, I'd be a bit suspicious of her older sister, who seems to be the only one in that family that feels a bit more like an older Rin than an older Nadeshiko.
Which is probably the reason why the show's resident loner, Rin, bonds with her so quickly. For her part, it's not that Rin hates people, but she's more at ease in her own company and probably aren't that fond of larger crowds. In a weird inversion, Laid-Back Camp is surprisingly respectful about that. The other girls recognize her as an introvert and agrees that crowding her probably isn't a good idea if you want to be her friend. As the beginning of the series show you, the five girls will eventually go out and camp together, and the first (and at this point only) season spends most of its runtime allowing Rin to slowly get used to the idea of bonding with them while also not completely abandoning her own self. It's great to see this show lean on that attitude instead of thinking of her core personality as something that needs to be "fixed" by portraying people like her as people who's really not honest about themselves and secretly wanting to be saved from their life as it is. Instead, they're letting her join them on her own terms, and it works out the best for all of them. It's still cute to see how well she's bonded with Nadeshiko, though, and a scene where Rin actually figures out it's not Nadeshiko who's sending her text messages via Nadeshiko's phone is what clinches that scene, which Nadeshiko and Chiaki (the girl who really was writing the messages) immediately turns into another MMS comedy act.
Of course, some meddling is to be expected, and Ena Saitou fills that role. Ena is already Rin's friend when the show starts, and it's a lot thanks to her that Nadeshiko finds Rin at whatever camping site she's at. Ironically, she's also the last one to join the girls camping, even if she's all in on the banter between the girls, and she's also the one who sent the "assassin" I mentioned earlier.
This leaves Chiaki and Aoi, who forms more of a comedy duo so far in the show than individual characters, although Chiaki is more of an energetic boss-wannabe geek with twintails and glasses compared to the (somewhat mildly) gal-ish straight-woman Aoi. You can easily tell the two of them have been friends for a while, however, because even when they seemingly lash out at each other verbally, the other pick up and build on the comedy act in a heartbeat. And I don't even know where to begin explaining why I like the two of them so much better than the two lead idiots in Two Car and their idiotic bickering as far as attempts at comedy goes.
Lastly, there is Minami Toba, who becomes a substitute teacher at the girls' school. Nadeshiko is the first to meet her, quickly followed by Rin, which happened during one of Minami's drunken benders. Although while I'm sure Minami has a bit of a drinking problem, she nevertheless doesn't turn into the ol' tiresome joke about "single lady in her 30's who's constantly complaining about it while sexually harrassing her students". Perhaps inevitably, she ends up the outdoors club advisor and joins them on a camping trip. Basically, she falls sort of inbetween that and a respectable adult, and in fact, it was during an act of concern for safety that sort of landed her in that role, if a bit against her will. She's a bit of a drunk, yes, but she's sensible enough to know when it's not a good idea to be drunk, and the girls themselves are mature enough that they can tell her not to worry too much about it. It's a lovely bit of give and take that fits perfectly in with the aforementioned give-and-take situation centered around Rin and the other girls.
Now, I said the show didn't have much in the way of fanservice of the sexual kind, but that's not to say the show doesn't have ANY fanservice. The girls are often seen in winter clothing, which is fanservice to me in so many ways (as well as fellow reviewer Nico, whom loves the show also for, amongst others, that very reason.) Thick winter jackets, woolen caps and scarves, so much knitted stuff -- in general very sensible clothing articles given that the show takes place during late autumn and winter for the most part, with spring just around the corner as the show ends.
And yes, the scenery is absolutely lovely. Again, this is winter, so the colors are a lot more muted than they would other be in a show centered around scenery porn, but the vistas and attention to detail at the surrounding fields, hills and roads are still a treat to behold. The girls living areas are much less mountain-ous than my own, but Mt. Fuji can be seen in the background from time to time, and I'm pretty sure the places Rin and the others go to are based on real-life locations. Even the various camping and restaurant spots look positively inviting, which only lends itself to my suspicion about this being places you can go to (and spend money.) But even beyond that, the two shots of a nighttime town with all their respective lights were a sight to behold. The show even has a pretty high average when it comes to the animation quality. Maybe not quite on the level of Kyoto Animation or Madhouse, but a lot of care has been put into giving the girls in the show a wide range of movement and expressions, particularly since they're all participating in activity I can't imagine a lot of people are doing, and also making them blend in with the amazing scenery on display. The only downside is the CG work, which looks nice, but moves really awkwardly against the drawn backgrounds. It's especially noticeable with cars, but also Rin on her scooter tends to slide somewhat unrealistically sideways when making turns. It's not a complete dealbreaker, but you'll certainly notice. Some of the "cavorting around the camp ground" scenes also look a bit oddly stiff, but that came across as more of an artistic bent rather than anything having to do with poor animation practices. On most accounts -- especially the important ones -- Laid-Back Camp is a visual treat.
In addition to that, the music is fantastic. The opening theme is a lively little piece I'm having a hard time to place, but it reminded me a bit of the intro theme of Sakura Quest; a bit showboat-y, but I don't think I can place it in either the pop or rock bracket. Well... maybe pop. The in-show music is very much acoustic instrumentals. Fiddles are certainly being used, and guitars also -- maybe even a 12-string; there's something incredibly voluminous about the playing, like the Tristram theme of Diablo with all the dark foreboding atmosphere taken out. It's sort of like but not really like the music in Aria, and if you're wondering why I seem to be connecting Diablo with Aria, then.... PLEASE TELL ME TOO?! WHY DID I EVEN.... HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!
Well, whatever. That, and the ending theme -- a lovely acoustic ballad by Eri Sasaki -- is to die for. That's a good enough explanation for me.
It should go without saying that you do not come for this show looking for heavy drama or people shouting at each other -- it's named Laid-Back Camp, after all. You are here to relax and take in the scenery, and Laid-Back Camp has proven to be very good at that. It has become my unofficial Encouragement of Climb season 2.5; Encouragement of Camp. I've mentioned before that I feel I've been spoiled with anime lately, right? Because this show is totally spoiling me. You people can have your A Place Further Than The Universe (which admittely is a very good show too), but as far as I'm concerned, this is the show of the season for me.
When I saw this, my heart almost literally melted. Please let this happen.
I should definitely worry that anime seems to have found the MOE for me, because I adore absolutely everything about this show; from its leisurely pace to its fun characters and silly banter, and certainly not least the lovely scenery. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: I raised an eyebrow when Aoi pulled her sweater over her head and showed the audience that she filled a rather large bra, but that's about as far as the show goes. Hotspring scenes are fairly numerous, but isn't really fanservice on the same level as the kind you usually see in shows centered around that. In addition, the girls' teacher does come across as a bit of a drunk, if a responsible one, which is going to be a thing heavily dependant on cultural differences. Outside of that, there's absolutely nothing objectionable about this show.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Laid-Back Camp (season 1) © 2018 C-Station.
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