Encouragement of Climb: Next Summit (season 4)
Aoi Yukimura continues her training for next summer's reattempt climb up Mt. Fuji, as fall, winter, and the next spring pass her by. She continues her training with the help of her friends Hinata, Kokona, Kaede, and Honoka, as well as her other classmates. She also spends more time with her co-worker Hikari, her own family, and even Hinata's.
Bet you were expecting Stig here, huh? Sorry.
While I'm not quite as big a fan of the series as him, I've always admired the simple cuteness of Encouragement of Climb. It has very likable characters, simple little storylines, and some of the most amazing background scenery in a Japanese animated production outside of a Studio Ghibli film. It's also a series that revels in its subject manner, going every minute little detail about hiking/mountain climbing, from tents, clothing, to even bag weight. It's also part geography lesson, as each mountain the girls go on is based on a real-life one in Japan, right down to the signs and shrines being accurate. And like the last two seasons, Next Summit is also a gorgeous looking show, even if the human characters can look a bit wonky at times.
Encouragement of Climb Next Summit (just Next Summit from this point on for the review) continues where season three left off, with Aoi continuing to explore new mountains for her "rematch" with Mt. Fuji. It's also a time for her to reflect, as well. I guess we should talk about this aspect of Next Summit now before we continue any further.
Next Summit, arguably more than any other season before it, is centered around Aoi, whether it be about her friends, family, or her looking for a purpose in life. As Aoi approaches the end of her first year of high school, she starts to worry about drifting apart from Hinata in the following school year, and more than once questions to herself why she even started climbing mountains in the first place. But she also doesn't want to go back to being who she was in junior high school, a girl more interested in reading, handcrafts, baking, and collecting cute things than friendships and getting outside, sheltering herself off from the world. It's not until the end of the season that Aoi finally feels satisfied with herself and what her future holds. It's a fair bit of progression for her, considering how this series started off as a series of three minute shorts nearly a decade prior in its first season.
In comparison, the rest of the returning cast of Next Summit are about the same as they ever were, since Aoi gets the lion's share of character development. Hinata continues to be a teasing but well-meaning friend (especially at the end of the season, where Aoi needs it most), Kokona continues to be an absolute sweetie with a knack for cooking, Kaede's still a quirky, cheerful "big sis" guide to the outside, and Honoka's a quiet but exploratory shutterbug. If anything, it's one of Aoi's old classmates from middle school - Kasumi - that gets the second most development this season, getting center spotlight on two different episodes, and helping Aoi adjust to her second year of high school.
Speaking of spotlights, Next Summit gives a lot of the supporting cast the spotlight this season. These spotlight episodes also show off more outdoor activities than previous seasons, which I rather liked. For example, an episode with Aoi and her older co-worker Hikari has them canoeing, while Hikari opens up a bit more about herself in the process. (Apparently she's a bit of a drunk, too. Heh.) Hinata's mother finally appears in an episode, the hot-blooded, hard-working woman demonstrating that Hinata's large, booming voice originates from her mother's side. There's even two separate stories about Aoi and her parents: the first with her, her mom, and Hinata going up to Mt. Buko, and another with Aoi, her father, Hinata, and Kokona going fishing. Kokona also opens a bit about herself in the latter half in a way I was not expecting, especially for someone of her age. (Sadly, her mother does not partake in any hiking this season.)
The only big new addition to Next Summit this season is Koharu, a tiny upperclassman of Aoi and Hinata's who's the same age as Kaede and Yuuka. She is the leader of the Mountaineering Club, a team of mountain climbers who compete in events and such each year. She also more or less replaces Kaede as the giver of hiking advice in Next Summit, since Kaede is still studying with her friend Yuuka. Koharu is also loud, boisterous, and has a height complex, being even smaller than Kokona despite being three years older than her. She also has one of those stupid flesh-colored fangs, which wouldn't bother me if Hikari, the other character in the series with a fang, didn't have a standard white one. While I didn't dislike Koharu, except for a cute half-episode where she shows off snow shoes to Aoi, Hinata, and Honoka, who all go up a mountain to try them on (to initially middling success), I can't say she added much to the show overall to me. I guess she isn't overall TOO annoying, but I'm glad the show kept her out of the more Aoi-centric parts of the series.
And yes, you read that correctly on the side-bar; Next Summit is nearly a third clip show. And while there is some new material in those episodes (my favorite being episode two's, where Aoi's school partakes in the usual Japanese school staple of the school festival), 80% of the first four episodes are clip show still, with some new music cues thrown in here and there. And because they skim around whole stories and arcs in them, trying to condense three seasons into less than 75 minutes overall (after new animation and the OP/ED themes are removed), it fails in two different ways at the same time. Not only can it not be used as an introduction piece for newcomers, since so many characters get glanced aside in the process, but it also can't serve as a recap for returning fans, since so much is skipped over.
And nowhere does the clip show hogging break the pacing of Next Summit more than in its final two episodes. Episodes 5-10 glance over the fall, winter, and end of March pretty well, with the usual beats you'd expect in a slice-of-life school girl anime (Christmas, New Year's, winter activities, spring, end of school year). But then in episode 11 the series just...skips three months into July, where Aoi is about to partake in her re-climbing of Mt. Fuji. One of the season's biggest dilemmas for Aoi - her no longer in the same class as Hinata in her second year, and all of her old classmates she knew except Kasumi now being in Hinata's class - is just glanced over. You never get to see Aoi actually adapt to her new classroom setting since the final two episodes are entirely revolved Mt. Fuji. (Aside from a tiny clip at the end of the season, we never even SEE her in her classroom again period.)
It's not until the last episode of Next Summit that Aoi and her friends actually climb Mt. Fuji, with the episode before her preparing TO climb it, going to a store to buy a new bag and supplies. On the plus side, at least Kaede is freed from Study Jail for the final two episodes. In fact, these final two episodes mark the only time in Next Summit where Aoi, Hinata, Kokona, Kaede, and Honoka are all together hiking (the only other time they're all together is a Christmas party with Koharu and Yuuka), so just seeing them all together is a hoot. And while the final episode is a great one, with Aoi getting lots of love and support from her friends as they finally climb Mt. Fuji together, even ending with a nice scene with Aoi I dare not spoil, I really wish we had another episode to explore Mt. Fuji. Episode 11 hints at a smaller mountain on the path down to Mt. Fuji that Kokona wants to explore, but we never actually get to really see said mountain, and it's a shame we didn't.
But let's go back to the positives now, because despite my pacing complaints of the final two episodes, episodes 5-10 of Next Summit still have some wonderful moments in them. For example, episode 6 finally fleshes out Aoi's co-worker Hikari, who up to this point was just her energetic older co-worker. She invites Aoi on a spontaneous canoe trip for a reason not explained until the end of the episode, and it's hard not to feel a bit sorry for her. There's also a really cute scene of her and Aoi blowing bubbles that wouldn't have been out of place in Is the Order a Rabbit?.
Another episode I really liked was the first half of episode 10, where Aoi's entire class goes hiking upon Mt. Tenranzan for one final picture to end their year together. (Yes, EVERYONE in her class.) She struggles to lead them all, but with the help of her classmate Mio, she does so, and everyone has a fun time, though not without being easily distracted. (They ARE high school kids after all.)
Honoka also gets more spotlight in the second half of the show, as the series still finds ways to pair off the cast in new ways. In this season's case, it's her and Kokona, who bond over the pictures Kokona took on the trip she, Aoi, and Hinata made to Lockheart Castle in season three, with Honoka being impressed with her younger friend's picture. It's an absolutely adorable scene. Actually, the whole half-episode itself is adorable, with Honoka trying in her own introverted way to get closer with Kokona, with some support from Hinata along the way.
But the biggest surprise to me was how long Encouragement of Climb got around to properly introducing us to Hinata's mom, who I wish was in more than just half of an episode. While little we learn of her is that she works really hard at whatever job she works at (implied to be fashion-based), and is so overstressed and tired she has purple bags under her eyes. (Case in point; when they go to a shrine that has throwable stones for good luck, she ends up throwing well over a dozen while yelling about her job.) She's also very loud and forward, not unlike her own daughter. She's a hoot, and it's a shame she's only in one half of an episode.
I think it says a lot a lot about how much I like an anime when my biggest complaint with it is that I wish there was more of it to watch. Even with the annoyance of the first third of the series being almost all clip show, and the rushed pacing in the final two episodes, don't let my criticisms hide that Encouragement of Climb Next Summit is a fun show the grand majority of the time. I love its characters and simple, charming slice-of-life atmosphere, and I really hope one day we get to see these girls explore again.
Maybe Mt. Everest next? Heh.
A fine continuation of Encouragement of Climb, even if I wish it was a bit longer. An extra episode or two of not clip show would have made enough difference to raise it to five stars. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Older kids and up. About the only thing objectionable in the series is Hikari getting drunk briefly in one episode. There's no fanservice or dirty jokes to be found.
Version(s) Viewed: HIDIVE stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Encouragement of Climb: Next Summit (season 4) © 2022 Shiro/Earth Star Entertainment/Yama no Susume Next Summit Production Committee
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