When I first saw the poster for Madhouse’s A Place Further Than The Universe, I was briefly reminded of a Haruki Murakami novel called Sputnik Sweetheart. A few years back, I found myself drawn to the latter for a simple reason: its title sounded incredibly catchy. Upon seeing it in the bookstore, I wanted to crack the book open and throw myself into its world. Alas, the content felt rather dry to me and failed to ignite the spark of interest I had felt upon scanning the cover. Despite a few separate attempts in the bookstore, I never managed to make it more than halfway through. Even so, it ended up in my book collection by virtue of its title.
Like Sputnik Sweetheart, A Place Further Than The Universe drew me in with a fantastic-sounding title that stirred the imagination. And, like Sputnik Sweetheart, I had expected the actual content to be a dull affair. At least, that was the impression I initially had before the anime quickly proved otherwise. Only three episodes in, I found myself considering it my top pick of Winter 2018, and one of my overall favourites.
A Place Further Than The Universe is alternately known as Sora yori mo Tooi Basho, Uchuu yori mo Tooi Basho, or simply YoriMoi. I’ll be calling it YoriMoi, since it’s objectively more convenient to type. The plot of YoriMoi can effectively be summed up as such: four girls meet each other and – due to various motives – end up going to Antarctica together. Both the synopsis on MyAnimeList and the first episode provide the impression that one of these girls – Mari Tamaki – is the primary character. In actuality, YoriMoi feels more like an anime with an ensemble cast.
Still, the first episode primarily follows Tamaki’s point-of-view. A second-year high schooler, she’s discontent with her life and wishes to do something interesting. Initially, this amounts to simple things like ditching school for a day, though she ultimately can’t bring herself to do so. Fate leads her to meet Shirase Kobuchizawa, a schoolmate determined to get to Antarctica, where her mother went missing during a previous expedition. Where everyone else mocks Shirase’s seemingly impossible goal, Tamaki is taken with her resolve and decides to join her efforts, which involves participating in an upcoming civilian expedition. Shortly after, the pair expands into a small group with the introduction of teenage convenience store worker Hinata Miyake – who has a small penchant for quoting her own sayings – and teen idol Yuzuki Shiraishi.
YoriMoi’s pacing is a little leisurely in the beginning, which was why I didn’t expect to be hooked. Once Hinata comes into the picture in the second episode however, things start to feel a lot more energetic. Part of that is from the combination of Tamaki and Hinata’s lively natures. Another is that after initially carrying the air of a laid-back slice-of-life, YoriMoi starts packing in a good dose of humour that can be almost riotous. Some highlights include the girls (sans Yuzuki who hadn’t appeared at this point) trying to seduce the male expedition members so that they may be allowed into their meeting, or the insertion of monster movie-like horror music as Shirase discovers Hinata’s lost passport in her own bag and dreads the others finding out.
The comedy bits involving the girls tend to show them having fun, naturally becoming closer and basically enjoying their youth to the fullest, which provides a nice feel-good vibe. Meanwhile, seeing these teenagers – especially Shirase – become a part of something special and defy the odds instills feelings of pride in me. When Shirase surprises the expedition members and her friends with a stirring speech, or when she finally steps foot on Antarctica and becomes elated at having proven the schoolmates who mocked her wrong, I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional. Interestingly, there’s actually an episode where one of the girls questions how everyone had become so close and suspects about being left out of this development, though I won’t spoil anymore than that. When comparing the girls’ interactions between episodes however, it’s clear that the girls develop a better sense of ease and a stronger bond with one another as the show sails on.
An aspect of YoriMoi’s main quartet which I liked is that they are presented not as one-note personalities, but as multifaceted individuals, even if just for one episode. For example, Shirase appears like a confident beauty but is shown to be shy on several occasions, such as being filmed for the girls’ online streams about the expedition. Conversely, when it comes to penguins she is unabashedly and humorously expressive with her interest in them. Hinata seems eternally upbeat, but there are a couple of episodes where catalysts like a lost passport or schoolmates from her not-so-sweet past reveal a more serious and troubled side. Shiraishi on the other hand is more serious and cool-headed in real life compared to her cheerful idol image. She possesses concerns about making and having friends due to her idol status. However, her naive perspective about friendship provides some wonderfully cute and amusing moments later in the show. Finally, Tamaki’s energy and silliness makes her seem like a girl who would boldly leap into any adventure, but the first episode is about her trying to overcome her hesitations and fears of doing just that.
It’s worth noting that, while there are plenty of laughs and lighthearted fun to be found, the show has its serious or touching moments too. Hinata’s previously mentioned serious side is an example. Another is Tamaki’s best friend Megu revealing that the negative rumors about Tamaki and Shirase came from Megu herself, as she cannot handle the idea of Tamaki becoming independent from her. These two scenes belong in dramatic territory to varying degrees, but there are also more understated moments. In one such scene, team captain Gin Tōdō tries to find out whether Shirase harbors any ill feelings towards her for the fate of the latter’s mother, in a conversation that proves difficult for both of them. In another, Tōdō and vice captain Kanae Maekawa make a toast in memory of Shirase’s mother outside the station in Antarctica while everyone else merrily partakes in a Christmas feast indoors. The most notable moment comes in the 12th episode, but I shan’t spoil the details. All I’ll say is that it represents an emotional climax for Shirase’s journey and highlights, without words, how close the girls have grown.
I haven’t touched on the expedition itself much because to me, the girls’ interactions and burgeoning relationship are the primary focal point. The other reason is that the educational tidbits regarding the expedition didn’t register strongly in my mind, making it hard to comment on the show’s attention to detail and accuracy on the subject of Antarctic expeditions. If you’re like me, I think that it’s fine given that the intricacies of the expedition aren’t heavily intertwined with the girls’ story. But while I feel that the expedition by itself isn’t really a main reason to watch YoriMoi, it would be wrong to say that it exists as nothing more than a barely noticeable backdrop. Perhaps the best example of how the show treats the expedition as more than a mere vehicle for the girls’ interactions is the time it takes for them to get to Antarctica – nine episodes to be exact. A fair amount of time is spent not just on the journey and the girls’ preparations for it, but also on the process of them trying to get into the expedition. The fact that YoriMoi didn’t simply whisk them off to Antarctica right away, and presented realistic hurdles like the crew members not simply accepting them because of Shirase’s money, shows that some thought had gone into this aspect of the show.
Visually, YoriMori features a fairly colourful, but muted, aesthetic. The muted aspect is part of the reason I initially found the show to be a bit of a sleepy ride, but its combination with the colour variety allows the show to accommodate both comedic and serious moments. While the visuals mainly serve as a conduit for the scenes to evoke feelings in the audience, the soundtrack plays a more active role in this. The star player (in my opinion) is one of the insert songs, “Haru ka Tooku”, which can be counted on to deliver sentimental vibes or inspirational feelings with its simple but effective tune. Meanwhile, ending song “Koko Kara, Koko Kara” (which means “from here, from here”) carries a sense of accomplishment, making it a fitting choice to cap off each episode. The opening song, called “The Girls Are Alright!”, carries less of an impact, but perhaps that is the point given that the two other songs already deliver strongly on the emotional aspect. ”The Girls Are Alright!” is instead a light and positive-sounding song that serves well as a breezy gateway into each episode.
Although I preferred “Koko Kara, Koko Kara” and “Haru ka Tooku” over “The Girls Are Alright!”, I did miss the presence of the opening song in the penultimate episode of YoriMoi. While I understand that it was to make time for more scenes, I think the overall more serious tone of that particular episode would have benefited from the contrast with the cheery opening song, as that sort of tonal juxtaposition is what make the serious moments in other episodes work so well in my opinion. That’s about the only major gripe I have with the show, and even then, the episode was still powerful and satisfactory, thanks to the emotional climax I mentioned earlier. My other, more minor gripe is that the final episode, while still enjoyable, didn’t feel anywhere near as emotionally impactful, although I’d expected bittersweet feelings as the girls returned to their daily lives. Part of that might be due to the emotional climax from the previous episode being just too darn powerful and overshadowing the finale, or maybe my weariness was just affecting my viewing. Still, the experience of watching the last episode felt a bit underwhelming compared to everything that came before.
While I was often too caught up in my enjoyment or too weary from life to attempt any in-depth analysis into the show, I can firmly say that YoriMoi is the kind of anime that offers great enjoyment without feeling like a shallow slice of entertainment. Although the ending felt a bit lackluster to me, the journey that lead to it was most certainly a beautiful one, and one that I recommend.