The Cute Girls Doing Cute Things anime sub-genre is perpetually at risk of being straight-up boring. Its almost aimless episodic meandering style is frequently a turn-off for those who like their shows to have, well, an actual plot that goes anywhere. It can be a bit of an ask, too, for audiences to fall in love with characters that are designed to be almost sickeningly cute. It’s a very niche sub-genre, one I don’t particularly like myself. The closest I’ve ever come to liking a Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show was A Place Further than the Universe, and that’s way more a drama series than it is a Cute Girls Doing Cute Things outing.
Then there’s Yuru Camp.
Yuru Camp ticks off all the biggest boxes when it comes to its subgenre. There’s a cast of cute girls in Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki, who fit quite neatly into the stereotypical roles established by the genre. There isn’t much of a plot outside of them learning to camp, though we do get to see a lot of the deepening friendship between protagonists Rin and Nadeshiko and how their interactions with the Outdoor Club help them step out of their respective comfort zones in pursuit of the one thing that brings them together, which is to say, outdoor camping. So far, so Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, and on paper it sounds like it could well be another kind of boring, kind of forgettable watch. And yet for some reason I binged the hell out of the first season when I picked it up at the end of last year, and when the second season came out this Winter it was the first thing on my agenda every Friday night after a hard week at work. Why? Why was I glued to this show, from a genre that I’ve never really cared for in the first place? Because I wanted to be where the Outdoor Club was, that’s why. In between the cutesy antics and aimless plot and the toils of my own frustrating work life I wanted nothing more than to sit in the cold of a mountainside, a campfire by my feet, watching the day turn to night.
It’s in these moments of calm that Yuru Camp really shines. In them, Studio C-Station proves their mastery over atmosphere. As we reach these key moments in the anime the pacing slows to a halt, the music drops away until all that’s left is a single guitar, the linework and art is at its absolute best as the camera zooms out to show us breathtaking sunsets and sparkling cityscapes as seen from the cold of the mountains, before zooming in close to hover on the calm expressions of its cast as they take in the scene and as we take it in them. Quiet reflections are offered. On a silent night, Rin and Nadeshiko share with each other the views from their respective campsites; after her own solo trip, Nadeshiko tells Rin how, though she appreciates the joys of solo camping, she still thinks there’s something special about travelling with others; beneath a starry sky we see just how far Rin has come in pursuit of this thing she loves, and the places she’s seen and the relationships she’s built along the way. These moments are never heavy-handed or pretentious or overbearing, but always honest.
In keeping these moments real and in building these scenes with such care we feel inside the things these characters feel, and we resonate with them. These are experiences we, as viewers, can understand. As an outdoors person myself I can tell you that there’s something calming to a nice sunset, or a star-filled sky, that leaves you quiet and comfortable. That sometimes you want that moment all to yourself, but that in other times you want nothing more than to share it with others, wordlessly even, knowing that your loved ones are close at hand. I can tell you that there’s a certain feeling to seeing the world open up to you in your travels, and an indescribable warmness in being on the way home once more. Yuru Camp knows this, and in knowing exactly when to hit the brakes, to pull us back with charming scenery and nice country music, it lets us bask in its most special moments.
Some of the best anime out there know how to take an abstract, wordless feeling and portray it in a way that we can all resonate with. I love Your Name because it made a whole almost two-hour movie out of a lonely feeling I still don’t even have words for. A Place Further than the Universe so perfectly captures that rush of mixed emotions we feel when a chapter of our life closes and the next one opens. Yuru Camp doesn’t swell with explosive emotion the way other shows may swell, but it knows what a calm, quiet evening in the mountains feels like, and lets us feel that no matter where we may be.