A lot of people have been talking about this series in terms of being last year’s best anime, or certainly one of the best, so I was keen to give it a go, especially as the premise sounded so interesting and unlike anything I had seen. I wasn’t disappointed.
The story centres around Shirase, a lonely girl whose mother was an Antarctic explorer who lost her life on an expedition. Shirase has become obsessed with the idea of going to Antarctica. She spends every spare minute working to earn money, to pay her way. The problem is that no school child has ever been taken on an expedition to Antarctica, so she has earned herself a reputation for being an obsessive fantasist. By accident she inspires a couple of other girls, Kimari and Hinata, to share her dream, but there appears to be no chance of their plan coming together, until they meet a famous teenage idol, Yuzuki, who has been chosen to report on a forthcoming civilian expedition, manned by the colleagues of Shirase’s late mother.
This is a 13 episode series, with the first five taking place in Japan, four following their journey to Antarctica, taking in Singapore and Australia on the way, and the final four actually set in Antarctica. This might seem like a lot of build up before they get there, but it is actually essential. The journey is the most important thing here.
The brilliance of this series is the way it explores the girls’ hopes, dreams and anxieties. Shirase has a compulsion to get to Antarctica but it is hard to analyse exactly why. Her mother is dead and she’s hardly going to find her alive and well after three years, nor is she expecting anything like that. I won’t spoil exactly what she finds, but there is a fascinating moment where she fears achieving her goal, because her mission to get there has driven her onwards for so long and she might have to finally come to accept her loss. As for Kimari, she is worried that she is wasting her youth and she wants to do something big, but faces major issues with the best friend she is going to have to leave behind. Hinata has had issues with friendships in the past (again, I won’t spoil the details) and needs to experience what a real friendship is all about, and Yuzuki’s fame has made her isolated and lonely, unable to form any genuine friendships. She has everything in life, except what really matters. As their various issues are explored and resolved there are some truly powerful and emotional moments.
This is a beautifully animated series, particular the latter episodes set in Antarctica, and it manages to bring something genuinely brand new to the over-saturated teenage slice-of-life anime market. I haven’t seen enough anime to make any pronouncements on the best of the year, but this one would certainly take some beating.
By the way, the Japanese antarctic research station (Syowa) depicted in this anime actually exists. The anime shows an expedition led by women, and in November 2018 Naomi Harada was named as the first ever female team leader of a Japanese Antarctic research expedition. She will be travelling on an “Icebreaker” vessel named Shirase, named after the leader of the first ever Japanese expedition to Antarctica (1910-12). That name might look familiar.
I’ll leave you with the opening credit sequence. I love everything about it. RP