I have seen so many anime series now that familiar stories, tropes and issues crop up over and over again. It is rare to see a series that is doing something completely unfamiliar that I have never seen before, but Girls’ Last Tour fell into that category. It is a breathtakingly original series.
Girls’ Last Tour is set in a post-apocalypse future, somewhere around the year 3230. Exploring the ruins of a destroyed city are two friends, Chito and Yuuri, and most of the episodes play out with just the two of them looking around, occasionally finding something useful or interesting, and sometimes encountering dangerous situations. To make that work, the two girls obviously have to be enjoyable characters to watch, and the environment has to be interesting. Let’s take those things in order.
Chito is the more mature and intelligent of the two girls, and she drives their vehicle, which resembles a Kettenkrad from the Second World War. With its caterpillar tracks it’s just the right vehicle for getting around the city, capable of trundling over debris and going up stairs. Yuuri is much more childish and happy-go-lucky. That makes for an interesting personality clash. Chito worries about dangers such as heights, while Yuuri refuses to live life in fear. Chito is practical and thinks ahead, while Yuuri lives for the moment. The way those character traits play into different situations really makes you think about the best way to live life. There are times where Chito’s philosophy of life is essential to their survival, but Yuuri’s bravery often drives the two of them forward to places Chito would never have reached on her own. On the other hand, Yuuri is at times childlike to a fault, and towards the end of the series this has devastating consequences. But most importantly they are really fun and interesting characters, who are compelling to watch. With only a handful of other characters appearing during the whole series, that matters, and when I say “handful” I am stretching the definition of “character” in order to use all the fingers on one hand to count them.
The lack of other people alive of course means that you have to switch off the part of your brain that is asking how these two are still alive when nearly everyone else is dead, and they are apparently in good health and can drink the water. But the series doesn’t entirely go for realism and I was fine with that. These are two girls in an unfamiliar world, trying to make sense of their surroundings and the harsh reality that they are unlikely to survive for much longer. They also have to come to terms with the way their predecessors have killed themselves and destroyed their beautiful city. And it is beautiful. The animation here is stunning. It’s fine to have just two characters most of the time when the city itself becomes the most important character. It is absolutely vast, and not just horizontally. It stretches up vertically on many levels, with the higher levels previously housing the wealthier members of society. The girls move though various different kinds of environments throughout the series, so the visuals always remain fresh: deep inside the industrial workings of the city; an enormous cemetery; a labyrinth of pipework; a stunningly beautiful religious building; precipitous roadways; an underground train system; a gigantic wind farm. We move through the seasons, with all the different challenges they bring. Imagine trying to survive in a bitter, snowy winter, all alone in the ruins of a destroyed city.
At times this is a very scary series, and not in any kind of a traditional sense. Yes, there is jeopardy, but most of the fear comes from the fact that there is just nobody else to help. These girls could freeze in the snow, fall to their deaths, starve, or meet death in a dozen other ways. They are on their own, and it really reminds you of the luxury of living within an organised society, with people to help when things go wrong.
I suppose if I had to pin this series down to a genre I would have to say slice-of-life, because at its heart it is about two friends exploring their world and chatting about it, and there is also plenty of comedy. But what makes this series so fascinating is the contrast between the slice-of-life happy friends thing and the world in which it is set. The backdrop varies between hostile bleakness and breathtaking beauty and the friendship is explored within those contrasts. The characters are not perfect either. Early in the series one of the girls burns something that matters hugely to the other, and towards the end of the series they find a control station for weapons of mass destruction and what follows left me open-mouthed.
There is so much I haven’t mentioned: the fascinating encounters with a couple of other people left alive; the evidence of an unusual religion and then discovery of that religion’s gods; the emotional moment when the two girls actually get to witness the past; the aquarium with its one surviving fish and melancholy guardian; and oh… that moment that will linger in the mind forever, where the girls imagine life in a normal apartment, and then it fades away to the harsh reality of an empty concrete room. You have to watch this series.
We will be writing about Girls’ Last Tour on an episode-by-episode basis after we have finished some other series we want to cover. If you would like to be informed about new articles please use the “follow” button in the side bar. We also send out emails with information about blog posts coming soon to the Junkyard, on request. If you would like to be added to that mailing list as a BCC please contact us (contact link in the side bar). RP