Starry Sky / War.
The view from Igirisu:
The echo of water dripping from a pipe. A huge, indoor, industrial landscape. A kettenkrad trundles along, carrying two girls in military outfits.
“It’s so dark.”
So begins Girls’ Last Tour, the latest series we are going to examine in depth, with episode-by-episode articles. Just a quick word, before we start, about what to expect here. For the next three months we will be looking at one episode per week of Girls’ Last Tour. We will avoid spoilers for future episodes but will be talking about each episode in detail, so I suggest watching them before reading these articles. Why not come along for the Tour with us? If you’re in doubt about whether this is the series for you, have a look at my series overview.
You get two for the price of one here. My articles are written from the point of view of a relatively seasoned anime viewer. My friend and co-writer on this blog Mike will append his reviews for each episode. I can’t exactly say he’s an anime virgin any more, as this is the seventh series we have written about together, but those represent virtually his entire experience of anime so far, so Mike’s thoughts are much more the first impressions of the newbie viewer, always fascinating to read. Girls’ Last Tour is a departure from anything he has seen, but then again the same could be said of anyone who watches this series. There has never been anything quite like it.
On a superficial level that’s because we have a combination no other anime has attempted (or at least, I don’t think so!): a post-apocalyptic slice of life with cute moeblobs. On the face of it that sounds like a really odd thing to do, but this is a series that thrives on unusual juxtapositions. A post-apocalyptic world should be a place of danger, and yet there don’t seem to be any external sources of danger for the two girls. Note how Yuu is able to fire a gun for a bit of target practice, without fear of anyone hearing the noise. These two truly are on their own. That’s frightening in a different way, and also presents them with some problems.
Problem 1: fuel. “We don’t know where we’ll find the next refuelling station.” This is the first potential issue that is mentioned in the episode. The kettenkrad is based on a real military vehicle, and we see a mix of weapons tech, but yet the architecture clearly sets this series in the future, so that suggests a war of attrition has been fought. A kettenkrad is a great little vehicle for Chi and Yuu to get around in, and almost immediately we see how it’s able to go up a steep incline or even stairs.
Problem 2: food. “We don’t have that much food left, do we.” This is played for laughs, with Yuu very cutely talking in her sleep about soup, and then trying to eat Chi’s hand. The genius of this series is that it makes you laugh, but behind the laughter is the nagging worry that the problems they are facing are genuinely life-threatening, and we move seamlessly from moments of fun to moments of melancholy. They eat their last tin of soup and then Chi just accepts her mortality:
“So what’s going to happen to us when the sun finally rises, Chi?”
Luckily the problem is solved for the time being when they find rations, but how long can these girls survive by scavenging, living in a world where food is no longer being produced?
Problem 3: keeping warm. “It’s so cold.” When the two girls emerge from the industrial underground into the outside world it’s a beautifully animated moment: the use of light and shade; the brightness of the doorway; the eyes opening to the light; and then the realisation that the light is just starlight and it’s night time. But they emerge into a landscape that is just as bleak in its own way: twisted metal ruins, heavy with snow. It’s cold and scary but awe-inspiringly beautiful, a key contrast of this series.
One key moment emphasises the fragility of these two girls’ existence, even to the extent that their friendship cannot be taken for granted: Yuu pulls a gun on Chi. I think she does it in jest, picking up on an earlier conversation about how wars can start because of food shortages, and it’s our first example of how Yuu makes some very bad decisions at times. It’s probably the first moment where the series really surprises the viewers, pulling us sharply away from our slice-of-life security blanket, but on one level this is actually the closest the two girls come to playing a game, with Yuu just laughing afterwards.
“Wow that was good!”
And then they start eating snow, a reminder of their dire situation, and that “war really is the worst”. It makes you feel cold watching it, but the sun will rise again… RP
The view from Amerika:
This is a strange story to talk about for me. You see, up until now, I realize I’ve watched mysteries. I mean, they’ve been science fiction, but they are all built on some form of mystery. Let me take a few minutes to recap those series I’ve watched so far. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya follows the exploits of a weird girl who wants aliens, ESPers, and time travelers to be real, and she appears to be a god who can make them all appear. The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato is the spinoff of Haruhi and while it ended up being the parent series from an in-universe perspective, the whole time I was expecting a twist in the two universes. Erased is about a murderer and a time traveler. Another is about the undead and a curse in a school. Elfin Lied is about these genetically modified telekenetics and Brynhildr in the Darkness is about alien enhanced superheroes. Every one of those series has the “what’s it all about?” factor. There’s a mystery at the core of each; I love science fiction and mystery. So when I started Girls Last Tour, I very quickly realized it was about… nothing.
Well, that doesn’t sound good, does it? On the contrary! It was both refreshing and also utterly engrossing in a way that I had no possible preparation for. The first episode opens up with magnificent music and follows these two girls through a very dark tunnel. So dark, that one of the girls very adorably comments that “it’s soo dark!” But I could not take my eyes off it. The animation was beautiful and the way the Kettenkrad is drawn just felt so organic that I had to be impressed watching as it mounted steps. And a flashback sequence done like an old style cartoon was a touch of genius. The choral music was the first opening in all the animes I’ve seen that I think I will watch through every episode. (To be honest, after first episodes of most series I review, I skip the opening music. If an episode changes the theme, I stick with it to hear the new theme, but then stop from then on. This series may be an exception!)
Besides the artwork, I was completely taken in by the world these two girls live in. It’s dead. There’s no other life out there (at least not yet). Food is a commodity and it becomes clear that these two girls will go from food to starving very quickly, all the time. For gamers, anyone who has played survival games like Subnautica, knows how hard this is. Just as you start making progress toward something else, you have to stop to find food or water. Playing a game means you can reload. Watching an anime, you are not an active participant and have to hope for the best. When the girls find rations, you feel a sense of relief. When they fight over it, you worry. If these are the last two humans, that’s the last thing we need. And I was utterly stunned by what happens here!
I don’t have complaints, as such. I did make one mistake though: I accidentally launched with subs instead of dubs, but thought it might be interesting to watch it hearing the original voices but that ended up backfiring because I had to divide my time between reading and watching (and making notes). Thankfully, only two characters means minimal talking but it’s still a divide-and-conquer approach. I won’t make the same mistake for episode 2 and onward. I had considered watching the whole thing through before writing about it, then going back for a second viewing, but thought it was too likely going to taint my episodic reviews. I wanted my write ups to be unadulterated. What I might do, is go back and re-watch with the subs on after I’ve seen the whole thing once, because the voices were very sweet! I would also like to have some idea of the age of the two girls, Yuu and Chi. They appear to be very young; I’m thinking 8-10 but Chi drives the kettenkrad and Yuu is a marksman. These are not the typical traits of the average 10 year old. Maybe they are just animated as young girls, but their voices match their apparent youth so it’s hard to say. Maybe more clues will present themselves as the show goes on.
There are a few scenes worthy of note. The girls don’t know what chocolate tastes like so when they find chocolate flavored rations, the viewer sort of experiences the wonder with them. Yum, chocolate! When they emerge from the dark tunnel, it’s so bright for them but they realize it’s nighttime when they come out. It’s a beautifully illustrated scene. (What will happen when the sun comes up if it’s so bright for them now? “We’ll burn to death!”) Their innocence is beautiful. And it’s never more amazing than when they are talking about war and why it happens: “their interests didn’t coincide”. Well, that does sum it up.
And I loved that the episode seemed to be broken into two chapters. Small, bite-sized chunks about what these two characters go through per episode will make a very engrossing story. Starry Sky shows the bright night and War shows the two girls finding food and discussing war. There is no mystery here. It’s traveling with two girls as they try to survive in a dead world. This may be the most interesting of the animes I’ve watched so far. I’m making that statement on episode one, so I may end up very disappointed eventually but it’s the first time I don’t have a mystery to figure out; I just have to hope these two make it. I look forward to finding out. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Girls’ Last Tour Episode 2