A review of Yuru Camp (S1)

Looks like my new, “original” anime roulette post feature was more successful than I’d first hoped at finding me new stuff to watch, because just four days after landing on Yuru Camp, aka Laid-Back Camp,* I finished the first season. Granted, it was only 12 episodes long, and I still have to watch the second season (along with the upcoming movie whenever we get that) but considering how long I usually take to get through even a one-cour run of anime, this is lightning speed for me.

Maybe I tore through it so quickly because Yuru Camp was something I badly needed to watch. When its first season aired in 2018, it totally passed me by. I wasn’t watching any currently-airing anime at the time, and even if I had been, I’ve always had a bit of a bias against these pure slice-of-life shows featuring “cute girls doing x,” where x is whatever theme the show focuses on (for example, playing music in K-On!, or more usually just living their school lives.) That x in Yuru Camp is camping, which didn’t increase the odds that I’d bother checking it out — I appreciate the natural beauty of the Earth, but I prefer to do that through my monitor in 1080p. I have absolutely no interest in camping myself, so even if it featured plenty of natural beauty, a show about camping wasn’t likely to attract me.

Considering all that, I probably never would have watched Yuru Camp if VRV hadn’t recommended it to me and I hadn’t then landed on its short spinoff Room Camp in my last post. And though VRV is still kind of a piece of shit, I have to thank them, because this is a case where my biases were completely stupid. I loved this first season of Yuru Camp. You know I don’t use that word lightly either, so I’ll explain myself below (and also spoilers, I guess, but the show kind of “spoils” the ending of this season in its very first scene, where I got the above screenshot from, so it’s not as big as deal as it would normally be. This isn’t the most plot-heavy series ever anyway.)

Yuru Camp opens with Rin Shima, a dedicated solo camper heading out to a lake near Mt. Fuji on her bike. Despite still being in high school, Rin already has serious experience going out on her own on extended trips away from home, setting up camp in the woods, by rivers, and on scenic lakes and hills. Even the fact that it’s nearly winter and cold out doesn’t bother her — in fact, she prefers camping during the off-season, when she can feel truly alone in the outdoors.

As Rin approaches the campsite, she sees a pink-haired girl sleeping on a bench at a rest area nearby. She doesn’t think much of this, but after night falls and she returns to the main campsite complex to use the bathroom, she’s frightened by the same girl, who suddenly appears behind her crying for help. After a brief chase back to her tent by the lake, Rin discovers that this girl, Nadeshiko Kagamihara, is new to the area and came up to the campsite on her own bike to see Mt. Fuji up close for the first time. Since she doesn’t have any food with her, Rin shares her fire and a cup of instant ramen with Nadeshiko, who happy accepts.

I only ever ate instant ramen in a shitty dorm room, looks better eating it by Mt. Fuji. Also, the ramen we ate in college didn’t have actual beef in it. Can’t expect much from those 30 cent Maruchan Cup Noodles I guess.

Nadeshiko is eventually rescued by getting a lift from her older sister, but not before giving Rin her number so they can go camping together. Rin isn’t necessarily too hot on the idea, since she’s a dedicated solo camper, but she doesn’t seem very against the idea either. However, she still needs to warm up to that idea a bit. And before she can get that time she runs into Nadeshiko again, far sooner than she’d anticipated, when Rin notices her at school and realizes they’re classmates.

Excited by the prospect of more camping, Nadeshiko has just joined the Outdoor Activities Club or the “Outclub”, a less intense version of the school’s Hiking Club. This Outclub is also dedicated to camping, but without the kind of physical exertion required to go hiking — just nice, laid-back camping.

They’re also headquartered in an extremely cramped, narrow room and don’t have much in the way of funds because there’s only three of them including their new recruit, and good winter sleeping bags are expensive.

When Nadeshiko sees Rin at their school for the first time, she excitedly asks Rin to join the club, thinking she’d be perfect for it given her interests. But no luck: she’s a true solo camper and has no interest in joining up.

Despite this refusal, Rin establishes a friendship with Nadeshiko and starts talking with her more about camping. And on her next solo outing, when Rin tells her old friend Ena where she’s camping over text as she often does, Nadeshiko unexpectedly shows up at the same campsite with her older sister. Rin is surprised, but far from being put out by it, she welcomes Nadeshiko over.

Ena at home with her dog, working behind the scenes to get Rin out of her shell/comfort zone.

As Rin gets to know Nadeshiko better, she also gets a bit closer to Chiaki Oogaki and Aoi Inuyama, the other two members of her club, and eventually after a few more solo outings of her own during which she texts and shares photos with them, she finally caves in. Not to join the club, no — that’s still way too far for her. But she does agree to join them for an overnight Christmas campout along with their newly roped-in club advisor, the new teacher Miss Toba, who takes the opportunity to get wasted (her other name being “Miss Chug” as it’s translated in the subtitles, which is applied in probably the most favorable way possible here.)

It’s not real cocoa without rum in it

That’s all this first season of Yuru Camp has in terms of plot. It’s not much — the actual events of this 12-episode run are pretty thin and there’s no conflict at all to speak of. Unless you count Rin not really wanting to join Nadeshiko in the Outclub, and nobody’s actually bothered by that, so I don’t even count it as a conflict. In that sense, this is very much the expected slice-of-life series.

But what it does have is so good that the lack of conflict or plot or any of that other standard story stuff is made into a positive. Yuru Camp is pure relaxation and comfort, and watching it had almost a healing effect on me. It’s even placed into another category of anime, iyashikei, a term I hadn’t heard before that refers to the healing qualities of a series like this. Healing for the psyche and the soul, I guess, and if that’s the point of Yuru Camp, it worked. Normally, as I’ve said before, I don’t go for this sort of slice-of-life stuff, but there’s something special about this series in particular that made it work for me.

The characters are a big part of this appeal. Even though she loves camping and I don’t, I can extremely relate to Rin’s desire for solitude. However, her contrast with the excitable, outgoing Nadeshiko does a lot to make this show interesting. Yeah, it is the standard “opposite leads” thing (I don’t know if there’s another name for it; I never took any bullshit creative writing courses so it has a proper one for all I know) but done really well. Rin and Nadeshiko’s interactions with their other friends were also always entertaining — I especially liked Aoi’s dry responses to Chiaki and Nadeshiko’s occasionally freaking out, and especially to Toba’s crying over forgetting to bring the proper kinds of booze for their trip. There’s plenty of good comedy in those back-and-forth bits.

There’s also some nice light commentary on weird social stuff, like bringing food over for your sick friend and then being roped into making dinner for everyone when you don’t really know how to cook just because you’re a local and are supposed to know the cuisine by heart. Of course, it all works out somehow.

The fact that the series in this season focuses almost entirely on camping also helps, I think, even though I have no interest in it myself. It was easy to forget at times that it’s sort of technically another school-setting series. Not that that’s always bad; I’ve praised quite a few school setting shows here on the site myself.

But Yuru Camp is something different. Aside from a bit of time spent in the club’s cramped room at school and talk about their final exams before their Christmas excursion, almost all the show takes place out in various campgrounds or on the way to them — at a rest stop, a restaurant, or a hot springs to refresh from the road. The few hot springs scenes throughout especially make me wish I were over there to try them out, since I don’t live on a volcanic island and don’t have easy access to such a thing, and a hot shower doesn’t feel like much of a substitute.

Yuru Camp features a lot of actual camping advice as well. I don’t think I’ll ever find any of it useful myself, but it will probably help out other viewers, especially if this series motivates them to try out camping for themselves.

Another major theme of Yuru Camp I didn’t expect to find was food. This show obsesses over food — it’s almost as much of a cooking series as Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, with dishes drawn and animated in just as lovingly a fashion. And the effect in this series is about the same: it emphasizes the power of shared meals to bring people together, as it does all the members of the club, Ena, and Rin. And even the drunk as hell Toba-sensei, who at least sobers up enough during the end-of-season Christmas camping trip to praise everyone’s cooking.

Also like Today’s Menu, all the food in Yuru Camp made me hungry for dishes I couldn’t make or easily get. I’m not sure how “healing” that was exactly, but I was happy at least to see Rin, Nadeshiko and company enjoying them.

Aside from all the great-looking barbecue and hot pot stuff, they pay tribute to the American classic s’mores, which I wasn’t expecting. I might not be much of a camper, but even I’ve had a few of these over a fire when I was a kid. Also Nadeshiko is a god damn cinnamon roll, more than any other character I’ve seen, and there are a few other contenders for sure.

Aside from all the new and growing friendships going on in Yuru Camp, I liked how the series dealt with Rin’s preference for solitude in general. Ena does push her a bit to get out and bond with Nadeshiko, and then later with Chiaki and Aoi, though always in a subtle way. At the same time, it’s never stated or even implied that Rin’s solo camping is a bad thing in itself, or that it’s a sign of her self-isolation or any such thing.

This is an important distinction, and one that isn’t always made. As much as I liked and still like a series like Nagatoro, for example, the “getting the lead out of his shell” story was almost always put in the context of a budding romance with the girl pulling him out of that self-imposed solitude. That setup works for that sort of series, since it is a romance and we naturally want to see the two romantic interests interact, but I think that approach just would have annoyed me in Yuru Camp (well, maybe you could make the same argument against Nagatoro and similar series, but those have different expectations for their characters.)

Even when you’re physically far from friends, it’s possible to be close.

All of the above helped make Yuru Camp into a real healing experience for me, or at least as close as watching anime can get to comforting the soul or however you want to put it. It might also be useful to you as a bit of camping advice, or even as a travel guide if you live in or are headed to Yamanashi Prefecture, where its characters live and where most of the series’ action takes place.

That doesn’t apply to me, but I still really enjoyed Yuru Camp. I haven’t given out numerical scores for a few years now, and I won’t start again — it works well for some other excellent writers and reviewers, but for some reason it doesn’t for me. However, I’ll give this series a rating in qualitative form: watching Yuru Camp made me hate life a little less. That’s my version of an A+, for what it’s worth.

And who knows, maybe I’ll bother going outside one day.

I’m not sure what I’ll watch next, but it may well be Yuru Camp season 2. I don’t normally break up established series like this, but I’ve heard the second season has a different feel than the first. It also sounds like a third season might be on its way at some point since a film is coming out this year, so I may as well go season by season while I have the time. Whatever I happen to watch and finish next, see you next time.

 

* I’m using the Japanese title now instead because it’s fewer letters to type and I don’t have to fuck with that irritating hyphen, and also because Yuru Camp seems to be how most people here refer to it anyway. Technically there’s also a Unicode triangle △ at the end of that title representing a tent, but I’m not messing with that either.

8 thoughts on “A review of Yuru Camp (S1)

  1. Exactly. Comfort and healing. I loved this show so much. I’m glad you watched and enjoyed. Great review and it does deserve an A+.(Also, I think this is Pomu’s fave too.) 🙂

  2. “Made me hate life a little less” is a pleasant effect of such series, and Yuru Camp△ has no peer amongst its contemporaries: this is the anime that both the Manga Time Kirara snobs (i.e. me) and slice-of-life haters both enjoy, which speaks to the magic here 🙂

    If you elect to go watch season two, there’s actually two surprises: the first is that Nadeshiko begins to contemplate the merits of Rin’s way of camping to show how group and solo activities complement, rather than displace, one another. The second is a spoiler, so we can discuss that when you cross the finish line!

    • It’s rare to find a series that can bring us all together like that!

      I’ll definitely be watching season 2, so I look forward to seeing that. It was nice to see how both Nadeshiko and Rin change from knowing each other so far.

  3. Apparently you’re not the only one with that biasness because that was my initial thoughts on Yuru Camp but I am glad to have been proven wrongly. I somehow feel that we need more anime like this after finishing Yuru Camp and I definitely appreciated its atmosphere. It feels the closest to a blissful or even Zen moments at times with the beautiful scenery they feature throughout the anime.

    • Same, and once I’m done with what there is of Yuru Camp right now I’d like to find more for sure. I’ve heard good things about Super Cub and that it has a similar vibe, may check it out too.

  4. Pingback: A review of Yuru Camp (S2) | Everything is bad for you
  5. Pingback: Jon’s April 2022 Creator Showcase: Sixty-Three Posts to Fill Your Spring Schedule! | A Nerdy Fujo Cries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.