Posted on 22 April 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario

Cute girls doing cute things is a genre that been done to death at this point. Even within this Winter 2018 we had been overloaded with big eyes fluffy face girls doing a lot of different things of interest. It takes a standout concept or a deeper narrative to make one stand out from this crowded pack. Enters Universe, an original show from Madhouse that has both of these. The show’s concept, after all, is about a group of high school girls making their trip to Antarctica, also known as the place further than the universe. Universe isn’t without its issues, the pacing in particular takes the girls way too long until they reach the destination. But to its defense this show is always more about the journey than the destination. It’s about experience life to the fullest and make friends who share the same interest in the process. The “friendship” bits can be contrived at times, but even with me (who isn’t that enthusiastic about it) realizes that the drama in this series is done quite well, as it always gives a satisfying emotional response to the conflicts it creates.

If there is one thing that I’m sure this show will be remembered for years to come, it’s the concept. Touring oversea isn’t that difficult nowadays compare to say, 20, 30 years ago, but a trip to Antarctica? Really? High school girls you say? What’s there to see in that icy place? How the hell do they get in there? Money? Lots of questions bound to come up upon hearing this premise and I’m happy to say that Universe never glosses over those issues, but instead approach them with a thoroughly research. Every stage of the trip is planned carefully, they never make light comments about high-school girls going for such harsh trip and indeed, they point out many times how extreme this trip can be. The expedition ship and the Antarctica place are so detailed that it’s easy to see the staffs made the same trip for their own research. It’s a joy to watch and know more about this little unheard place, to the point sometimes I feel this show is an advertisement for Antarctica (well, I’m sold). Moreover, a show that gives a detailed treatment to Singapore is always a plus (and I love durian!!).

What Universe also sells us is the way they frame this trip as a self-discovery, as a way to embrace the youth to their heart’s content. Mari, the show’s protagonist, is the perfect character for this trip. She worries about how she steps out of her comfort zone, and this trip makes a life-changing event, not necessary in terms of the specialty of Antarctica, but more about maturity. It also helps that the girls’ goal to reach the South Pole is much more than just “follow your own dreams”. Shirase is a girl that had her Mother disappeared in that very place, and it’s one of her resolve to go there just to be closer to her Mom. There’s also Hina who takes high school off but wants to experience something before college and most importantly, there’s Yuzuki, an idol who gets caught up with this trip and just tag along because she wants to travel with her new friends. And those make this trip a bit richer because doesn’t matter their own intention is, it’s the experience that they share together is the most important factor.

The girls make up a great central cast for us to follow. All 4 of the girls have different personalities, they have their own goals and their own backstories, and they have their own voices. Shirase, for example, is a no-nonsense but extremely unstable girl, whereas Mari is cheerful and acts like the emotional force of the group. Hina, my favorite character, has a wise (and bullying) side of her and Yuzuki somehow feels much more relatable through the way she loathes her “star” identity. Moreover, they bounce off extremely well and it’s a blast just to see the four girls interacting with each other. But most important of all, each of them has their own arc to overcome, and while some it I felt were made for the sake of creating conflict (in other words, unnatural), they always have a satisfying ending that elevate the shortcomings of the conflicts.

While the main theme is about self-discovery, I was a bit surprised to find out most of the show’s episodic conflicts are about the notion of friendships. Mari’s drama with her best friend, Megumi, for example, cuts unexpectedly but it cuts deep, mind you. Or Yuzuki’s little drama about “When will we know if we are friends” or Hina’s past issues with her secondary school friends. As a whole, I find the concentration to friendships theme a bit overplayed. Granted, their friendships in a nutshell are interesting ones. They haven’t known each other for so long and apart from this trip, they have very different lives. Yet Universe argues that as long as they share something together – be it getting seasick, eating a thousand-year-old snow corn or enjoying a view of mystical Southern light– they will always have a special place in each other’s heart.

The character designs and the production in general are in the more conservative side, but taken as a whole it fulfils its jobs nicely. There is a large amount of insert songs – most of them pretty heart-warming- so the music of Universe is solid overall. The pacing remains its biggest issue, as it takes until the end of episode 9 for the crew to finally takes their feet onto Antarctica icy ground. They could do it much better if they cut a bit of a transit section (Singapore and Australia, as well as on a ship section – another 2 episodes). Ultimately, Universe is a journey itself. It remains a feel-good show with relatable message of enjoying youth to the fullest and the girls make the most of their time on-screen. Certainly amongst the top tier of its cute girls pack.

Posted on 31 March 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

And Universe wraps up the best way it can. This finale, in truth, feels more like a victory lap where the plot can be simply summarized as the girls enjoy their last days in Antarctica before heading back home. Almost all the cast makes an appearance in some ways, and the girls have a chance to reflect how much this trip mean to them, how much they mean to each other and how much they have grown since the start, and of course, many goodbyes along the way. The first half turns out to be the most cute girls do cute things moments out of this entire show, where our girls go through the routine, enjoy the thousand year old snowcone, and play baseball with the rest of the team. There isn’t much arc for the girls anymore, consider that they have all gone through some kind of conflicts and have grown ever since. But nearly the end of the journey, Mari voices her (unreasonable) request: should they stay over during the winter as well? Of course, she knows better and Hinata quickly points out why they need to return to their world: they still have their own lives back in Japan, but nevertheless, all of them don’t want this journey to end. So they make a promise. A promise to go back here again, and a promise that their lives will cross again when that time comes.

Shirase, after the tearful arc last week, really grows up this time. She’s both mature enough to give a heartfelt speech to the expedition team (that brings the cold Gin to tears), the speech about the place further than the Universe make people face-to-face with their own selves, the thing that she had indeed experienced. In addition, Shirase manages to loose herself a bit. She manages to smile. A bright and worry-free smile, unlike her creepy smile at the start of the series. Shirase has always been a bit broken character, but now she’s truly embraces it and let her Mommy issues finally to rest. She moves on to the next stage, stressed by the way she cuts her hair short. At the end on their way back home, Universe proves once again they still have some tricks left to play. The aurora view is truly mesmerizing and otherworldly, but the emotional bang comes from the unsent message her mother left, probably hours, or even minutes before she disappeared. The view of the Southern night sky come into display, and for that very moment, I bet Shirase’s Mom felt that it was all worth it. And now the girls all know that for sure. A bit too much of a coincidence, perhaps, but it’s still well earned.

As the girls head back home, like Yuzuki afraid they may not have the time to be together again. They will go back to their normal lives, with some new old worries and some plans to overcome. But now they depart each other with the understanding that they had shared something unique to each other, and that won’t never change. The last moment, Universe finishes with a nice, pleasant surprise: Mari’s friend Megumi is in the up North Arctic now, enjoying the aurora just like Mari did. Isn’t it nice to see a side character still grows and matures outside the scope of this narrative? As a whole, while Universe doesn’t really win me over, I don’t deny they are pretty good with building up and resolve their little arcs, and the trip along them to the end of the world is pretty rewarding. The full review will come up soon so stay still, folks, and thank you for join in with me for the ride.

Posted on 23 March 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

For a show that sells on the idea of turning your normal life upside down and enjoy the youth to the fullest, the second half of Universe instead delved a bit too much on the friendship side that don’t speak much to that central theme. In this episode, the theme comes back with a bang, results in arguably its most emotional effective episode yet. Appropriately, the title of the episode is the same as the series’: A place further than the universe. The last place of Shirase and the expedition’s team’s goal. The place where Shirase’s Mom disappeared 3 years ago. The final destination. It’s also appropriate that Shirase is the main focus of this, because she’s the main drive for this trip to happen after all, and I’m glad that Universe pulled it off. For Shirase, the moments she got call out of class and received the news of her Mom disappearing, it all happens like a dream. A long dream she couldn’t wake up. I can relate to that not only because I’ve gone through this before, but also because it marked a point of no return for Shirase. Nothing would ever be the same for Shirase after that and ever since then, she pushed herself hard so that she can come to the place where the spirits of her Mom is still around.

But there’s also this other fear in Shirase, the fear the she would feel nothing. The fear that once she reaches the goal, there won’t be anything special and there won’t be any thing left to reach. Like, what’s next after that? Chasing her Mom dream to Antarctica has always been her own goal, probably to escape the pain of losing her at such young age and being left alone. If she can’t find anything there, will she be in that dream forever? She admits that she doesn’t feel anything special or overly connected to Antarctica, it’s just… like in a picture book. I like the way Universe acknowledges this. The most alluring aspect of a trip to Antarctica is the idea of going to a place faraway, not necessary the place itself. If you aren’t prepared, you’d end up disappointing, and even if you are, like Shirase, there’s no guarantee that you’d end up enjoying the place. That said, Mari offers a valid counterpoint to Shirase’s crisis. It’s about the journey rather than the destination. It’s about going together and experience these things together that make this trip worth it. Admittedly, that message is nothing new, every other show does this but I prefer the way it presented here. Mari’s point isn’t meant to change the way Shirase feel, it’s only serves as one’s perspective. Just like the way Gin told Shirase that she wanted to come back to Antarctica is for herself, “But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.” Shirase ultimately is the one who has to overcome her doubts herself.

And the girls, plus Gin and that other girl go to the inland trip to build an observatory deck, the idea that was originally from Shirase’s mom. In there, the girls experience the weather condition that I would have expected when I hear about Antarctica: extremely cold, vast ice of nothingness, and blizzard that could easily claim one’s life and change many other’s lives, and godlike sun pillar. The closer to the place where her Mom disappeared, the more Shirase sees fragments of her Mom here and there. It’s just like these moments still linger there, stuck in times. Everyone would claim (and rightfully so) that the episode’s climax where Shirase opens her Mom’s laptop is the most effective moment, but for me, it was the sequence before that. It was when the other four girls rush out to find out something, anything that could tell them the past existence of Shirase’s Mom. Now it isn’t her own journey anymore, but her goal is aligned with other girls. Now it is when the friendship theme merges together flawlessly with “finding goal and achieve goal” theme. The moment from Shirase saw their own photo sticking in the laptop, to when she types correctly the password the second times (it’s her birthday) and her own emails keep flooding up the screen, together with that soft, tender song are such a great way to conclude in high notes. Those unread emails are the statement that her efforts in those 3 years are indeed, real, and now she has to face the fact that Tanako is truly gone, and its’s the more heartbreaking when you notice that the reason her Mom went back to the base and disappeared might be because of this laptop and those emails (one thing though that bugs me is that they have wifi there in the middle of nowhere?). Also appropriately for an episode that feel like a closure, we don’t have any OP or ED this week. Everything ends in such tender note, and… we still have one more episode left. Now, what’s next?

Posted on 16 March 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

Another episode of Universe that delves into friendship issues. While I can see many hiccups along the way, I can still say the ride is worth it. Not that I think this episode stands out, rather that I don’t know exactly how I feel about this episode’s resolution. This episode features my favorite girl, a bullying/ lousy one of the group, Hinata, the most mature girl in the group, and at the same time, is up there as the most stubborn member. She had an issue with her track friends back in her middle school, an issue that (in her point of view, I must stress) was entirely her upperclassmen’s fault. At the end, you would expect she come to forgive her friends and you would expect a happy ending, right? Except it’s not. The climax is… refreshing to say the least. I respect the show for going another way other than happy route, where every fault can be forgiven and forgotten. This climax may sound mean-spirited, after all Hinata isn’t exactly a hero type and Shirase is always mean as hell; but Shirase can go to that level of meanie because she does care deeply for her friend.

I’m not sure what to feel about Hinata’s personal problem this time. Universe claims that she already moves on to the new adventures and now has many true friends, enjoying life that those girls couldn’t have experienced. The way I see it, however, the only person who is still stuck to that painful past is Hinata herself. She’s the one who refuses to talk to her ex-track team members, she’s the one who doesn’t want to deal with the issue head-on, she’s the one who is still in anger despite how many years had passed and she’s the one who still doesn’t forgive them in the end. That is fine, I guess, since it’s her decision and she make it clear every time that it’s her own issue. But it’s kinda problematic for me that the whole group, even Gin, support this. You don’t truly hear the story in the other girls’ point of view beside the email (and Hinata straight-up refused to talk to them), and they mean good so I don’t think they’re deserved to get dismissed like this. And when the adults not only don’t sort these things out, but also act like things going fine. It’s another kind of bullying, isn’t it?

But the tough case to crack is Shirase. In this episode, I am constantly reminded that Shirase is overstepping her role as a friend. I understand the intention: for someone who is headstrong and always act like nothing happened like Hinata, the stubbornness of Shirase is the only thing that can make Hinata opens up. They had a history back in Singapore; so they know a great deal about the other’s characteristics. I get it but reading others’ personal email is A NOT OKAY in any situation regardless if you are friends, partners, siblings or even married couples. A friend can be a shoulder for you to cry on, a friend is someone who has your back, correct, but Shirase has no right to act for Hinata regarding Hinata issues towards Hinata’s friends. She’s being stubborn, she said what Hinata feels, right, but who she is to judge other people “You can’t live your life in this half way state forever”?

But the point is, despite those issues above, I enjoyed this episode for start to finish. I feel the anger Hinata felt, I feel great when Shirase speaks up and the group members produce some rather unique chemistry together. Universe has spent a great deal of focus to the friendship dynamic. First with the surprising dark and sharp Mari – Megumi childhood friendship, to Hinata – Shirase the battle of stubbornness in Singapore, to Yuzuki friend complex and now the hidden past of Hinata. Each of this adds something more to the group’s chemistry, making them a total delight to watch. The girls, furthermore, have a chance to explore Antarctica so every place presented here is a treat by itself, whether it’s a stream so fresh that you can drink directly, a mountainous landscape that looks like a chocolate cake or the daylight sky that is bright and vast. The background designs are made-only-by Antarctica and it’s magnificent. Only 2 episodes left, while I do feel Universe losing a bit of its steam towards this final run, I still feel its foundation is strong enough to deliver what it promised.

Posted on 7 March 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

First, for those of you who awaited for my posts last week, my apology for the one-week hiatus where I just wanted nothing to do with writing or blogging. The fact that all the 3 shows I’m currently blogging were meh last week was a final nail in the coffin. For Universe in particular, can’t say I’m fond with all the forced drama these two episodes have been building up. Episode 9 explored the dynamic between Shirase and the captain Gin. There is some neat chemistry between the two of them, namely they all share the love of Antarctica and the mutual pain from the loss of Shirase’s mother. They also have an awkward relationship to each other, and I suspect it has more to do with them having the same personality. But instead of creating a conflict that naturally bring them together, Universe develops this plot thread by having the cast forcefully push them to confront each other. For me, the inconsistency lies in the way the show keeps selling that they can’t find a right way to communicate with each other, yet we’re given flashbacks dedicated to them spending time alone, flashback where the captain taught Shirase about the sky, and moments where they share their mutual interest over penguins and jumping rope.

The rest of episode 9 further underlines the length this Antarctica team could go to achieve their dreams. Last few episodes they highlighted the price those expedition members have to pay to come back to this trip again – all the broken dreams. This last week Universe stressed on the ship’s efforts to break the iceberg and move forward, quite literally against all odds. For Shirase, it’s a testament against friends who mocked her over her Antarctica dream. For the crew members, it’s a testament from Japan to the rest of the world for all the challenges they received – yet they do it and achieve it anyways. “In your face” thus sounds kinda mean-spirited to me, but yeah, the spirit is apparent there.

The forced emotional conflict continues with Yuzuki this week, who herself wonders if they somehow become friends over the course of their journey together; and forces the rest of the team members to sign a friendship contract as a proof of their friendship. If anything, it feels like Yuzuki just throwing an unnecessary tantrum here. She’s afraid that after this journey’s over, they will grow apart with new life and their closeness will be drifted away. You see, friendship is something intangible that it’s hard to put your finger on when and how much is enough. And it isn’t about those things either, since it means different things from different people. It’s more about knowing that your friends will have your back and stay behind you whenever you need them; about comfortably rely in each other whenever one’s needed.

We also get to see a day in a life in Antarctica throughout this episode 10. The team members get themselves acquainted with the new place and begin their routine of cleaning up and settling down to the place. I enjoyed the bits about finding the spot to defrost the chicken in the middle of this iceberg land and Hina’s note is priceless. The birthday cake at the end is a nice way to wrap up this little friendship’s drama on a good note, and with only 3 episodes left, let’s all see how life in a place further than the universe turns out to be.

Posted on 24 February 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

Aah seasickness. It sure brings back some memory. I remember once I got so sick on the boat that I still had that hangover feeling several days afterward where every food into my mouth tasted like cat food. But enough about me and let’s talk about this week’s Universe, where our girls experience the toughness of Mother nature for the first time, even before setting foot into Antarctica. This episode of Universe tackles two main ideas: the huge gap in physical and mental preparation between our girls and the rest of the crew; and those hardness the girls experiencing right now is relatively nothing compare to the South Pole. But what makes it tick is how Universe does it light-heartedly, all the while still serious enough to let the drama sinks in. The girls’ interaction remains a pleasure to watch, as those little silly moments still strengthen each of the girls’ personality. I’m still pretty much on board with this trip.

In the first half, we follow the girls adjusting to the life on board. Filming, doing a kitchen hand, following the crew’s daily routine (and it’s a harsh daily routine to boost, with all the timing and heavy workload). The girls find themselves out of their depth with all the running, weighting lift and only barely makes it there. And they were merely the preparation for the Antarctica trip to come. And things turn out even worse when the seasickness begins to kick in. Speaking of which, seasickness is a clear symbol to show how inexperience our girls are and serve as a great contrast between them first-timers to the rest of the team. Throwing up, unable to sleep, unable to eat, throwing up again. Les miserablés. And that’s not to mention the situation will eventually get harsher. The strong wind current and waves also cause the boat rocking, 50, 60 degree (That’s why we all need a hammock chair to prepare for these kind of situations). And all that was still relatively a child’s play compare to the extreme weather in Antarctica.

The girls have it worse, but they’re even more frustrated to see other crew members seemingly don’t affect by these conditions at all. As Yuzuki puts it, they have “different kind of organism”. Yeah, the idea of high school girls going to the South Pole is kinda fantasy-filled and unrealistic to begin with, but Madhouse team understands it and makes that premise utterly believable and relatable. It’s never easy for mere high-school girls to participate such a life-changing event without learning the hardness of all this. The girls feel themselves hard to keep up with everything, let alone contributing to the expedition team. But as Mari says it firmly in the end. It’s not that they don’t have a choice, it’s more like they always have a choice but they chose to go through all this. It’s just a change in the way you look at it. I’m quite surprised myself that Universe takes a sweet time in between (after their Japan’s stage, before the South Pole destination) but it’s a journey story and I enjoyed the journey thoroughly so far. Now the icebergs are in sight. Welcome to Antarctica, the place of true South where the sun rises and sets only once a year; and no official time-zone occurs given all lines of longitude emerge there. In a way, that makes the place timeless, doesn’t it?

Posted on 15 February 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

“I boarded this ship to do catchy, witty, sensational reporting! I want to open the treasure chest of Antarctica that my mother wrote about with my own hands! Everyone, let’s go to Antarctica together!”

Although Universe is a show about the girls heading off to freaking Antarctica, the last couple episodes make it clear that this is more about the journey than the destination. At such, I don’t really mind the lack of “what will happen in Antarctica” plot thread, if anything beside being the place that “further than the universe”, the show need to tell us why it attracts people in the first place. Everyone has their own motivation to go to the South Pole, as we’ve already seen in the girls; and this episode again shines in how they bring the adults’ goals to the table. As a result, while this episode takes place in Australia, unlike Singapore last week we just have a little glimpse here and there about the place, given the central setting of this episode is the ship itself and the people who board on that ship. This expedition just barely makes it there: they lack the supply, the people, the funding. What keeps this ship staying afloat is the determination of the past members – broken people. The people who give up part of their lives, the people who have lost hair, have gotten divorce, have lost the jobs and might have nothing when they return, yet they’re here in pursuit for this trip.

The first half runs much lighter in tone as we see the girls snooping around spying, led by our formidable Yuzuki that lead to some hilarious situations (I love how Hinata couldn’t care less about all this, just look at her in the screenshot), and how Shirase just keeps getting worse doing her sensational report (she’s as stiff as the wood, man). In addition, at this point I enjoy the girls’ interactions greatly, all their stupid hijinks together have such natural chemistry (like how Mari and Hinata always in synch when it comes to prank, or just look at Shirase’s multiple expressions while she was holding a stuffed bear).

There’s a solid reason behind their spying though, up until this point the expedition has been received negatively by the media. They are lacking in everything, and even some of the crew doubt about their chance of accomplish anything. The more they investigate, the more they realize that it was Shirase’s mother determination that started it all and Gin and Kanae, and the group at large want to fulfill what she started but couldn’t finish. Universe makes us realize that sometimes, these ambitious quests come from a very personal dream. Shirase’s mother is the heart that keeps these people moving on, or to be more precise, keeps them from moving on, given parts of their soul remain in Antarctica forever. And if Shirase’s moving speech at the end is any indication, that spirits will continue to live on for generations.

Posted on 8 February 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

Are you serious girls? Durian ice cream is damn delicious. Durian is THE KING of fruit. Not kidding!

Now that our girls are heading out of their nest, and literally in the middle of their journey, it’s obvious that Universe need to create some kind of conflicts for the girls. But I say this, Universe knows how to pull a compelling little drama, mostly because those dramas still focus on developing the core members. While I’m not too fond with the end result where everything reverses back to status quo, the way Universe explores the relationship between my girl Hinata and Shirase through their contrasted stubborn view is so well-developed. The tale of this week is one of the most common situation first-time travellers find themselves in – lose their passport or their money. Actually, the show is pretty spot on in detailing many pitfalls new travellers always make: making noise in the airplane, buying too much souvenir stuffs, eating overpriced foods, storming into tourist spots… I have travelled a fair bit myself and I have been in Singapore a few times so I’m happy to see that Singapore’s many famous attractions are accurately portrayed and all the details (like the flights, the hotel) are depicted exactly like in real life. And yes, durian is a big thing here in SEA countries. Don’t judge.

The conflict arises when Hinata can’t find her passport (in one of the show’s great quirk about Yuzuki can see through her friends whenever they’re lying or hiding something – must be because she’s an expert of acting), which might lead to the delays on their next flight to Freemantle, which in turn could result in them not be able to get on the ship on time. Although there’s no denying that it’s a forced plot just for the purpose of creating some conflicts, what grab me into this little drama is the two girls act the way I WOULD ACT if I fall into either one of their shoes. Shirase tends to freak out when her plan doesn’t go the way she wants, and going to Antarctica has been her top priority. Hinata understands that and she doesn’t want to bring her friends, or her pride, down because of her own mistakes. Even me in real life I have the same kind of mentality like Hinata, where I feel uncomfortable knowing the others being considerate of me instead of what they really want because I can’t tell what they think anymore. It’s like a veil of friendship’s obligation that cover the honesty and then things just become more complicated than it should be. Of course it isn’t that strong a reason enough for me to quit school (Hinata has balls), but I can get behind her decision not want to be a burden to her friends.

But being said that, I totally feel for Shirase’s side as well. Obviously, setting foot into Anartica is important, and they’re so close to achieve that dream, goddamnit; but it’s not the only important things for Shirase. Going there together with friends worth so much more and what is a more meaningful way to spend a million yen over a friend’s bad deed (and yes, Shirase’s argument has more weight because she has a big stack of cash and a big stack of cash does solve everything). For me, the show comes up with the best option for her to use what she had been saving up for years in an anti-climactic yet wholly satisfied fashion. So imagine my disappointment when the money eventually got back to Shirase in the end. Never mind, while this episode is clearly just a stepping stone for a big journey coming, I’m still happy with what we have here. Seeing Singapore in anime is a huge delight and Universe never forgets to throw our girls into some kind of trouble, because simply overcoming those troubles will make them more mature, and what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger.

Posted on 2 February 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

When you embark on a new adventure, you leave behind all the things normally tie you down. It’s one of the central theme of Universe’s this week episode. Bravos to Universe who manages to scratch an itch that we don’t know we have. Not only Mari and her friends saying goodbye with their normal routines, they are breaking chains with all the established relationship at the same time. Not in a bad way since Mari was over-reliant to her friend Megumi up to that point. Honestly, I didn’t see the final confrontation between Mari and Megumi at all, but it was a welcome surprise. This conflict is emotionally charged and directly addresses many core themes of Universe. But before addressing that, I certainly relate all too well to Mari’s last scan through her room, then her house before going off to the new place. Granted it’s only three months in her case but the show nails that melancholic feeling. I moved not only interstates, but also overseas a number of times and every single time this was a moment that got to me personally: the feeling of saying goodbye to your “home”, and the knowledge that the next time you come back it won’t never be the same again. But I understand this is Universe’s main message: Breaking free and embrace new changes because when you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to grow to adapt. And that’s is the joy in life, to experience life to the fullest.

Megumi and Mari’s friendship, I should note, had always been kind of unbalanced to begin with, way before we encounter them for the first time. Mari has always relied on her friend, and overtime Megumi just takes that for granted, feeling that she’s a big sis, although technically they are in the same age. So imagine how Megumi feel when that “little sis” won’t stay cute anymore and grows rapidly and begins to surpass her. I do have a feeling that final conflict comes a bit out of left field, but it’s because we don’t see that dark side much given we were entirely in Mari’s perspective. Megumi feels jealous with the sudden shifts of Mari, and wanted to make their life harder so that Mari would notice. All the hints are there (it did cross my mind last week how the hell her Mother/neighbor knew about this, so thumps-up to Universe for a proper foreshadowing), but the girls are too “moron” to even pick up the signal that Megumi was the one behind all that. Or it’s just like how my Hinata mentioned “Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high”. That all those rumors are just so insignificant, that all Megumi’s effort isn’t even worth to unravel. Mari has apparently moved on so much.

But like our Mari, Universe is an optimistic show at heart. All these dark emotional outbursts are only a way to bring out the hopeful sentiments that the very act of admitting that one feels empty and worthless is a right step to change and improve oneself. It’s all about characters pushing others to be a better people. That’s why instead of resenting her friend for what she did, Mari embraces her with a powerful line “Breakup rejected”. This episode is another necessary step of their own journey, and I hope as the show goes further down under, it still remebers to develop our main girls. Shirase will have a chance to know more about her Mother, and from the worn-out shoes I hope there’s more in store for Hinata to develop, even Yuzuki I hope Universe gives more room for her character arc (I only know her through her wanted to be a normal girl and her wish to have friends – I need more). Next stop, Australia (or maybe Singapore? Why Singapore in the last credit?), bring it on and make life crazy, girls.

Posted on 26 January 2018 with categories: A Place Further than the Universe, Currently Watching:

Universe takes another firm step towards the Antarctica trip, this time more about the actual preparation: parents’ approval, training and the likes. We’re still far away from the final destination, and I suspect it’d take a few more episodes before the girls arrive to the South Pole. Not that I complain because these build-ups make this journey much more believable. It helps that the direction so far smartly conveys the tones it tries to bring across. Take the scene where Mari tries to get her Mom’s approval for example. The show knows how to play up the fear of Mari of being caught red-handed for arranging her trip without her Mom’s knowledge (Mari, it’d be wiser to ask your Dad instead). It constantly builds the atmosphere up, and then play out in a spooky playful nature (remember what did the little sister do when they realize their Mom knows? She shuts the door. I’m outta here. Case closed). Priceless. Or take the scene where the girls being underwhelmed inside the old van? Universe shows us not only their disappointments, but the condition of the car: the girls crammed up in small seats, stack of papers about funding, the small note sticking at the cassette telling them it’s broken, an expensive car passing it to put more salt to the wound… Those little details certainly help make this preparation phase more entertaining.

On to the 4-day training trip, I certainly feel related to how clueless the girls are when they have to do the actual field trip. Simple matters like which eye they should use, your left or my left, take note about altitude… the basic of mountain climbing, but there’s always first time for everyone. On that field trip, the girls meet their captain, Toudou Gin, whom sharing with Shirase the same pain: the loss of Shirase’s mother. It creates quite a tense tension between the two, so I expect we will learn more about her mother through their chemistry once they’re arriving to Antarctica. One potential conflict before they’re reaching the destination, though, is how Megumi (Mari’s best friend) feels a bit “uneasy” towards Mari’s plan. She has been the voice of reason for Mari to walk the fine line between “reaching your dream” and “taking realistic actions”, but her warming about feeling regret when you’re trying to hard but not achieving it sound off to me. It’s the opposite, and it’s not like her to say something like that. I guess we will have to wait until next week to see what Universe has in store for us regarding this plot thread.

One of my fear after the quartet is finally formed, is how then they will become less dominant and exist only as the group’s member with no real personality. Well, so far Universe hasn’t fall into that trap yet, given the cast still produces some neat chemistry together, and give both Mari and Shirase some more ground to develop. In Universe, Shirase has always been the one who drives the plot forward, and Mari is our emotional investment. This time again, when talking to Gin, she makes it clear that although Shirase was the invite them to the trip, it’s ultimately HER trip now – the place where she herself really wants to go and explore, along with all the friends she has made. Antarctica show is still looking strong at the moment.

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