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Friday, January 5, 2018

Anime Hajime Review: Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Civilization is gone. Humanity is on its last leg. Supplies are running low. Fewer and fewer novelties of the past remain. And in a small, rugged vehicle, two girls journey through it all.

Chito (voiced by Inori Minase) and Yuuri (voiced by Yurika Kubo) have only known this world. Traveling and scavenging are second nature to them. Having been alone for so long, they understand little of what was. Then again, there is no need to care about any of that anymore.

On occasion, this duo will find something to break their daily grind. Sometimes it’s a relic from an era forgotten. Sometimes it’s a fellow human being. When this happens, they have the chance to rest for a while. But no location has enough material to last forever. Sooner or later, the two must keep moving.

Wake up. Survive. Discover. Repeat.

Chito and Yuuri do what they can with what little is left. Along the way, they think about the things most don’t even consider. And its best somebody does this now. Eventually, there will be no one around to think anything anymore.

Series Positives

In my Himouto Umaru-chan R review, I said it was one of the shows high on my “to watch” list from the Fall 2017 anime season. With Himouto, there was a genuine sense of anticipation. That anticipation came from having already enjoyed the series beforehand. It didn’t take much to re-capture my interest.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, (SSR) grabbed my attention as well. Yet unlike Himouto, which carried a sense of continuation, this series had an air of the unknown. I had no idea what this show would be about. The only thing I had to go on was this story’s aesthetics.

Much like Gakkou Gurashi was several months prior to this review, SSR’s style didn’t appear to fit with its reality. For comparison, Gurashi was a school life anime mixed with the horrors of the zombie outbreak. Here it was…Well, that’s the thing. I couldn’t put my finger on what I was getting into.

Would SSR be a war story? Would this be a slice-of-life? Would it be tragic, would it be dark? Then I saw this series listed as science fiction and drama. What did that entail? There were all these possible routes. And at the center of this show were, in the absence of a better phrase, two very anime looking girls. There was an obvious juxtaposition going on. But what that was, eluded me.

As a result, I was looking forward to this show more than I was with Himouto. I respect any story that plays around with genre expectations. When you forgo the notion of what a specific type of narrative is supposed to look like, that opens up so many doors. Any combination, in the hands of a competent storyteller, can work. And when this does work, this often results in some pretty amazing stuff. Gakkou Gurashi is proof of that. And now, so is SSR.

This series was fantastic. 

If you’re looking for something that will entertain you for a couple of hours, then this may not be the series for you. I can’t say that this story was heavy, but feel-good wasn’t the default. Yet neither was sad, depressing, or tragic. This show had topics it wanted to discuss, things it wanted to bring up.

Any emotions that came as a result were intrinsic in nature.

Also, there’s no denying that SSR is a series of our time. Not to go too far into this matter, given the state of today’s world, this hit a little close to home. This show didn’t need to try that hard to accomplish this. So, it didn’t bother wasting energy on this, which was a huge positive point to SSR.

This series didn’t feel it necessary to beat us over the head with a message. Instead, it would either provide a scenario, a question, or a point, talk about it, and then move on. There was little exposition if any. This show will require some inference on your part.

For example, SSR took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. How did this world get to this point? When did this world get to this point? That latter question is particularly hard to answer. Future tech filled the backgrounds. Civilization reached a point we have not gotten to. But this never went to the realm of pure science fantasy. Yet our main characters were traveling in what I can only imagine was a World War II-era vehicle. This plays into the former question.

How did this get to this point?

Was it a war? Was it a famine? Was it a disease? Was it a combination of all the above? One is not less valid than the others. If you think a single reason gives perspective to this story, go with it. I won’t argue with you because you’re not wrong.

The way I took it, “how” is irrelevant. Whatever happened doesn’t change the fact that it happened. In the shadows of what could only be the pinnacle of human accomplishment, there was a blank slate. This provided the environment to offer a change in perspective.

Put yourself in the shoes of Chito and Yuuri. How would you interpret everything around you? In what ways would you come to understand what came before?

And while you’re thinking about this kind of stuff, be sure to keep your eyes open too. SSR was a beautiful looking series. There weren’t many opportunities for fast motions or high-speed action scenes. Nevertheless, this show found ways to be stunning.

The scale of this story wasn’t subdued. When next to how void of life this city our mains were exploring was, the sheer size of it was daunting. The emptiness was eerie. The quietness was unsettling. But that was only on the surface.

Ever been to a school after hours? It’s terrifying. It’s no wonder so many horror stories take place in one. Now replace school with a metropolis. I know I can’t even begin to comprehend what that would even be like. But that’s only because there’s this image of life ingrained into my mind. It’s why the idea of end times is so scary.

Yet with Chito and Yuuri who didn’t know anything else. They didn’t see a frightening world. And the animation reflected that. The way the light of the Moon, the stars, and the Sun engulfed these surroundings was powerful. Then there were moments, if I can be a little corny for a second, that were magical.

And can you believe I haven’t even gotten to the best aspects of this show?

Chito and Yuuri

This was a story which employed a heavy reliance on characters. More so than most other series. Saying that and knowing what this show had to work with, I’m nothing less than astonished.

In the past, I’ve talked about how only a small number of characters managed to carry a series. Sometimes there is a person or a duo who steal the spotlight. It doesn’t matter how big the rest of a cast may be, these select individuals are the entire show. SSR is one of those rare occurrences where that’s literal. Chito and Yuuri were it. For the majority of this story, they were all we had.

Granted, on occasion, there were a handful of other characters who came on board. Except using the word “handful” indicates more people than there actually were. Excluding Chito and Yuuri, I can count on one hand everyone in this show. And I don’t even have to use all five fingers.

Yet despite that, like I said, SSR was a character-driven narrative.

So, let’s play this game for a second. What if Chito and Yuuri weren’t interesting? What if they didn’t work as characters or as a pair? I can tell you one thing. This show wouldn’t have failed. No, this show wouldn’t have existed.

By necessity, our two leads needed to be good. And they were. But more than that, if how much I’ve already praised this show is any indication, SSR took them a step further.

I’m predicting that in time, Chito and Yuuri will rise to become one the most memorable duos in anime.

The relationship between these two went beyond friendship. It went beyond sisterhood. They were two halves of a whole. You could, in many ways, think of them as a single character. The strengths and weaknesses of one complimented the other.

Chito was calm and grounded. She was inquisitive and rational. Of the pair, she would take the time to think of a plan before acting. This made her careful and deliberate. The small details Yuuri would ignore, Chito put a lot of stock in. Everything needed to have some sort of purpose in order to be worth doing.

Yet it was this rationale that made Chito too reserved. If she had her way, the two would travel from point to point with no detours. There would be no time for exploration or creativity. The path of least resistance is not always the most interesting one. Yuuri was that spark.

If there were two ways to go about something, Yuuri would find the third path. She was laid back and didn’t worry about the chores of living day to day. Where Chito would sit out a rainstorm in silence, Yuuri would make it a moment worth remembering. Something existing was enough of a reason to at least try it out.

The downside to this was Yuuri’s impulsiveness. Every rule you can think of is a rule because someone somewhere screwed something up once. Yuuri would be that person to screw up. If Chito wasn’t around, no progress would happen since every tool would be broken due to lack of upkeep.

These two were the extremes of existence. Chito was survival and Yuuri was living. Both are important. But too much of one and not enough of the other leads to problems. You either become a machine or you’re asking for an early grave. That’s why these two aspects need to be in balance.

And it was this balance that was the source of why Chito and Yuuri were so compelling. While you can think of them as one person, it does take away the novelty of them being separate. The conversations they had, the predicaments they found themselves in, were fascinating. Why, because they were working together.

When these two played off each other SSR ran the entire gambit. There were funny moments. There were heartwarming moments. There were gripping, insightful, and uplifting moments. None of these felt out of place. None of these felt forced. These were natural.

This is why I said this series astonished me. With so little of anything else, everything had to come from these two. If Chito and Yuuri were bland, this story would have had no foundation to build its greatest feature.

Tone and Atmosphere

There is no single way to describe this show. It was so many different things. And that was the best part of this series.

SSR always had at least two tones going on at once. Often these tones were opposites. This series was very relaxing but was also very tense. It seemed like something was on the verge of breaking. Except there was nothing to break.

There was one scene that was a perfect illustration of this. I won’t say when it happened or give too many details because I don’t want to impose my interpretation on it. What I will say, it was a pretty good representation of our current world.

Never before have we been this inundated with information. We only need to reach into our pockets and we have instant access to whatever we want to know. Though we try to pick and choose what we get to see, bits of everything find their way to us. This is especially true with good news. Too bad it's even truer with scary news. It’s sometimes hard to see how these things can be connected.

Yet there is a connection. Everything is happening at the same time. Never is the best or worst thing imaginable the only thing going on. That’s both uplifting and depressing. Two polar opposites happening simultaneously.

That was SSR.

This show created an atmosphere that puts you in the mood to think. This was every episode. This was almost every scene. Nowhere was this more real, to me, than in episode nine. I was already into this series long before this point. But this was where it hit that SSR was something special.

And the best part about this, every episode in this show had that potential. Episode nine just happened to be the one that resonated with me the hardest. It won’t surprise me if this moment comes somewhere else for someone else.

Series Negatives

This was one of those shows I didn’t have too many problems with. Still, there are things I can and will talk about.

Please keep in mind, though, what I’m about to say I don’t see as big issues. Actually, some of them I don’t see as issues in the slightest.

For instance, SSR did have a slow pace. It took its time to do what it wanted to do. This story wasn’t in any kind of rush. If you’re expecting thrills and excitement, you’re not going to find them here.

Again, this was a thought oriented series.

Some people can’t get into this type of show. I understand that. Therefore, it is important for you to know what you’re getting into. It doesn’t matter how solid I make a story sound. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not your cup of tea.

To each their own.

That out of the way, there were two things that I found odd. Not bad per say except I can’t help but wonder about them. And with how good the rest of SSR was, these two notes stick out to me.

The first was the final episode. This was by no means an awful way to close off this show. In fact, this series did the right thing and ended. Narrative-wise, there is no need to continue. This was a satisfying finale.

That said, SSR ventured into the surreal territory, more so than at any point before. This was the closest thing to an answer this show gave. Had it gone any further than it did, it would have been disappointing. What remained pulled away from the more grounded nature of this series.

Sure, there was a ton of science fiction throughout this story. Yet that fiction was never too fantastical. I was alright believing this show wasn’t too far removed from reality. This ending, on the other hand, was the first real bit of heavy fiction.

The second oddity is harder to explain. It may not even be anything and I’m overthinking this. But regardless, something felt missing.

Let me explain.

This series brought up a lot of interesting points. This story talked about a lot of different things. Yet there was one topic that never came up. That by itself is fine if that was never the intention. Except it felt like that was where this show was going. But then story never took that step.

I suppose it is a spoiler to say what wasn’t in SSR. Too bad I have no other way to make my point clear. This show never brought up the subject of death or loss. We explored what life was. In my mind, it only makes sense to go to the other side.

On a few occasions, this series appeared ready to take this plunge. And then nothing would come of it.

This is why I say this was an oddity. This didn’t take away anything and it's not that big of a deal. But as I see it, imagine seeing a dollar on the ground. It’s weirder to me if you don’t try to pick it up.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that I liked this one.

This series was fascinating. And it did this in a way that was unique and thus made it all the more fascinating. Everything came together to create an environment to think and to wonder. This show never tried to force a perspective on to us. It presented a situation and let us do the rest.

Along the way, the animation was beautiful. Our lead characters, Chito and Yuuri, had a ton of responsibility in carrying this story. This was a job they pull off with flying colors. This series was smart and had a purpose in mind.

I could not be any happier with what I saw. Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou is one hundred percent worth checking out.

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