Laid-Back Camp is the Perfect Winter Anime

I'm always looking for a profound viewing experience - something cerebral. The kind of things others might view as too heavy or pretentious. But sometimes I just want to chill and enjoy something laid back. Laid-Back Camp (or Yuru Camp, as it's known in Japan) is exactly that. I mean, it's there in the name. And no, it's not an Animal Crossing spin-off. It's an anime that aired from early January to late March of this year as part of the ongoing wave of slice of life anime shows that have been popping up in abundance ever since K-On! and Lucky Star proved how fun it is to watch a bunch of animated schoolgirls do everyday things in amusing ways. Unfortunately with popularity comes oversaturation, and the average anime fan just can't be bothered sifting through all the uninspired crap to find something of quality. I was lucky enough to stumble upon Laid-Back Camp while browsing MyAnimeList (MAL gang represent). I was intrigued to watch it due to its winter setting, and it turned out to be something very special indeed.

Laid-Back Camp predominantly focuses on Rin, a quiet introvert who enjoys camping alone. The first episode sees her travelling to a campsite that faces Mt. Fuji. We watch as she, being somewhat of a camping prodigy, sets up her tent and makes a fire, along with a number of other camping-related things. Every step of these activities is animated with precise detail and accompanied by the endearing voice of an old gentleman who explains to viewers what is being done and why the way Rin is doing it is the most effective method. I know nothing about camping, and probably won't be doing it anytime soon, but these little tutorials are still an absolute delight to watch, and informative in all the right ways; even cute at times, with inanimate objects being given little voices (I see you, Pinecone-Kun). Laid-Back Camp goes out to prove that solitude doesn't have to mean boredom.
Speaking of things that aren't boring, the yin to Rin's yang is the bright-eyed ball of energy that is Nadeshiko, a girl who she encounters during this camping trip. Nadeshiko is instantly impressed and inspired by Rin's knack for camping. Rin lets Nadeshiko share her noodles and the rest is history. Friends forever. Well, kinda.

You see, one of the refreshing things about Laid-Back Camp is the subtle but realistic portrayal of Rin's introversion and how she comes out of her shell over the course of the series. Her personality isn't just some trope that is disposed of when it becomes convenient, but an actual part of her character. While a lot of anime shows of this kind tend to force characters together for the purposes of plot and comedy, Rin never betrays her personality. The writers have made an effort to work around her to craft something with a little more substance and feeling than your average slice of life romp.
Her only friend at the start of the series is Ena, a classmate who is understanding of her preference for doing things solo. While Rin does warm to Nadeshiko in the first episode, it doesn't mean that they are seen together constantly from then on. Even when Aoi and Chiaki, two members of the school's Outdoor Activities club come into the frame, Rin's companionship with them isn't immediate either. She remains an outsider throughout, never actually joining the club, and continuing to camp on her own while the others follow their own little journey, camping together elsewhere. Gradually, Nadeshiko starts to function more and more as the go-between for both groups. While Rin and Nadeshiko camp together a few times throughout Laid-Back Camp's twelve episode span, the full group doesn't come together until the end of the series. Rin's willingness to let more people into her life is a slow and gradual process, to the point that when she finally shares tender moments together with Nadeshiko, Ena, Aoi and Chaki as a complete group, it feels genuinely meaningful.

Now for some word association. The best way to describe Laid-Back Camp is... quiet, thoughtful, subdued. Everything feels turned up to four and no more, but that is what gives the show so much atmosphere. The music, the sound effects, everything is so minor and peaceful. Everything these girls do is distinctly ordinary, but their lovable personalities and funny interactions never fail to promote a warm, safe, happy feeling within the spaces they inhabit. You learn to love their surroundings as much as they do, from the comedically narrow Outdoor Activities club room to the campsites that they visit. The outdoor scenery feels vast and wide compared to these miniature protagonists, and the way their colourful outfits stand out against these muted backdrops almost feels like a metaphor for the enjoyment and sense of adventure they bring to the drab, but equally beautiful winter setting in which the anime takes place.

Laid-Back Camp is without a doubt one of the best anime shows I've seen in a long time. It avoids the obnoxious trappings of its oversaturated genre with patient writing and lovable characters. It was the appropriate escape I needed last winter, something that never failed to make me smile, while remaining rooted in reality all at the same time. It seems that Laid-Back Camp inspired a similar kind of feeling in more than just me though, as in the space of a year it is already looking to be the next slice of life sensation, filling the void that K-On! once occupied. Another season and a movie are apparently in the works, which is incredibly exciting news, as long as they continue to capture the same feeling that made the original series so magical. Regardless of what happens to this series in the future, the first season is absolutely wonderful, and definitely something that will provide you with some much needed warm fuzzies in the cold winter months ahead. Go watch it now on Crunchyroll!

Merry Christmas, and a massive thanks for reading Alt:Mag this year!

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