What happens when the storm has passed, and the pieces of your surroundings are thrown by the wayside? Can you easily pick up where you once were? Will you laugh again, be able to smile, or even commence with small talk as if the torment of what you experienced was but a mere footnote of your life?
I bring these questions up because watching Girls' Last Tour has made me think of how the human mind works after one experiences something like war. Sure, we see many movies and documentaries about soldiers having a good laugh before and after a ferocious battle, with the concept of war itself parodied by many since the dawn of entertainment. But what if the most gravest of situations occurs after a war? What if you find yourself with a friend roaming the remains of the world, with barely another soul to talk to? That's the kind of tale Girls' Last Tour is conveying.
Based on the manga by Tsukumizu, Girls' Last Tour focuses on two female soldiers after a war wipes up nearly all of civilization. The more focused Chito (Inori Minase) takes helm of their modified Kettenkrad, seeking out any sign of life or sustenance. Her friend Yuuri (Yurika Koba) is the far easy-going of the two, looking for ways to lighten up the mood by any means. As they traverse through the cold and haunting landscapes, the bond between them becomes stronger, even if the stress of survival gets to them.
While the cause of this post-civilized planet has yet to be revealed, one can only imagine the multitude of causes that could link to such a catastrophe. Nuclear winter, illness, worldwide genocide, famine, the list goes on for why these two soldiers are one of the few remaining humans left. And yet, it's not about the cause of the problem, but rather how one perseveres through it. What we see through the eyes of both Chito and Yuuri is the will to keep on going, even if the giant rock they're on is on its last legs.
Although the planet is bleak, the attitudes of these two women are not. Rather, despite their situation, they can't help but find something to joke about, especially when it's Yuuri making the silliest of observations. We only get a sprinkling of what these two experienced on the battlefield in the first episode, but for the majority of the show it's just the two of them talking it out, finding rations and strange things, and even coming across the one-off person or two. Even with what appears to be an eternal winter, the warmth that Chito and Yuuri have easily outmatches it.
It's when fate offers them a break when the show begins to shine. Whether it's the discovery of hot water, a secure place to sleep, or even the entertainment of a musically sound rain, moments like these are what keep Chito and Yuuri's heads up throughout most of the tougher times. Even when Yuuri puts a gun to Chito's temple in order to gain the last snack of the day, these intense moments are simply scoffed as minor arguments that end with a laugh.
Girls' Last Tour is certainly one of the deepest and most profound anime of the iyashikei genre that I've come across. Most other shows have a means of making its viewers relax because its content is supposed to be relaxing. (Series like Non Non Biyori and Amanchu! are two that do a stand-up job with such a task.) But the tale of Chito and Yuuri is calm because the world itself is calm, albeit more of a bone-chilling kind than a soothing one. What they've probably been through before we first meet them is something no person should ever experience, and while it's a day-to-day struggle to survive, the two soldiers can at least breathe a sigh of relief that no person out there is going to try and kill them in their sleep.
Rather, the folks they do meet with are trying to keep their sanity in similar fashions as they are. The traveler Kanazawa (Akira Ishida) is attempting to map a city he's residing in for historical purposes, whereas the scientist Ishii (Kotono Mitsuishi) dreams of flying from one place to another with an airplane she's attempting to build. There are no serious conflicts between these characters, nor do they have anything to truly squabble over. This is but a story of finding ways to keep on living, even when the odds are stacked high against them.
As the series focuses primarily on just Chito and Yuuri, most of the anime is shouldered on the performance of their respective actresses. It's why the chemistry between the two characters is a surefire delight to listen to, with Kubo's Yuuri ready to brighten up the mood against Minase's Chito's realist approach to their surroundings. They're like a well-trained comedy duo pushed to the brink of a kill-or-be-killed society, where no one is around to laugh at their banter and instead have to find a means of entertaining one another. Their mannerisms, attitude, and even punchlines have a sort of PG-rated dark comedy ting to it, as if Samuel Beckett was asked to make a kid's show about war and this was his response.
It's a marvel how White Fox (Matoi the Sacred Slayer, The Devil is a Part-Timer!) has brought Girls' Last Tour to life. The worlds are presented in a shade of gray, with buildings and landscapes seemingly crumbling due to whatever catastrophe caused the near-extinction of life. When a new discovery is found, such as the temple or the bread factory, the world brightens up for the two soldiers in ways they thought they'd never experience against. Perhaps this is why the design of the characters has a childish moé-blob style to it, with its cuteness contrasting with the bleakness of the women's surroundings.
There's a minimalist take on the score by Kenichiro Suehiro (Space Patrol Luluco, Re:ZERO) that adds to the atmosphere to the show. Almost haunting in places and never too boastful, the music fits perfectly to the surreal quietness that Chito and Yuuri find themselves waking up to every day. A contrast to the score, the theme songs by Minase & Kubo are but a sheer delight to listen to, with the message of moving forward in the opener "Ugoku, Ugoku" nicely bookending the positive and party-worthy closer "One More Night."
Never have I come across a post-war series of any kind quite like Girls' Last Tour. Funny, poignant, soothing, and visually unique, the misadventures of Chito and Yuuri bring forth the most awe-striking moments in anime this season. For a show this gray to deliver something so bright in the fall catalog is a testament to how wonderful this medium can be at times. Consider it a war crime of the highest matters if one were to miss Girls' Last Tour for any reason.
Final Grade (not an average):
Girls' Last Tour can be viewed on Anime Strike, and has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks. Episodes 1-7 were observed for this review.
Background Noise: Hymn to the Immortal Wind by mono - The four-piece instrumental rockers from Japan always manage to craft the greatest soundtracks to films that don't exist. Their 2009 album is their magnum opus, bringing together an orchestra and a story that focuses on the concept of a love that goes beyond even death. The crashing of emotions in "Ashes in the Snow" and "The Battle To Heaven" are contrasted with the quietness of "Follow the Map" and "Everlasting Light," as the band and its orchestra fight together and against one another to lay claim to that final epic musical note to linger in the air.