Guess who’s about to get all sappy about animated girls in Antarctica? It’s me! But it is the last time, so I may as well go all out.
I took a risk, deciding to write about this show in such depth as it was airing. Usually my anime episode writeups are for series I’m rewatching and reflecting on (or the sequel to something I was already invested in, at least). It was unusual to commit to a big blogging project like this based on only a couple of episodes exposure and no prior interest, and probably not a great idea considering I had so much other stuff to post at the time. But I was compelled. Something about A Place Further Than the Universe just hit me in the heart in a way that not many series premieres have, and I knew that not only did I have to keep watching, but I had to write about it too—and no, some thematic studies or a full-series review once it was finished simply would not do.
The sweetness and authenticity of the characters, the bittersweet realism and emotional weight of their struggles, and the fascinating premise, were enough to hook not just my audience brain but my analyst brain. And here we are at the end of it all. That risk definitely paid off, and not just because poor ToraDora! is now feeling less lonely as the only high school dramedy in a tag full of supernatural action. Universe made me laugh and cry in equal measure, it has a lovely sincerity to even its most goofy moments, and it turned into a poignant exploration of love and grief in a way that was powerful without ever being overdone. It’s one of the most moving female coming-of-age stories I’ve come across. It’s almost heartbreaking to see it end, except that it comes to such a nice conclusion.
Quite some time has passed between episode twelve and episode thirteen, with the series’ finale covering the gang’s final day in Antarctica. On one hand, I would have liked to see the emotional consequences of where we left off, and the change in Shirase, occur at a more gradual pace, but adding more episodes would mean that the cathartic release of finding the laptop was no longer the story’s climax. Thirteen very much lets us all come down from that emotional high and land on something soft.
It gives us a vision of what has become an ordinary day at the frozen edge of the world, with the girls going about their chores and duties and chatting with each other and the crew, gently bickering about who gets to go on special expeditions. A few things are a little different, for example the special occasion baseball game the crew plays before the girls leave (Gin’s pitching is legendary, we hear, but of course Takako could always hit them), and a snack of shaved ice from right off an iceberg. But by and large, this is their normal now, and it feels very surreal that soon they’ll be going home.
Mari almost doesn’t want to, launching into plans to stay there for the winter, and, when her friends remind her that they have responsibilities to return to, into plans to come back on another expedition. She shows echoes of her younger self for a moment, that restless Mari that we first met at the start of the show, suddenly allergic to the idea of a humdrum life. But this anxiety does not last, as she ultimately realises that this is not the end of the adventure at all, simply the end of one part of it. Yes, the real adventure was the friends she made along the way. Cheesy as that may sound, it’s absolutely something Mari would say. And traveling with someone is an excellent way to either strengthen or shatter a relationship, and these kids came out of that crucible closer than ever. I have no doubt that they’ll be friends for life, wherever they are in the world.
Most importantly, of course, the gang can’t stay in Antarctica because the problem that brought them all together has been solved: Shirase has come to terms with the loss of her mother. Again, we don’t see the steps in between the discovery of the laptop and how she is now, but that gives us even more space to appreciate the change that’s taken place in her, and the change that’s been taking place in her all across the series too.
It’s even cemented with a good ol’ Symbolic Haircut, requested on a whim but no doubt something Shirase had been thinking about for a long time. It’s a neat double bill of visual code: she’s literally shedding weight off her shoulders by cutting her hair short, and it doesn’t take long to notice that the new style makes her look more like her mum. Presumably once she would have been haunted and harrowed by seeing that similarity staring at her in the mirror every day, but not now.
She talks all this out in a farewell speech to the crew: once, she associated thoughts of Antarctica and her mother with sadness, but now she’s able to think of them both with joy. In the journey to Antarctica she’s come to understand why Takako fell so deeply in love with it; not just the beautiful wildness of the place itself but the experiences with people that it garners, the way it pushes teams together and forms strong bonds. Maybe she didn’t “find” her mother in Antarctica, but she found love enough to start patching up the hole that loss left in her life.
And hey, she found Gin, who was kind of her second mother all along. The understated growth of the relationship between these two remains one of the most interesting in the show, and I love the subtle way they help each other reconcile with the loss of Takako by forming the close bond that she always wanted them to have. Before she leaves, Shirase gives Takako’s laptop to Gin, joking softly that Takako would want to stay on with the winter crew, a symbolic gesture of them sharing their grief and their love. Considering the laptop is full of those heartfelt, unanswered emails from Shirase, it’s an enormous gesture of trust as well. Whether or not she expected Gin to read them, it’s still putting herself in a vulnerable position, with all her messy emotions on display in her hands. But this is the new, free Shirase, closer to Gin and closer to herself.
Gin sees the piled up emails, but respects Shirase enough not to read them… but she also notices something Shirase apparently didn’t, which is one email sitting in the outbox. She hits send and gives Shirase a final moment of closure, the message received with a smile as she and her fire-forged friends sail away under the Aurora Australis. Under the dancing lights, reflecting on everything that they’ve done, getting that message from the past while happily heading into the future, is a magical moment to end the series on (though it’s not quite the end, as little after-the-credits scenes see the girls promising to go on another adventure again soon and returning to their lives, all under a poetic and encouraging voiceover about following your dreams and chasing the horizon. Our actual final moment of the show brings back Megumi… who is now at the Northern Lights, presumably as final proof that she can do her own thing without Mari. So even she got closure!).
Everything wraps up basically as neatly as it possibly can, with each character having grown and changed in some way, but with the implication that the road goes ever onwards too. I tried to get all my gushing about how special this little series was to me out of the way in the introduction, but here’s a last hurrah: A Place Further Than the Universe was such a wonderful story, never rushed, never cluttered, seeing all of its characters through to satisfying conclusions, telling a bittersweet and heartwarming story about grief and growing up against an innovative backdrop. It both broke and filled my heart, and I think is the most emotionally involved I’ve gotten in a show in a while, whether you owe that to the authenticity of the characters or the power of other aspects of the writing.
I’m happy that I found it, and much as I’ll miss it, there’s nothing quite so good as a satisfying finale, so I’m happier still to leave it here and come back next time I feel like going on an adventure.