However ill-founded, however misguided, hope is the basic stratagem of mortality. We need it, and an art that fails to offer it fails us.
Ursula K. Le Guin, in Dancing at the Edge of the World
Girls’ Last Tour is probably the most melancholy slice-of-life series I’ve ever watched—either that, or it’s the most charming and sweet post-apocalyptic sci-fi I’ve ever watched. Generally speaking, setting a story after the end of the world gives you violent thrillers in the vein of Mad Max, The Hunger Games, or Fallout, action adventures that highlight the desolation of the setting and the natural wild awfulness of humans. Not so for this little show, which tells the story of a handful of survivors navigating a wartorn wasteland and, instead of becoming torn up themselves, doing what they can to hold themselves and each other together, making the most of the worst situation. While it’s a tale with a lot of heartache built in, Girls’ Last Tour also has an inescapable undercurrent of optimism and resilience—and that’s something we could all do with a little bit of these days.
It wouldn’t be wrong at all to class Girls’ Last Tour as a slice-of-life show (or even, hey, a “cute girls doing things” show)—the life that it’s a slice of just happens to mostly involve wandering the ruins of civilisation. Our main characters are Chi and Yuu, two girls who spend their days trundling around the wreckage of what was once an awesome, multi-tiered, futuristic city. They encounter a few other travellers over the course of the twelve-episode series—a mapmaker, a downed pilot, a very polite maintenance robot, and some strange sentient blob creatures—but for the most part the two friends are on their own with only their trusty vehicle, and each other, for company.
They move from place to place, mostly searching for food and equipment, gradually making their way up the city’s tiers to see what’s there. They aren’t on a grand mission to repair society, they aren’t looking for anyone or anything in particular, they’re just putting one foot in front of the other. It sounds like a depressing and desolate existence, and by all means it should be. The cityscape is all in dour industrial greys and rusty reds with the occasional all-consuming white of snowfall, and all around are empty buildings, broken pipes, and the wreckages of war machines. But do these kids fall into despair? Not if they can help it. Chi is too sensible, and Yuu is too keen to see the fun in things.
This contrast in personalities leads to conflict between the two, and occasionally to Yuu doing something dumb that they have to find their way out of. More often than not, though, Yuu’s optimism is a force for good. It encourages Chi not to be afraid, and it often helps them pluck small bits of joy out of a dead landscape. Perhaps the sweetest example of this is when the girls get caught in a rainstorm, and Yuu, safely sheltered but fighting off boredom, puts their helmets on a windowsill so the raindrops can hit the metal and make a musical sound. She finds beauty in the noise, and soon encourages Chi to hear it as well, and the gentle plinking and plipping of rain on metal unfolds into a soft, pretty song that overlays the ending credits. It’s a drawn-out, calm moment of beauty in an otherwise sodden and saddening setting.
The girls are given a camera, and use it to document their adventures and play around. They find a still-functioning factory and try to remember how to make bread, not just so they have more food but because it reminds them of before the war, and because getting all mushy with dough is fun. Whenever they find a source of hot water, they relish in the opportunity to take a soothing bath. When they get the chance they adopt a pet, even if it’s a weird and otherworldly one.
It reminds us that even in a situation like theirs, people are still people, and we would inevitably find a new sense of “daily life” even in a setting like this. We wouldn’t suddenly lose our ability to bicker playfully with our friends, or our enjoyment of simple pleasures like swimming or listening to music. We’d still daydream about the house we’d love to live in when we become rich and famous, we’d still want to read and learn, and we’d still love the taste of chocolate.
Once you settle into Girls’ Last Tour and accept that it’s a quiet, kind post-apocalypse, and that Road Warriors and Super Mutants aren’t about to leap out and harm these kids, watching Chi and Yuu’s routine unfold becomes a fascinating and weirdly soothing activity. What will they discover next, as they trundle around the wasteland? Statues from a now-forgotten religion? A wind farm? A crashed plane? A fish? The series has its darker moments, especially towards the end as the girls encounter less-friendly, weaponised robots and war machines that are implied to have had a hand in destroying the city, but its overall tone is best described as melancholy yet oddly comforting.
The final episode has the girls discovering a way to read the files on their digital camera, thus stumbling across a wealth of footage of ordinary life before the war. It also has them meeting the strange, wise mushroom-shaped creatures who are revealed to be cleansing the city, going around eating leftover weaponry to rid the place of any dangers. When they’re done, they tell Chi and Yuu, they will float away to their next destination, and this part of the earth will finally go dormant, waiting to start all over again. Chi and Yuu are the last humans alive in this corner of the world. It’s a startling, heartbreaking truth to learn, for both the characters and the viewers, especially directly following the moving montage of what life was once like in the desolate place where they now stand—all that vibrancy and variety and hope and life is gone, and this is all that remains.
But are they going to let that get them down? No. They refuse to. They have each other, and so it doesn’t matter if they’re the last humans alive. They’re not alone, and even if there’s no one else left to find, they’re going to keep going until there’s nowhere else to go—they even declare that if they hit the highest level of the city and there’s nothing there, they’ll simply head towards the moon next.
Between this admission from the two friends and the camera footage, I cried my damned eyes out in this episode. But it was a cathartic cry; first in mourning for all the lost life that now only exists on film, and then in happiness when Chi and Yuu set off together still holding onto each other and still holding out hope. The world might technically be ending, but it’s not the end of the world yet, so they’re going to keep going for as long as they can, presumably still making the most out of each day as they have been across the series. It’s a hell of a bittersweet ending, but it was a resonant and powerful one that felt like the natural culmination of the story so far—and naturally enough, the end isn’t framed as an end so much as the beginning of a new chapter.
Whether it’s on a personal scale or a more worldwide one, the message Girls’ Last Tour leaves you with is an important one to hold in your heart, framed through a sci-fi lens but relevant to everyone everywhere: it’s not over ‘til it’s over. Keep going, take care of each other, and find light and joy where you can. I think, for that, this series is going to stick with me for a long time.