I like to think I have a fairly varied palette when it comes to my anime tastes: a genre charcuterie board with some fantasy here, some meaningful coming-of-age stories there, and a peppering of rom-coms seasoned just right. There’s one category, though, that I always find myself savoring and looking forward to each season. If there’s a cast of funny teen girls trying out a new hobby, be it animation, camping, playing guitar, or building a treehouse, I’m there.
But why does this genre have such a gravitational pull? I could answer, simply and truthfully, that we live in stressful times and these shows are often very relaxing. But upon deeper consideration, there’s something else about these girls’ hobby shows that makes my heart happy, and it’s happening more on the level of character construction and development.
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Finally, it’s time to give 2021 one last sendoff with the staff’s picks for the best series of the year.
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Another trip around the sun, another pile of anime recommendations! Read on to hear about my favourite series I watched in 2021, and see if there’s any you missed that you might want to check out.
My work at AniFem has been instrumental in letting me (or, making me) keep up with current releases. Many of these mini-reviews are edited versions of check-ins or recommendations I’ve written for the site—check out each season’s staff picks for even more good stuff that went beyond my personal radar!
In Winter 2021, Laid-Back Camp’s cast of teenaged camping enthusiasts returned to our screens and to the lush scenery around Mount Fuji. Rin, Nadeshiko, and the rest of their friends set out for a second season of outdoor activities, with all the essentials in tow: tents, tarps, portable stoves, woolly blankets, cup noodles, and… smartphones?
In a show so in love with the great outdoors, the frequent presence of cell phones may seem like an oxymoron. After all, Nature and Technology are often presented as an incompatible dichotomy. So much of the language around camping, hiking, and holidaying in general—in advertisements, pop culture, and conversations where your parents worry that you’re working too hard—emphasize the idea of “switching off” or “disconnecting.” Yet phones are never far away in Laid-Back Camp—in fact, they’re integral to the story and to the growth of relationships between the characters.
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It’s been another big year for anime-watching on my part, with more access than ever before to both the currently-airing series themselves and the hot goss on which of them are worth checking out. And so once again I’ve gathered mini-reviews of my favourite series into one handy-dandy post! This is a mix of series that came out this year, series from days of yore I decided to rediscover, and series that were locked away on Amazon until recently that I’ve only just had the chance to check out (R.I.P., Anime Strike or whatever that was). This list contains coming-of-age stories, steampunk shenanigans, magical mayhem, a friendly skeleton, and a lot of queer themes and female protagonists. If that sounds like your jam, do take a look–I’m happy to share my thoughts, and maybe you’ll find something that sounds fun! Continue reading
On paper, Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles sound quite similar. They’re both slice-of-life shows about girls with niche interests or hobbies, portrayed in loving detail—camping and ramen noodles, respectively. Each series also has a small ensemble cast headed by two standout main characters: a quiet, withdrawn girl with the greatest dedication to the special interest that is the subject of the show, and a more outgoing, effervescent girl who wants to be closer to her.
Alike as their premises may sound, the two shows go in very different directions in regards to this central relationship. In Laid-Back Camp, the main characters’ relationship develops over the course of the series and the show becomes a rewarding story about female closeness; Ms. Koizumi, on the other hand, sticks to the status quo established in its premiere, which creates a stale and repetitive story that perpetuates negative tropes about queer women along the way.
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The opening moments of Laid-Back Camp show a soothing scene of a group of five girls gathered around a campfire, cycling through images of toasted marshmallows and little jokes, and ending with them all taking a group selfie. “Alright,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be one of those Cute Girls In a Special Interest Club series. Fun!” Once the episode proper begins, this introduction turns out to be (presumably) a flash-forward of sorts, as the audience is introduced to one member of the group and her established hobby of solo camping. Over the course of the premiere she meets one of the other group members (the selfie-taker herself) and they begin to form a sort of clumsy friendship. “I see,” I thought to myself. “So we’ve gone back in time, and this is the story of how the Special Interest Club is brought together. Inevitably, the solo camper is going to be dragged into the camping circle where she will, through many hijinks, come to understand The Power of Friendship and abandon her status as a recluse. Fun!!”
Though it has a waft of cliché about it, I would have been alright with this plotline—I’m watching Laid-Back Camp to relax, after all, so I didn’t go in with too many demands (the bar was set at the ankle-high “let the anime girls star in a sweet and fun story without the camera ogling them”, on which I’m happy to report Laid-Back Camp has delivered so far), and you know I’m a sucker for any kind of story about blossoming friendship. But I’m also happy to report that the show surprised me, by taking a perfectly justified but often unexplored—and thus unexpected—route in regards to its story of the solo hobbyist. Continue reading