Laid Back Camp (also commonly referred to as its Japanese title of Yuru Camp) emerged this winter as one of the season’s sleeper hits. Based on the manga by Afro and animated by Studio C-Station and director Yoshiaki Kyōgoku, the story follows an ordinary high school girl named Shima Rin as she goes on a number of camping trips (often accompanied by educational blurbs from the narrator for those with an interest in doing some camping of their own) in between periods of socializing with her school’s outdoor camping club and an energetic and outgoing new transfer student named Nadeshiko. Buoyed by gorgeous background art, strong character designs, and a well-realized sense of dry humor, Yuru Camp has found a degree of success that is uncommon to Iyashikei (or “healing”) shows like it. I could go on for pages about its many strengths and how they work to accomplish the show’s theraputic and relaxing goals, but today there’s one aspect in particular I’d like to note that I haven’t seen discussed much around my anime-watching circles – that being the way in which the show frames technology and society as things that enhance our appreciation of nature and of each other rather than things we use nature in order to escape from.
Most of us have probably heard variants on this story a million times. The editorial from the person who disconnected from twitter for a month and became so much happier. The idealized vacation out to an isolated lake house with no internet connection and no human contact for miles in any direction. The long camping trip that allows one to refocus on what really matters, man. Whatever form it takes, the story beats typically remain the same – an escape from all the crowd and noise of civilization, business, social media, into the comforting isolation of the countryside. It’s been told a thousand times, in part because there’s real merit to it. I rather doubt it’s possible to exist on Twitter in The Year Of Our Lord 2018 and not find oneself periodically longing for a nice, hardened bunker to hide from the rest of humanity in. But if you buy into its framing too completely, you do risk beginning to take a certain assumption as a given – that technology, social media, and our modern ties to society and to each other are things that can only serve to stress us out and distract us from what we truly care about.
Shima Rin is a loner. I can relate. And what I can also relate with is that her status as a loner does not also entail being a misanthrope. Rin has no particular problem with social activity, she has a small circle of friends she keeps in regular contact with and values dearly- but long, sustained get-togethers are simply a thing that tires her out more often than it enriches her. As such, she tends to reserve the lion’s share of her free time to herself, spending it on her treasured camping excursions into the mountains. But – and here’s what I really appreciate – even the time she spends by herself is not time she only spends for herself. Yuru Camp demonstrates a smarter eye for modern teenage/young-adult habits than a lot of anime I’ve seen, in that it is constantly showing us the conversations, texts, emojis, and photos Rin and her friends are constantly sending back and forth on their cellphones. Perhaps I’m easily impressed, but the show’s quiet but at times downright gushy affection for Rin’s cellphone, and the connection it provides to her social circle even when she’s deep in the woods or out by a lake stood out in the sort of show I might otherwise have expected to take a more curmudgeonly tone of “Dangit kids, put that phone away, it’s distracting you from all this beauty right here in front of us.” And nowhere was this scene more evident than in the show’s midseason highlight, a downright gorgeous scene where Rin and Nadeshiko, the show’s other protagonist and a friend Rin quietly treasures, spend a chilly night out in separate campsites texting photos of beautiful mountaintop views back and forth – separated from society and from each other, but intimately connected all the same, in part because of those wondrous tiny computers we’ve all grown weirdly accustomed to carrying around all the time.
I recently had the opportunity to take a vacation overseas in London, and one of my favorite parts of that trip, moreso than any of the museums or shows or tours I was able to take, was the quiet time I was able to spend by myself, simply wandering around a beautiful city seeing new things and taking pictures. But, like Rin’s camping trips, that time I spent by myself wasn’t entirely just for myself either. A huge part of the joy of that exploration was sharing photos and commentary on twitter or on Discord, chatting about my experiences or even just getting a Like to know that someone saw me. It was a solitary experience, but also one I was able to share. That, in part, was why I was glad to circle back around to Yuru Camp and show some love for its ability to evoke those same feelings in me.