Sora yori mo Tooi Basho: high school girls go on a visit to the South Pole.
Tamaki Mari is a very ordinary second year high school girl who one day suddenly realises that she’s a very ordinary second year high school girl. Which puts her in the mood to go on some big adventure, so she decides to skip school and travel to Tokyo. But then it rains so she doesn’t. She talks to her friend about her frustration of always failing to take that first step and always chickening out. Then, as she goes home, she notices the girl running past her to get her train drops an envelope. Tamaki picks it up and runs after her, but the girl’s gone. So she looks into the envelope to see what’s in it and finds:
One million yen!
That’s her first encounter with Kobuchizawa “Antarctica” Shirase, whose mother wrote a book about visiting the South Pole, but disappeared when Shirase was in middle school. Ever since she’s been working and saving up to make enough money to pay for a trip to Antarctica. For Tamaki Shirase’s dream is exactly what she wanted for herself, but never found or had the courage to go look for. But this time it’s different.
The ordinary school girl frustrated with her own ordinariness is not a new character type of course, often seen as the protagonist in school club series like K-on or Amanchu!, their frustrations driving them to try something, anything new to not be ordinary, overcoming their own fears in the process. They tend to be either enthusiastic go-getters (like Mikan from Love Live Sunshine) or shy fraidycats dragged into something almost against their will (Ami Kurata from Long Riders). Tamaki Mari is a mix of both, afraid to try new things and knowing this about herself, frustrated with it, but pushy and enthusiastic once she has made up her mind.
Kobuchizawa Shirase meanwhile looks like the typical well put together long black haired school princess, serious and driven. Having set herself a life goal, she’s dilligently working towards it while most of her peers are satisfied with just playing around. But she isn’t stoic or emotionally withdrawn; rather she wears her heart on her sleeve, most noticably when Tamaki hands her back the million yen she had lost. I like how aware she is how her dream of traveling to Antarctica to find her lost mother comes over to other people, that she isn’t deluded to how hard it would be to realise it, but accepts it and moves on.
Both Maki and Shirase than are archetypes I’ve seen in dozens of anime before, but with enough originality and character to come across as actual people you’d want to spend time with. There’s a good sense of humour, that doesn’t come at the expense of either of them and I like the pacing of this episode. All we saw was Maki coming to grips with her normalcry and wanting to do something about it, getting to know Shirase and the both of them deciding to go on a trip to Hiroshima where a polar exploration ship was holding an open house. There’s a sparkle to the animation, which is just that bit better than it needs to be, sharing some of its style and realism with last year’s Tsuki ga Kirei and Just Because.
Very much a recommendation. If this level of quality keeps up, this may be the sleeper hit of the season.