Otherwise know as A Place Further Than the Universe, Yorimoi is an astounding directorial feat from beginning to end. Starting with the very first episode, Studio Madhouse—helmed by my favorite director of all time, Atsuko Ishizuka—hits the audience hard with impeccable writing, animation, and visual design, all finely crafted around a single theme. It all begins with a few lines speaking of stagnation, using imagery of a pool of water held up in a children’s sand pit. As Kimari talks about her will to break away and spring into action, her childhood depiction of herself breaks the wall of sand and causes the sitting water to burst out the side.
This opening scene is comedically contrasted with a cut to present day Kimari, head hanging with a little drool on the side of her lip. She’s laying sideways on her bed as her mother begins suffocates her with a wet towel for oversleeping. She opens the curtain to let light shine onto the unholy mess that is Kimari’s room, and a few seconds later Kimari awakens from her terrible nightmare of her mother waterboarding her. After being notified that it’s already noon, Kimari stumbles upon an old notebook of hers filled with things she wants to do in high school: “Skip a day”, “take an unplanned journey”, and most poignant “make the most of your youth!”.
From the get go, we’re imbued with this feeling of stagnation, of the lazy, day-to-day life of a painfully average high schooler. We can see that Kimari needs to get her act together, starting with the smallest things like cleaning her room. Then we move on to school were Kimari chats with her friend Megumi, distressed over the fact that she hasn’t accomplished anything she wrote in that journal, despite being in the midst of her second year. This highlights one part of the emotional struggle that is picking yourself up and doing something. What is displayed here is the feeling of time running out, leading to the dreadful reasoning that one shouldn’t try because it’s too late to get a clean start.
Nevertheless, there’s something inside Kimari that is inching her closer to her goals, and even though she struggles to propel herself, she decides to go through with skipping school and going on an unplanned trip the next day. She tries to drag Megumi along as well, but she declines by saying “it’s meaningless if you don’t do it alone”. This begins to illustrate the fear that comes with reaching out into the unknown.
It rains as Kimari heads out on what should be her first adventure, stepping through puddles that act as reoccurring imagery of increasing stagnation. This ends up being all too fitting as Kimari ditches her plans to ditch school, using the rain as an excuse. She tells Megumi all about how she always chickens out at the last minute when trying to do stuff like join new clubs or learn new things. There’s always a voice inside her, repeating thoughts such as “I really don’t want to fail” and “what if I end up regretting it?”.
These are the typical rationalizations for not taking risks, going out and trying new things. They tick off in our heads as we stand before a steep ledge, unsure whether to take the scary leap. The truth is, unexplored territory is always frightening. You don’t know what is out there that can hurt you, and so it might seem better for you to just stayed home, where you’re safe and secure. But then you’d be depriving yourself of the most brilliant, exhilarating, wonderful things in the world, things that you need to go out and reach for because they sure as hell are not going to come to you.
Kimari hates the part of herself that wants to hold back, but Megumi acts pretty ambivalent to her plight, somewhat agreeing with her cowardly rationalizations when all Kimari really needs is someone to give her a hard shove in the right direction. Then along comes Shirase, dashing past Kimari to catch a train and dropping an enveloped filled with one million yen (approx.$10,000USD) in her rush. Kimari picks up the envelope, and thus begins her mission to return the girl’s hard-earned savings.
This mission eventually leads her to a school bathroom, where Shirase is sobbing uncontrollably. The scene is played off with expert comedic timing, starting with Kimari following Shirase into the girls room and cautiously inching toward the only occupied stall. As Kimari reaches for the door, Shirase slams it from the other side, scaring Kimari while Shirase continues to let out her passionate frustrations. When Shirase finally comes about, she is shocked to realize someone was on the on other side of that door, causing her to accidentally hit the door she just opened which reveals a “please do not slam the bathroom doors!” sign. With the voice actors’ great performances, this whole act comes off as incredibly cute and endearing.
After their silly initial confrontation, Shirase begins to tell Kimari all about her plan to go to Antartica. Here we witness just one of the show’s many instances of great shot composition. In this scene, the two of them are outside the classroom by a railing. Kimari is crouched down and looking only toward the floor and the school building. Shirase is contrasted to her in both regards, as she is standing up straight and gazing out into the open sky. This begins to highlight the key differences between the two girls. As Kimari listens to Shirase speak about her ambitions, she begins to look up. Shirase continues by talking about all the people that put her down and told her she couldn’t achieve her dreams, and how she wants to prove all those jerks wrong. Megumi is in the classroom and notices that Kimari is now standing up, with her full attention directed at Shirase. A close-up of Kimari then shows her look of pure awe, and the brightness of the scenery outside enveloping her.
Megumi isn’t the only girl that takes notice of Kimari’s newly sparked admiration, as a cute store clerk overhears Kimari’s gushing about how cool this Shirase girl is. That’s just a bit of nice foreshadowing for the next (and best) girl to join the group in a later episode. For now, we can focus on the fact that Megumi is turning out to be one of Shirase’s many naysayers (though this could have already been picked up on by some of the show’s subtle, visual foreshadowing). Megumi seems to be hinting at Kimari that Shirase is someone to stay away from, sharing with Kimari that “people call her a weirdo and she doesn’t make any friends”. This here highlights the way people around you might (and often will) put you down if mention your plans to do something extraordinary and out of the norm. It’s a sad reality, but many people are a lot less encouraging than you would hope them to be when you share with them the exciting plans you have for your own life. Sometimes you breaking free only reminds people of how hopelessly trapped they are, letting out this horrible side of themselves that wishes for you to just share in the misery.
Shirase has been made an outcast for being able to escape stagnation, and Megumi is subconsciously trying to pull back Kimari from following that same path, and this feeling will become even more prominent later in the series. For now, we move on to a scene where Shirase is getting bullied by the bike rack. Kimari notices from a window and runs to help. Before she gets there, we’re introduced to a subtly brilliant composition of Shirase walking up to the bullies that are trying to barter for her bike. Here the director makes excellent use of a very simple film technique known as the Dutch tilt, physically tilting the camera and frame of the image to symbolically represent the crookedness of the scenario.
Kimari comes in and saves Shirase with a little white lie and they move to a new location with even more fantastic compositions. In the picture below this paragraph, you can see a lot of cool things going on in a single frame. For one thing, it’s a really nifty detail that they added a sliver of the bike and the bike’s shadow from underneath the canopy. Totally unnecessary, but nonetheless cool. Onto the more meaningful aspects of the image, we see that the canopy provides a nice separation between the indoors and outdoors—a room darkened in shade otherwise surrounded by a smooth, orange-sunset scenery. The canopy also has windows with bars, adding to the contrasting theme of confinement and freedom.
It’s here that Kimari gives her honest opinion to Shirase, “it’s really amazing to work hard at something, even when everyone puts you down and makes fun of you”. Yes, it is amazing. This is followed by Shirase walking out of the canopy as the scene cuts to a wider shot where the open-air background now takes up most of the frame. This solidifies the dynamic between the caged feeling inside Kimari and free bird ideal that she sees in Shirase. Shirase then asks Kimari to come with her and see the Antartic expedition ship, to tell if Kimari is truly serious about joining her.
We move on to the next day and Kimari’s sister is shocked to find Kimari’s room in perfect order—expecting it to be a usual morning where she wakes up her oversleeping sister from the sty that is her bedroom. This imagery of a clean bedroom is actually a huge and powerful message: the key to success begins with making your bed. Start small and go bigger, because how are you going to handle the world if you can’t even clean your room? Work yourself out so that you can head out with your best foot forward.
That’s what Kimari does as the end of the episode kicks off with a delightful montage of Kimari and Shirase going on their first adventure. The montage begins with Kimari running to the station and ends with both girls running together, as fast as they can with a touch of lens blurring to add to the feeling of this moment being such a rush. Once they reach the ship, Kimari asks how they’re going to get on that boat and to Antartica. Shirase responds with “you want to know?” and a heart-melting grin. she smiles back, and with that, Kimari’s youth finally springs into action.
I hope I could get across just how brilliant this first episode is, both in execution and the meaning behind it. There’s a part of me that wants to pick apart this show frame by impeccable frame, but I already took way too long to write this, and I still have over half a feature week to go. Regardless, this anime means a lot to me, and so at the very least, I hope I made the way it resonated with me was clear, and wish that the core meaning of the anime resonated with you in a similar way.
Thanks for reading.
Oh, and here’s an extra bit of frame analysis I Tweeted earlier today.