Laid-Back Camp is currently available on Crunchyroll.
Among the new anime television series airing last season – from the much-anticipated Darling in the FranXX to the gorgeous Violet Evergarden and utterly endearing Sora Yomi mo Tooi Basho – my personal favorite of the bunch was something much more understated.
Laid-back Camp (which I will refer to as the stylized Yuru Camp△ going forward because A: It’s a more compact title and B: that little tent-triangle is oh-so-charming) belongs to this odd little subgenre doesn’t really have a name, any sort of formalization, or even a presence outside of anime in particular, but can be roundly called “hobbyist”. And it’s a subgenre to the “Cute Characters Doing Cute Things” designation of shows in the same way that sports-focused manga and shows are a particular flavor of action series, borrowing an existing format to raise up and explore a single subject, like volleyball or scuba diving or music composition.
I will grant that some degree of this idea is present in other television markets – there’s all manner of documentaries for nature buffs, entire channels devoted to cooking and home economics, and even reality shows serving niches like motorcycle enthusiasts – but rarely do they blend an earnest enthusiasm for their subject matter with a light, non-intrusive fiction to tie it together.
And Yuru Camp△ exemplifies that exact niche beautifully.
The most apparent way it does so is in how clearly it adores its subject matter (that being camping, in case the title didn’t give it away). It’s generally pretty clear when any story is just using an interest as a vehicle for its drama – for how much I adore Your Lie in April, for example, it’s decidedly uninterested in any reasonably-accurate portrayal of the piano tutoring and competition that service the main character’s growth. Yuru Camp△ thankfully lands on the more devoted side of that equation, to the point where the credits note how the local tourism board for the areas featured in the show were brought on in a consulting role – and the partnership there is clearly mutual, with the show serving directly as promotion on the tourism board site (and supposedly bringing an uptick in park visitation despite airing in the late winter).
While the manga certainly had shades of playing up the appeal of existing locations, with the author borrowing real-world campgrounds and lodges as the backdrops for the cast‘s weekend adventures, the anime only doubled down on bringing this to the forefront. One fan’s travelogue in particular is illustrative of all the research that the artists and writers folded in, with scenery and even a one-scene shopkeeper character being clearly designed with the intention of keeping a true-to-life quality in its playing up of the settings’ rustic charms. Perusing the image comparisons therein is an exercise left to the reader and admittedly a bit much at points, but the resemblances on display are quite clearly deliberate.
The series’ ardor is perhaps a bit less noticeable in how the literal written and spoken text relates to its subject matter at times. While there are plenty of tidbits in the text useful to entry-level hobbyists and even a splash screen of tips after the credits of each episode, the conversational dialogue is content to touch on these things fairly briefly before going on to spend just as much time entertaining the goofy and unproductive idea of substituting bubble wrap for insulation. Granted, a point-for-point exchange on the virtues of various water treatment options isn’t exactly riveting material for a fiction series, but then again, usually neither is watching someone sit in silence for an extended period, which is key to one the show’s best features.
More crucially than any amount of showing its work, a major strength of Yuru Camp△ is in its role as an enabler.
Within any hobby, there’s always going to be some division about the best way to enjoy it or an optimal technique, with a varying levels of civility. Backpackers in particular have the phrase “hike your own hike”, which you can read into and extrapolate in a dozen different ways, but the core idea gets through pretty cleanly in four words. Regardless of any details that Yuru Camp△ does or doesn’t get right, its ability to reflect this concept is more important in capturing not only its particular hobby, but more broadly a healthy mentality behind any interest with its own subculture (which, in the internet age, is all of them).
Most shows in the slice-of-life, cute-characters-doing-cute-things genre are quick to champion friendship as a virtue, preach that the true joy in a thing is to be found in a sense of togetherness, and decry why-oh-why would you ever choose to be solitary about a hobby rather than sharing it with others? And while Yuru Camp△ does focus on camping as a means of group activity with one of its two protagonists, at the same time it’s perfectly happy to spend half its runtime making a sympathetic showcase of the opposite approach.
A significant portion of the series is spent illustrating the solo excursions of its first protagonist (Rin) though prolonged sequences of quiet and stillness, lingering on sustained shots of scenery or her silently reading a book as early as the very first episode. In theory (and, for many viewers, in practice), actively writing half the show to be slow-moving, dialogue-free, and fairly uneventful makes for desperately dull television. But others will find the calm, idle scenes to be quaint and soothing, which in turn exemplifies the very reason why many people get into camping as a hobby in the first place.
It goes in both ways, too – the show’s second protagonist (Nadeshiko) joins an outdoor activity club early on, leading to a youthful, communal energy in the scenes with her character in focus. It’s much closer to other series’ draw of having energetic characters bounce off one another, and while I found their antics a bit tiring at times compared to the aforementioned leisurely scenes, I’m positive that a substantial proportion of the audience sees it the other way around. It’s as though the show is of two minds about its own tempo, and in this case it’s imperative that both be on display.
Because in doing so, it makes the topic in focus open and accessible to both mindsets.
The series very early on gives the two groups an opportunity to merge, but Rin’s gut reaction is to resist the idea of camping together with other people. Unlike in other series where the other characters would doggedly try to fold her in with the rest of the cast (anime in particular makes a habit of this), the story feels no need to have her “come around”. Rather, in the very next chapter (or episode), the otherwise-persistent Nadeshiko actively and explicitly chooses to respect Rin’s wishes rather than continuing to push her into another mold, an attitude that persists for the rest of the series. The show lets both characters be correct in their outlook without the need for an ongoing conflict of ideas, which is honestly a bit refreshing.
The same thing is called out a bit more explicitly scene-to-scene: in the first episode of the show, Nadeshiko marvels at Rin’s collection of high-end equipment, showing the lengths to which an enthusiast will go in order to get the most of their excursions. But it also goes on to show her decide to stay content with entry-level gear, going on multiple club outings, and enjoying herself every bit as much as Rin enjoys her extensively-prepared trips by herself. Neither is ever called out as “better”; rather, they serve different ends and levels of investment. Camp your own camp.
Even and especially in the final episodes, where the two show’s two primary halves do meet up, there’s still a sense that Rin is focused more on the outing itself than its utility as a group activity. She mostly keeps to herself and stays focused on tasks at hand, and nobody bats an eye at it. Her “be present” attitude remains throughout the arc, side-by-side with the others’ “just hang out” mentality without the two forcing a disagreement.
Having both approaches to the same hobby in the same space at the end without either yielding or butting heads with other gives us a nice, rounded example to hold up of what Yuru Camp△ showcases best: that there are multiple ways to embrace a hobby, none more or less correct than the next. It’s warm, friendly, and accepting of every mindset.
Just like any hobby community ought to be.