Hey all, and welcome back to Why It Works! Puttering along at a steady pace and offering consistent charms on the way, Laid-Back Camp has quietly become one of my favorite shows of the season. Though I’d consider myself a slice of life fan, many of the genre’s shows don’t appeal to me – a natural result of slice of life actually being a mega-genre encompassing multiple genres, including the more sitcom-esque appeal of a clubroom comedy (where the focus is mostly on camaraderie and actual jokes) and the more tonal appeal of a dedicated iyashikei work (where the focus is more on creating a strong sense of peaceful, restive atmosphere). I’ve talked before about how Laid-Back Camp splits the difference between these two styles, but today I’d like to hone in on how much I appreciate not just Rin’s iyashikei material, but the way Laid-Back Camp as a show treats her and that material.
The ultimate “goal” of many slice of life shows is some character’s full integration into a new social group. This “goal” generally isn’t framed as a difficult struggle they grapple with over the course of an entire season – normally it’s just an early anxiety that fades when they find friends within a show’s first twenty minutes. Slice of life shows of the more “cute clubroom activities” variety thus naturally valorize this idea that spending all your time with close friends is the most rewarding way to appreciate your youth, which makes sense – after all, that’s the experience they’re ultimately trying to depict and celebrate. But counterbalancing that genre-natural drive is Rin’s equally genre-natural material, and I feel Laid Back Camp’s respect for Rin’s own feelings and desires is one of its finest qualities.
Instead of being presented as a lonely girl who simply can’t find close friends, Rin is a happy loner, a person who enjoys going on camping trips all by herself. That aspect of her character, her willingness to enjoy time by herself, is actually the quality which prompts her initial meeting with Nadeshiko in the first place, and which guides much of the show’s drama even once the full cast is introduced. The validity of Rin’s preference for solitude is thus clear from the start, and Laid Back Camp works hard to make the satisfying lived experience of Rin’s journeys just as clear.
Isolated characters in slice of life shows are often framed as temporarily impoverished extroverts – alone now, but desperate for companionship, and immediately evolving into social butterflies the moment their environment shifts. But Laid-Back Camp doesn’t do that at all. Not only does finding new friends not do anything to change Rin’s fundamental personality or desire for space, but its solo trips with Rin emphatically demonstrate the joy of spending time by yourself. The peace of solitude, the satisfaction of making decisions and solving problems through your own means, the small relationships you develop with objects in your environment, the running conversations you end up having with yourself… all of these tiny details bring the quiet joy of time alone vividly to life.
In addition to clearly articulating the pleasures of time spent alone, Laid-Back Camp also takes care to never frame Rin’s personality or feelings as something to be “fixed,” or a failing she should be actively guided away from. Rin’s new friends want to spend time with her, but they respect her need for space as well. The course of Laid-Back Camp’s narrative may seem circuitous, given Rin’s rambling back-and-forth between solo and group trips, but that’s because it’s not a journey from “I’m camping alone” to “I’ve found friends to camp with.” Friends or not, Rin still plans on enjoying her solo trips, and her friends respect that desire. Sometimes she’ll want to spend time with friends and sometimes she won’t, and both of those feelings are perfectly okay.
As has probably become clear, I’m particularly appreciative of Laid-Back Camp’s focus on Rin’s feelings because I myself feel much the same way. As someone who gets terribly anxious about face-to-face meetings, to the point where I can sometimes feel uncomfortable even among acknowledged friends, I’m happy to see a show that’s theoretically about the joy of friendship also celebrate the satisfaction of time alone, and the validity of establishing a balance between group and solo free time. Laid-Back Camp’s depiction of Rin’s occasional discomfort or exhaustion with her new friends, desire to spend time without them even though she appreciates their company, and genuine love of time alone all feel like a welcome validation of my own feelings, and a rarely heard acknowledgment that it’s okay to want to be by yourself.
And ultimately, Rin’s desire for time alone doesn’t change the fact that she’s just as witty and charming and kind as the rest of them. Rin banters with her friends and shares her hobbies, but at the end of the day, she likes having her own space to return to. I completely relate to Rin’s feelings, and am thankful to Laid-Back Camp for portraying them so well. I might like being alone, but I appreciate knowing we can all enjoy being alone together.