Does this theatrical adaptation capture your at-tent-ion?
Image via Furyu
The comfiest anime about cute girls doing cute hobbies has finally made the jump to the biggest theatrical screens in Japan. Laid-Back Camp is an anime with a noted impact on boosting the popularity of camping in Japan as brands line up in droves to create affiliated camping merchandise, from hoodies, sandwich makers and traveling cars! But how does the series’ shorter bursts of weekly episodes translate to the big screen?
Laid-Back Camp The Movie can certainly claim to be breaking the norm for theatrical adaptations of slice-of-life anime, at the very least. Rather than merely serving as a theatrical continuation of the TV series, it’s better to view this as an intriguing what-if on the future of these characters while reflecting on what it means to rekindle a lost flame and reconnect with your friends. You see, rather than continuing the girls’ high school hijinks of discovering the joy of camping together, we have a movie that jumps to the soul-crushing responsibilities of adulthood and the need to rediscover the hobbies and people you cared for most before reality struck its cruel ax.
RELATED: The Quiet Lessons of Laid-Back Camp
The first sign this movie isn’t your average adaptation is apparent the moment the group looks forward to their future under the fireworks of their youth. It’s the only moment Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Enya have as the carefree high school students we’re accustomed to before we jump years into the future and experience a day in the life of Rin’s new job as a magazine columnist. Unfortunately, between a heavy workload and the lack of opportunities to express herself through her work, the job isn’t going the way she would have hoped. Ah, the life of a journalist. Couldn’t be me.
Image via Furyu
While the entire Outdoor Activities Club group has kept in touch digitally over the years, their chances to hang out and go camping together have fallen apart as their work takes an inevitable priority. It’s not even like their jobs allow them to keep in touch with this side of themselves, either, as only Nadeshiko has found this balance through her new job in a camping store. Even then, just like all the others, she struggles to find purpose and meaning in her aimless adult life.
It’s fine to be carefree as a child, but when the weight of responsibility is placed on your shoulders as an adult, it’s hard not to feel pressure at the thought of doing something more.
Chiaki‘s sudden call to the group comes with an unusual request: let’s rebuild a campsite! The abandoned shell of a once-bustling site in clear view of their beloved Mount Fuji becomes the opportunity needed for the group to come together and rediscover the joy of their youth, working together for a chance of renewed vigor in their uncertain steps into self-responsibility and adulthood. When you need to provide, what does it mean to live authentically?
Image via Furyu
Conceptually, this may sound heavier and even grim compared to the relaxed vibes of the original, which is true to an extent. For Rin and Nadeshiko, in particular, their lives are at a crossroads that those coming of age today will find all too familiar. There’s no roadmap to being an adult, and any that did exist is being ripped apart by an ever-changing reality. Even following your passion comes with the risk of turning the thing you loved into a lost passion traumatized by burnout.
Yet this more serious subject matter only benefits the experience of Laid-Back Camp. A two-hour movie without this more serious plotline would likely feel aimless in a way a 20-minute weekly TV detox doesn’t. The subject matter brings out moments of intense relatability and emotion as we watch Rin recover from her current struggles, blending her adult life with the goofy yet sincere warmth we’ve come to know them for. Nadeshiko may feel lost, but the experience contextualizes her growth through the eyes of the next generation of budding campers. Considering the audience for a theatrical anime adaptation like this skews toward a young-adult demographic (played out in my sold-out theater), it also makes sense to age up these characters for a more precision-focused, relatable story for said audience.
If this sounds a bit existentialist and too real for a show known for being a relaxing breeze through the Japanese countryside camping with friends, do not fear! For while the film tackles these slightly more serious ideas, this is still ultimately the fun camping adventure with friends we’ve come to expect. As the group rebuilds the campsite together, they also camp and reconnect just like old times, while their endearing struggles at pulling weeds and dealing with feral tanuki on the road to reconstruction are as adorable, hilarious and charming as ever.
Image via Furyu
Rin and Nadeshiko are given the most time to grow within this environment, as they even go on adventures together away from the supporting cast to hike and go to onsens. It’s a shame this intense focus means the supporting cast can often feel pushed aside, with less time given to others like Ena’s jump into the world of dog grooming while Toba-sensei is restricted to a mere cameo. Despite being Chiaki’s idea in the first place, even she is somewhat left on the sidelines as the task leader of the project is immediately delegated to Rin for her camping experience.
But that is a minor complaint in the larger scheme of things. The Laid-Back Camp movie achieves something rare for a theatrical adaptation of a popular anime: it captures the charm, strong directing, and relaxed tone people fell in love with and offers something that simply wouldn’t be possible in the confines of the TV anime or original manga. By aging up these characters and producing an original what-if story removed from the events of the series, we’re offered a film that’s accessible to newcomers and long-term fans alike, with a genuinely touching message about reconnecting with your passions and never losing sight of what you love.
It’s a rekindling flame to everything you felt you had to give up and a push to make time for the things and people who make you happiest, with characters you’ve come to know like friends. The fate of this campsite I’ll leave up to the people reading this review to discover for themselves. In the meantime, I think it’s time for me to pack my bags. If I don’t take that first step, I’m never going to go on that camping trip!
Alicia Haddick is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. If they aren't watching anime or way, way too many movies, they're probably outside taking photos or listening to their favorite idol groups. You can find them sharing their other work on anime, gaming and films and rambling on just about anything over on their Twitter account @socialanigirl, or on Letterboxd.