Binge or Purge?: Girl’s Last Tour.
What do you get when you combine two young girls and the end of the world? Moving and engaging storytelling, thanks to mangaka Tsukumizu and director Takaharu Ozaki.
This short animated series from Japan had been haunting my recommended list on Amazon Prime for about a month. Looking for a break from all of the pomp of The Oscars, I decided to fire it up. The art style looked like a mix of realistic computer generated settings populated by two hyper-cute but simply-drawn protagonists. I figured it was going to be bizarre and hilarious. What I discovered was a sensitive and melancholy story that wove together comedy and tragedy in profound ways, while still maintaining a degree of lighthearted youthfulness. Girl’s Last Tour is hard to categorize, except to say that it is excellent.
Girl’s Last Tour.
Chito and Yuuri are young girls who have only known war. As the front line collapses, their “grandfather” puts them in a hybrid tank/motorbike with the last of his rations and a rifle. The pair leave before the war swallows their home base, and they head towards a city they’ve never seen, which was populated by a race of people they have never known.
Episode 1: Starry Sky/War.
We meet Chi and Yuu as they are stuck underground. As they deal with pitch darkness and constant boredom, we learn a little about their past and why these tiny soldiers are alone on a motorized tank in a world that has seen better days.
There is a lot of heavy lifting to do in the first episode when your premise is “two cute as a button girls may be the last living people on Earth after a catastrophic war.” To the credit of everyone involved in Girl’s Last Tour, they nail it. The first episode establishes a tone that the whole series is faithful to, and you can decide early on if this is for you. I found the setting, characters, and narrative to be incredibly interesting.
Chito and Yuuri are distinct and engaging. While they have many of the instantly recognizable manga character traits of middle school age girls, they are also unapologetically soldiers and survivors. They laugh and squabble over the final bit of food like sisters…and then Yuuri pulls her gun on Chito and takes the last piece. The way this drama moves from lighthearted kid’s fare to deadly serious drama is emotionally jarring but not narratively jarring. The story feels natural in its unnaturalness. These are kids, who do kid stuff. These are traumatized soldiers, who do hard survival stuff. If you want to smile and laugh with these characters, you’re going to have to also frown and cry with them.
Episode 2: Bath/Journal/Laundry.
Free of the underground facility, Chito and Yuuri try to make their way through a deserted countryside through heavy snow. Along the way they celebrate the creature comforts of a hot bath and some clean clothes.
This series of mini-stories (each episode is broken up into several smaller vignettes) demonstrates a genre bending trait to Girl’s Last Tour that is hard to explain to folks who don’t watch much anime. There’s a Japanese “genre”, for lack of a better term, of educational cartoons aimed at young kids. It tends to be short segment skits with a simple and humorous focus, such as making breakfast, catching a school bus, or learning how to make friends. Girl’s Last Tour follows this format, despite the tone of the show being way more adult than normal “Kodomomuke” shows. It’s another oddity that doesn’t feel odd in the hands of Girl’s Last Tour. Heck, it’s downright pleasurable since my Japanese isn’t much better than 3rd grade-level listening comprehension! (Don’t worry, the series is subtitled and you don’t lose much by not knowing the language.)
Episode 3: Encounter/City/Streetlights
Having weathered the storm, Chi and Yuu find themselves on the outskirts of a sprawling city that is constructed in layers that stretch upwards. They also find themselves encountering the first new person they’ve ever met, a mysterious survivor named Kanazawa. He’s a bit of a space cadet who only wants to complete his maps of the city, so the girls let him tag along.
Now that we know Chito and Yuuri, the stakes of the story, and the genre subverting the author is up to, we can take a brief interlude to let the setting really shine. The mega city is at once alien and familiar, a mix of futuristic concepts as pulled off by people of roughly our technological ability. There’s so much to the world of Girl’s Last Tour, that I would have kept watching just to see our girls explore. By deftly limiting our knowledge of the world to what Chito knows (and to a lesser degree what Yuuri knows, but she’s a blockhead!) we become co-explorers with them.
Fun and Learning at the End of the World.
We usually finish by asking “binge or purge?” You can probably guess by now that I wholeheartedly say binge. I breathlessly cranked through the series in two bursts. There are 12 episodes, each about 25 minutes long. I only stopped with three episodes left to go because I couldn’t bear to not have any more time to spend with Chito and Yuuri in their devastating and devastated world. This series was so well paced, engaging and quirky that I didn’t want to leave it.
Girl’s Last Tour seems like a niche gem on the surface. I described it to a friend as Hello Kitty meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In truth, there are so many influences and subverted genres being blended, I lost count. You have an Odd Couples dynamic, a silly educational aspect like Gudetama, gonzo anti-establishment ideas like FLCL, and a heartwarming girls coming of age story like Azumanga Daioh. It all adds up to a fully realized drama that is funny and heartbreaking. While some of the humor and visual cues will reward fans of Japanese culture and animation, the bedrock story is universal, and I highly recommend Girl’s Last Tour.