In Short:

A Place Further Than The Universe is a 2018 anime by Madhouse that follows the challenges and triumphs of four Japanese high school girls who become the best of friends after choosing to join a research expedition to Antartica. The show features strong art and animation, great characterizations for its four leads, a realistic portrayal of just what it takes to go on such a journey, a ton of great humor and funny moments, and a surprising amount of depth and heartache that you might not expect given the show’s premise and early episodes.

Suggested Minimum Watch: 1 episode. If you don’t love the show by the end of the end credits train ride you’d be better off finding something else.

Full Review:

When I first saw the key art and heard the initial pitch for A Place Further Than The Universe, I almost immediately put it in my ignore pile. The premise of four high school girls going on an adventure to Antartica just seemed too cutesy to me. The visuals reminded me a bit too much of shows like Girls und Panzer and High School Fleet, two shows where groups of girls join their school’s tank club or crewed warships with no adults and no real risks or dangers. I figured A Place Further Than The Universe was like that. Cutesy without any real substance. Turns out I was super wrong! Instead, this is a show that is both packed with humor and laughs, and one that tells a surprisingly character focused coming of age story.

The show begins with Mari Tamaki, a second year Japanese high school student who wakes up one morning and realizes that she hasn’t really done anything with her life. Desperate to go on an adventure, she attempts to skip class one morning but chickens out and ends up at school on time, same as always. That evening, on her way home, she happens to pick up a bank envelope dropped by an unknown girl from school who rushes by. Inside is a million yen! Mari manages to track down the owner the next day and is introduced to Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl her age who is determined to make her way to Antartica.

After a bit of a rough start, the two girls hit it off and soon come in contact with Hinata Miyake, an intelligent, upbeat girl their age who works full time while studying for college, and Yuzuki Shiraishi, a girl from out of town who is a year younger than them and who is a childhood actress and social media star. She is being forced to accompany an expedition to Antartica to record a social media type documentary.

These four girls are the main reason to watch A Place Further Than The Universe. Each has a distinct personality, and a distinct reason for wanting to go to Antartica.

  • Mari is goofy and upbeat, but, having done very little beyond obtain perfect attendance and excellent grades at school, she is a little sheltered as to how the real world works. She wants to go on the trip so she can say she actually did something.
  • Hinata is fun loving, athletic, and smart enough to become the brains of the group, but she tends to hide her troubles behind a laugh and a smile. She says she just wants to do something big before entering university, but her stated reasons for dropping out of school aren’t the whole story.
  • Yuzuki is essentially the girls’ ticket to Antartica. Her mother is helping fund the expedition and Yuzuki is set to record a fun, social media heavy show detailing her trip. Sadly, because she’s been a child actress for as long as she can remember, Yuzuki has never had much time for friends. Worse, often any friends she does try to make care more about her popularity than actually getting to know her.
  • Then there’s Shirase. At the start of the story she has a somewhat cynical, reserved personality and her plans are often a little under-thought, but she is determined to get to Antartica as part of the upcoming public expedition absolutely no matter what. You see, her mother was a member of the previous research expedition that left for Antartica more than three years ago. But, while the rest of the team returned home, Sirase’s mother did not. She was lost in a blizzard, never to be seen again.

A Place Further Than The Universe is a show filled with jokes and laughs and humorous situations, mostly of the four girls’ making, but it is also a show that has a more serious undercurrent. Though it’s not obvious at first, each of the four girls has some obstacle in their life that they wish they could overcome, and the friendships they form with each other during their joint trip to Antartica helps them do just that.

The resolution to Shirase’s troubles had me in full on tears like no anime has before or since. The full stories of the other three girls turned out to be pretty impactful, as well, and serve to further illustrate the strong bonds of friendship they form along the way. The friendships these four girls make on their journey, combined with the emotional payoffs to their individual stories, puts this anime on a different level than many of its peers.

Beyond its four main characters, A Place Further Than The Universe boasts a surprisingly solid look at what it takes to attempt an expedition to Antartica. There’s an episode dedicated to training for the trip. There’s an episode just about exploring the ship that will be their home for the weeks long journey. There’s an episode all about life on board the icebreaker as it sails from Australia to Antartica. Although issues like loading supplies, or obtaining funding, or the sacrifices people make to go on such an expedition are never super heavily focused on, they all come up during the course of the series. Really, what I thought would be the four girls’ unrealistically goofy adventure actually turned out to kinda be the opposite. There is realism to spare here, and the show is all the better for it.

In a show about high school girls going on an adventure, a decent amount of attention is given to the secondary adult characters, as well. In particular, Mission commander Gin Todo and vice commander Kanae Maekawa, both of whom were close friends of Shirase’s mother, have standout minor roles. Gin’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Shirase is one of the high points of the series. The loss of Shirase’s mother, who was friends with most of the returning crew, is keenly felt throughout the second half of the show. Not in any big way, but there’s a subtle acknowledgment of sadness and a determination to try again despite the last trip ending in tragedy that makes things feel ever more real.

That’s not to say this show isn’t also goofy and enjoyable, because it certainly is. The girls’ antics had me cracking up more often than not while watching this series. They joke and goad and screw up and make amends and grow as people in the funniest ways that feel authentic to four high school girls tagging along to Antartica. The show does a great job balancing the handful of truly sad moments with the general sense of cheerfulness and adventure that it puts forth most of the time.

A Place Further Than The Universe is also a beautifully animated series. When it wants to, it’s artistry can rival even anime like Your Name or Violet Evergarden. In particular, it pulls some of the same tricks we see in Makoto Shinkai films where it recreates the look and feel of real world locations with a great attention to detail. The real life Antarctic base of Syowa Station really comes alive in animated form, as do the tourists areas of Singapore and the port areas of Australia’s Fremantle. The show also often goes above and beyond on its animation. A goofy chase scene in the second episode is fantastically well done, but just everywhere you look there are extra touches and flourishes to both the foreground and background characters that help enliven each and every scene.

The show is no slouch musically, either. The main theme is upbeat and enjoyable, but it’s the reoccurring insert song Haru ka Tooku (roughly, “No Matter How Far”), that gets played during moments of friendship and forward movement that really gets me. The music knows just when to come in to perfectly enhance moments of adventure or sadness.

All In All:

A Place Further Than The Universe is something I did not expect. It is hilarious, charming, heartwarming, and occasionally tear jerking. And it’s all based on the strength of its characters and the journey they go on together. Plus, and this is a minor point, it wasn’t made to sell an incomplete manga or light novel. It was made solely to be a great anime, something that is fairly unique these days.