The two best shows of Winter 2018 had a couple of things in common; they both involved outdoor activities away from civilization, both were heavily invested in friendships between girls and both placed their romantic aspects along the edges. Instead of centering on the idea of romance, like so many stories, both Yuru Camp and Sora yori mo Tooi Basho placed the emphasis elsewhere, but in the process let the aspects of romance they were interested in shine through.
Spoilers for the entirety of the Yuru Camp anime and Sora yori mo Tooi Basho.
Shima Rin loves Kagamihara Nadeshiko. This is not explicit text in the show, but it is subtext. Subtext is not something made up by the viewer, it is something placed in a work by the author, with the intention that the reader or viewer understand what is being stated. Unfortunately, for girl’s love couples, nothing less than fully stated text is enough much of the time. “They’re just good friends” the refrain goes. Well, they are good friends, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t more. It also does not mean that Rin loving Nadeshiko negates her friendships, or devalues the idea of friendship.
Yuru Camp is interesting in that it presents a clear comparison between how Rin interacts with “Just Friends” and how she interacts with someone who is clearly much more. Her best friend is Saitou Ena, they’ve been friends for a while it seems. They text back and forth, give each other shit over Line and in person and just generally act like good friends. However there is still a difference. Rin calls Ena “Saitou”, same as she does with the other girl’s in the show, with one exception.
For the first three episodes Rin never refers to Nadeshiko by any name at all. She calls her “that girl” in her own thoughts, and avoids directly addressing her by name in their interactions. Until the end of episode 3. Waking up in the morning, seeing Nadeshiko’s sleeping face. Rin smiles and says “Wake up, Nadeshiko.” Nadeshiko is the only person she calls by their given name, and on top of that without an honorific. Her relationship with Nadeshiko is completely different from the one she has withe Ena. Throughout the series, Rin’s interactions with Nadeshiko continue to be distinct from how she is with Ena, or with Chiaki and Aoi from the Outclub.
While at no point does Rin say explicitly she “loves” Nadeshiko, the changes in her overall outlook and how she interacts specifically with Nadeshiko are precisely designed to convey this concept. When Rin looks at Nadeshiko and smiles, a smile she’s never shown doing except when talking to, looking at or thinking about Nadeshiko…thats love.
So what about Sora yori mo Tooi Basho? Well, romance is even less of a factor than in Yuru Camp. In fact it almost goes out of its way to not be about that, particularly when it comes to the four lead girls. They are best friends, but not lovers. There is no indication that any of them would move beyond this, though the potential exists, that is all it is. On the other hand, once the trip to Antarctica begins, a small romance aspect leaks in, involving some of the adults on the trip.
By and large the romance is not treated very seriously. One woman is pining for her boyfriend back home, the show treats this like a punchline, though not in a cruel way. On the other hand, one young man has a crush on Gin, the expedition captain. He gets shot down and dunked on multiple times, as he thoroughly deserves. Additionally, there is a pair of women who are prett said about them one way or another.
Toudou Gin, on the other hand. Gin is the expedition captain and more saliently, an old friend of Shirase’s mother Takako. She was part of the expedition where Takako was lost and is on just as much of a journey as Shirase is and for the same reasons. It soon becomes apparent that Gin and Takako were more than “just friends”, albeit no one ever comes out and says they were lovers. But they were. Gin is framed in the story exactly where you would normally expect Shirase’s father to be, though at no point is a second parent other than Takako mentioned…except for Gin.
Gin wanted to keep Shirase from Antarctica, not only because she felt taking a high-school student was a bad idea, but because to her Shirase represented how she believes she failed. When Takako died, Gin stopped being with Shirase. Its never stated why, though its easy enough to figure out. Shirase reminded Gin too much of Takako and Gin felt guilty for Takako’s death, unable and unwilling to answer hard questions Shirase would have for her. Leaving Shirase in the care of Takako’s mother (almost certainly Shirase’s legal guardian, Gin presumably having no legal connection to Shirase herself), she buried herself in her work, leading to the expedition that Shirase forces herself onto.
In the end, both Gin and Shirase find answers in Antarctica. For Shirase she is finally able to cry, to acknowledge that her mother is gone, and come to terms with what that means. For Gin, she was able to reconcile with the daughter she shared with the woman she loved, surely something Takako would have wanted for them.
By eliminating romance as an issue with the younger members of the cast, Yorimoi gave a much larger impact to the romantic aspect it did feature, Gin and Takako, without needing to devote excess time to it. Similarly, Yuru Camp developed the romance between Rin and Nadeshiko without drama or fanfare. A small smile, a name spoken in the early morning and moments shared.