Girls’ Last Tour
In the far future, humanity is virtually extinct and life on earth has all but come to an end. Two surviving humans, Chito and Yuuri, travel through the frozen, deserted ruins on their motorbike, trying to find food, fuel, and shelter, with the vague goal of making it to the “top levels” of the once-vast, thriving city. While the two of them grabble with the day-to-day survival, they contemplate what hope…or even purpose…they still have to exist in such a bleak, dying world.
Creatures shaped this planet’s soil
There’s a lot of anime set after some sort of apocalypse or global calamity, but few that have quite as bleak a setting as Girls Last Tour. If I try to think of other examples, manga like Nausicaa or even shows like Sound of the Sky often feature a relatively verdant world that’s clearly technologically regressed somewhat, but where the overall attitude is that having “learned”, what remains of humanity has some hope of carving out a new existence. Even the bleakest possible examples I can think of, like Texhnolyze, still feature something resembling a functional civilization. Girls’ Last Tour isn’t as grim on the surface, since the humorous banter between the two main characters and their thought experiments keep the tone a bit lighter, and we're well past the point of much actual active conflict going on. But what humor there is a sort of “gallows” humor that I found pretty believable: these two aren’t just the main characters but, with a few distinct exceptions, the only characters in a world that’s truly more dead than dying. Girls’ Last Tour caught me off guard big time by the end; it’s a haunting, sad, and poignant series, in spite of its cute and humorous moments.
I’m really glad that a manga like this actually got animated, because in a lot of ways I’d expect this to be a hard sell, although to be fair I’m not sure how much popularity or name recognition this has in Japan. Given that a huge appeal (at least for a lot of the public) of an anime is having famous voice actors with devoted fanbases, I wonder if animating a show with exactly two characters for 90% of its run took a lot of convincing; if it did, I'm glad they put the effort in. It also puts a lot of pressure on the two actresses to carry the show, but they do a fine job of stepping up. Yurika Kubo, probably best known in the U.S. for voicing Hanayo in the Love Live! franchise, carries the role of Yuuri (usually just called “Yuu” with no honorific), the more laid-back and expressive of the two and the one who mostly thinks about resting and finding her next meal. Meanwhile, Inori Minase, known for her roles as Jun Naruse in The Anthem of the Heart, Chino in Is the Order a Rabbit, and Rem in Re:Zero voices Chito (usually called “Chi-chan”), who’s much more serious and irritable, pretty outwardly unexpressive, except when Yuu tries to push her buttons, and the one who’s “in charge” of this little traveling party; given that she’s actually literate, seems pretty capable of driving the motorbike, and generally knows her stuff when it comes to machinery, I’d say it was a good call. I can’t remember what the exact term was, but I seem to recall that this comic pairing is a pretty longstanding theatrical tradition in Japan; whatever its origins, it works well here. It’s hard to explain what exactly their relationship is (friends? sisters? something closer?) because there’s hardly any precedent for being in a situation where you basically expect to never run into anybody but each other, and there’s no real expectation that you’re going to for the rest of your lives. They do clearly have a bond that’s not easily put in words, though; when there eventually is a moment when the prospect of them being separated looms, it catches you of guard and feels legitimately terrifying and heartbreaking, after they’ve spent so much time with only each other and you, the viewer, have spent so much time watching their little journey.
The two aren’t driven by any goal of “finding civilization” or anything of the sort, and there’s not much reason for them to settle on any goal at all. On the two occasions when they do actually meet other living people, those people are nurturing some personal project just for the sake of having something to focus on, literally any reason to stay alive, and it’s clear that neither of these travelers has seen anybody for a while before they ran into Yuu and Chi-chan; one of them even has trouble speaking because he hasn’t talked to anybody in so long. Each time, the two of them follow along with the person and do what they can to help them in their goal, but each time they ultimately move on. Both of the two people, in the time we spend with them, fail in their goals but start over anyway; there’s no resources and no people to help them accomplish anything, but their reasoning is basically that they might as well have something to focus their energy on. You could argue that Yuu and Chi-chan contrast with these two because their “goal” is much more aimless and they mostly seem concerned with either finding food or talking about what they come across on a day-to-day basis, but I’d describe it as just a variety of coping mechanisms for the end of the world.
And this really is nothing less than the end of the world: we find out that the civilization that built the vast, technologically advanced infrastructure of the city, strongly implied to be a futuristic Japan, collapsed centuries ago and that the surviving humans settled into dwindling, technologically regressed city-states, dying off as they fought over the remaining resources. Yuu and Chi-chan came from one of the last of those villages, and when we get some details as to why they left, it’s shockingly sad. Basically everything is dead; in one episode, the two come across what used to be an aquaculture facility, but there’s only a single fish left alive, with two artificial intelligences looking after the facility out of what must have been thousands centuries before. In the course of this sequence, Yuu and Chi end up mobilizing to save the one fish; they find some meaning in protecting one of the only other remaining living creatures, even though one of the robots duly tells them that it and the fish will only live “a little longer” because of their actions.
The art, for its part, does an astoundingly good job of evoking a dead world. The colors are all grey and white, since this is a city in what looks like a post nuclear-winter earth, and the most color we see most of the time is the dark green of the girls’ military outfits and their eye and hair colors. When we do see any colors, like when the girls accidentally stumble into a bizarre sort of “temple” full of fake lotuses, we’re as shocked as the girls are at the sudden contrast. Tsukumizu, who doesn’t have any other published manga or character design credits outside of some doujin, has a distinct style that grew on me and that the anime preserves well, and it’s hard for me to think of this show as having “cute girls doing cute things” appeal, since it just doesn’t really have the aesthetic for that (although I’ve seen the two show up in some yuri fanart…not complaining). It’s just a beautifully composed series; the shots of the dead city are nothing less than spectacular, if also spectacularly bleak. The images heavily evoke war films, with the military craft the girls find amongst the snowfields and the bare concrete, and I can’t help but wonder if the mangaka took some inspiration from what Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked like after the US bombed them out. The girls almost never come up against any sort of adversary, and it’s obvious that the one time they (sort of) do, they’d be helpless, but in the glimpses of civilization’s downfall that we do get, and in the one case where the girls find an operational war machine, it’s obvious that the world ended in horrible, violent destruction.
I think people will react to Girls’ Last Tour differently, but in my case, while I’d say the humor and the obvious bond between the two girls did a lot to make this an enjoyable show to watch, more than something like Texhnolyze, I’d say that for me, the bleakness won out in the end. I can still smile at a lot of the moments in this show, like when Yuu uses falling rain on tin cans and helmets to make a percussion beat that morphs into a song; as a side note, a surprising amount of the music in the show is diegetic, and it works well, as do the poppy OP and ED sequences (the former of which has some amusing “dancing” on the girls’ part). I still found a lot of it funny. But when I finished the show, I felt spooked out and haunted in a way I hadn’t felt in a while, and I had trouble sleeping; in fact, when I came back to collect screenshots for this review, I felt spooked out again and put on an episode of Cardcaptor Sakura right afterwards to cheer myself up. This is hardly a criticism of the show, by the way; I’d say one of its strongest aspects is the fact that it so successfully evokes such a big range of emotions alongside each other, but I think it can sometimes make the show uncomfortable to watch. The show isn’t violent or exploitative or even particularly sad, as far as what’s actively happening in the show; it’s just sad in a deep, melancholy way.
So I’m glad a show like Girls’ Last Tour got animated. I used to be that girl who reviewed a lot of bleak sci-fi, but lately I feel like a lot of what I’ve taken on and watched has been on the fluffier, happier side, and some of that has had to do with my own mental health and needing to spend time with uplifting stuff. Sometimes, though, I need to watch a show like Girls’ Last Tour: it’s beautifully made, often hilarious, and poignant. But it’s also profoundly sad in a way that’s not always easy to describe, and you need to consider that before you watch it.
Often funny, sometimes cute, ultimately profoundly sad in my opinion, this is a spectacular if difficult series. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: The subject matter hints at war and widescale destruction and loss of human life; in the course of the show itself, there’s one violent scene of weapons destroying an (unpopulated) part of the city and leaving it in flame, and another scene that leads in an artificial intelligence getting violently destroyed. The girls also bathe naked in a few episodes, but I’d really hesitate to call it “fan service” with the way it’s drawn. Probably older kids could handle this, although I don’t know if it’d appeal to them.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Girls’ Last Tour © 2017 Tsukumizu • Shinchosha/“Girl’s Terminal Travel” Production Committee
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