Laid-Back Camp is currently available on Crunchyroll.
I could not possibly be more stoked for Yuru Camp to come back next week.
Yuru Camp (so-called by its fans, but localized as the somewhat-clumsier “Laid-Back Camp“) belongs to an odd little subgenre. It doesn’t really have a name, any sort of formalization, or even a presence outside of anime in particular. But, in short, it can be roundly called a “hobbyist show”.
Not in the HGTV sense, like a non-fiction expose or reality show with topical flavor. It’s more a subgenre of the “Cute Characters Do Fun Things” strain of shows in the same way that sports-focused shows are kind of a specific variant of action series. They borrow an existing format to champion and explore a single subject, like volleyball or scuba diving or music composition.
Sure, newer formats like video blogs and social media in general can blur the line on this. It's hardly difficult to find hobbyists making slice-of-life content about what they love. But few of these blend pure enthusiasm for their subject matter with a light fiction to tie it together. Anime, on the other hand, gives us shows of that description regularly.
And Yuru Camp, a series in love with the platonic ideal of outdoor camping, exemplifies that exact niche beautifully.
It’s generally pretty clear when any story is just using a topic as a vehicle. For how much I adore Your Lie in April, for example, it hardly gets get hung up how accurate its portrayals of piano tutoring and student competition are. Those just serve the real meat of the story – the main characters growth. Yuru Camp, delightfully, takes the other mentality: the hobby is very much in the driver's seat.
Case in point: each episode of the show credits the Yamanashi Tourism Board for their direct involvement in its production. It's not uncommon to see that sort of partnership, sure. Get the blessing of the place where your show is “filming”. But in this case, it's clearly a mutual investment in the same thing: getting people outdoors. Look no further than the tourism board site, which has been leveraging Yuru Camp‘s appeal as a promotion for three years running. And… it's worked. Ever since the show aired, park visitation there has seen a notable uptick.
And Yuru Camp was poised to do that from the word “go”, with the author taking the cast to real-world campgrounds and lodges for their weekend adventures. One fan’s travelogue in particular illustrates all the research that the artists and writers folded in. Everything from photo-accurate scenery to an only-in-one-scene shopkeeper are clearly intended to highlight an existing charm.
It was always there in Afro‘s manga. The series just doubles down.
The flip-side, perhaps, is that Yuru Camp doesn't spend nearly so much time on any manner of detail. The script squeeses a gag from the idea of substituting bubble wrap for insulation, after all. But what do you expect? A point-for-point exchange on comparing water treatment options isn't usually riveting fiction.
Then again, neither is watching someone sit in silence for a whole scene at a time. Yet that is absolutely key to one the show's best features.
More crucially than any amount of showing its work, Yuru Camp‘s greatest strength is its role as an enabler.
Everyone Can Camp
Within any hobby, there's inevitably disagreement about the “best” way to enjoy it. Tools, methodology, pick a point of contention. But that's not an inevitable attitude. Backpackers in particular have the phrase “hike your own hike”, which you can extrapolate in a dozen different ways. But no matter how you take it, the core idea gets through pretty cleanly in four words.
Regardless of any details that Yuru Camp does or doesn’t get right, the one thing it never ever fails at is reflecting this concept. Not even around camping specifically, though that's obviously the framework that it uses for everything. More than that, it demonstrates how to keep a healthy, self-driven mentality behind any interest under the sun.
Most feel-good shows are quick to champion friendship as a virtue. The colloquial wisdom is that the true joy in something is in sharing it; why would you ever want to be keep what you love to yourself? And while Yuru Camp does focus plenty on camping as a group activity, that's not its default.
Yuru Camp is, crucially, perfectly happy to spend half its runtime celebrating the opposite approach.
Long stretches of the series are spent illustrating the solo excursions of its first protagonist (Rin). She enjoys prolonged sequences of quiet and stillness, and in those episodes, so does the camera. It lingers on sustained shots of scenery or moments where Rin silently reads a book, as early as the very first episode. In theory, it sounds boring. In practice, it's quaint and utterly calming to watch.
It goes in both ways, too. The show's second protagonist (Nadeshiko) joins a hobby club early on. Her half of the show is gag-driven and beaming with a youthful, communal energy. It's much closer to other series' draw of having energetic characters bounce off one another. For me, that can get tiring if it goes on long enough. For a lot of others, it's the more exciting half of the story.
The show is of two minds about its own tempo, but not in a conflicting way. More that it's imperative that both mindsets on display.
Because in doing so, it makes its central topic open, accessible, and normal to both.
The series very early on gives the two halves an opportunity to merge via a joint outing. Rin’s gut reaction is to resist this out-of-hand. In a more typical series, the rest of the cast might keep doggedly trying to bring her into the fold. It's seen as the positive thing to do, to get someone to “open up”.
Yuru Camp shoots this down almost immediately.
In the very next chapter (or episode), the otherwise-persistent Nadeshiko decides not to push Rin to fit the same mold she fell into. She verbally, actively, and explicitly chooses to respect Rin’s wishes. And that positive expression of their differences persists for the rest of the series.
It's almost the core “conflict” of a show that's otherwise overwhelmingly pleasant. From the early on in the show, Nadeshiko marvels at Rin’s collection of high-end equipment. She appreciates the lengths to which an enthusiast will go in order to get the most of their excursions.
And then she goes on to decide that she's perfectly content using entry-level gear. The two of them clearly enjoy themselves every bit as much as each other despite deeply different attitudes. Neither is ever suggested to be “better”; they just suit different people with different wants and levels of investment.
Camp your own camp.
Even and especially later on, the show keeps burning down that false dichotomy. Rin does eventually, voluntarily, join a group trip, but there’s still a sense that Rin is focused more on the venue itself. She mostly keeps to herself and stays focused on tasks-at-hand, and nobody bats an eye at it. Her “be present” attitude is on display, side-by-side and equal to the “power of friendship” outlook. Because pretending that the two are totally incompatible would just be manufacturing an argument that doesn't need to happen.
Instead, Yuru Camp showcases what it always has and continues to show best: that there are as many ways to embrace a hobby as there are people. And, barring an outright antagonistic attitude, none is more or less correct than the next. It’s a show that's endlessly warm, friendly, and accepting of every mindset.
Just like any hobby community ought to be.