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[Keywords] Yuru Camp and Hobbyism

Laid-Back Camp is currently available on Crunchyroll.

We’re deeply rooted in at least half of the “oodles of options but nothing to watch” sentiment with this newly-minting season of made-for-TV anime. Just rolling down the shortlist, we’ve got:

  • Continuing crowd favorites like Delicious in Dungeon and the Urusei Yatsura revival
  • Reboots of cult classics like Bartender and Spice & Wolf
  • The return of old haunts like Black Butler and KonoSuba
  • Adaptations that manga-readers are crossing fingers for like Kaiju No. 8 and Whisper Me a Love Song

All of this before digging into original stories, long-running staples, the ongoing return of Kyoto Animation, and whatever else is filling out the list of four-dozen shows in circulation over the next three months. For most quarterly periods — including this one, to be clear — it’s cause to bemoan the famously breakneck and break-back pace that these shows are being churned out to.

At the same time, it’s an exceptionally long list with exceptional pedigrees that will put a likewise exceptional strain on your time and attention if you’re keeping even remotely abreast of everything hitting screens over the next three months.

And among them, the one I’m absolutely champing at the bit for at the expense of all the othersis one that seems set by design to be middle-of-the-pack.

Laid-back Camp (which I will refer to as the stylized Yuru Camp△ going forward because A: It rolls off both the tongue and the keyboard better, and B: how could I possibly resist the urge to pop in that oh-so-charming little tent-triangle) belongs to this odd little subgenre doesn’t really have a name, any sort of formalization, or even a presence outside of anime in particular, but can be roundly called “hobbyist”. It’s a facet of the broader “Cute Characters Doing Cute Things” designation of shows in the same way that sports-focused series represent a particular flavor of shonen action, borrowing an existing genre to raise up and explore more a very specific, like cheerleading or long-distance relay racing or a specific brand of motorcycles.

I will grant that some degree of this idea has its own foothold in other corners of The Media World — there’s all manner of documentaries for nature buffs, entire channels devoted to cooking and home economics, and even reality shows around specific brands of motorcycles — but rarely do they blend an earnest enthusiasm for their subject matter with a light, non-intrusive fiction to tie it together.

And Yuru Camp△ exemplifies that exact niche to the point of being its paragon.

Positive Energy, Directed

That all has to flow outward from a genuine enthusiasm for its subject matter (that being tent-style camping, natch). And not just hyperbolic characters-giving-a-siloloquy adoration, but a measurable passion, in the form of consulting members from local tourism boards that feature in the show’s credits rolls and an entire feature film around the nuts-and-bolts of how these spaces are curated. And then, reaching beyond itself, with the show serving directly as promotion for local tourism in its home prefecture.

(If and when I make it to the island, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m traveling through Yamanashi.)

While the manga relishes in playing up the appeal of existing locales, with the author borrowing real-world campgrounds and lodges as the backdrops for the cast‘s weekend-warrior adventures, the anime only doubled down on bringing this to the forefront. One fan’s travelogue in particular is illustrative of the dedication to a heightened authenticity that the artists and writers folded in, with scenery and even a bit-part shopkeeper character being clearly designed with the intention of celebrating an exisiting sense of rustic charm. It’s the culmination of every anime you’ve seen or manga you’ve ever read that pulls the reader aside to explain breath technique for playing kabaddi or the most effective way to word a definition in a dictionary.

For the deep perils of having such an aggressive market, it’s provided manga artists and scriptwriters the space to pen entire narratives about the ins and outs of their most niche interests, and we as readers and veiwers get to feast.

The series’ ardor is perhaps less part of how the literal written and spoken text engages with the nuts-and-bolts of outdoor camping. While there are plenty of tidbits in the text useful to entry-level hobbyists and even a splash screen of quick-hit advice after the credits of each episode, what that truly amounts to is a strong framing. The conversational dialogue — the meat of a series that is, in its heart of hearts, a story — is content to touch on these things fairly briefly before spending just as much time encasing its cast in bubble wrap as a gag substitute for the inflatable ground-mat their student allowances can’t quite afford.

But that’s okay. Ideal, even! I don’t need — nor do I want — episodic fiction to be a tutor on how to select construct the optimal wood-fire for a hot pot. The point was never for Yuru Camp△ to be instructional, because the average person simply does not read manga or watch television with a notepad at the ready. And if that was the point, after all, the show wouldn’t relish so much in long, quiet moments that its debut ten minutes on television featured perhaps two-dozen total lines of dialogue.

More crucially than any amount of showing its work or attention to particular detail, the critical strength of Yuru Camp△ is in its role as an equal-opportunity enabler.

How We Love What We Love

Good god, we’ve gotten so far in without even bringing up the show’s main characters, when that’s the whole point of any of this.

You see, unlike other hobby shows, this one’s about the characters™.

Purely pragmatically, there’s a whole marketing formula to designing ensemble casts with Character Appeal — usually all-female, take that as you will — to splash across posters and the covers of books. It’s how you get things greenlit and out the door, and yes, on a functional level, somebody needs to be out and showcasing consumer outdoor gear and weekend destinations.

Showcasing them to… whom, precisely?

The easy answer is “everyone, together”. Most shows in the slice-of-life, cute-characters-doing-cute-things space are quick to champion friendship as a virtue, to preach that the true joy in a thing is to be found in a sense of togetherness, and that such a thing is simply infectious when shared with others. It’s the old Seven-Samurai expanding cast: start with one character who cares so gosh-darned much about her newfound interest in recreational hiking that she magically draws like-minded moths to her flame, just like You, The Viewer should likewise develop a seasonal interest around long walks in nature.

And while Yuru Camp△ does focus on camping as a road to cameraderie with the ceaselessly-chipper Nadeshiko, it’s perfectly happy to spend half its runtime making a sympathetic showcase of the opposite approach.

Yuru Camp△ is here to celebrate the loners.

Within any hobby, there’s always going to be striation, people who care more or less about the particulars of specialized tools and how to go about engaging with the pastime, with a varying levels of civility. Backpackers in particular have the phrase “hike your own hike”, which you can read into and extrapolate in a dozen different ways, but the core idea cuts through pretty cleanly in those four words.

But regardless of any details that Yuru Camp△ does or doesn’t get right about, well, camping, its ability to reflect this concept is more important in capturing not only its particular hobby, but more broadly a healthy mentality behind just about any interest in just about its any subculture.

And yes, that not just includes, but relishes in prolonged shots of painted scenery or of the cool-headed Rin just sitting and reading a book. Because, frankly, half the point of going out into the woods for a lot of us is to actively do nothing. That, too, is camping.

Space Deliberately Left Blank

In theory (and, for some viewers, in practice), purposefully writing half the story to be slow-moving, dialogue-free, and fairly uneventful makes for desperately dull television. But others like me, it speaks to a kind of meditation found not only in nature, but also in the arts, in home crafting, in whatever else you might have a specialized tool for in your particular closet. It exemplifies the very reason why many people get into any of these hobbies in the first place.

And, to circle quickly back, this is hardly at the expense of a sense of community. Yes, the stock premise’s stock After-School Activity Club hits its stride from the very next week, facilitating the feedback loop of youthful energy that these shows are known for when her character in focus. It can be a bit much for me personally having these energetic kiddos bounce off one another scene after scene with only a vague sense of direction — it’s frankly why I don’t watch more of these — but I’m positive that a substantial proportion of the audience experiences it the other way around.

On paper, it reads as though the show is of two minds about its own tempo. In practice, the balance of the two is a mission statement, and it becomes imperative that both be on display.

Because in doing so, it opens up the space to invite both mindsets, and implicity every possible outlook between and beyond the two.

And the series very early on gives the two groups an opportunity to merge. Rin attends the same classes as the rest of the cast, and knows full well that there’s an open invitation for her in Nadeshiko’s club at any time. And in any other show, she’d come around out of her inward-facing funk around episode 8 and give in to Nadeshiko’s dogged invitations and they’d all embark on a two-part season finale where they camp off into the sunset.

But that’s not what Rin is interested in, and it’s not because she’s in a rut or has anything else wrong with her. There’s nothing to “come around” from. Rather, in the very next chapter (or episode) after she’s invited, Rin explains her outlook and the value she finds in self-sufficiency, the otherwise-persistent Nadeshiko expresses a respect for Rin’s wishes.

It’s not the end of the conversation, sure, because the show has to have that cake and eat it too when Rin inevitably does camp off into the sunset with them in a two-part season finale. But when she does, it’s completely voluntarily and with no obligation to fit into the mold that the rest of the cast settles so naturally into

The same thing is called out a bit more explicitly scene-to-scene: in the first episode of the show, Nadeshiko marvels at Rin’s collection of high-end equipment, showing the lengths to which an enthusiast is happy togo in order to get the most of their excursions. But by the end of the season, Nadeshiko remains content with her set entry-level gear, fawning over accessories that are more cute as often as strictly practical, and enjoying low-obligation day trips every bit as much as Rin enjoys her extensively-prepared highway excursions. The introvert/extrovert dichotomy, the expert/newbie dichotomy — like most dichotomies, these turns out to be false. Rather, both characters are allowed the space and agency to be correct in their own internal outlook without forcing an arbitrary conflict of ideas, which is more than a bit refreshing.

And now, five years after it first hit the air, these girls are both in their lanes. Thriving. Each delighting in their own phiolosophy while leaving space for the other. Nobody needs to yield their opinion or butt heads to validate their right to be present. There’s more than enough space in Yuru Camp△ to just exist so long as you care enough to want to be there for it. It’s warm, it’s friendly, and it wants the same for you, no matter what your bringing in to or taking away from it.

Just like any hobby community ought to be.

Yuru camping irl
<em>I leave you with a 2018 photo from beautiful Voyageurs National Park Minnesota where I found some solitude among good company<em>

This article has been updated from its original from published in January 2021 to celebrate the debut of the show's 2024 season.

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