Image source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』 on Twitter

Girls’ Last Tour has received critical acclaim this season, both for its anime adaption, and the manga on which it is based. A primary reason for this exuberant reception is its unique combination of two different genres: dystopian/post apocalyptic and slice-of-life. While the struggle of the protagonists is life and death, this struggle is their everyday normal with all its attendant emotions.

Alone in a Post-War Apocalyptic Urban Hellscape, The Young Girls of Girls’ Last Tour Still Maintain Their Innocence

In Girls’ Last Tour, the situation for the child protagonists is pretty grim. Chii and Yuu are apparently child soldiers who were ordered away from a battle that appears to have been being waged by some of the last remaining humans. In addition to their military uniforms, helmets, and other personal gear, they have a kettangrad motorcycle tank, a rifle, and some books. Not much. With these few resources, they travel away from the battle and through what is revealed to be mega-city. While fuel, power, heat, and water seem readily available, the girls must still seek it out. The only season seems to be winter, and so even with access to heat and power, the girls must be careful of cold. The two biggest threats to the girls seem to be the extreme scarcity of food the constant threat of collapse of the decrepit multi-level urban infrastructure on which they travel. 

Perhaps the reason why the series has been so critically acclaimed is the understated simplicity of this combination of dystopian setting and slice-of-life narrative. The premise is pretty simple. Two girls, most likely pre-teens or early teens, are essentially left to fend for themselves with only each other to rely on, socialize with, confide in, and trust in a world that isn’t so much hostile as it is completely indifferent and uncaring. Although they may have escaped a battle at the very beginning of the first episode, the enemies they face are not human. 

Image source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』 on Twitter

[This article contains spoilers up to the current episode of Girls’ Last Tour.]

The primary enemy that the girls face is hunger. This both the first priority and the most significant challenge. While Chii and Yuu are not the only humans left in the city, the number of humans we have seen, either in the present or in flashbacks, can essentially be counted on one hand. The city is both massive and empty. The girls are required to spend the vast majority of their time searching through military wreckage, warehouses, factories, and residential towers for whatever rations they can find. 

And rations isn’t a euphemism. It appears that the only food produced within recent times (how far back we do not know, but it seems to be much longer than the ages of both of the adults the girls meet on their travels) has been made in the form of ration bars. The two types we know existed are potato-based (which is all the girls ever manage to find, including one of the, perhaps the only, hydroponics and baking facility itself) and fish-based (as the girls wander into a fishery and are informed by its automated robot caretaker what it is). The girls have managed to capture and eat one single fish, but they’ve never come across anything made from fish. Given the amount of time they travel versus the stores of rations they find, the scarcity of food is made quite clear. Before any other issue, Chii and Yuu are most likely to eventually starve to death. 

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Understandably then, many episodes revolve around food and much of the conversation and the humor is related to food. One running joke that’s really only bleakly humorous when you stop and think about it is that Yuu is always hungry and generally wants to eat everything. In addition to constantly complaining about being hungry, Yuu’s response to many a new discovery is, “can we eat it?” A non-stop eater is a fairly regular character in many slice-of-life anime, but the humor is derived generally from the fact that it’s unusual to be so hungry when surrounded by the developed nation food availability of modern Japan. Yuu may sound similar on the surface, but unlike this typical character type, it’s nearly certain neither Yuu nor Chii are getting enough to eat. Yuu’s fascination with food—and her hilarious back and forth dialogues with Chii—underlie the grim reality of their situation. The girls really are hungry all the time and with such limited food resources, if it’s edible, it should probably be eaten or the girls might not get such a chance again. 

Image source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』 on Twitter

The next most serious threat to the girls is probably exposure. Although there have been periods where the weather in the mega-city has become significantly warmer, it has not become warm. Instead of snowing, there has been a cold rain, or there have been gusty winds. Just as Yuu is want to complain about how hungry she is, she also reminds Chii incessantly of how cold or dark, or cold and dark, she happens to be. Yet, in general, it seems like Yuu and Chii are constantly facing bitter cold. While necessity for washing themselves and their clothing means they will take freezing baths where they cannot find heated water, they only rarely find themselves comfortable enough to travel without their heavy uniforms, coats, gloves, and helmets. 

When particularly lucky, they may find themselves inside of the city infrastructure, its warehouses, factories, military bases, and residences, but they may not find themselves outside of the cold. If they are lucky in their searches they will come across the heated water pipes that still seem to run the breadth of the city. Heat can be found, but time must be spent searching for it. Despite the urban density of the city, there are times when Yuu and Chii find themselves in a large open area or unable to find open entrances into any buildings. During these times, heat is not available, and exposure to the cold—if extreme—could be deadly. There’s also the concern that their kettangrad could break down during one of these times, stranding them in the elements. Both seem quite small with little natural insulation and only their uniforms and coats to protect them. In at least a couple of episodes, it does not seem impossible that the girls could freeze to death or become seriously ill. 

Image source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』 on Twitter

Yet mostly the girls do seem to find enough food, if barely, and survive the elements either be finding shelter, making fires, or finding sources of heat and power. The city also seems well enough equipped with fuel for the kettangrad. Although Chii does remark that some areas they have already been to have been running out, the implication is that these are areas she and Yuu already know and have spent some amount of time around. As they travel further away from the battle area where they started, they appear to be encountering reserves that have not yet been tapped. This always them to continue on their journey without a concern that they cannot feed their vehicle, even if they cannot feed themselves. This leads to one of the least immediate and yet still important concerns: mental health.

A more insidious enemy here is the girls’ nearly complete isolation from social structures. Chii and Yuu belong to each other in a way few humans can really claim to belong to any other person. Although at times they appear to barely tolerate each other’s quirks, the girls are more than friends, more than sisters, more than companions, more than comrades; they are the sum total of society. The fact that they have each other, and due to both personality and apparent training, can be relied on to serve an important function in keeping each other alive, is a very real support structure preventing dysfunctional behavior. Both clearly had some role models as younger children, and that certainly helped. Their education is spotty, but at least Chii is literate. Yuu does seem to be a quite capable sharpshooter, which is of definite use in a world of unknowns.

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Every bit of knowledge that Chii learns and in turn teaches to Yuu, and every ritual that Chii insists be followed, is both everyday and funny—yet also a very real bulwark against the metaphorical darkness. Chii’s devotion to her journal entries and then to her photography casts two very normal occurrences in a different light. Books are rare, notebooks more so, and cameras? Neither Chii nor Yuu had ever seen one before a fellow traveler gives them one. Mundane activities, like setting cans and helmets out under leaks in a roof to create rain-induced “music” is both beautifully simplistic and yet full of wonder when we realize the girls have never heard music before. Surrounded by broken technology, constantly on the move searching to stave off starvation, the simplest rest and unique experience is a tremendous joy to Chii and Yuu.

Image source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』 on Twitter

Girls’ Last Tour has one of the most representative opening themes in all of anime, itself an excellent combination of its component genres. Sung in character by the voice actresses of Chii and Yuu, it talks of the never ending, unchanging days, mentions the sounds of grinding machinery, traveling against the prevailing winds, and yet the hope that the puzzles of their world will be solved and answers will be found. All of this as they dance, sing, and talk through their monotonous existence. 

Despite the dystopia in which they live Yuu and Chii are ultimately cheerful even happy. They know no other world, and thus, are not upset by what they don’t have. Rather, each new discovery, no matter how mundane to viewers, is a cause for celebration. They don’t appear to have any doubts in their traveling, and they generally hold no fear or concern beyond the immediate situation. As they hold onto each other, they have not lost a childhood. They are spending it with each other as the keep on keeping on. They have no other choice, yet they have all the freedom in the world.

Girls’ Last Tour can be watched on Amazon’s Anime Strike.

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