When I discovered Yurucamp △ I was immediately interested in it. The first volume cover was so extremely well designed and telling that I felt I had to read it at once.
Let’s look at this cover a bit.
Take a minute and just check it out. How much can you gather just by looking at this? In my case, the colors alone really sold me. This is 1) extremely colorful and 2) unusually colored. Just glancing over it gives me a sense of warmth and comfort, and it’s quirky and different so I like it. The two characters naturally give off their personalities well. Our girl on the left looks goofy, dopey, and jovial. She’s got a bird on her head, her posture is extremely relaxed, she’s absently eating a HUGE sandwich, and her expression is a bit distant. You can tell she’s a pretty laid back, but weird and probably happy sort. Our girl on the right was reading a book just before noticing 1) the bird on this other girl’s head and 2) “wow, the whole sandwich huh” (note how hers is untouched). She’s clearly more serious. While still relaxed her posture is better, she’s more focused, and her clothing seems more practical than silly. These are JUST immediate impressions. Looking further we have what’s beside each character to indicate things about them and the series: a weird ball, a ukulele, a smartphone, a camera, some light snacks, and a cup of milk each. How they’re dressed and that there’s a fire informs us that these campers aren’t going out during the height of summer or spring, but either autumn or winter. Indeed there’s nobody else at this campsite, as we can see sprawling nature behind them. A mountain, a river, and the open sky. There’s even a bit more to it than that but I’m moving on. This cover is exceptional.
So, Yurucamp △ (ゆるキャン△, Yurukyan △, Laid-Back Camp △) is a slice of life camping manga by Afro (あｆろ (cute name!)) that is pretty damn unusual for its genre. Basically, it takes expectations of the genre and throws them out the window in the first few chapters. Then, it spends a while saying “No, really, we’re doing this”. To put it really simply, unlike almost every other slice of life interest/hobby series of its kind, Yurucamp doesn’t actually feature a group of four girls always hanging out, possibly engaging in the subject of the manga itself (i.e. music, art, lifting weights). Instead, it features 3 girls regularly hanging out, 1 girl not hanging out with others at all, and a pair of girls (taking one from each category) who become fairly close friends (there’s not even any subtextual yuri). Furthermore there’s a fifth girl who’s basically a wild card, friend to the loner since before the manga’s start. You’d think soon enough they would all group together and be super mega friendly all the time but no, that doesn’t happen. All of this gives Yurucamp a supremely unique atmosphere and vibe that I adore so much I can’t believe I wasn’t aware I wanted it.
You have no idea how tempted I was to just make this article pages of the manga and write not a single word.
Anyway, basically, half of Yurucamp is group camping slice of life, while the other half is solo camping slice of life. One of the two protagonists, Rin, spends a whooole lot of this manga riding into the empty countryside and mountains, taking pictures, exploring, camping, and cooking. It honestly almost feels like a post-apocalyptic series at times. Regularly she chats with the second protagonist, Nadeshiko, and her pre-established friend, and overall phone chatting is a large aspect of the series, with several amusingly written, believable, charming and often witty LINE conversations between characters. All in all, I came away from Yurucamp thinking “alright, so what’s wrong with it?” And I really, honestly, couldn’t think of anything. Its subversions of genre coupled with it owning its own vibe, its obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter, and its generally breathtaking visuals elevated this manga so highly in my eyes that it knocked Helck out of place on my 3×3. Among the three series I’m reviewing this week, all of which I consider amazing, this is the one I most highly regard.
Now with that intro done, let me further explain the wonderful nature of this manga.
Yurucamp is set in the Yamanashi prefecture of Japan, a mountainous area nearby to Mt. Fuji which sure seems quiet during winter and fall.
Referring back to the first volume’s cover, much as I love it it doesn’t perfectly represent the series exactly (just sells it extremely well while giving a LOT of information). For example, at first glance I was pretty sure pink hair over here was going to be THE protagonist. Well no. She instead shares the role with the not-genki one, who actually seems to be more of a protagonist and is the main character of chapter 1. This is Shima Rin, and when she spots Kagamihara Nadeshiko throughout chapter 1 sleeping in potentially dangerous places during a dangerous time (hey, she could get a cold), Rin is like “meh”. This whole chapter was already serving to throw me off. She genuinely has no interest in reaching out to this other girl.
Of course, they eventually meet, and like any decent human being Rin helps this newcomer out in her time of PANIC.
Nadeshiko just moved to the area and wanted to come to this campground specifically to see the view of Mt. Fuji on the thousand yen note. It was cloudy and she fell asleep so she missed the opportunity for a good view, though. While moping over this (and graciously eating Rin’s provided cup ramen), Rin informs her that that’s not actually the case, and a great view still remains.
And shortly after this, chapter 1 ends. All in all, in spite of being very quiet and not much actually happening, it kinda hits like a whirlwind, especially if you go in with standard genre expectations.
It represents the series as a whole quite well so I give it high praise as an introduction. Most of chapter 1 is dedicated to Rin camping by herself, thinking to herself, the manga showing off lovely scenery and generally being chill. Rin is rather endearing with her running commentary, and when she finally has to interact with Nadeshiko it’s pretty funny. We see the pros of camping and the cons, which is also great since it makes the series genuine (rather than simply playing up the series’ subject matter as the best thing ever ever).
I guess needless to say I, at least, was hooked from the getgo. Upon reading chapter 1, I proceeded to read everything else then and there. When I finished volume 1, I bought volumes 2-4 and eagerly continued. And boy, there was a lot to love.
Continuing with necessary summary, chapter 2 introduces the inevitable “high school club that the protagonist(s) will join”. In this case, Nadeshiko joins the outdoors club, a club dedicated to casual camping activities with president Oogaki Chiaki (Aki) and her thick-eyebrowed, Kansai accented friend Inuyama Aoi. Aki is a bombastic yet responsible type, and Aoi is chillaxed and cute always (while also being generally, in my opinion, amusing). They’re kind of in “hardly recognized as a club” territory due to lack of members, so their “clubroom” is pretty much a closet and their budget is nonexistent. They’re a good pair and it was a treat to see them introduced.
Also introduced in chapter 2 is Rin’s friend, Saitou Ena. Ena is kinda low key possibly the best character in the series. She’s sneaky, I suppose. In her introduction it’s immediately obvious that camping isn’t really her thing, but nonetheless she’s super friendly so she still creates a good rapport with the outdoors club members. She isn’t “the friendly one”, though. As should be clear from the page she first appears in up there she’s got the “strange, trolling sort” character trait. She’s a perceptive girl and very funny, particularly in her interactions with Rin, but she initially appears to simply be a side character (another example of this manga subverting expectations). She tends to pull strings behind the scenes and generally keep characters developing. A good girl!
Volume 1 in its entirety does very well to give you an idea of what this series is and where it will go. Rin goes solo camping and we see her checking places out. Nadeshiko joins her on one of her trips because of Ena’s manipulation. Nadeshiko and the rest of her club prepare to head out on their own camping trip simultaneous to Rin, and it’s all around chortle-tier funny and supremely pleasant. I especially like how Rin tends to…”challenge” things, I guess, but still appreciates cute stuff. Like really, she mutters stuff like “what’re you lookin’ at, ya bastard?” a lot.
Speaking of Rin, a very, very, VERY slow burn aspect of this series is Rin opening up to the POSSIBILITY of joining or being joined by others to participate in group or pair camping.
Rin never changes from liking solo camping. After 5 volumes (by December, 2017) and almost 3 years of publication, she unsurprisingly warms to the idea of camping with others, but even joining the outdoors club remains to be seen. Should she even actually join after this writing, know that it took a realistically long amount of time for her to turn around on it, and I just love that.
Because of Rin’s preferences, which are acknowledged and entirely respected by the rest of the cast, we get some awesome and fascinating, super entertaining solo travelogues from her riding and walking through natural Japan. The feeling is almost surreal at times, and there’s a healthy balance of camping joys (like that amazing scenery) and camping woes (like not being sure what to eat and how to cook while camping (this is a cooking manga, by the way)). It’s surprisingly nice to see a manga where the message isn’t “friends are the end all be all”. It’s like “yes, it’s alright to have friends, but being on your own has its own wonder and delights”.
I liked this aspect so much that I wasn’t sure how much I’d like even the possibility of her turning around on the idea of group camping. On my second read of the series, though, I noticed something that I’d apparently missed although it was pretty obvious: how Rin’s friendship with Nadeshiko (and not-so-secretly Ena) subtly make her less of a grouch and less stubborn.
Nadeshiko is Rin’s first friend who likes this hobby of hers that she spends so much time and money on. Due to the sheer amount of it, it was easy for me to miss just how dearly she recalled memories of camping with Nadeshiko throughout volumes 1-4 in favor of how much she loved the peace and quiet of out-of-season camping. Though she was standoffish at first, Rin likes Nadeshiko a lot (not that way). She finds the girl highly amusing and entertaining, and their friendship actually growing deeper over a significant length of time is great. On the reverse hand Nadeshiko respects Rin a ton, finds her very cool, and just plain likes talking with her or hanging out with her. They play off each other well and yet also play off of other characters well. Other characters can play amongst each other without needing a protagonist around, and overall the series presents a believable and realistic realm of relationships and hobby appreciation that I was very easily swept into.
Not a bad word to say.
If you want a manga to read, you should read Yurucamp △. I think it can be enjoyed by anyone, as it defies its own genre, defines its own rules, and accomplishes excellent things within them.
Though unfortunately for you English-only pals, Yurucamp is quite a ways behind in scanlation and the group doing it isn’t exactly speedy (though I wouldn’t call them slow either; these chapters are huge and the team does a superb job with font choices and translation notes). If you can read Japanese, the Japanese in Yurucamp is mostly very simple so you can bust out an OCR like KanjiTomo, buy the volumes off of an ebook shop, and get to reading (the volumes are great, by the way: most come with like 30-40 omake pages, that is friggin’ absurd amounts of extra content). There are also many absolutely textless pages of course, due to the series’ quiet atmosphere. If it would make you happy to hear it, this series was licensed officially in English by Yen Press who will release volume 1 in February, 2018. Another interesting bit of news is that Yurucamp is getting an anime in 2018. I…honestly don’t know how good or bad it’d be. This isn’t a series I’m desperate to see animated, I guess. Update: In case you haven’t heard — it’s good, lots of people calling it AOTS, best seller, etc. That’s nice, now read the manga! Anyway, the director resonates with many of my opinions (like how Ena is the best) so I can’t be surprised that the anime managed to “get” it.
(And total side note, I live in Hamamatsu and can absolutely confirm: the gyoza is fantastic.)
If you want to buy this manga here are the ways: CDJapan, bookwalker (guide), honto (guide), ebookjapan. Eventually officially in English: [here]. You may also look into getting the digital editions of the magazine it runs in, Manga Time Kirara Forward, also at ebookjapan. Please read Yurucamp △. I want more people talking about how damn good it is.
End of words. I hope to see you tomorrow with another good manga. Thanks for reading about this one.