Laid-Back Camp is a 2018 anime series about high school girls who go camping.
And that's pretty much it. Cute high school girls research camping equipment and go camping. There's no bigger plot than that.
It's definitely a series in the "iyashikei" subgenre, a calm show that's mean to heal your soul as you watch it.
This is interesting, considering that the main writer mostly worked on the PreCure magical girl franchise, and this is the director's first role as director after getting his start as an animator and directing episodes on anime as diverse as Tokyo Ghoul, Eden of the East, and Kuroko's Basketball.
The art is worth mentioning: One would hope that a show focusing on the great outdoors provides lovely natural imagery, and this show delivers: the backgrounds are almost uniformly gorgeous and feel like real campgrounds and views. The staff definitely spent a fair amount of time traveling to actual camp sites, photographing them, and using those as references for their backgrounds. The show feels grounded in the actual practicalities of camping and the everyday details of the modern camping experience: dirt trails, rough-hewn wooden pavilions, and the location of any nearby bathrooms.
They staff also does an impressive job with the animation. While there's obviously not a huge budget here, and sequences like setting up a tent are often produced as montages of still shots, scenes never feel under-animated. During dialogue scenes, characters visibly react to each other and every episode has at least a few enjoyably animated sequences of characters running around or otherwise actually moving.
Unfortunately, the character designs frequently wander off-model, enough to be noticeable, especially in the last few episodes. The designs themselves are distinct enough that this is rarely a problem--there's only one girl with long pink hair--but it did pull me out of the action a few times.
The music consists mostly of folk-style pieces that match the tone of the show perfectly. A few songs play frequently, which is strange considering the soundtrack lists about 40 songs, but the songs fit so well they're never grating.
Analysis - Spoilers Below
It's interesting that the show begins with a simple tension: Rin prefers solo camping but the others, particularly Nadeshiko, like camping as a group. And as a Japanese production, it's no surprise that the primary change in the show is Rin learning to appreciate spending time with a group. And while it does end with Rin enjoying her time group camping, the show doesn't present group camping as always better than camping solo. Nadeshiko, in particular, was perfectly fine with solo camping.
I suppose that the clue lies in the title, but that ties into a dimension of the show I really appreciated: it's truly laid back. The girls talk about camping, and go camping, and experience various aspects of camping. There's no sense that the staff is trying to push a message down your throat, or cram as many jokes as possible into each episode, or pander to a particular demographic. Even the scenes at hot springs never show the girls below their armpits, and when we do see them, it's only for a shot or two.
Allow me to digress for a moment to talk about the other girls. Much as I enjoyed Rin's steady personality and Nadeshiko's "puppy-ness," the other girls left very little impression on me. It felt like the creator needed to round out the group, and while the trio does play off each other effectively in dialogue, there's very little depth to them: Chiaki is the energetic one and Aoi is the easygoing one. Unfortunately, those personalities also describe Nadeshiko and Rin, so without further development they feel superfluous. Ironically, I think using the personalities of Ena (Rin's quirky best friend) and Sakura (Nadeshiko's older sister, who drives her everywhere) would have made for a more dynamic group.
Getting back to the earlier point about Rin's change in attitude, I did notice a lovely trend: for a long time, Nadeshiko is the only thing that makes Rin smile. By the time we get to the Christmas camping trip, Rin smiles frequently. This simple detail enlivens the show. If we're supposed to care about Rin--and it bears repeating that one reason we watch media is because we care about the characters at some level--the simple act of seeing her smile more warms the heart.
We talk about heartwarming stories a lot, and Laid-Back Camp warmed my heart more than I expected .