Civilization is dead, but Chito and Yuuri are still alive. So they hop aboard their beloved Kettenkrad motorbike and aimlessly wander the ruins of the world they once knew. Day after hopeless day, they look for their next meal and fuel for their ride. But as long as the two are together, even an existence as bleak as theirs has a ray or two of sunshine in it, whether they're sucking down their fill of soup or hunting for machine parts to tinker with. For two girls in a world full of nothing, the experiences and feelings the two share give them something to live for…
Apocalyptic stories in anime come in many forms and serve a variety of purposes. Many times the setting allows for action scenes and having a hero come into their own, something like Attack on Titan or High School of the Dead. Others take the situation in slightly different ways, more contemplative ways, series like Casshern Sins or Neon Genesis Evangelion as examples. Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou takes an alternative route of using an apocalypse for object lessons on a variety of topics.
The story of Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou isn't so much about an overarching plot as the chapter
to chapter encounters and experiences of the main leads, Yuu and Chii. The only connecting element of the series is the girls’ constant movement upward and need for supplies. Their stops along the way result in a wide variety of thought-provoking situations from odd encounters found throughout the crumbling city them are in.
Many of these situations take a look at modern society and norms from a future that has forgotten the reason for some inventions: the amazing marvel of technology that is the camera, why humans take pictures at all, and what happens when those pictures are either lost or outlive their subjects as a single example. Other stops focus on the nature of living and what one does when the world and time as we know it has ended. These ideas and their underlying themes make up the true appeal of the series and form the major reason for reading it at all. Each chapter works through a new idea, not offering an answer for the questions the series raises but instead gives that reader a chance to consider things they might take for granted or as a normal, and whether that mundanity is really something to appreciate
The art of this manga skillfully plays into the messages and themes of the story, drifting between believably run down and apocalyptic buildings to slightly fantastical or constructions out of science fictions story. The art, whether meant to be literal illustrations of the dilapidated world surrounding the girls or showing how they see their world as a mysterious,vaguely foreboding landscape pairs well with the readers lack of knowledge of the world, being shown only what the main characters see. Every location that Yuu and Chii visit contains broken constructs, hints about the activities and purpose of each area, and creates a wonderful atmosphere of a once mighty and thriving world now breathing its last.
Especially effective are the vaguely ominous and foreboding backgrounds, hinting at world that fell to ruin and only continues down the path of entropy. The final few chapters especially point to how little remains of the human world and how broken it is without upkeep and inhabitants. Watching Chii and Yuu traverse this vast and varied landscape is another major selling point for the series, as it is a masterful example of a story without words, giving information through interpretation and implication rather than outright explanation.
Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou is a masterfully crafted trek through a dying world, contemplating the very reason for living and being, seen through the eyes of two girls who make do with whatever they have. While perhaps a slow boil, Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou is a unique collection of ideas wrapped in a deceptively simple yet deeply intriguing world.
After multiple discussions about Girls' Last Tour's anime release among anime friends and acquaintances this past season, often giving it tremendous praise for its themes and thoughtfulness with comparisons to Kino's Journey, I was a little curious about what the series may contain. When I found out how short the chapters were in the manga, I decided to take the manga reader approach rather than watch the anime since it probably wouldn't take much time to get through and I can read through it at my own pace. What I found was a series that had great potential and got my hopes up early on,
but ultimately let me down in the end on what was... kind of a downer of a manga.
The story is a fairly simple one that is easy to follow, focusing on two moeblob girls of unknown ages, Chi and Yuu, who are traveling together through a massive, post-apocalyptic cityscape as they do menial tasks of survival, such as finding food and water, and washing their clothes. Along the way, they see a wide array of wondrous things that make them ponder, or at least make Chi ponder, about what things were like before whatever had caused the apocalypse to happen occurred. Along the way, they have "deep" philosophical thoughts about life and existence that give the entirety of the plot, especially towards the end, a nihilistic and melancholy vibe. It's not a very emotional story; the mood remains the same pretty much the entire time while getting a little more depressing towards the ending chapters.
While this does seem like a promising premise in many ways, most of the mysteries of the setting are never revealed to the reader, despite the questioning of the characters being a central part to many of the scenes in the story. The philosophical questions they ask each other seem deep on the surface but are more like the questions asked by a depressed person rather than the ones asked by actual intellectuals or philosophers, giving the series a depressed, pseudo-intellectual vibe that may appeal more to teenagers than it would to adults. There are also numerous inconsistencies with what the two main girls know and don't know, such as not knowing what cheese is but later mentioning the Nuko creature looks like a mochi. It's hard to pinpoint what their lives as children must have been like, even with the brief flashback that is given in later chapters, and also difficult to know what age they're supposed to be ((for example, there is a scene where they see images of young girls and say "they look our age" but then another scene where they are suddenly smoking cigarettes as if they know how to smoke them)). The story often feels like "whatever the mangaka felt like doing that day" rather than anything with real direction to it. However, this may have been a good thing for the manga for the early parts as when there was an ultimate destination for the girls to travel to, it felt as if there was little reason to go there. The manga may have been better off keeping to mini arcs of questioning and ending with the girls simply traveling somewhere else rather than what it ended up being.
Dialogue is straightforward and brief; there are no text walls in this manga, but I think this is a positive aspect of the storytelling when combined with the interesting environment art that the two main characters travel through.
The artwork of this series is interesting, though isn't for everyone. The main characters can best be described as being "moeblobs" but the environments they travel to are bleak, dynamic, full of mechanical designs and are interesting to look at. Use of perspective for the environments is used rather well and makes the city the two girls are wandering through truly become alive, mysterious and ominous. Honestly, the environment work in this manga is its best trait. It may not be the best environments within the manga world but they carry a mood and vibe to them that ends up strengthening the mostly weak plot. I also admit that while impractical in their design, I found the long, thin-legged robots to be pretty cool-looking, making em think of Dali's artwork as an inspiration point. There are points in the story where the reader will be faced with unexpectedly surreal artwork design, which is a definite plus for the visual aspect of the series.
Enjoyment of this series will vary greatly between people and it definitely isn't something that can be recommended to everyone. It gives the feel of something with a somewhat narrow span of appeal but for the people who do like it, I can see why you like it and it's definitely not a terrible manga. In fact, it's a rather average series overall but one with a sort of niche taste. For me, as someone who has dealt with depression and have asked and thought through all of these existential questions long ago and participate in online philosophy discussions/debates, there wasn't much fresh material here for me to bite at. It is also not a very good manga for people who like mysteries to have any sort of answer as much of what happened in the past is largely left to the reader to decide, something that can be interesting or frustrating depending on the audience as well as mood. This is also not going to be a manga for anyone looking for something uplifting to read as the mood is a steady melancholy feeling from beginning to end. There aren't really any low lows or high highs in this manga; it doesn't make you laugh or make you cry; it's just there to give you a brief window into the lives of two girls traveling through an unknown apocalyptic setting at the end of the world and their mostly slice-of-life antics while pondering various things as they move along through the world.
Overall, it is a mostly average series with short chapters that are easy to read with some interesting environmental artwork, but beyond that it is hardly as original or as deep as what a lot of people are making it out to be. It's not another Kino's Journey, either, and I think expecting it to be like Kino's Journey will leave a reader disappointed. It should be seen as a separate sort of thing, a series more about mood and environment than it is about mind and plot. I'm pretty sure that my younger, more depressed and existential self would have enjoyed this more than my current self, so reading it came a couple of years too late in my case.
I've started reading this more for the art than anything else. But as I read on, I became more engaged in the journey of the characters, and the thematic exploration. By the end, it left me both fulfilled and with a heart-ache for the characters.
This is by far the best work of manga that can be described as 'philosophical'.
Through the soft, round art it makes it easy for readers to engage with the overarching theme of journey and death. Through the perspectives of young girls' innocence, this provides a different perspective.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
This is one of the rare works that I've read that
actually has an ending rather than a dragged-on, wishy-washy, frayed ending. Of course, the ending is open to interpretation, but I chose to view it with a definitive, heart-breaking end.
A unique manga about 2 young girls venturing through a post apocalyptic city. There is no violence, no enemies, no real suffering, no crazy action. It's a modern tale destined to people wanting to get more than what is written, take their time and enjoy reading behind the scene.
Chi and Yuu are born after the cold apocalypse that suppressed almost all technologies and life from the earth. They have few knowledge about life but how to survive by themselves and some warm memories. But what's important is that they have one another and hope.
As they venture upper into the emptier city, they'll cross some few
people that will help them. Older, they remind the reader of themselves, as we see those encounter we understand what's written behind the lines. But are they really people ? Are they real, hallucinations, some kind of ghosts or guides ... you're free to find your own answer.
As they travel through the layers of the city, the background changes, it becomes more blended, more illuminated. Simple emotions fade away from the characters with the pages you turn, some deep questions will be asked in few words. Then you realize that they know. Those two girls understand as you do what's happening. You won't need much : some words, a look, a thicker line will be enough.
I cried, I laughed, I was amazed, I questioned myself, I wanted to help them, to hold their hands but I couldn't do nothing but turn the pages. As I write this, the manga isn't finished yet (chap 42). But for the first time, i feel a little guilty to want to read the next chapters, hoping it will end soon with some hope, just wanting them to be free from this. Because, from the first chapter, I know that I'm an hopeless observer of the tale describing the ending of humanity through the eyes of two young brave girls.