Sex and the City is a guilty pleasure for a reason, but it might not be the reason you think. The pleasure half comes from its voyeuristic look into how four hot women navigate careers, sex and, like totally, more sex. The guilty half is because these four women are fake as hell and we all know it. Most women don’t just sit around in Prada kitten heels, blow hundreds on cocktails and talk for hours about who fucked them and how well he did it. We have hobbies. That’s why Sex and the City is so glamorous and why it feels so silly to watch.
When I want an escapist vision of girl friendship, I want to see girls doing cool shit, totally unhindered by stereotypes. I don’t want to be thinking about the real-life crap society thinks I should care about. Right now, anime is filling this media hole for me, and apparently, for others, too. In this season alone, there are two very good anime about chilling with your girlfriends and having hobbies, an astoundingly low bar for quality that these anime clear with incredible ease. These anime are two of this season’s highest-rated on the streaming site Crunchyroll, where they’re simulcast.
Laid Back Camp is not a flashy show. Rin is a competent camper who enjoys warming herself by a fire, reading books and glancing over at Mt. Fuji every now and then. She camps alone. And she knows a lot about camping. Rin falls in with her school’s Outdoor club, a group of spritely camping novices, as they’re learning the ins and outs of down sleeping bags, gathering tinder and picking campsites. The greatest tension in Laid-Back Camp is the question of whether Rin will go camping with the other girls and teach them the ropes.
What is the relationship of these girls? What’s their friendship like? They send each other pictures of campsite starscapes. They cook each other hot pot over a campfire. They enjoy boiling in a mountain onsen or tasting delicious ice cream after a long hike. They share information—how to make a Swedish torch or when sunrise is. So far, in the show’s six episodes, no one’s talked about anything “girly.” It’s not bad, obviously, for girls to talk about boys or fashion—but the glamour of Laid-Back Camp is that it releases these girls from the traditional trappings of glamour.
In the same season, we have A Place Further Than the Universe, an anime about a determined high school girl who’s been saving up money to get to Antarctica. Three other girls, each for their own reason, opt to share this insane journey with her, training to become the first high schoolers who traverse the icy continent. Anxious they’re not doing “youth” the right way, the girls sail over on a ship, through the harsh sunlight and icebergs, to their dangerous destination. For them, “youth” is about adventure. It’s been an unmitigated hit with viewers. These shows are cathartic, a welcome respite from the way women often appear in media.
Lots of shows about women are caricatures of what women are like and what women do, presenting some idea of “glamour” that, actually, looks a lot like falling in line with the beauty and lifestyle standards peddled by Cosmo ads. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter this week, anime streaming service Crunchyroll’s co-founder revealed that women make up half of Crunchyroll’s subscribers and, incrementally, more shows are being made for women. I wonder if that’s because, in addition to dramas and fantasy anime, Crunchyroll also simulcasts shows like Laid-Back Camp and A Place Further Than the Universe, which offer something that, to me, feels unique: A positive and adventuresome vision of female friendship.