With the exception of Kimari, the four teenage girls on the Antarctic expedition team in A Place Further Than the Universe all have issues in developing strong friendships (and even Kimari has a struggle with her best friend, Megu). But Yuzu, the social media celebrity whose status was able to get the other three onto the team, may struggle the most. The requirements of her job frequently whisk her away from school, making it hard for Yuzu to make friends, and when she does, those “friends” seem to only care about her celebrity.
Thus it’s no surprise that even months into their friendship, Yuzu still doesn’t trust that their bond will remain. With an acting role lined up upon her return to Japan and their time in Antarctica expeditiously coming to an end, she decides to make sure their four-way friendship will last by means one would expect from an entertainer: a contract. Her reasoning? “Even when our adventure is over, and we’re not around each other, I know we’ll be fine.”
Yuzu has grown a lot since she first met the other girls, but her transformation isn’t yet complete. Beneath a facade that’s often either professional or angry, Yuzu is brittle and scared. It seems that despite their growing relationships, her insecurities have bubbled to the surface because the acting offer has made the physical divide between her and the girls (the other three live near each other) more real. She also may be hurt because the others didn’t celebrate her recent birthday.
Yuzu wants to control their friendship. That way, she doesn’t have to feel anxious or insecure. The contract will guarantee real friendships, ones that will endure.
Except that even with a contract, they may not. As Shirase explains, “There’s no real way to define [friendship]…there’s no one to blame if it fades…but that’s what lets it feel unrestrained. That’s what lets us be together.”
Friendship shouldn’t and can’t be controlled. It’s “unrestrained.” It’s wild.
Years ago, I invested a lot of time in one particular friend. But after a period of inactivity, he didn’t seem to want to reengage. Whenever I would ask if he was interested in getting together, he wouldn’t reply. I was like Yuzu, in equal turns angry and sad—this isn’t how friendship is supposed to be. We had a contract, too, I believed, an invisible one: I invested valuable time when I didn’t have a lot to give, and he should have returned the favor. He broke our deal!
A couple years later, though, we reconnected through social media. Organically, we started speaking about all sorts of things, mostly random but some personal. And as of this writing, we’re in touch on almost a daily basis, as engaged in our friendship as ever, perhaps.
Isn’t that just the picture of something wild, though? Several years ago when I visited Yellowstone, one of the great remaining bastions of wildness in America, I at one point walked across a vast field. In my my mind, I couldn’t shake the thought that this was a perfect place for wolves to attack me. It seems like a silly thought, but in a place that’s about as wild as any I’d been in, where buffalo stared our car down from hundreds of yards away and stomped toward us in anger, where bears sometimes appeared out of nowhere to apparently just see what we were up to, and where no guardrails blocked us off from falling hundreds of feet into a canyon, injury and worse was a real possibility. Friendships, done right, are also dangerous. They can result in injury and hurt. They are sometimes untenable, and rarely predictable.
But as with the friendship I mentioned earlier, they sometimes surprise you in a good way. As with the purple and red sunsets I experienced growing up in the desert southwest or the glorious prismatic springs of Yellowstone, the beauty of friendship can be breathtaking.
But it can only be the way if we take a leap of faith, if we become vulnerable and connect with others knowing that we might get hurt, and in fact, that the deeper we know someone the more likely we are to be hurt. If we make friendship on our own terms and conditions, we don’t get to enjoy the authenticity of it, the wildness that it can offer. We aren’t experiencing relationship at all, not on a meaningful level at least.
Yuzu comes to understand this, too. By the end of the series, she’s the biggest cheerleader of all the girls, expressing huge smiles that are rare for her and making almost-cringeworthy declarations about friendship. She’s embraced all that friendship is, with its possibilities and hopes and heartbreak.
She’s lost complete control. And that’s exactly how friendship is meant to be.
A Place Further Than the Universe can be streamed through Crunchyroll.