Review: Touring After the Apocalypse, Vol. 1

It’s the weekend and Youko and Airi are off on their Yamaha Serow for an adventure in Shuumatsu Touring! They are traveling the coastal route to Tokyo, hitting all the famous tourist spots along the way. Or at least trying to? If you squint, maybe you can see the resemblance between the glossy promo pics and what lies before them now, about fifteen years or so after something happened to wipe out the population, irradiate the land, and turn Japan back over to the mercy of its native flora and fauna. You see, shuumatsu, or “weekend” in Japanese, is also a homonym for “the end of the world”, and this motorcycle tour is happening after the apocalypse. But you probably got that from the English title, which sadly can’t replicate the wordplay. 

The punny title is a sign of things to come, both in terms of the mood of this series—which is bright and upbeat, and totally on point for a series about a (never-ending) weekend adventure—and its core characteristic, which is subtlety: there’s always another layer to what is going on here. You need only pull out your magnifying glass and take a gander at the cover art to see what I mean: our two MCs have signed their motorcycle, but they’ve written their names in katakana, the Japanese syllabary reserved for onomatopoeia and foreign loan words. In doing so, they are basically announcing that they are not native Japanese, since people who are not born in Japan use katakana for their names, even if they have a Japanese name or ancestry. In other words, Youko and Airi are something other than native Japanese. And indeed this is the case in a way, for they hail from an underground bunker and this tour is their first encounter with “authentic” Japanese culture—or rather, its remnants.

Every chapter of their story here has these kinds of hidden layers to it, meaning that there’s a growing sense of mystery underlying the playful mood as the journey progresses, injecting the volume with a tantalizing dissonance that makes this mash-up of post-apocalyptic survival adventure and slice-of-life so compelling.

This particular cocktail of genres also makes for a natural point of comparison with another tale of cute girls doing cute post-apocalyptic road trip things, Girls’ Last Tour. But the similarities between these two series end with their shared premise, for their tone and core questions are quite distinct. Where Girls’ Last Tour is all quiet contemplation of a bleak and forlorn landscape with a story that, even in its moments of hope, never quite manages to shake off a haunting sense of finitude, Touring After the Apocalypse is fundamentally joyful. Each mile of Youko and Airi’s journey resounds with expectation: “What stunning sights can we see in this new world? What surprises can we yet discover? What delicious foods can we taste for the first time?” These are the kinds of unspoken questions that lend a rhythm to this tale as surely as the spinning wheels of the Yamaha. Granted, Youko and Airi’s apocalypse was not as destructive as the one that left the sisters in Girls’ Last Tour so isolated, and their world, such an icy wasteland, pockmarked by the machines of war. But whereas Girls’ Last Tour very much feels like a story of the last people on earth, Touring After the Apocalypse is much more akin to a new beginning that is just waiting to be grasped by humanity’s next generation.

This sense of potential for renewal has a lot to do with the fact that in Youko and Airi’s world, nature has taken over and flourished while humans have been away. The result is a Japan where the signs of modern humanity’s harsh dominance over the landscape have softened and melted into a verdant cornucopia, buildings draped in greenery and concrete structures succumbing to the unperturbed creep of root and branch; where creatures roam freely, neither intimidated by nor threatening to the former peak predators, who are now reduced to poking around on the lookout for hidden caches of instant ramen. This world is not inhospitable; it has simply forgotten the existence of people.

Volume 1 remains fully in the exploration phase of the story, as the girls get their bearings on the world outside their bunker. Right now, it is a vast playground to them—one with challenges and pitfalls, certainly, but a world that is nevertheless full of wonder and adventure, particularly for Youko, who delights in every new experience, but also for the more reserved Airi, who definitely prefers topside food to bunker rations! 

But through it all, every few pages, there is an intriguing detail, a snippet of dialogue or an unexpected visual, that reminds us that this post-apocalyptic Japan is even more unlike the world we know than we might assume, particularly when it comes to the relationship between humanity and technology in all this. Why does Airi refer to a robot as human? How did their bunker have internet access? Who is the Onee-chan whose Instagram Touringram road trip photos they are trying to replicate? Who converted Youko’s Serow to an electric engine? And most pressing of all, why did the girls leave their bunker? All these questions (and many more) lurk along the margins of the pages. And then there’s Airi with her body that is too heavy for her to swim. Is she…a terminator?!

There is so much going on in Touring After the Apocalypse—in a really, really good way. It’s the kind of series you can really sink your teeth into, both the art and the writing (seriously, hats off to mangaka Sakae Saito!), and I am here for it. However long this weekend tour lasts, toss me a helmet cause I’m all in! 

Touring After the Apocalypse is published by Yen Press.

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