I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I called Laid-Back Camp the best atmospheric slice-of-life TV anime, period. There’s just something entrancing about the show and the way it portrays the quiet beauty of the outdoors. The film serves up an extra generous helping of mellow adventures with this two-hour installment, which is great for anyone who wants to see more of the characters, although it might also perhaps be too much of a good thing.
As a story, Laid-Back Camp‘s tempo works best in relaxing 20-minute chunks. Because it typically structures its episodes around the buildup to a key, scenic shot, there’s always a sense of rising and falling action in even its most mundane scenes. That kind of episodic structure doesn’t translate perfectly well to a film, which by necessity requires a bigger climax and a longer, more drawn-out plot. Here, the simple story risks becoming dull instead of understated, and tedious instead of relaxing.
Fortunately, Laid-Back Camp‘s strong character writing stops this from being the case, for the most part. It’s a delight to watch the characters as adults; for one thing, few series in this genre allow their characters to grow up past schooling age. But mostly, despite the initial change of pace, the girls are unchanged at their core. Adult responsibilities play a big part in the film, but this is never equated with a loss of passion. Even the narrative’s biggest emotional blow is buoyed by scenes where the characters quietly appreciate what’s in their lives. The film could have ended with the characters not achieving their goal and it wouldn’t have felt like an unhappy ending.
Predictably, the atmosphere in Laid-Back Camp continues to be second to none; it is always, always careful never to overstate the picturesque quality of the images or linger overlong on its scenic shots. The background art is obviously beautiful in isolation—there’s a wonderful polish in the compositing that makes the images transcend the confines of a static photograph—but director Yoshiaki Kyougoku also keenly understands that the beauty of the moment is within the culmination of character, art, music, script, and sound direction. In this department, I didn’t spot any struggle in adapting the appeal of Laid-Back Camp to film.
Even so, I can’t deny that the film does run a bit too long to be consistently engaging throughout the entire runtime. It’s not as if movies need to have complex or riveting plots, but at the same time it’s hard to sell two hours of just pure vibes. While individual Laid-Back Camp episodes feel like they go by in a flash, it’s also the kind of show that’s difficult to marathon. I appreciated it best as a pick-me-up whenever I needed something to quickly put me in a relaxed mood, but I was never able to watch more than two episodes at a time. Of course, if you’re the kind of fan who can eagerly watch half a season’s worth of material in one sitting, then feel free to ignore this angle of criticism entirely.
At the end of the day, Laid-Back Camp is exactly the kind of film fans can expect of a series famous for its comfy vibes. The aged-up characters and themes do prevent this film from coming across as just a mere extension of the TV series, but ultimately the series’ formula for success hasn’t changed. Which is a good thing—why fix what isn’t broken? It’s also a reminder that even after people have grown up and moved their separate ways, camping trips are a delightful way of staying connected with friends and the local community. Given that most campers are adults, it’s very possible that the film will resonate even more than the TV series for this precise reason. Needless to say, it’s not in the “skippable” category of anime franchise films.