This season is packed with popular shows all-around, with one of them being Girls’ Last Tour, the popularity of which has led to an increase of interest in post-apocalyptic slice-of-life anime. While a post-apocalyptic setting might sound at odds with a relaxed slice-of-life show, that isn’t necessarily the case. Post-apocalyptic slice-of-life is actually a fairly strong genre, with a number of acclaimed works due to its ability to balance a calming atmosphere with a dark setting.
Common themes of slice-of-life anime such as friendship, hope, and moving forward work quite well with post-apocalyptic settings. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that post-apocalyptic settings are uniquely able to fully explore these themes.
There are any number of these shows, but I think there are three specific anime that truly capture the potential that the genre has to offer and comparing the ways they do so is quite worthwhile. These three shows are Sora no Woto or Sound of the Sky, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou or Yokohama Shopping Log, and of course this season’s Girls’ Last Tour.
Of these works, Sora no Woto has the most well-functioning society. While humanity is constrained to a small portion of the Earth, within that portion life moves on as it always has. Technology is less advanced, but there are still fully functioning nation-states that go to war and have plenty of people. If any of these works can be said to contain hope for humanity’s continued existence, it’s Sora no Woto.
Of course, the fact that there’s a small glimmer of hope does not mean that it’s likely humanity will live on. The show is quite clear about the fact that the human race is on a path to extinction and it would take a miracle to change that. The characters live with this knowledge, and while it does influence their decisions at times, they’re still able to keep moving forward in spite of it.
In the world of Sora no Woto, a number of things are used to bring comfort to the slowly fading human race. Humans are social creatures and community is used to keep eople functioning when parts of society break down. This is clearly demonstrated in the show’s focus on the town of Seize. No effort is spared in making this town not only feel important, but real. Its architecture, taken from a town in Spain, immediately contrasts with the platoon’s fort, which is clearly a dilapidated school. In this world it’s the newer buildings which are more dated, using classical styles of architecture, while the old buildings are leftovers from the pre-apocalyptic period.
The town’s customs are greatly emphasized as well. As soon as Kanata arrives we a local festival, and that’s pretty important. Religion and myths are clearly quite relevant to the people of this world. The church, which blends Western and Eastern traditions, plays the role of an important cultural center in the town, and unlike in many anime, they’re never characterized as evil. The show makes no attempt to convince the viewer that the religions of this world are true. To the contrary, it presents people of different cultures who believe different religions. That said, it does treat these religions with respect because they’re clearly important to the people who do believe in them.
In general, the sense of community that the show fosters is just fantastic. When the people of Seize help one another it feels genuine. A problem that post-apocalyptic media often falls into is a glorification of individualism. Contrary to what many works portray, human beings generally work together under stressful situations, rather than separating and becoming sociopaths. The characters from Seize, such as Naomi, Yumina, and the orphans are not only well-rounded characters but frequently relevant, because human connections are particularly important in hard situations, especially situations such as those of a post-apocalyptic setting. Its the town that allows the platoon to succeed in their goals at the end of the show and it’s incredibly clear that their plan would’ve failed without the town’s help.
The town’s culture is important to life in the world of Sora no Woto, but that’s not all that’s important. Another aspect of culture that’s explored is the way that different cultures can set us apart. The Helvetians and the Romans stand totally opposed to one another, with one group speaking Japanese and the other German and this causes issues. The two nations have been at war for a long time, leading to the loss of many loved ones, making any attempt at peaceful communication that much harder. Fortunately, there is one thing that can bridge the gap between their two cultures: music.
The show’s beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace is put to great effect in connecting the Romans and the Helvetians. One core theme of the series is the idea that, if humans have little time left, we shouldn’t be fighting. Our ability to perceive the same music with similar connotations in spite of being totally unable to understand one another’s speech does a great job at demonstrating how our mutual humanity can be used to overcome cultural barriers and vicious divides.
The character arcs are also used to great effect in the post-apocalyptic setting. Noel’s struggle with forgiving herself for helping to kill others is in many ways meant to parallel humanity as a whole. We’ve been killing ourselves for all of time and within the context of the story that hasn’t ceased, except it’s finally brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Despite that, Noel is eventually able to open up to others and come to move beyond her past, even if she can’t forgive herself for it. The fact that humanity caused its own downfall isn’t something that can be reversed, but it is possible to move forward with that knowledge.
Filicia’s past is also good at relating to the series’ general themes. While she feels great survivor’s guilt and horror at seeing the remains of the JSDF officer, she manages to maintain happiness, ignoring the corpse’s fatalist attitude. Some characters fake happiness and optimism in order to protect those around them, but that’s not exactly what Filicia does. Instead, she is genuinely optimistic most of the time, because while her past has shown her the true nature of the world, it has not made her blind to life’s many good aspects. Even with her first-hand knowledge that humanity has doomed itself, she feels the ability to move forward.
Rio’s self-sacrifice, Kureha’s continuing admiration, and Kanata’s unending optimism also contribute to these themes, but one character who’s often overlooked is worth highlighting. Episode 10 tells the story of an old woman who’s been waiting for her lover to return for decades, never giving up hope. While the other characters initially see this as a cruel fate, for very understandable reasons, that’s not how she herself sees it. She’s always been happy with her situation and when she wanders off to die in the snow at the end, she isn’t even slightly upset about her life.
The show doesn’t necessarily sign onto her perspective, but it is sympathetic to it. To the old woman, while life has been hard, she’s still been able to enjoy it and while its end is a sad thing, it doesn’t make the life she lived any less beautiful.
This is a theme that comes up frequently in all three of these works. Mono no aware, the Japanese aesthetic that focuses on the beauty of transience, is common in slice-of-life works in general, but it tends to get particular focus in post-apocalyptic works. In these works, it’s humanity itself which is transient and soon to fade, but there is a sort of beauty to departures.
That’s not to say that Sora no Woto believes death is a good thing. It clearly believes that life is worth living and should be lived to its fullest. It doesn’t see humanity’s extinction as good but it also doesn’t see it as wholly negative. There’s a beauty to seeing the cherry blossoms fall and die, and the same is true for the beauty of humanity’s twilight. In essence, the situation for humanity in Sora no Woto is bittersweet rather than tragic.
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is set in a world where society has broken down to a further degree. While Sora no Woto offered fully functioning nation-states on a smaller amount of land, YKK hosts smaller communities which seem to lack a state structure of any sort. The manga does not go into great detail on how its world works, but it seems that these communities occupy most of the still livable Earth. In this world, humans are spread out and even more doomed than in Sora no Woto.
A great power of YKK is its ability to sell its world without much worldbuilding. As one of the strongest examples of the iyashikei genre it’s not a shock that it doesn’t get very in-depth, something also seen in its cousin Aria, and that’s an effective choice. It appears that some climate change occurred and something definitely happened to reduce the human population across the Earth to non-replaceable levels, but how this all occurred is left up in the air, because it really doesn’t matter. It might be interesting to learn why the world became the way it is, but that wouldn’t change our opinions on anything. This is a work about continuing on, not looking backward, and the lack of setting details contributes to that.
Humanity truly is doomed in the world of YKK. If humans all came to one location and tried, they might be able to survive, but the people of this world don’t desire that. Instead, everyone seems quite happy living well in the twilight of humanity. YKK takes the mono no aware of a work like Sora no Woto and turns it up to eleven.
Much attention in YKK is paid to the dual successors of humankind: androids and nature. Androids, of course, are fashioned directly from our image. The protagonist, Alpha, is an android herself. While the androids draw much from us, and in many ways are identical, they have key differences. Time and time again the series shows that they simply experience things in different ways than we do. They live much longer lives, bond differently, and just generally have a different perspective on things. They’re a fitting successor to humankind but they aren’t necessarily a continuation of it.
Nature is given similar attention, if not more so. Iyashikei works are known for their heavy focus on scenery, with panning shots across the backgrounds being omnipresent, and that’s no less true in YKK. The environment of this world was clearly hurt by whatever caused humanity’s downfall, but that doesn’t reduce its beauty, and in many ways, it allows for new forms of beauty.
Particularly interesting are the semi-organic structures that have grown up in the aftermath of industrial society’s collapse. There are rocks, fungi, and plants that take human shape and seem incredibly uncanny. Plants have fused with former street lamps, creating beautiful rows of light that can’t really be explained. In general, humanity’s presence can still be felt even in places where it no longer exists. Humanity has made a lasting impact on the Earth in good and bad ways, in spite of its dwindling influence. Once again, even death contains some beauty, as it re-contextualizes the life that was lived.
This is best demonstrated in a chapter that shows the sunken ruins of a former city. The city’s demise likely led to the death of many and it’s emblematic of how much damage humankind has taken. But when Alpha looks at it, she can’t see anything but beauty. The city still has its lights on even if they no longer serve any purpose and it’s inarguably a wondrous sight, even if there’s pain combined with the majesty.
As in Sora no Woto, community is important in YKK, though in markedly different ways. While towns like Seize exist, they are quite few in number, and can generally be found at the locations of former cities like Yokohama. Groups in YKK are much more like rural communities; vvery small collections of people who come together for each other. Greater focus is put on individual relationships because in many cases that’s all anyone has.
This is most clear in Alpha’s relationship with her fellow android, Kokone. Kokone was initially much like other androids, but over time she came to be more like Alpha in her demeanor, picking up slightly more human traits.
As the series progresses we continually see humanity dwindle. This is particularly true in the manga’s final volume, where years and decades take place in between each chapter. While we never see anyone die, we do get final chapters with some of the older characters that make it clear they’re no longer around. This gives particular impact to humanity’s coming extinction. Because we as readers only really know about 10 characters, seeing some of them age and pass away really makes it clear how time is treating the human race.
With the passing of humanity, Alpha and Kokone become closer. As was the case in Sora no Woto, people need connections in order to continue on in the face of hard to deal with situations. The relationship between Alpha and Kokone is important to them because they need people to care about with humanity’s passing. Their relationship, which veers into a more and more romantic path as time goes on, demonstrates how humanity’s essence can continue even in our absence.
YKK never dwells on the beauty of death, it merely appreciates all the beauty that life has to offer. Death is a simple fact of life and the death of humanity is just another part of that. It’s not that death is beautiful, it’s just that everything is, and beauty can be found in dead things. Alpha and the other characters’ unrelenting optimism and love of life despite humanity’s twilight shows a power in the ability to keep moving forward.
In Girls’ Last Tour, there is no society. It’s implied that society only faded recently and as an ongoing story this might not remain the case, but so far we’ve never seen any large collection of human beings. Everyone is either individual, or, in the case of our protagonists, paired up. Despite this, the show never lapses into the demonization of empathy that you would expect from a work of this nature.
If humanity is on the brink of extinction in YKK, it’s already jumped off the cliff by Girls’ Last Tour, only seconds from hitting the ground. Unless some giant group of people suddenly appears in one of the higher layers, there is no hope for humankind’s survival here, and there are no androids to continue our legacy either. While the other two shows presented worlds full of nature’s beauty and humanity’s strength, GLT presents little of that. The environment is entirely urban, with slabs of concrete and metal everywhere and little concern for aesthetic value. There’s little life remaining at all. While this is certainly a bleak world, it lends itself to very specific types of hope.
Hope in GLT is found in individual connections, to an even greater degree than in YKK. Chito and Yuuri only have each other as constants, and though they frequently fight, they’re very close and mean the world to one another, in a very literal sense. The series makes sure to emphasize that without each other they might not be able to go on.
In GLT people have purpose, but that’s not all that drives them. As we see with Kanazawa and Ishii, a desire to accomplish something in this desolate world is helpful, but even after both of them lose their life’s works they manage to go forward. The show presents life as being valuable in and of itself, something that all of these shows do to some extent. Humanity might be doomed to extinction, but why should that stop an individual from trying to find value in the life they still have? Is there not value in doing something for its own sake?
Because it’s such a solitary series, GLT lends itself well to philosophical pondering. One example of this is the value of religion. In a society like that of Sora no Woto where communities are so important, religion is useful as a way of tying people together and giving them hope. In a world where even finding food and fuel is hard, religion has little to offer those who are simply trying to survive. The same is true for many cultural elements we value. While the girls do enjoy music when they happen upon it, they don’t really understand it or appreciate it the way we do. That said, their lives still have plenty of meaning, as they’re still able to experience new things and grow as people even in such a desolate and hopeless environment.
The three works have different tangible details but they all have similar cores. They believe that all of life is valuable and beautiful, including the end of it. They believe that humanity is powerful and capable of working together, while also believing that our end can be accepted with grace. The worlds they portray have differing levels of civilization and conflict, but they all emphasize the value of people and the planet.
By portraying these themes in worlds where humanity is eventually going to die, they universalize them. Death is always going to be sad, but if we can deal with the death of humanity then can’t we deal with the death of individuals? If people can find meaning from nothing in worlds as cruel as theirs, where even staying alive can be quite a challenge, then why can’t we find meaning in ours? The themes of these series are entirely universal, and they achieve that by zooming out to a much grander scale than most series. Slice-of-life might be an uncommon combination with this setting, but it’s really quite a genius one. All three of these are worth your time and they all show the value in portraying a peaceful post-apocalypse.