A Place Further than the Universe, a 13 episode slice-of-life anime that follows four high school girls on the journey of a lifetime. They each have very different lives and different reasons for why they're going, but they all end up on an expedition to the last frontier of the world: Antarctica.
Mari "Kimari" Tamaki is, by all means, an average high school girl. In fact, she finds that she's too ordinary. Remembering a goal she set for herself in her first year, she wants to do something she's never done before, go somewhere she's never been but her natural instincts to play it safe have kept her from accomplishing the goal. While struggling to decide what to do, she crosses paths with Shirase Kobuchizawa a student who goes to the same school. A social outcast, the other students mock her because of her obsession with Antarctica and her single-minded determination to go there one day. A seemingly impossible task for a high school girl to accomplish. But she remains focused on her goal and swears that she'll get there.
Shirase shares with Kimari that her mother Takako Kobuchizawa had gone on a civilian expedition to Antarctica three years before and hadn't returned. It is because of this that she desperately wants to go to Antarctica, she wants to go the last place her mother went, see the things she saw and perhaps find her or a trace of her. Moved by her story and interested in the idea of going somewhere few people have ever gone, Mari decides to join Shirase and support her plan to get to Antarctica. Shirase reluctantly accepts her help as people have promised to join/help her but gave up because of the challenges ahead. But Mari is committed to the plan and won't back out on her.
Through Shirases plan to get aboard the 2nd civilian expedition to Antarctica the duo comes across Hinata Miyake, a girl who works at a convenience store near their school. She overhears them talking about their Antarctica trip, she joins them on what seems to be a whim. The three of them then cross paths with Yuzuki Shiraishi, a child actress and idol who is a part of the expedition, doing reports on the journey to maximize exposure of the endeavor. With the four becoming fast friends, the impossible task becomes a reality and their journey to the end of the world begins!
One of the most praiseworthy things about this show is how down to Earth it is. Even with the Antarctic expedition, it's written well within the realm of possibility and how humans actually behave. It doesn't escalate beyond reason, it has a steady plotline that holds. But that's nothing compared to the character development and growth we see from both the main and minor characters. Though it's clear how this expedition will have a cathartic effect for Shirase (who is more or less the protagonist of the series) the other girls in her group have own emotional arcs.
Sporting a mostly female cast, it's refreshing to see an anime that has female characters who not only have personalities, flaws and strengths all their own but who also actively support each other and help with the emotional stuff they go through outside of trying to impress a guy, much like girls in real life. The show portrays both what friendship can do for a person who has trouble trusting others and what it really means to be a good friend. The friendship these girls have is one of the best I've ever seen in a show. (anime or otherwise) The interpersonal relationships between them and the other characters we meet along the way don't hold back on the tension that only hurt feelings left unattended can create. I'm unashamed to admit that this show made me cry more than once, but it isn't all gloom and drama. This is also one of the funniest animes I've ever watched; the humor comes from organic human interactions, rather than awkward and often forced situations that a lot of animes rely on for laughs. The show lets the girls be serious, silly and sometimes just weird but all of it feels real.
The art style is also impressive; with high attention to the details of the environments, the artwork lets you step into the world of the show. Never is there a "flat" scene where you feel the characters are just standing in front of a backdrop, the use of depth and space is especially flaunted when they reach Antarctica (the story doesn't end there). The character design doesn't rely on over-the-top aesthetics or absurd hairstyles and colors. In line with every other aspect of the show, the characters are down to Earth and look like people you could actually meet. It does this without falling into the Same Face, Same Body pit that a lot of animes fall into.
To sum it all up, A Place Further than the Universe is an extraordinary anime, a near perfect slice-of-life that on a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it 11. I immensely enjoyed watching it and wish I could see it again for the first time. (but making my little sister watch it will have to do.) I highly recommend this anime and if you like it half as well as I did, it may become one of your favorites. I hope you watch it and enjoy!