Beware of spoilers!
Excuse me, I’m about to overdose on sweetness. Encouragement of Climb is the anime you show your young girls to get them excited about the outdoors, specifically peak bagging. Moe piled upon moe. Overload of cuteness. Each ep. is a whopping 3 minutes long plus 30 sec. for the closing, all 12 of them. Cute Girls Climbing Cute Mountains.
Probably not one a lot of boys would be interested in. This is young shoujo at its shoujo-est.
Aoi and Hinata were grade school friends. Both were fascinated by mountains after seeing the sunrise from the top of Mt. Tanigawa. But alas… Aoi falls from a jungle gym and breaks her leg. After this, she develops a fear of heights, starts becoming a social isolate and loses confidence.
At the beginning of high school, they are reunited in the same class. Hinata literally grabs Aoi and gets her to hike up a local hill. This gives a reboot to Aoi’s life as she develops more confidence and makes new friends. Hinta becomes her Mentor and their arcs begin to progress.
Kaede is a year ahead of them. Aoi meets her at the local mountain shop, stressing over which sleeping bag to buy for a backpacking trip. She suggests that Kaede buy the better one rather than risk regretting the cheap one. Later she contacts Kaede to find an easy local mountain to hike up.
Going up this mountain Aoi and Hinata take the heavily commercialized main route and then the relatively unused dirt trail down. Hiking up this new mountain Aoi and Hinata encounter Kokona, whose shoe sole is falling off. They do a temporary fix with wire and hike the rest of the way down with her. Kokona is still in middle school a year behind them. And now we have the fundamental hiking group that we’ll see later in the series.
Some of these episodes are virtual instructional guides for beginning hikers. I don’t mind. I love watching the kids learn. How to cook outdoors. How to put up a tent. Even how you shouldn’t hold hands while traversing tricky terrain. Will only three minutes per episode the instructions are done masterfully and quickly.
Aoi and Hinata are written and drawn a bit young for high school first years. They look like middle schoolers. They act and sound even younger.
Season 2… wait? What the fresh hell is this? Crunchyroll had season one and three but no longer has season 2????? Well screw this! I am off to my usual search engines. After a long hard Google, I found it.
Now that I have it, on to season 2!
Finally found season 2! (Crunchyroll had it but then it disappeared.) They extended the length to 13:30 but without the intro and extro, the actual running time is 10:30. This time 26 episodes, a real testament to how well the original went over.
Still enough sugariness to make one go look for psychological insulin. Cute girls are starting to do difficult things on difficult mountains.
Spoilers ahoy there, matey!
First, we have Mt. Mitsutogi. At 1786 meters it is the highest they have attempted so far. On the way, Aoi gets a splendid view of Fuji. Aoi is a bit obsessed over Fuji and this view was a gift from Hinata. The trek leaves Aoi exhausted. She is not in as good a condition as her partners.
At the bottom of the mountain, there is a developed hot spring. (I feel a trope coming on.) Yes, you have to wash first and then get in naked. But Aoi is insecure over her undeveloped bust. The others gently tease her a little about her shyness and she overcomes yet another obstacle on the road of life. Kaede even has a moment to talk about the disadvantages of a large bust.
The hot springs trope was kind of sprung on one. It does follow in the CGDCT theme. They are still “cute” girls and this really is a “cute” thing. I am not an expert on Japanese culture but I do understand that communal bathing isn’t at all uncommon. At the same time, the “girl who is bashful about her flat chest” trope is also flung at us. So, is this fanservice?
Looking at the anime in its entirety, my feeling is that it isn’t. But also that people who get turned on by naked girls will think it is. It fits in well with the nature of this anime which is to be didactic on two levels. One level is pretty obvious – a pretty good instructional manual on hiking up mountains. I have a couple of minor things I would quibble but overall it is well done.
On the other level, it is teaching girls to dream big and then work hard to achieve it. Aoi’s life is going nowhere until she gets the lift of a driving dream. One that demands physical exertion, will inflict pain, yet the reward will be well worth the effort. There is the victory itself, pride in besting another mountain and then there is also the joy of experiencing nature up close and personal. Rising to the challenge and emerging victorious even if you didn’t reach the top. You are a better and wiser person for your effort.
Along the way, there are many mini-lessons. The hot spring scene is one. Your body is just fine, no matter what your measurements. You may not think it but that is a VERY important lesson. Body dysmorphic disorder is all too common among girls (and to a lesser degree, boys). Whatever you have, it is all good. You don’t need to be a nudist to understand how toxic body shame can be.
So this is not fanservice. (Nor is the separate OVA where Hinata discovers the merits of the sports bra and Kaede gets sized for something more elegant than the sports bra which is all she ever wears.) These are things of interest to young girls. Just because some 14-year-old boy (or some obsessed elderly lolicon) might fap off in his parents’ basement if he stumbles onto this ep. doesn’t make it fanservice. These are life lessons for the shoujo market and what everyone else thinks is irrelevant.
This show is disgustingly wholesome.
Back to the story. Another mini-lesson is on the hazards of mountain rivers. Then we come to the big arc: Mt. Fuji.
These children actually have parents. Nothing more inconvenient than to have your mother tell you that your adventure is going to be too dangerous. Darn! But Aoi convinces her. Mom and Pop realize their little girl is growing up.
The plan is to bus to Station 5, hike to Station 8, spend the night and complete the hike during the am darkness to see the sunrise on Mt. Fuji.
Mother may have a point. Going from station 5 to 6 to 7 was a bit rough but doable. Station 8 is a female dog. This is not “trail” to hike, it is boulder hopping and climbing. Exhausting work. Hinata is slowing down but Aoi is beat. Early symptoms are dismissed as resulting from lack of sleep the previous night. She pushes on, getting ever more tired and developing a headache and blurry vision. At station 8 and 3100 meters (10,230 ft), it is all over for her. She has full-on mountain sickness. So close! Only 3 hours to the top but it ain’t gonna happen today.
Kaede will remain at station 8 with Aoi while Hinata and Kokona will push to the top. Despite their fatigue and the thin air, they make the summit, see the sunrise and circumnavigate the crater.
Oh yeah, mountain sickness is real. I’ve seen it as low as 7000 ft. I’ve felt it as low as 8500 ft. when I pushed too hard with zero acclimation. OTOH, I’ve hiked well over 14000 ft. with no problems other than shortness of breath. It is all about acclimatization and proper pace. People can die from mountain sickness’ lethal cousin, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Good reason to bring some Viagra with you.
Hinata and Kokona are jubilant. Kaede isn’t disappointed she didn’t make it. Her friend needed her. There will be other days and other hikes. Aoi, however, is facing a long dark night of the soul. She worked so hard, pinned all her hopes and expectations on reaching the top at sunrise. She begins to doubt the meaning of what she is trying to do.
But that only lasts until she receives the letters Hinata and Kokona wrote her from the top of Fuji. She has learned a couple more lessons. Some days, the dragon wins. And if the horse bucks you off, lick your wounds for a bit and climb back into the saddle.
The rest of the season goes on from there. Getting her mother back on board. Memories of a former friend. Acrophobia. Getting a part-time job to pay for all this mountaineering.
I guess that’s just the reality of being a young girl in the Japanese labor force.
Wait… I feel an anime trope coming one. The summer is progressing. Only a few days until the next hike. Summer homework hasn’t even been touched. And I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I have to complete it before I go. Oh no!
Don’t worry, there will be plenty of other life lessons and a mountain to climb before the summer vacation is over. But Aoi will still look like a middle schooler and sound even younger. Season 3 has hardly begun.
While I am here I might as well mention the special episodes only available on the DVDs. One was a selection of fond memories from previous episodes. Another was where Kaede and Hinata go in to be fitted for bras. I got the same kind of vibe from it I’d get having to hang out with my wife in the ladies undergarments department in a store. Not a terrible thing to do but something that just didn’t interest me. (I’m sure young teenage girls would think differently.) The third was a collection of “top ten” scenes from Yama done in an awards show format. These scenes start with an actual scene from the series but continue from there in a kind of fantasy alternate reality. It was pretty interesting.
Third season we had more character development than last season. We see the friendship
between Aoi and Hinata endure some stress as Aoi spends some time with Honoka. Hinata is visibly upset by this as she thinks Aoi has a new bestie. Jealousy!
OTOH there is a lot less hiking, which I found disappointing. The show has changed from being Cute Girls Doing Difficult Things to Cute Girls Doing Mostly Cute Things with some Difficult Stuff Thrown In. It was only 13 eps. I still found it fun, just not as much.
Honoka, who was introduced near the end of season 2, plays a more important role while Kokona does less. Honoka is a photographer who lives some distance away so she only gets featured in a few episodes but it is enough to get Hinata upset enough to take risks on the trail that leaves her with a sore knee.
Season 3 was a pleasant diversion for me while seasons one and two really grabbed my interest. The content posed questions about how one should relate to ones friends which was ok but I rather more enjoyed the girls conquering mountains. Too much slice of life and too little purposeful action for my taste. The season ends with a birthday party for Hinata and all 5 of our girls reaffirming their friendship. Then Hinata and Aoi exchange secrets. Maybe a confession?
My feeling is that they should return to the Cute Girls Doing Difficult Things theme. Develop those characters on the mountainside!
One and three quarters thumbs up for season 3.