Snow falls gently on a disused battlecruiser as we return to Girl’s Last Tour. In the years since the anime adaptation’s release, our world seems to have spun significantly closer to the future as posited by this story, with climate change, the revival of economic serfdom, and an ascendant far right all pointing towards mankind’s self-inflicted decline. Given our increasing proximity to apocalypse, I can appreciate all the more the lessons provided by Chi and Yuu: Chi’s industrious, pragmatic preoccupation with immediate tasks, Yuu’s zen appreciation for whatever life offers her. Like the heroines of Girls’ Last Tour, we possess no way of directly challenging the conditions informing our lives; whether it’s through busying ourselves with what we can do or learning to “get along with the hopelessness,” this manga seems to increasingly be providing a blueprint for navigating our modern age.
The first chapter of Girls’ Last Tour’s fifth volume actually covers the same material as the anime’s final episode, offering a handy opportunity to compare the distinct aesthetics of each. The Girl’s Last Tour anime was grand in scope and austere in style, favoring muted colors and clean, bold lines, with the city’s sharp geometry expanding in all directions. In contrast to this bold and somewhat alienating look, the manga feels both intimate and emphatically hand-crafted, its unsteady linework making it feel like the heroines themselves are relaying their story. This naturally changes the manga’s dramatic tenor; while the anime’s open compositions and focus on architecture perpetually emphasized these characters’ hopeless surroundings, in the intimacy of these tight panels, the larger context of their immediate interests can at times be temporarily forgotten.
But regardless of its method of telling, the reveal of these mushroom creatures consuming humanity’s final sins nonetheless ties a knot in the throat, as they sing a final elegy for our stupid, self-destructive species. Their presence does not indicate some hope for renewal, but rather a quiet assurance that humanity will come to a clean end, with the scars we’ve inflicted on the world eventually being healed by whatever creatures come after us. And here, that revelation comes with the attendant pain of realizing our girls have undoubtedly been tramping around in highly dangerous areas, likely flush with attendant chemicals and radiation.
The exit of Yuu and Chi’s “cat” strikes its own poignant note. Though Yuu doesn’t really respond when the adult creature mentions they might be the last humans left, she still internalizes it, with those words informing her encouragement that “these people are your comrades, and there are plenty of them.” Even the apocalypse might be bearable if you know you’re not alone – all through this story, our girls have progressed forward in the hopes of finding something, some sliver of humanity hasn’t already succumbed to dust. Hearing they might truly be the last can make getting along with the hopelessness significantly harder. The final two-page spread of these creatures ascending draws the terms of their lives, and their hopes, into sharp relief: when you know the world’s end is certain, all that truly matters is who you choose to share it with.
Though volume five opens on this harrowing, seemingly definitive statement of solidarity in the face of the end (it was indeed a good place to end the anime), life continues for Chi and Yuu. Their next misadventure provides another interesting contrast of the manga and anime’s art styles. The Girl’s Last Tour anime portrayed the world around its heroines in a largely realistic style, frequently making it easy to tell what one or another structure was meant for, even if the girls themselves could not. In contrast, the manga’s scribbled style, loose application of perspective, and simplified-verging-on-abstract background art make this world feel for us much like it must feel for Yuu and Chi, who can only guess at what one or another monument once represented. In the anime, there’s a sort of grim comedy in the girls marveling over objects that appear mundane to us – here, we’re right there alongside the girls, often frequently no more sure than they are as to what purpose some giant tower or vast chasm once served.
Of course, this is a theme that Girls’ Last Tour has often illustrated through narrative as well as imagery. Again and again, the story emphasizes that however imposing the monuments we create may be, when divorced from their cultural moment, they lose whatever significance they once possessed, content to hold their secrets as to whether they were once religious monuments, places of work, or whatever else they might have been. Human life is transient, but so is human meaning – with the keepers of these monuments long gone, their worth can only be gauged through what our heroines can scavenge from them, or what those mushroom people must consume out of them.
One of this volume’s later chapters frames this truth in a way seemingly designed to hurt me personally, as the girls visit an art museum. Presented with a clear take on The Birth of Venus, Yuu can only wonder “were people in the past all naked? Weren’t they cold?” Even our perceptions of beauty are largely culturally bound, undercutting our frequent attempts to present art as the great unifier, as something that can articulate human experience untethered from the nitty-gritty details of daily life. Presented with an array of classic paintings, our girls at first can only wonder if these images were designed to capture a time before cameras existed.
This concept is pushed even further as they approach a hallway of abstract art. And yet, for once, Girls’ Last Tour seems to fall on the side of genuine hope for human culture and experience. Though Yuu and Chi have no formal art training, and in fact don’t entirely know what art is, they can still draw personal conclusions from the works they come across, and still engage in that magical alchemy of art as presented and how our own experiences alter our impressions of it.
Though the two enter this museum with no preconceptions about the beauty or importance of art, by the end, they are nonetheless compelled to expend great effort in raising up a massive fallen painting, only so they can see what it might depict. The painting they uncover essentially seems like their final conflict’s version of Picasso’s Guernica, and just like the real thing, they can parse the fear, sadness, and chaos despite their distance from the emotions captured on the canvas. Though mechanical devices may fall into obscurity and rituals may become myth, there just might be something irreducibly, undeniably human in the art we create. In fact, Yuu is so moved by this collection that she decides to carry on its legacy, adding her own art and feelings to the museum’s trove.
But most of the time, philosophical musings about the endurance of human knowledge must make way for the mundane necessities of daily survival. Puttering along between the ghosts of a lost civilization, Yuu and Chi’s small victories often demonstrate key methods of “getting along with the hopelessness” even without words. In sequences of them methodically overcoming some terrain obstacle, panels huddle together in depiction of progressive physical labors, our heroines beating back the darkness with the necessary tasks of self-preservation, and then reveling in the satisfaction of a job well done.
To Yuu and Chi, canned fish is a delicacy beyond imagining, prompting Yuu to laugh out loud at the glory of it all, wondering if such treats were rare and valuable even to the people who lived here before. The forced austerity of Girls’ Last Tour’s premise serves as another avenue towards illustrating a truth that spans many slice of life narratives: learning to appreciate the small, the mundane, and the everyday. It’s generally not framed in such apocalyptic terms, but embracing the beauty and singularity of this individual moment, or the dignity of laboring in service of small yet essential tasks, is a theme that serves you well whether you’re in an after school club or facing the end of the world.
This sense of familiar slice of life cheer only exists because of Yuu, who again and again demonstrates her philosophical cruciality to the group’s survival. Chi might be able to survive this city physically, but she brings little warmth to their adventures beyond her general inquisitiveness. On the other hand, Yuu’s refusal to submit to the hopelessness of the apocalypse means that whatever their immediate fortunes, Yuu and Chi are still best friends going on an adventure, not just survivors wasting away in the wreckage. Yuu is this story’s truest embodiment of “getting along with the hopelessness,” beating back the infinite desolation with a combination of goofy humor and appreciation for small, incidental pleasures.
The cruciality of Yuu’s philosophy is demonstrated most clearly in this volume’s fifth chapter, which sees the girls conducting another laundry day in the shadow of ruin. Presented with just a lukewarm pool and an active water spigot, Yuu cheerfully announces “this is going to be one of those days,” having found total immediate satisfaction in these simple objects. Chi initially ignores this announcement, preoccupying herself with washing clothes while fuming over Yuu’s idle wondering at “whether our clothes or lives will last longer.” But Yuu is never bothered by such questions, and eventually, she ends up drawing Chi into a splash fight that sees both of them laughing. This is the cruciality of Yuu’s presence, her peaceful acceptance of what is inevitable, coupled with a personality that finds novelty and joy in everything around her. If it’s all doomed in the long term, why worry about it? Why not appreciate this moment, and this friendship, for all that it has to offer?
In contrast, the pragmatic Chi cannot survive by vibes alone, and must always be moving towards something. A brief scene in the seventh chapter illustrates the differences between them clearly, when Yuu asks why they are traveling upward, and Chi is shocked to realize that Yuu has forgotten. Chi still needs to cling to the hope of something different in the future, an end to this isolation, or at least a change in the nature of their circumstances. She can’t feel motivated unless there is a hope that the future will be better than the past, which is why she tends to get so mad when Yuu muses thoughtlessly on how they’re eventually going to die, and the relative pointlessness of their various activities. In contrast, Yuu needs no motivation to keep her going beyond the assurance that tomorrow will be another day spent with her friend Chi, with its own attendant surprises and pleasures.
Perhaps such a fate isn’t so bad, in the end. At the tail end of this collection, Yuu and Chi come across a being even more unfortunate than them, an AI that covets one of the few privileges Yuu and Chi still possess: the freedom to die when they choose. The caretaker of a vast elevator serves as one of humanity’s few inventions that has lasted through the ages, and has maintained its original function – and yet now, it seeks only the freedom of nonexistence. Perpetual loneliness is a far worse fate than nonbeing, and with humanity having abandoned its children, only these girls present any hope of this AI being allowed to peaceably disappear.
Girls’ Last Tour’s non-human characters seem like the ultimate fulfillment of Yuu’s philosophy, realized on a scale beyond what she can comprehend. Both the mushroom caretakers and this AI understand the cruciality of things ending; we live out our time to the best of our abilities, and then we pass from this world. There is a sadness in that truth, but also a sense of freedom, and an assurance that tomorrow will be different from today. Forged into family by the trials of this world, Yuu and Chi comprise a perfect unit of joy and compromise, maintaining the flame of all that is worthy in humankind. But as the lights go out on the city around them, and the bearers of humanity’s sins call out their lonely song, it is clear that this journey has one destination, and our final task will be to bear it with grace.
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