I am in love with the way this anime looks. When I wrote about episode one, I focused a lot on the directing and the different ways the framing of shots emphasized the character’s feelings. Episode two is equally beautiful and well directed, but this time I’d like to take a closer look at setting, lighting, and shadows, and the ways they complement the show’s mood and tone.
The first half of this episode takes place in a warm bathing of twilight. Twilight can represent ambiguity, or a wavering attitude. In these scenes, Mari is starting to doubt Shirase’s plan to go to Antarctica, and with good reason. Will they really let a couple of highschoolers onboard? Does Mari really have what it takes to raise all the money she needs? Can they really get away with missing school? Do they even have what it takes to survive in Antarctica? The sun is starting to set on Mari’s naive optimism, and the chances of them actually being able to achieve their dream are getting dimmer.
Twilight can also symbolize a transition from childhood to adulthood, something that’s also fitting here. The fact that these questions are being raised about Shirase’s plans means that the two are being forced to face reality, and facing realities usually leads to characters maturing. Right now, Mari and Shirase are naive enough to fall for an ad involving sex work, but they are wising up as they start to learn that there will be more to getting to Antarctica than just raising money. They’re young, but are approaching the twilight of their youth, as well as the onset of adulthood and maturity. After all, the feeling that her youth is escaping her of is part of the reason why Mari is so eager to go on an adventure in the first place, and, somewhat ironically, the events leading up to said journey will cause her to grow up and learn a lot along the way.
Sundown also comes with harsh shadows and dramatic lighting, which makes it the perfect time for Mari and Shirase’s first fight. Nothing says moody like nice, warm sunset lighting. Shirase, agitated that Mari is pointing out holes in her plan, rushes off in a huff, leaving Mari to call out after her. Of course, Shirase knows Mari is right (that’s why it hurts her so much), and returns to her, sulking and shadowed in a way that reads, “you’re right, I’m sorry, I’m embarrassed.”
This moody atmosphere and lighting also helps emphasize Hinata’s sense of longing when she observes Shirase and Mari from inside her store. Although she doesn’t exactly say so here, you can tell that working instead of going to school has left her feeling lonely. She’s missing out on a lot of interactions with peers. Here, the twilight represents a change for her, as well. Finally, thanks to Shirase and Mari, she’ll be able to spend time with people her age and have some fun instead of just working and studying her youth away.
…By now, you might be saying, “Jenn, relax! These scenes are all happening after school, after all, so the sun naturally has to be setting, so chill with your symbolism talk.” To which I would respond, “look, I went to film school, buddy, and there’s no way I’m not going to read into every single piece of information a scene is giving me about lighting and setting!!!!”
In all seriousness, though, part of what makes good film/television/anime so good is that it can take even practical, obvious settings like, “this is taking place after school so the sun’s going down” and use the moods associated with that time of day to bring out other themes and symbols latent in the story.
I want to briefly touch on lighting in other scenes, as well. I’m not kidding when I say I absolutely love how this show looks, and it’s honestly difficult not to gush about every single frame in every single scene.
Here, we see other ways the show uses light to emphasize its characters, whether it simply be to highlight their plan-making or to give them a sense of isolation by having them be the only things lit in a dark, expansive, empty frame.
For the other half of the episode, the nighttime city setting helps to emphasize senses of danger, excitement, and wonder. What a great place to have Mari feel her youth in motion!
Unlike previous scenes, here, the girls are all dwarfed by their surroundings and the sense of isolation is gone. They’re facing obstacles and other explorers here, and the city makes them (and their ambitions) feel smaller.
We also get another sneaky No Game No Life poster. I hope these subtle cameos happen every episode to the point that there’s just a random Shiro etched into some snow in Antarctica.
I’m very much looking forward to the next episode – luckily, my busy schedule made me put off watching episode two for so long that episode three is just around the corner! 🙂