Review: ‘Laid Back Camp’ Vol. 1

Laid Back Camp Vol. 1 Writer/artist: Afro Yen Press; $13.00 Rated T for Teen One of the many virtues of manga is the seeming endlessness of the available subject matter; think of any subject, no matter how mundane, and chances are there is a Japanese comic series about it (And, if not, well, there likely […]

Laid-Back Camp 1 copy

Laid Back Camp Vol. 1
Writer/artist: Afro
Yen Press; $13.00
Rated T for Teen

One of the many virtues of manga is the seeming endlessness of the available subject matter; think of any subject, no matter how mundane, and chances are there is a Japanese comic series about it (And, if not, well, there likely will be one sooner rather than later). Take, for example, camping. Not a comic where campers fight supernatural menaces they discover lurking in the woods or a murder mystery set at a campsite or any sort of high-concept story involving camping that you might expect from American comics. No, just plain old camping—characters spending time outdoors because they enjoy doing so.

Laid-Back Camp 1Yes, Japan has a comic for that, and it is now available in the U.S. It’s called Laid Back Camp, and it is the work of psuedonymous manga-ka Afro. The protagonists are a pair of high school girls, who are just getting to know one another and, perhaps, become friends, having bonded over—what else?—camping.

Rin is a very experienced solo camper who enjoys cold-weather camping in the off-season, mostly because that means there are fewer other campers around and she therefore has the outdoors all to herself. One day she sees a strange girl asleep in the middle of the day on a bench. That girl turns out to be Nadeshiko, who has just moved to the area. She decided to bike up a hill to get a look at Mount Fuji, but she then fell asleep and didn’t wake up until it was dark, at which point she was too afraid to bike home.

Rin welcomes her back to her little camp and makes her some ramen and hosts her until her older sister comes to pick her up. Thankful, Nadeshiko gives Rin her phone number. She need not have bothered though, as it turns out they now attend the same school.

On her first day there, Nadeshiko joins the Outdoor Exploration Club, the less strenuous of the school’s two outdoor clubs—note the title—where she becomes the third member. One more member, and they can get a better club room than the tiny, narrow closet they meet in! Rin’s not interested, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed before too many future volumes. The pair’s first two meetings, at the camp site and at school, account for the first two chapters of this first volume. The rest of the book manages to find new ways to discuss camping—gear, techniques, locations—while continuing to tell the story of Nadeshiko’s entry into the world of camping by more experienced classmates.

It’s a particularly cozy little comic that artfully pulls off a pretty neat trick of being all about a particular subject without being so single-minded about that subject so as to be dull. That is, you can have zero interest in camping—I certainly wasn’t interested in it at all!—and still find the characters engaging, the gentle humor amusing, and the relationship dynamics intriguing. All while enjoying Afro’s delicately-rendered artwork, which captures the beauty of nature as well as black and white pencil and ink can.

Laid Back Camp is good enough that not only does it prove entertaining regardless of your interest in the subject matter, but chances are you’ll find yourself far more interested in camping by the time you finish the volume than you were when you started.

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