This article contains many heavy spoilers, for both the anime and manga.
I’ve been wanting to write a piece about Girls' Last Tour for a few years now, having originally watched it in 2018 and reading the manga shortly after. I’ve re-read it a few times since then, but still haven’t been able to get my exact thoughts about it in proper writing. This is my best attempt at doing so, and I would like to bring you along for the journey.
The world of Girls' Last Tour was, at one point, was much like ours. One with love, empathy, and life.
But one that, thanks in part to horrible ways humans can be, repeatedly spirals into total warfare. Each iteration increasing in size.
Which, once we have invented effective enough ways to kill our friends, leaves us with an almost entirely lifeless Earth. Plant life has ceased to exist, the few remaining animals' artificial habitats are being maintained by fraying machines. The human race is, aside from a few remaining people, extinct, with any recovery impossibly hopeless.
Which finally leads us to our main protagonists, Chito and Yuuri, 2 girls aimlessly wandering around this bleak world on their Kettenkrad in search of rations and fuel. Despite the horrible, hopeless circumstances they find themselves in, with full knowledge of the fact they may be the only 2 people left in this world of theirs, their minds don’t fall down a nihilist spiral. They have fun, mess around, laugh, even. They show just how fun being a human can be.
Chito records everything in her journals, collects books, and tries to preserve the knowledge that she can. Yuuri doesn’t care, just wants to live in the moment and eat food.
As they traverse different areas of the confusingly laid out stratums, they discover small bits of humanity’s history. Contemplating the ideas of gods, mortality, and empathy along the way, they run into Kanazawa, humanity’s last geographer, exploding a high-rise apartment building to form a bridge across 2 separated parts of the city.
Helping each other out, they pick up Kanazawa and help him get to an upper stratum, areas into which the city is vertically split. But, during an accident with the outside elevator, it tilts and his maps fall out, scattering in the air hundreds of meters above ground.
In this moment, Kanazawa loses all meaning to life. But, now on the upper level, seeing beautiful street lamps light up and receiving food from Yuuri in an unexpected act of compassion, he regains hope and decides to create a new map. He departs, leaving our girls with a camera full of records of his past, departs and is never seen again.
Moving a little further, their Kettenkrad breaks down in an artificial forest made of metal. They stay in the same place for a while, and rain comes. Using cans, their helmets and buckets below leaks in a dead robot they use as a roof, they create something they later think to be music. Possibly the first ever time hearing any, they’re somewhat taken aback by the newfound beauty.
Still, their vehicle remains hopelessly broken down. But, out of nowhere, as one of her experimental planes flies overhead, they meet Ishii. Possibly and very likely humanity’s last aviator, as they themselves point out. Ishii is nearing the completion of a plane with which she plans to leave the city megastructure with, exact destination unclear. Repeating the theme of empathy and cooperation, the girls and Ishii help each other out, them moving heavy things around with their kettenkrad that she, in return, alongside providing food, fixes.
Soon, the day of her departure comes. She takes off and things seem to go really well for a while, but her life’s work, the plane she had been working so hard on for years, ends up breaking down not even a few hundred meters from where it departed. Ishii, with a look of bliss on her face as she falls down to the lower stratum on a parachute, did her best. Now, having messing up the likely last chance to leave, overwhelemed by hopelessness, she doesn’t mind. We never run into her again.
And thus, the girls' adventure continues. They run into a seemingly sentient machine programmed with empathy upkeeping the Earth’s last living fish, a robot living inside a stratum elevator with infinite knowledge yearning for nothing but the sweet release of eternal oblivion, industrial graves of people’s memories and historical archives they’re able to recover from the camera. They remain having fun, being silly, messing around, and experiencing little joys as the last humans to ever do so. Fully aware of their hopeless situation the whole time, yet pushing on despite that.
They slowly make their way towards their adventure’s final destination, the highest stratum, a place rumored to still have life and resources. But, not too far away from stairs that lead up there, their kettenkrad breaks down in a way that neither would ever be able to fix with what’s available. And so, they make it into a bath. Later, they continue on foot.
For warmth and cooking food, they eventually start burning Chito’s books. As other ones run out, her precious diary is eventually burned as well, page by page of memories. As they approach the top, even their lantern runs out of fuel and the rest of the endless climb up to the promised heaven continues in total darkness.
They approach the top, hearts racing…
Their eyes take a few seconds to adjust to the light.
It’s empty. Stairs, a single block of concrete, snow and a lifeless sky.
For a moment, Chito starts questioning all of her decisions up until that moment. Perhaps she could’ve done something differently. They could have found areas with more food, different places to sleep at, maybe a way to repair the Kettenkrad…
Yuuri throws a snowball in her face.
It didn’t matter. She doesn’t know, neither of them did. But, the short period of life they’ve had was the greatest thing to have ever happened.
“Living was the best, wasn’t it?"
And, well, that’s it. The two of them, the only people left in the world, both the happiest and unhappiest, loneliest and least lonely, have reached the end of their journey. They use up the little remainder of their food, heat up some water, and then, go to sleep. They’ll figure out what to do later.
This series has lingered with me like no other, and it’s perhaps had the greatest impact on me any piece of media has ever had.
It’s a warning, about what we can be like and what we can turn our world into, if we decide to engage in war, give up empathy and kill our friends. Given the current geopolitical situation and ever more advanced weapons we are making, this is unfortunately as relevant as ever. The doomsday clock is steadily approaching midnight, stopping it is up to us, not necessarily those in self-appointed positions of power. In the abriged words of Albert Einstein, a man who had indirectly contributed to the development of nuclear bombs, the usage of which has threatened life on Earth since the end of the second world war:
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
It’s also a beautiful tale of two friends having fun and making the best of an absolutely horrible situation, enjoying the little things in a barren, ever so unkind world that all life was erased from. Despite the hopelessness of their situation, they push through. Forced to stare into the endless void by circumstances outside their control, with little knowledge of the world they’ve found themselves in, they stare into the void’s face and throw a snowball at it in humanity’s one last revolt against hopelessness itself. They show their mere existence is not enough.
Ending with a poem featured in the manga, Hermann Hesse’s “Auf Wanderung dem Andenken Knulps”:
Do not mourn, for someday night will come.
For then, above the pale Earth, the cold moon will silently smile as we watch, holding hands in rest.
Do not mourn, for someday that time will come, and we will rest.
Our little crosses will stand lined up upon the white waysides.
And then the rains will fall, the snows will fall, and the winds will come and go.