A Place Further than the Universe is an original Madhouse series, the first since Death Parade in 2015 (and 2008’s Kaiba before that). It focuses around Mari Tamaki, a second-year high schooler who desperately wants to make the most out of her youth, but struggles to break through the inertia of fear. She cannot even bring herself to skip school, afraid of getting in trouble or being stranded somewhere away from home. She finds an lost envelope with one million yen, and, in the process of returning it, discovers Shirase Kobuchizawa, a fellow student who plans on using the money to travel to Antarctica and locate her missing mother. Hoping to break through her fear of the unknown, Mari decides to join her on this trip.The first episode is a strong start to this series. The art style and character design are charming while not feeling cliched. LIkewise, Mari’s and Shirase’s motivations are positive and upbeat without being checklists for anime character tropes. There is a lot of incidental humor, usually highlighted in exaggerated facial expressions, without turning the show into a full-blown comedy—this series is certainly about the journey, not just a series of goofy incidents leading us there.Likewise, A Place Further than the Universe follows the recent anime trend of focusing on background scenes, providing us with some gorgeous shots, whether in a train station or a park. Seeing comparisons of places in anime with their real-life counterparts is always fascinating, so I hope we catch more glimpses of modern Japan throughout the series.The first episode has caught my interest, but I will definitely give it the three-episode test. The central conceit has been firmly set-up in the episode, but the carefree tone present throughout (especially in the catchy opening animation) makes me wonder what hardships our girls will have to face. I’m eagerly awaiting the introduction of the rest of the cast as well as whatever conflicts they will have to face as they travel to…The series simulcasts on Crunchyroll on Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. EST.