The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Otherside Picnic ?
What is this?
Sorawo has been exploring the strange dream-like world she calls the Otherside ever since she stumbled upon it during her days as an urban explorer, but her most recent trip has gotten her into serious trouble. That's when she meets Toriko, a strange young woman searching the Otherside for her missing friend. Toriko helps Sorawo out of her predicament, and Sorawo falls into helping Toriko in her mission. But each journey into the Otherside brings strange new dangers and skills, and Sorawo isn't sure that the search is worth it. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
You know, I can't for the life of me think of a yuri anime about adults, let alone a cool speculative fiction one without fan service that combines an influential Russian science fiction novel with modern Japanese urban myth. Or am I being too specific here?
The point is, Otherside Picnic is one of a kind, and a welcome addition to a landscape that's almost entirely about teenagers falling blushingly in love for the first time, often with a camera ogling their thighs in a way that's not consistent with character point-of-view. Those series can be lovely and sweet but tend to fall by the wayside by midseason for me, so I'm happy to see something that's a bit more tailored to my interests.
The novel that inspired the series, Roadside Picnic, is titled for an analogy between the aliens who came to Earth and left behind the ruined zones, and humans having a picnic and leaving behind litter and trampled grass. Otherside Picnic, with its focus on Sorao's state of mind and incorporation of urban legends, turns the metaphor inward. At the opening of the episode, Sorao is lying in the grass, prepared for death and reflecting on how no one will notice she's gone until her student loans go into collection. She feels empty and haunted, just like the landscape around her.
That metaphor is what makes her relationship with Toriko as powerful as it is. The vivacious extrovert and depressed introvert may be a pretty typical dynamic for a main pairing, but neither girl feels totally built on stereotypes either. I enjoyed their connection, although I do think their chemistry could have come through stronger.
The visuals are a mixed bag as well. The hand-drawn stuff looks great, with plenty of personality to its character acting, and the Otherside is appropriately eerie and atmospheric. However, there's some use of CG, and it varies from pretty cool and effective to honestly kind of baffling. The shapeless, ever-shifting monster they call the wiggle-waggle is spooky and effective, and even when it doesn't look great, it at least looks weird. However, for some reason there are some CG shots of Toriko and Sorao just moving through the landscape, and I cannot for the life of me understand why they did that because it looks terrible.
There's been a real lack of queer genre fiction in anime lately. Otherside Picnic would be a welcome addition to the season in any case, but in that light, I'm all the more excited to explore it.
Otherside Picnic's premiere gives me the vibe of an anime that I should be one-hundred percent all-in on, though I'm not quite there, yet. When I saw that this series is being adapted and directed by Takuya Satō, who I know as the man at the helm of the WIXOSS franchise, my somewhat lukewarm reception to Otherside Picnic began to make more sense, since WIXOSS is another franchise that has all the ingredients of a story I would like, though the ingredients never quite come together in a way I find to be palatable. We've only got this one episode to judge Otherside Picnic by, so the jury will be out for some time as to whether it succeeds where the WIXOSS anime have stumbled, though I'm already feeling optimistic, since the plot doesn't revolve around a silly battle-royale of nonsensical card game competitions.
My main issue with Otherside Picnic's premiere is that it doesn't really feel like a premiere at all to me. The entire time I was watching it, I was convinced that there was some kind of prequel OVA or something that I had neglected to catch-up on beforehand. After opening in medias res with Sorao Kamikoshi lying face-up in a shallow pool of water, we get only a tiny sense of who she is – lonely, isolated, without any meaningful connection to the world – and then Toriko arrives, after which we learn that Toriko and Sorao are both college-aged women from Japan who have found themselves in an alternate universe that is only accessible from certain places throughout “our” world. This “Otherside” is populated with mysterious beings that are apparently called “Wiggle-Waggles”, eldritch beings that drive you mad simply by looking at you, though they are vulnerable to rock-salt (and also being looked at, I guess? But only when it is Sorao doing the looking). Toriko is obviously hiding some ulterior motives – she has visited the Otherside many times, picked up her own gun for protection, and is looking for…someone, though she convinces Sorao to partner up with her just so they can earn some cash hunting the spooky mirror cubes that dead Wiggle-Waggles drop.
This isn't exactly an abnormal amount of setup for a premiere to handle, but it is all presented with such a matter-of-fact sense of detachment, and Sorao is herself such a disaffected heroine, that I had a really hard time nailing down the hows and whys of Otherside Picnic's whole story. Sorao is weirdly okay with teaming up with an obviously sketchy lady to go hunt mind-melting monsters in another dimension, as if this is a totally normal thing to happen. Speaking of Toriko, is she just your average stalker, or more of a “Stalker” in the Roadside Picnic sense? I'm not asking the show to answer all of my questions upfront, but a little more context would be great.
In short, Otherside Picnic certainly has my curiosity, but it hasn't grabbed my attention. The direction and animation on display are good enough, and I'm a sucker for any pair of friends/girlfriends whose relationship is based on traversing a nightmare universe to become monster-hunting partners-in-crime. Hopefully, this will be the Takuta Sato anime that manages to live up to its potential.
There's something...off about Otherside Picnic that I can't quite put my finger on. On paper, it's a supremely interesting mix of concepts and genres that could make for something really unique. A surreal horror-action series starring two college-aged women as they discover the mysteries of a parallel dimension infested with bizarre and unnatural horrors? Sign me up! Yet somewhere in this premiere I could feel the show losing me, and I'm still not certain why that is.
I don't think it's the characters – while we don't see a whole lot of Sorao or Toriko's inner thoughts this episode, they make for a charming central couple and they have a lot of fun interactions across this inaugural monster hunt. We largely start this story in media res, as both ladies are fully aware of the Otherside and have visited it separately multiple times, and that's a good way to keep the mystery of this otherworldly place intact even as our heroes piece together how it works. But it does beg the question of how either discovered it, and it necessitates more than a few “As You Know” explanations to keep the audience up to speed. More than anything I just don't know why either of them wants to keep returning to a clearly dangerous place or what they stand to gain from doing so. That missing piece of info kept sitting in the back of my head, and figuring that out is likely critical to getting invested in this story.
Come to think of it, the weak link may also be the horror aspects of the Otherside. The opening sequence does a great job of making it feel like a threatening, unpredictable place where even the laws of physics are malleable – Sorao suddenly sinking into the depths of what appeared to be a shallow puddle is a great way to communicate that – but the way they defeat the “wiggle-waggles” and pick up mysterious items they can apparently sell for money made this feel more like a buggy video game. There's still some neat wrinkles to the setup, like the roundabout way Toriko uses an elevator to bring them to the Otherside, while hand waving away equally compelling dangers and monsters that the pair just barely escape. It's an endearing way to mix the supernatural horror with the seeming mundanity our heroes approach much of it, and I'd love to see more stuff like that.
Yet no matter how much I muse over this premiere in hindsight, or list off the parts I really liked or think are promising, I can't quite click with the episode as a whole. Something in the editing or pacing or some mix of minor flaws that I can't put into words yet keeps me at a distance from this whole setup. I can certainly still recommend it, as anyone who's interested in horror-themed action should absolutely give this a shot, but I think I need a couple more episodes to figure out just how enthusiastic that recommendation should be.
What if there was a place where the urban legends are real? Not necessarily where they become real, or even where they come from, but simply an otherworld where all the things that lurk in the dark corners of the internet live and breathe. That seems to be the place called Otherside, a world somehow connected to our own where college student Sorao meets Toriko, a young woman around the same age who appears to be much more versed in Otherside survival – or at least she makes a good show of it. She's also looking for someone named Satsuki, but so far Toriko's keeping mum on that front.
If nothing else, Otherside Picnic made me realize that I really need to pick the source novels back up, because not only was this creepy and fascinating, but it also looks almost exactly like I'd pictured it in my head when I read the first light novel. The grayish tint to the colors on the Otherside, the shape of the wiggle-waggle, the abandoned, ruined buildings that make Otherside look like a post-apocalyptic version of our world – it was all just as described in the book. That's impressive and opens the door for Otherside Picnic to be a very faithful adaptation, which in the case of this series would be a good thing.
The other major piece of the episode that absolutely worked for me is the creeping horror aspect. There's a feeling of impending doom every second Toriko and Sorao are in the Otherside, and the music and imagery enhances that beautifully. The scene in the elevator, which Toriko has somehow learned will take you to the Otherside if you punch in the correct sequence of floors like an old school game console cheat code (which makes it feel like a believable internet rumor, honestly), is genuinely unsettling, especially when she calmly says to Sorao, “It always tries to get in on the fifth floor,” after something that looks like a ghost attempts to rush the elevator car. What, or who, was "it"? Another traveler to the Otherside who didn't make it out? Given that when we meet Sorao she's on the verge of dying – and that Toriko is looking for Satsuki – that definitely seems like a possibility.
Even with its strengths, there are a few little missteps here. I did laugh at the image of Millais' Ophelia painting with a bar across her eyes, but I don't think it added to the episode; in fact, the humor felt jarring in the moment. I also got stupidly hung up on the fact that Toriko, who clearly knows what she's doing, wore high heels to go traipsing around the Otherside; she had to have known that was a bad idea, and she definitely was planning on going there when she went to find Sorao. A bit more clarity about the whole urban legend/internet myths piece would also have been nice, since I mostly knew that from the novel rather than the episode. But despite those issues, I really enjoyed this first episode, and I'm definitely going to check out more – and get back to the books.
Although this light novel adaptation probably technically qualifies as an isekai story, it is not a traditional one in concept. In this case, the two protagonists can freely move back and forth between the real world and the world that Toriko (the blond) calls Otherside, a strange wilderness landscape scattered with decrepit, age-worn versions of items from the real world and populated by beings which seem to be recreations of urban legends. What the rules are for this strange place are only gradually developing as the episode progresses: apparently foes can be defeated only if they are being directly stared at, but no special weapon seems to be required if that condition is met. The problem is that staring directly at them can eventually drive the viewer crazy.
That is one of the more interesting twists that the first episode offers. Not explained at all is what the exact danger is with seeing all blue, how one transports from one world to the next, or how one finds the doorways between them; a sequence involving going up and down in an elevator shows that the method can be complex and possibly even accidental. But this is only the first episode, so presumably that will be explained with time. What is clear is that a nightmarish aspect is involved in all of this.
For as intriguing as the setting has the potential to be, the key factor for evaluating the success of the first episode is the establishment of the featured duo. Short-haired, plain-looking Sorawo is an introverted college student who seems to be the more intellectual type, but she immediately has difficulty handling the blond ball of energy that is the much more outgoing and glamorously beautiful Toriko. Hence they start off as sharp contrasts in both appearance and behavior. Even so, the two complement each other well, to the point that enough chemistry is already starting to develop between them to justify eventual yuri developments. (None of that is apparent in the first episode, however.) Regardless of what else is going on, the series could be worth watching just for their interactions.
The technical merits on this one seems on the high side so far, and the character designs are certainly appealing. I have found works directed by Takuya Satō to be very hit-or-miss over the years, but this one looks like it could be a “hit.”
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