Reviewby Nicholas Dupree,
Love on the Other Side: A Nagabe Short Story Collection
Love can take as many shapes as there are people in the world. But those with beastly shapes need not harbor monstrous love. Be it a self-conscious young vampire (bat) learning to dance, a talking zoo lion who fascinates a lonely boy, or a hermetic wolf-man trying to teach a young girl how to speak, there is a wild gamut of tenderness and warmth to be found at the fringes of the world.
Like it says in the sub-title, Love On The Other Side is a collection of short stories crafted by Nagabe, the pseudonymous creator of The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún. Those familiar with Nagabe's art will doubtlessly know what to expect, but for newcomers the striking style of their art will be the first thing to grab your attention. Nagabe's style of stark draftsmanship is key to the ethereal, fairytale-like atmosphere so many of their works channel, and here functions excellently to enhance the inhuman nature of its subjects, while an attention to wardrobe and body language further serves to make many of the beastly characters in these stories feel distinctly human in their affectations. The result is a reading experience that evokes both the whimsical nature of fantasy folk tales and the dreadful darkness of unsanitized Grimm's Fairy Tales, which rings pitch-perfectly for the characters and stories the art portrays.
Unlike Nagabe's previously released anthology book, The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, the six stories in this volume aren't connected by setting or character, but by a singular theme: Love from inhuman beings. The first, “See You Tomorrow, Daisy” is the shortest and simplest. A sickly young woman befriends an enormous corvid she names Daisy, and the creature develops a habit of visiting her and bringing her gifts. Later her doctor mentions her improved temperament, idly hypothesizing that she's found a “sweetheart” to shower her with trinkets, much to her embarrassment. But, while lacking in conflict, the sentiment of the story becomes the bedrock of Love On The Other Side's thesis: that while many of the companions in these stories are not human or even people in the traditional sense, the companionship and solace they offer to others is as rich and meaningful as any, especially to those who find little kindness in more “normal” surroundings and people.
The key to these stories is that its definition of love is not strictly tied to romance. While there are a sparse few nods to romantic love such as “Midnight Waltz”, the bulk of the book is more concerned with building platonic or familial relationships between found families. Be it an outcast boy and a zoo lion bonding over their stigmatized albinism in “The White King” or the strange home built between a blind girl and an eyeless forest monster in “Those Without Eyes”, the central idea of outcasts and misfits finding comfort and security with one another is omnipresent and resonant. These aren't simply stories about beauty being what's on the inside, but of the inherent power of empathy and the magic it can bring to those who exist outside of societal norms, and it's expressed with a quiet gentleness that fills even the darkest of its tales (“Emergency Rations & Bountiful Feasts”) with the same love its characters express.
There are a few minor stumbling blocks to be had, however. While “The Wolf-Man and the Girl-Wolf” is predominantly a story about an outcast adoptive father trying to relate to his newfound daughter, the ending mixes its message a bit in ways that may leave some readers uneasy. It ultimately fits into the larger themes well enough, but it does leave some lingering aftertaste that could dissuade some from reading further, which is a shame because these stories absolutely work best in concert. Individually they are solid and engaging, but together in this volume they come to form a thematically cohesive whole that work best if read together in one sitting.
Those already familiar with Nagabe's work doubtlessly need little assurance that Love On The Other Side is worth checking out, but for those new to their oeuvre or put off by the somewhat darker tones of their longform narratives, this book may serve as a more accessible entry point.
Overall : A
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Unique and striking illustration, Compelling and thematically constructive storytelling
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