by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Otherside Picnic ?
"Different people fear different things." That's a wisdom espoused this week on Otherside Picnic as our characters contend with a more curious, even cuddly kind of cryptid compared to the colloquial creepypastas confronted previously. It's a subject the show has reckoned with before: how people's disparate worries and fears manifest depending on what they're actively concerned about at the moment. In the case of Sorawo and Toriko, they've been internalizing a lot of their fears up to this point, with the Otherside seeming to escalate attacks on them particularly. So this week's episode is here to shake up that focus, to illustrate how someone supposedly unconnected from the girls might have their own separate supernatural struggle. The result is exactly the kind of offbeat adventure you would expect from an episode titled ‘Attack of the Ninja Cats’.
For as self-focused as Sorawo and Toriko have been through their trips so far (for better or for worse), it makes for an interesting shift when they're sought out specifically to help someone else with the experience they've accumulated. Like a cursed girl-of-the-week out of the Monogatari series, Akari Seto appears to ask Sorawo for help with her supernatural struggles. Right out of the gate it creates an interesting wedge of an issue for Sorawo to deal with; she's uncertain if she can or even should help, her own anxieties about the unknown reflecting the fear of those mysterious cats that Akari is seemingly plagued by. Sorawo lack of confidence in her ability to help others is fair given how her and Toriko's previous interactions alongside people in the Otherside have turned out. But there are other layers to it as well that are interesting to uncover as the episode goes on, from Sorawo's amusingly quaint concern about having to kill cute little kitties, to the more serious point that she may be developing some possessiveness towards her partnership with Toriko.
We've seen that element reflected before; previous episodes have given focus to the idea that Sorawo's biggest fear is losing this important personal connection she's been sticking with. That's towed along by Toriko's own input here, happily pushing to assist Akari and even obliviously suggesting they add her to their party long-term. There's a lot of time spent on antics in this episode, but that feeling rounds back for just enough character insight to keep it feeling meaningful: Sorawo and Toriko don't yet seem to be on the same page as far as their feelings for each other, solidified by the ending where Toriko grapples with new information that could point her towards the whereabouts of her disappeared previous partner, Satsuki. Reactions like that, or Sorawo's momentary musing on how she doesn't want to regard Toriko as ‘just a friend’, speak to that concept of the esoteric things feared by different people, with Sorawo's being that potential separation anxiety apart from any immediate fears of killer cats.
What about those cats, though? Like I said, this is an even more offbeat episode than usual, including even a seemingly-unrelated aside about Sorawo and Toriko drunkenly ordering a piece of large farming equipment and having it delivered to Kozakura's place. The leadup to that bizarre gag is apparently there just to remind us of Otherside Picnic's potential to escalate at any given moment, so we don't end up too unsettled when, after several blurry phone-photo teases and foreboding descriptions, straight-up little cats in little ninja costumes appear to menace our heroines! It's a truly wild ride, as prior to this, the potential attack cats had been built up as something effectively creepy and intimidating, fueled by that creepypasta delivery and the nursing of the point that these were genuinely scary to Akari. But once the actual animals are seen, the presentation shifts pointedly to something more akin to a campy slasher flick. There's still tension to the chase that unfolds, highlighted by Otherside Picnic's typically strong music and direction, and culminating in another trans-dimensional trip to the bizarre architecture of some kind of cat town. But at this point it almost feels like the show is relying on us knowing the idea that this counts as ‘scary’ to some people to communicate its ideas of fear rather than trying to instill it in us personally.
That isn't to say it's not purr-fectly entertaining to witness this little cat-tastrophe. Otherside Picnic's visual execution so far has always been better-suited to depicting action anyway, so when you've got Toriko unloading on a fast feline or Akari taking one on in a karate battle it hits the kind of goofy fun factor I can only assume the show is shooting for. And it remains committed to springing odd escalations on us even in the midst of those silly setpieces, with Akari's momentary turn to possessed freakishness signalling how this story can climactically resolve. Or at least the part with the ninja cats specifically, anyway; the group ends up seemingly spirited back to the regular world by a horde of mysterious white cats, which rings as much of a flat 'What?' moment as many of the show's transportations in the last few episodes. Sometimes Otherside Picnic really likes being too obtuse for its own good, even for a show that necessarily thrives on a sense of mystery.
Still, this mostly works, and even caters to my concerns a bit with the girls genuinely helping their latest companion by the end instead of having her end up some kind of casualty. With Toriko actually calling attention to how Sorawo acquiesces her assistance, I almost want to regard this as a sign of character growth. They come away with a greater understanding of the kinds of things other people fear, and the story illustrates how that kind of empathy is an overall enriching experience. It's not an overly ambitious or deep examination of the show's meditations on fear and human nature, but it's a fun single-episode adventure with effective stepping stones towards personal growth and the next phase of this larger plot.
Otherside Picnic is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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