Iori Miyazawa‘s yuri (or yuri-flavored, in the case of early volumes) science fiction/horror series Otherside Picnic began life as a light novel series before being adapted into both anime and manga formats, with the former preceding the latter in date. While all three have their strengths, as of the first book of the manga, it seems like it doesn’t have some of the issues that plagued the anime version. Leaning far more heavily into the horror elements than almost anything else, Eita Mizuno‘s version of the text plays up the terror of urban legends and creepy pasta coming to life while also giving us a little more yuri as well, making this feel like its own story while remaining true to the source novels.
The series follows college student Sorawo as she makes her first ventures into the place she calls the Otherside. A sometime-urban explorer whose folklore studies focus on urban legends, Sorawo stumbled into the Otherside by accident: while looking around an abandoned apartment, she opens a door and suddenly finds herself staring at vast open plains that shouldn’t exist in the Tokyo area. After a couple of tentative essays, Sorawo gets up her courage to venture deeper into the strange world…only to find herself stuck in a marshy area with a strange creature bearing down on her. She comes close to dying, but is rescued by another young woman, a blonde with a gun named Toriko. Toriko at first calls her “Satsuki,” but saves her even when she turns out not to be the person she’s looking for. When the two return to the apartment Sorawo set out from, Toriko tells her that she’s looking for her friend who vanished without a trace in the Otherside.
This understandably makes Sorawo a little nervous, plus she’s definitely not sure what to make of Toriko. She’s alarmed by both Toriko’s apparent familiarity with firearms and the fact that Toriko “just found” the gun(s) lying around in the Otherside, which we get the feeling is very nearly as scary as the creature from urban legends that almost killed both of them before Toriko took it out. Were it not for Toriko coming to find her at her university, there’s definitely room to question whether or not Sorawo would have gone back – not only has her doorway vanished, possibly as a result of Toriko’s defeat of “the wriggler,” but she now more fully understands the danger. But on the other hand, Sorawo loved the solitude and silence of the other world, and that may have proven a big enough lure to bring her back.
That Sorawo thought of the Otherside as her own personal escape does factor into both her character and the entire idea of the Otherside. She mentions that “you hear lots of stories” about people finding themselves in otherworlds a lot more frequently these days, and there’s a real sense that her urban explorations and studies may have been about her looking for just such an isekai experience. In fact, the story feels very much like a statement on the isekai craze of recent years; it’s just using urban legends and internet culture as its base rather than the more typical RPG or fantasy setting. In this way, Otherside Picnic (the title itself a reference to a Russian novel) is a more successfully dark take on the genre than any number of grimdark fantasy interpretations, because it not only truly does something a little bit different than the norm, but it also takes intentionally scary things that take on lives of their own online as its inspiration. Unlike classic ghost stories, urban legends grow out of truly unverified, or unverifiable, tales, and the very nature of the internet makes it so that anything can be taken as true or not simply based on your level of belief – or wanting to believe. They’re the twenty-first century equivalent of nineteenth-century Spiritualism, and everyone with a keyboard can be the next Alastair Crowley or Kate and Maggie Fox. There’s no need for seances to prove the point, because that’s what Reddit is for, right?
This puts Sorawo and Toriko, and later Toriko’s acquaintance Kozakura, in the position of mediums and explorers both. Each piece of information that they acquire – how to take down a wriggler, what the color blue means, traps, etc. – becomes a new opportunity for them to believe even more strongly in whatever they think of the Otherside, a clue to a mystery they’re almost creating as they solve it. This is perhaps most apparent when they meet the man on the Otherside. He believes, strongly, that his wife vanished like Satsuki, but he really has very little basis for this assumption, because he only discovered it after she disappeared from their living room. No door or window opened in the brief moment it took for her to vanish; he only came to believe she was in the Otherside later, after he discovered the place. While there perhaps aren’t any other good explanations for where she went, there’s also something off about his assumption and the force of his belief in it. Interestingly, that belief may indicate that she’s there now, because he’s taken by a different urban legend in front of Sorawo’s and Toriko’s eyes…one that Sorawo was just mentioning to Toriko when they discussed the wrigglers. Did Sorawo inadvertently summon it because she spoke of it?
That’s among the questions this volume doesn’t answer. It does, however, create a creepy world that gives a sense of vast, unexplored space and dangers lurking just below your line of sight. There’s also a bit more evidence of romantic attraction on Sorawo’s part, as she plainly feels jealous of Toriko’s attachment to the missing Satsuki. Sorawo does look a little too young in the art, and urban landscapes aren’t nearly as striking as the Otherside, but overall this is a solid adaptation, and one with just enough of a different take on the plot and characters from the original to make it worth reading all on its own.