Otherside Picnic, Vol. 7

By Iori Miyazawa and shirakaba. Released in Japan as “Urasekai Picnic” by Hayakawa Bunko JA. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sean McCann.

If Otherside Picnic is a series about ghost stories and legends, and going to another world to explore and confront them, then the series had to, at some point, deal with its own self-made ghost. Satsuki Uruma has been a part of this series from the very beginning, but we’ve never quite met her. Her presence has been felt, though, both from the impact her life and death had on Toriko and Kozakura and also because the Otherside has used her presence and likeness to hunt and destroy Sorawo. In this new volume, Sorawo finally meets Satsuki and has a conversation with her, and it helps to clear up a great many things. 1) the Satsuki they’re dealing with is not a human being, and b) Sorawo wants to murder her. Of course, this is Kozakura’s friend and Toriko’s former teacher/crush, so Sorawo will have to obfuscate her real motives… but not by much. Call it a funeral or an exorcism or what you will, it’s a final battle, and all it needs is a shootout.

While discussing Kozakura’s decision to take the wayward Otherside child Kasumi in (reasoning that she’s human because she’s not trying to look human), Sorawo and Toriko get into a fight because it turned out Toriko missed Sorawo’s birthday, which Sorawo doesn’t care about but Toriko certainly does. A few days later it’s not a fight but it’s not NOT a fight, so Sorawo, after her anthropology class, decides to return to the building where she first entered the Otherside and met Toriko. There she finds her doppelganger… and also Satsuki, who has a terrifying conversation with our heroine. After this, Sorawo is determined to do away with her, to the point where her romantic anniversary dinner with Toriko is somewhat waylaid by that fact. But how do you kill what Satsuki has become?

I brushed past the anthropology class, but it was a terrific part of the book, with Sorawo (who is no longer amnesiac, so is returning to her original topic) laying out the anthropological details behind ghost stories and the like. The class are doubtful but not mocking her, and the professor is quite supportive… especially when they do find evidence of T-san’s former presence. The other highlight of the book (aside from Sorawo really coming into her own as a leader and driver of the action) is, once again, Runa Urumi. Her interaction with Sorawo is fantastic, and I enjoyed seeing her assume that the only reason that Sorawo is allowed to walk around Japan with her eye that can drive people crazy is that she has friends in high places. Unfortunately, the final scene (which is both terrifying and vindicating, and makes you want to punch the air in victory) puts Runa away again” for a bit, but I now really look forward to seeing her again.

This is not the end of the series, but it’s very much the end of one of the major story arcs, and that makes it easier to wait for the 8th volume, which is not out in Japan yet. Till it comes out, this may be the best volume of the series to date.

Otherside Picnic, Vol. 6

By Iori Miyazawa and shirakaba. Released in Japan as “Urasekai Picnic” by Hayakawa Bunko JA. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sean McCann.

After starting the series off showing us a terrifying, lethal, transforming Otherside, it is somewhat amusing to see that the parts of this book that actually do take place in the Otherside are the most relaxed. Essentially, Sorawo and Toriko decide to settle in and do some dry-walling, and they have a great deal of fun. They don’t have any terrifying experiences there because the real world, and the space between the real world and the Otherside, is scary enough as it is. Starting the book off with a Sorawo who seems to be a normal, non-urban legend loving college student, the book takes off running as our heroes battle T-san, a man dressed like a monk whose features seem to invite unreliable narration. Akari gets involved as well, and before we know it we’re dealing with someone who is perfectly happy to walk into their psychiatric hospital/prison and wreak havoc. This is Otherside Picnic: the Movie, kids, so buckle up for a roller coaster ride of thrills.

As you may have guessed, this book is one long story, involving a young (?) man (?) who is tall (?) and wears monk’s robes (?) and is currently in Sorawo’s college seminar. As I noted above, at the start of the book Sorawo has amnesia, her “Otherside” eye is not working, and she’s rather startled by these other two girls who seem to know her. That thankfully gets resolved quickly, and we’re back to our normal Sorawo who insists that she doesn’t really care about other people even if her actions belie this quite a bit. T-san the Templeborn is another urban legend, though the author, who I already suspect is making up all of their ‘cited sources’, admits this one is probably more fictional than the others. Instead of the Otherside, T-san is threatening the real world, erasing the connections between people and that universe with a shouted “HAH!”. Can they stop him in time? And are they going to need the help of an old enemy to do so?

Gotta admit, my favorite parts of this book are the parts with Runa Urumi, who is (possibly?) trying her best to be the Hannibal Lecter to Sorawo’s Clarice. She’s awake once more, bored out of her gourd locked up in DS Research, and promises to be a good girl if they just let her surf the internet a bit. Needless to say they are very distrustful of her, especially as remorse does not seem to be happening anytime soon, but a later scene where she ends up, somewhat reluctantly, helping the other inmates when T-san visits the facility makes me suspect this plotline is not going to be dropped anytime soon. As for Sorawo and Toriko’s relationship, it’s notable here mostly for Toriko’s jealousy when it comes to Akari, which is so obvious this time around that even Sorawo, never the brightest bulb when it comes to social cues, has to reassure her that she does not like Akari in that way. I also don’t see this plot going away anytime soon, though.

Oddly, for something that was supposed to be a grand movie version of the series, this was rather sedate, with only a bit of action in the final parts, and very little shooting of guns. This is, of course, because most of it took place in reality, and I suspect that the link between the two worlds will continue to fluctuate in future. But yeah, good book, go get it.

Otherside Picnic, Vol. 5

By Iori Miyazawa and shirakaba. Released in Japan as “Urasekai Picnic” by Hayakawa Bunko JA. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sean McCann.

This may be the least horror-themed volume to date, with the stories in this book, with the exception of the final one, more focused on either a) the relationship between Sorawo and Toriko, or b) the nature of the Otherside as a world in which it is possible to stay, be it animal or person, and manage to avoid too much weird creepiness. The Otherside does not necessarily have to turn anything and everything into an urban legend or creeping horror… it’s just that is what it seems to do when Sorawo is around. A lot of the Otherside that we’ve seen to date seems to be very focused on her in particular, so it’s interesting to see it when it’s either literally reflecting on the relationship between her and Toriko or just showing a happy old woman and her dog staying at a swank Otherside estate. That said, there are still some scary moments in this book, particularly the final story, where, as the subtitle suggests, our heroines run into an old foe.

We get four stories this time around. In the first, Sorawo is desperately trying to recall what happened the night of a love hotel girls’ party that she and Toriko (and Kozakura, Akari and Natsumi, because Sorawo is a big chicken) were at. Was it really just “I got too drunk and did something stupid?” Or did she put the whammy on her friends with her Eye of Power? The second story, and my favorite, has Sorawo hunt down Toriko, who has been avoiding her after the party, at Toriko’s college. She finds her, but shortly afterwards becomes trapped in interstitial space, and gets a good look at how Toriko sees Sorawo. Then it’s back to the Otherside, where they spot the most terrifying Otherside denizen yet… Sorawo’s self-confidence. Oh yes, and a borzoi. Finally, the two are hired by the wife of the first man they met in the Otherside to find him… never mind the fact that he was there to find her, or that they saw him killed. Who’s the child they’re seeing hiding in a pile of garbage? And why is Hasshaku-sama behind this?

Not to spoil too much, but in the fourth volume we finally had Toriko make it as explicit as possible that she loves Sorawo, and in this 5th volume Sorawo is finally able to say it back, after literally seeing herself through Toriko’s eyes, and also realizing that Toriko is actually a normal, fallible human being and not a flawless goddess of beauty. There’s little of Sorawo’s descriptive Toriko prose here, and she seems to be (well, leaving aside the first story) more accepting of their relationship. She still has a tendency to hate herself as much as humanly possible, and I suspect the relationship is not going to get much further unless she can clear that hurdle, but hey, baby steps. We also get a good look at what the Otherside is like when it’s simply… accepted. Not leaving one spot too much, avoiding dangerous areas, etc. Turns out… it’s pretty nice. The third story was my second favorite, and I wonder if we’ll see the woman and her dog again.

That said, my big question, and the book ends with it being very much up in the air, is what’s up with that kid? (For a while I thought she was literally Sorawo as a child in some sort of time breaking shenanigans, but apparently not?) In any case, there hopefully will be less wait for the 6th volume. If the anime didn’t impress you, try the novels, they’re much better.