Otherside Picnic, Vol. 8

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.

For the most part, this book is an emotional journey. It’s about Sorawo, a woman whose emotions have always been something of a foreign country (to herself, not necessarily to others) learning about what love is, what it means to love someone, and how that can change a relationship. And she has perfectly normal fears. She has a great relationship with Toriko now, one defined in the first book: they’re accomplices. But Toriko wants something more, and Sorawo knows it. That said, in case you were worried that this book would be all fluff and lack the sheer horror of the previous books, fear not. The middle of the book is here for you. What’s more, given that the book is about Sorawo’s feelings about Toriko, it makes sense that the horror is all based around Toriko. Let’s just say I hope this is never animated – I deal far better with horror as a written word than I do with horror as a visual medium.

Toriko has confessed to Sorawo, and says she wants a response. But she knows Sorawo is who she is, so she’s giving her a week to come up with this answer. This allows Sorawo to do a minor tour of the supporting cast to get some advice. College friend Benimori gives probably the most sensible advice, and seems delighted to find Sorawo, who has a bit of a reputation at their college, going through a real relationship. She talks with Natsumi, whose advice seems to be more about Natsumi than it is about Sorawo. She talks with Kozakura, who points out that their desire to go to the Otherside constantly, something almost everyone else would find terrifying, is what unites them – but that Toriko would stop doing it without Sorawo. And then finally, after a bus ride home that devolves into a series of Toriko-related visions, she goes to her apartment and confronts the girl she loves but barely knows.

I emphasized the horror, but rest assured there’s a lot of funny stuff here as well. The entire scene with Natsumi is amazing, complete with Natsumi calling Sorawo a “raging lesbian”, which is projecting if ever I saw it. Kozakura’s talk with Sorawo goes off the rails thanks to the presence of Kasumi, and leads to a self-help guide from hell. And the last part of the book, with Toriko and Sorawo opening up to each other, while also filled with sweet, touching moments, has its share of hilarity. We’ve known for a while that Sorawo is an unreliable narrator, but Toriko describing how Sorawo is ogling her constantly ever since they first met drives that home very well. Of course, we the reader have also seen that, but it’s been in the context of her internal monologue, so it hadn’t been apparent that it was written all over her face as well.

The sweet emotional bits are there as well, of course. I loved Toriko trying to do research into what she feels Sorawo’s issues might be – it’s a sign of how much she’s prepared to devote to their relationship, but also a sign of how little Sorawo opens up about her past – her matter-of-factness is disturbing, not edifying, even when she has to bluntly say “my family did not sexually assault me”. We also finally get a long look at Toriko’s mothers, what they did and who they were, as Sorawo finally realizes that in order to be Toriko’s lover, she needs to know who Toriko is and where she came from. And then there’s the part of the book that I think everyone will be talking about, the sex scene. At first disappointing, though very true to what Sorawo has told us, the reader, about her sexuality so far, it then rapidly moves in a very different direction. What follows is not only fulfilling for both of them but also 100% in character – both for them and the book. Kozakura would be completely unsurprised. They’re freaks, of course they have freaky sex.

We’re caught up once again, so I’m not sure where the series goes from here. We were introduced to a new character, who I didn’t have room to talk about, so it may do something with her. That said, this book is for those who’ve been waiting forever for these two to get together.

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.