Otherside Picnic is a Passable Anime Based on a Great Horror Novel

Few winter anime announcements made me more excited than Otherside Picnic, an action horror series about two college-aged women — Sorawo, a loner who studies urban legends; and Toriko, a survivalist looking for her missing mentor — who hunt cryptids in a strange cosmic horror otherworld and eventually fall in love. Good horror anime is thin on the ground, and yuri (queer female love stories) focusing on adult women basically never makes it to adaptation, so expectations were high for Otherside’s premiere. Coming out the other side twelve episodes later I can report that the series is… basically competent, which stings in light of the genuinely great source material it’s working from.

Since it dabbles in cosmic horror, Otherside faced a number of hurdles in the process of adaptation. The genre’s particular style leans heavily on the psychological impact of seeing the incomprehensible, which often leans heavily on internal monologue to paint the scene when monsters are conveniently too terrible to describe. Protagonist Sorawo is no different, and while the anime does its best to translate the nuances of her fears that she’s incapable of connecting to others, it lacks the intimacy of being constantly locked in her perspective.

The monsters are another hurdle, as a major gimmick of each fight is Sorawo’s ability to look through her supernaturally-affected eye to see a creature’s “true form.” This often involves broad, abstract concepts like “everything went blue” or pieces of non-Euclidean geometry, which are often rendered as bumpily integrated CG animation. Add to that an overarching plot about Toriko’s mentor that goes nowhere because it’s still a central thread of the source material, as well as the fact that several story arcs from the novels were shuffled around so that it ends on a two-parter about stranded American soldiers rather than the climactic fight to rescue Toriko after she gets lost on the Otherside (a much more crucial arc for the main relationship), and the final result is more functional than enthralling. While Takuya Satō does his best, it shows through that his most effective outings as a director have been grounded relationship dramas rather than genre fiction.

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Otherside Picnic

That said, a functional adaptation of very good source material still equals out to a solid watch. The cast is suited to their characters, the opening theme is great, and while the romance development suffers from being developed at a slow burn in a still-ongoing series, Toriko and Sorawo have great chemistry. And while it stumbles at depicting action, the scene-setting is often effectively atmospheric — episode nine in particular, which involves a curse and taking teeth from an apparition, is right in sync with horror hits like The Magnus Archives.  

Like The Case Files of Jeweler Richard and many others before it, Otherside’s anime ultimately functions as a very expensive advertisement for its source material. Fortunately for English language readers, the series is already licensed, and four of the six existing novels have been translated. If you’re unable to access or are uninterested in reading the series for whatever reason, the anime will definitely provide your fix for a silly and sometimes spooky action series, but it can’t match up to the original.