Otherside Picnic posits the question – what would you do if you accidentally stumbled across a doorway to another dimension that wasn’t dominated by JRPG tropes and otaku power fantasies?
Sorawo unwittingly finds herself travelling back and forth to a bizarre parallel dimension contemplating the value of her own existance when she crosses paths with Toriko, a fellow student at her university who teams up with her while escaping from the disturbing inhabitants of the Otherworld. Their mutual fascination leads them on a journey crossing between the real world and the Otherworld in an attempt to explore the mysteries that increasingly float between dimensions, rescue Toriko’s mentor Satsuki who went missing under mysterious circumstances and satiate their curiosity of a reality so unlike their own.
As the preamble suggests, I’m not a huge fan of modern isekai anime or at least what I perceive it as. I don’t wish the genre (is it a genre?) ill will – I loved El Hazard back in the 90s, found Now And Then, Here And There brutally engaging in the early 00s, have a soft spot for Digimon Adventure and enjoyed recent Sega-themed productions in the forms of PSO 2: The Animation and Uncle From Another World. But generally it isn’t something I tend to drift towards.
So I was a little surprised that I really got into Otherside Picnic. I think what helped was the focus on an interesting trio of characters that are in their early-20s rather than in their teens, the lack of a wunderkind element, no harem angles despite the yuri themes, along with the otherwordly and weird horror elements that at times felt like positively Lynchian.
It was also great to see how they build on elements of the supernatural, whether it be the power of belief in manifesting urban legends or the fusion of Japanese folklore and imagery into the antagonists and world-building.
The way they fold layers of other elements into Otherside was interestingly as well. The constant hints at Satsuki’s omnipresence were great, and the way it explored the military crossover played into the mental anguish suffered by armed forces stranded unwittingly in hostile, foreign territory. While not explicitly noted, there was also a tangible air of tension around Sorawo and Toriko’s presence in the camp. On the surface this was manifest by the distrust garnered by their abilities to deconstruct the hidden rules of the Otherside, but underneath there was also the silent prospect of violence against them either as a result of their “otherness” or by virtue or their age and gender.
Otherside Picnic excels in its pursuit of the unpredictable and resisting the urge to answer questions. It doesn’t come off deliberately obtuse due to production constraints (typical of OVAs from the golden era of anime), but layers a variety of hints across the season that points to both bigger questions of the space as well as a degree of confidence in its horror elements. The treatment of travelling to the Otherside as almost a form of addiction was also great, and the way it broadens the cast to other players, even when under the premise of absurdity, is put together in a way that compliments the proceedings rather than jutting out in a way that undermines the unexplainable nature of what’s being explored.
Otherside Picnic does well to marry all of these broader narrative elements with the core cast themselves. Sorawo is a recluse that genuinely struggles working through her detachment to the world and others, including maintaining her energy to keep her heart open to the blossoming friendship with Toriko. The yuri elements aren’t played up for explicitness and fan service (even the obligatory beach scene was quite restrained), and the relationship that gently builds is sweet to watch in practice. What’s also nice is to see the two of them maintain their juggle as uni students between working, studying, hitting the izakaya for food and beer and exploring a parallel world.
The production values do a great job of supporting this too. While there’s the occasional shortcut and the volume of key and inbetween frames often leave things a touch stilted, the sense of organic, dangerous otherness in the parallel world is well articulated. The audio design is also worthwhile mentioning as the psychological horror elements were effective and engaging.
The local Blu-Ray release of Otherside Picnic represents all these elements nicely. This is another Funimation import so we get the nice cardboard slip cover and the series is spread across two discs with bilingual audio. Extras are the usual for a release such as this, with promo videos, Japanese commercials and textless ops and eds. As the encoding’s solid this sits fine with me.
Otherside Picnic was a refreshing and engaging mashing of isekai, horror and yuri elements that marks a welcomed change of pace compared to other isekai anime of late. While anime taking on supernatural thriller elements may not be for everyone, if you’re even slightly intrigued by stories such as these I would highly recommend this one.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.