Many anime series have featured disturbing moments such GANTZ, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Elfen Lied. But it’s surprisingly rare for an anime to try its hand at eldritch horror the way that Otherside Picnic has.
Otherside Picnic began as a light novel series in 2017 by writer duo Iori Miyazawa. Miyazawa has written multiple light novel series in the past but none have survived past one volume until Otherside Picnic.
Studios: LIDENFILMS, Felix Film
Publishers: Square Enix
Director: Takuya Asaoka
Premiere: January 4, 2021
Otherside Picnic follows the story of Sorao Kamikoshi, an anti-social college student who accidentally stumbled upon an entrance to a place she calls the “Otherside”. It’s after encountering a mysterious creature there that she meets Toriko Nishina, an outgoing blonde girl who has been exploring the Otherside.
After the two defeat the creature that Sorao dubs a “Wiggle-Waggle” based on an urban legend of the same name, the entrance Sorao uses is seemingly destroyed by an oppressive blue entity on the Otherside. With no way of her own back to the Otherside, Sorao’s curiosity gets the better of her as she relies along on Toriko to get her back over.
Sorao learns that Toriko has a reason to explore the Otherside, her friend Satsuki has gone missing within it and Toriko insists that she’s still alive and needs her help. A young genius called Kozakura funds Toriko’s excursions in return for data and relics retrieved from the Otherside.
The appeal of Kozakura’s money and her burgeoning friendship with Toriko encourage Sorao to persist in exploring the Otherside in spite of the danger. However the danger is constantly growing and as their understanding of the Otherside expands it becomes more and more frightening.
The appeal of the Otherside for viewers, is how nonsensical and also horrifying it is. Two traits that generally describe themes of eldritch horror.
Each foray into the Otherside expands the understanding Sorao and Toriko begin to have of it. It’s an unsettling knowledge of what ought to be unknowable, at least by humans and the feeling of dread grows with each episode.
While not eldritch horror that most westerners are familiar with such as the Cthulhu Mythos, Otherside Picnic borrows many themes from it and applies them to urban legends. With a small basis in reality, Sorao is able to equip herself with some knowledge of what they could encounter, but knowing and defeating are separate things.
It’s thanks to this knowledge that Sorao is able to help Toriko defeat another Wiggle-Waggle, but it comes at a cost. Entities of the Otherside seem to be unkillable unless observed, and after watching the Wiggle-Waggle too long, strange crystals start growing to out of Sorao’s face to try and cover her eyes.
Thankfully Toriko is nearby to rip them off, but some damage has been done. Sorao’s right eye is now blue, but can also see through illusions in the Otherside; meanwhile Toriko’s hand which she used to pull away the crystals is now blue and translucent and can seemingly affect things in the Otherside in ways beyond the physical.
This transformation reiterates the dangers of the Otherside even further, but ironically also empowers them to more readily handle the threats within.
This growing danger is the basis for the more human drama of Otherside Picnic. Sorao values her growing friendship with Toriko, but is it worth putting herself in danger in the Otherside with her?
Sorao is constantly being pressured to weigh her own self-preservation with her feelings towards Toriko, and also the possibility that her feelings for her are more than friendship.
Visually, Otherside Picnic has some interesting effects. Especially when it comes to Toriko’s translucent hand which manages to both maintain an identifiable shape while looking like some kind of soft diamond; but as far as special effects go it peaks there.
Many of the monsters of the Otherside are depicted with grotesquely bland 3D graphics. In the third episode in particular, there’s a group of monsters with large heads and they looked like nondescript blobs. The series also sometimes uses 3D models to show characters at a distance and not even Sorao and Toriko are immune, but they aren’t as bad as the monsters in episode 3.
This is in spite of the monsters having more detail close up, from a distance or in a group the series makes heavy use of 3D models for monsters.
Another visual issue is just sloppy editing. There’s at least one notable scene in Otherside Picnic where the screen closes in on Sorao’s face but they forgot that her right eye was blue now, this also happens in the opening theme’s animation.
Now, it might be premature to judge the studio on this, based on the themes of the series it might very well be possible there was a reason that Sorao’s eye color returned to normal for that scene, but it seems unlikely.
The character designs are cute at least and Toriko’s facial expressions are a highlight of the series (personally I’m looking forward to a figure of Toriko). The contrast between the blonde-haired Toriko’s beauty and Sorao’s more nerdy tomboy makes the relationship of the characters even cuter.
The opening theme, Minikui Ikimono by CHiCO is almost more appropriate in a shonen or fantasy series than a dramatic mystery, but it works well for it and the breakdown in the opening easily hypes viewers up for the show.
In contrast, You & Me by Miki Sato is subdued and admittedly kind of a boring song. The melody isn’t memorable at all, it’s just a quiet and somber song to end an episode with.
Ultimately Otherside Picnic is an interesting show that’s held back by its overreliance on poor 3D effects. Great writing, great character design, and an interesting story are held down by such a simple problem.
It’s a shame because the other enemies up until then had looked amazing. The Wiggle-Waggle, the woman in episode 2, and even the “glitches” (areas that are like landmines that cause whatever enters to disintegrate) were consistent with the show’s style and looked like real parts of the Otherside.
If Otherside Picnic persists on using 3D of a similarly low quality in the future, it might be a difficult show to get through (this seems like it won’t be the case after seeing previews for episodes 4 and 5 that show monsters without poor 3D animation). But it will still be worth it since beneath everything it’s an amazing tale of eldritch horror and girls’ love at its core.