Urasekai Picnic (Otherside Picnic) is a sci-fi novel series, which got its own anime serialization this winter. It deals with two young women, Toriko and Sorao, who meet in the “Otherside”, an alternative reality that can be accessed through various well-concealed portals. How one ends up to the Otherside for the first time is usually random, but they all seem to be seekers of some kind, looking for a lost loved one, pure thrill, or plain old solitude.
Drawing inspiration from urban legends and creepypasta, Otherside Picnic serves a gripping story with good enough CGI, a likable main cast with obvious chemistry, and a chilling atmosphere loaded with mystery, existential dread, and horrifying entities. Let’s step into the Otherside and see if we can come out unscathed…
Set and Setting - A Curious Blend
Otherside Picnic is not strictly an isekai, because the characters go back and forth between the normal life of contemporary Japan and the eerily desolate fields of the Otherside. One moment Sorao and Toriko are entering a building identical to many others in the bustling center of Tokyo, only to take the elevator and end up, through pressing the buttons in a specific sequence, in an alternate reality. The place they reach is oddly similar to our world, from the sky to the flora and ground, until something unsettling happens. This sudden sense of displacement is what separates a good from a bad horror story and Otherside Picnic excels in pulling the carpet under our feet.
The Kunekune (or Wiggle Waggle as they have been localized in English) Toriko and Sorao face right off the bat in the first episode are an actual Japanese urban legend: they are uncanny creatures that creep on you, and, as straight out of a cosmic horror universe, they drive you to madness just by looking long enough at them. If you are horror fans, you have probably heard of H.P. Lovecraft - the kunekune are Eldritch horrors you could meet in At the Mountains of Madness, as it is impossible to describe them or even perceive them.
By the second episode, we encounter more supernatural elements, like the glitches, invisible spots in this world that can destroy one in an instant, and the Hasshaku-sama, another urban legend creature, a yokai that turns into one’s most beloved person. We already see that Otherside Picnic is part of several lineages, from creepypasta like the Slenderman to popular shows like Black Mirror, even anime like Mushishi that deal with yokai lore. We are curious to see which other supernatural creatures will show up in the upcoming episodes.
After the first encounter with a Wiggle Waggle, Sorao barely survives thanks to Toriko rushing in to remove the frozen parts left after their impact on her face. As a result, both girls become part of the Otherside: Toriko gets a transparent arm that can aim at monsters and Sorao a blue eye that can see otherworldly entities. In a way, they become partly monstrous, something we have seen in other anime, like Attack on Titan or Parasyte: The Maxim. This is a trope that if done well can add depth to a story already borrowing from many genres. What will happen now that their perception has forever been altered? Will they be compelled to keep returning to the Otherside?
A wild guess, but perhaps their partial transformation has to do with Toriko’s friend. Her disappearance rings many bells - is it possible to survive and stay forever at the Otherside, even become part of it? We just have to be patient and see what happens.
Partners in Crime and Love
At first glance, it’s fairly easy to put the main characters into boxes: Toriko is the courageous yet quirky blond beauty and Sorao is the nerdy brunette who barely escapes the NEET stereotype as she is a college student. So many anime have used the dynamic of cheerful partner x reserved partner, but Sorao and Toriko’s connection goes further than that. The pacing of their relationship - whatever that may be in the future - is realistic. No clumsy declarations of love from the first episode or random blushing, which is a relief. The direction gives the characters room to breathe and we as the audience get to see their motivations and inner workings.
Still, Sorao’s and Toriko’s chemistry is right there, and quite clearly so. New fans who haven’t read the novels were wondering if the yuri elements would be clear soon enough. We are in the second episode and Sorao already becomes aware of her crush on Toriko, while they are in a life or death situation. It helps that they are having fun together, too, sharing drinks and food after each trip to the Otherside, celebrating they came back unharmed! Bonus point, the internet pointed out their likeness to Velma and Daphne from Scooby-Doo and we are here for it!
Otherside Picnic is a well-made anime series with attention to detail. It draws from various sources, knows its urban legend references, utilizes online culture, conspiracy theories, and yokai lore to its advantage. The result is a unique blend of existential horror and science fiction with touches of romance. Extra points for an adult yuri pairing with strong potential for character development - so, we recommend Otherside Picnic for horror fans, yuri fans, and literature nerds. The first episodes raised the bar – we have high hopes for the rest of the season. What did you think of Otherside Picnic’s premiere? Thank you for reading and let’s take the discussion to the comments below!