I’m not going to lie – by the end of 12 episodes of Otherside Picnic I was getting serious Annihilation vibes, particularly when we introduced the soldiers who were lost in the Otherside. Whether that comparison is favourable or not will really depend on how you liked Netflix’s Annihilation. For me it was a beautiful movie that made absolutely no sense and even after a rewatch and thinking it all through, it still makes no sense and a lot of the weird things that happen seem to happen without rhyme or reason and a lot of the time without even a real connection to the overall plot. They just kind of happen. Urasekai Picnic isn’t quite so random in that most of the events do link to the character story being told, but there’s still a lot that a viewer just has to shrug and accept in order to get into this narrative. Here are my thoughts as I moved beyond my first impressions of Otherside Picnic.
As is clear from that first paragraph, Otherside Picnic has some issues with its narrative and world building. None of which are fatal to the enjoyment of the story but certainly may put some viewers off, particularly if another season isn’t forthcoming and all the potential connections and half-hints never actually end up going anywhere. I think my main issue with the plot is that we really never progress beyond the nebulous MacGuffin of find the missing Satsuki as a reason for the girls continuing on their adventures as a whole. Sure we get mini-quests along the way such as saving Akari from the ninja-cats and again from being stuck half-way to the Otherside.
They also pull out a fairly dramatic final arc with the girls returning to a previous location to save a group of soldiers they’d encountered. That makes for an excellent set-piece for wrapping up this season and gives the story a nice dramatic conclusion and yet ultimately I’m not sure what it does for the overall narrative other than perhaps mark the beginning of Sorao acting more for others and tightening the relationship that had been developing between Toriko and Sorao. Not to mention, the quality of the final encounter the soldiers have in the otherside is pretty lame when you consider that the enemy they were fighting mostly just sat there and waited for someone to figure out how to destroy it.
For those not particularly concerned with overall narratives and who are happy enough just kicking back and enjoying the various adventures and dangers the girls encounter along the way, this won’t actually be a negative at all. For me, it felt like a missed opportunity for what I felt could have been an excellent anime.
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Similarly, the Otherside that has been constructed is a vast and potentially interesting world. However, in the course of 12 episodes we learn pretty much nothing about it. Sure we encounter various dangerous creatures and the girls learn to avoid the glitches in the world. But what it is and why it is there and how it came to be connected to our world (and why punching elevator buttons might open a door) all remain unaddressed. For the most part I can just roll with it because it is a fantasy. Where I started seriously questioning the world building was when entrances started just being wherever the writer seemed to feel they were needed.
Rather than characters returning to the elevator we found passageways at shrines, through other doorways, using a hat, and just wherever was apparently convenient at the time. It ultimately makes it feel less like a real place the girls are passing into as the story goes on.
But those are definitely the smaller disappointments while watching the series. There’s absolutely a lot to like while watching starting with the central characters. Toriko and Sorao just have great chemistry, which is probably really important given the Shoujo Ai tag this anime has. The anime covers around three months from their first encounter and does a decent job of building up their friendship and definitely suggests that their connection is moving deeper the more they explore together. Certainly their teamwork, communication, and trust has deepened significantly by the time we get to the final arc of this series and it makes their final discussion, where they actually address one of my main concerns (Sorao’s motivation in continuing to accompany Toriko) head on.
It definitely made me feel like the series really understood these characters and while we’re clearly still early days into their story they were starting to feel like real people who were going to continue to grow and develop beyond this final episode. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few questions about these characters along the way, such as why does Toriko enter the Otherside while wearing high-heels given she knows how rough the terrain is going to be, but I at least genuinely enjoyed spending time with these girls and watching their encounters.
The central duo are supported by the snarkier Kozakura, who I definitely wanted more of in this series. She really does come across as the voice of the audience and most definitely reacts the most appropriately to the weird and dangerous situations they come across when she’s dragged from the safety of her house. Less welcome was Akari, a supporting character who got dropped in for the weak ninja-cat story that felt really out of place in this series and then kind of hung around. While Akari did provide a bit more of a push toward the mysterious Satsuki, but that ultimately didn’t go anywhere in these episodes and so Akari largely felt like a tacked on extra.
I absolutely loved the sound design of Otherside Picnic. I’ve read some tweets and one particular review on MAL that really disliked the audio of this anime, but for me, from the opening music all the way through each episode to the ending theme, the music was kind of spot on. Sure, it isn’t exactly easy listening, but it perfectly sets the mood of each sequence and definitely helps support the mystery aspect of the story. I also liked that characters falling, guns shooting, everything just sounded like it had some weight behind it.
The final episodes, where the girls are helping the soldiers out, really make the most of the sound and music design and it absolutely brings the sequences to life and makes you really feel the danger and urgency of the situation as well as the tension Sorao is under as she is forced into a more commanding position than she usually takes, even if the visuals aren’t really holding up their end by this point.
Visually the anime has done a great job of keeping the Otherside and the normal world distinct and even the effects used to show transitional moments are nicely placed. The bleak world in the Otherside with its broken buildings and dead looking trees, while still filled with wild grasslands and strange and dangerous life-forms does exactly what it needs to do. While the animation isn’t quite as polished as some modern anime, it does well enough and largely these girls aren’t action heroes so it isn’t as though they are looking for a stand-up fight sequence anyway.
Ultimately, I had fun watching Otherside Picnic. It isn’t perfect and without a continuation and some actual answers this isn’t an anime I’d buy on DVD or really jump into a rewatch of, but if we go with the idea that the journey is more important than the destination, the journey these 12 episodes take you on is worth watching.
I’d love to know your thoughts on Otherside Picnic so leave us a comment below.
Images from: Otherside Picnic. Dir. T Satou. LIENFILMS. 2021.
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