Volume 3 of Otherside Picnic picks up on Sorawo and Toriko’s otherworldly adventures directly from where it left off in Volume 2 as they help defend the stranded US marines from the hordes of strange creatures that charge on the base they have built around the abandoned train station “February”.
The series so far has been a mix of horror and science fiction, pulling in a variety of themes from both genres to challenge our protagonists at every turn, and this arc definitely pulls more towards that horror side, playing on the fear of the unknown and creating an atmosphere of tension that sits on a knife edge, in which you know if anyone makes one wrong move, everyone is dead. While normally you’d expect a big standoff as the defenders get cut down one by one, Otherside Picnic pulls off a brave move and throws in a twist that doesn’t quite turn it into a comedy, but gives it that sort of vibe. When Sorawo uses her supernatural eye to reveal the monsters’ true nature, everything just seems really silly in that what everyone was scared of is actually something fairly normal, albeit transformed due to the effects of the Otherside. But in that sense, that’s something this series has been great at so far, making something everyday into the creepy and impossible.
It is a shame though that it decides to cut things short just when this arc was getting good, as the pair have to run to avoid a dicey confrontation after Sorawo’s colour contact comes loose and reveals her mutated eye. Their escape route – the so-called “monkey train” referenced in the phone call in the previous volume – feels like it is figured out all too quickly, yet somehow still works in a last-gasp leap of faith moment. Later on we do get hints that this part of the story isn’t finished as they both want to go back and rescue the marines, but it does still feel like there’s a rush to move onto the next arc. It does, however, stay true to its overall themes as It’s what is on the train that makes the biggest impact – it sure takes the phrase “monkey train” to a very dark and gory place that I just was not expecting!
The following arc, “Time, Space, Man”, takes a different approach, being more of a pure sci-fi story than pushing the horror elements, and although there is still spooky stuff present it’s not the most interesting part of this particular tale. After the traumatic experience on the train and with feeling how close to death they have come so far, Sorawo gets cold feet and tries to back out of the Otherside, causing an argument with Toriko where she storms off. While the pair of them not speaking for a few days might have had an easy fix, their connection to the Otherside makes the argument snowball as Toriko mysteriously disappears. While Sorawo suspects she has gone to the Otherside on her own, things become more complicated. The two worlds begin to blend together as both Sorawo’s relative time and space fall out of sync as she slips into the Otherside by accident. If meeting a strange man there who yells at her to get out wasn’t strange enough, photos on Sorawo’s phone show her stalking her friend, something she doesn’t have any memories of. She ends up going to Kozakura for help, but three mysterious women knocking on the front door sends the pair off into their own Otherside adventure.
There’s plenty of mystery in this one with a lot of questions to answer, making it good for those who want to figure things out as the story moves forward, however it feels a little unfocused as it throws up three separate events that, at the moment, don’t have too much in relation to each other. You’d assume there will be a connection as things go forward, but its hard to fully piece in the Time-Space Man, If he is supposed to warn people away from straying into the Otherside, why has he not shown himself before now?
Emerging plot holes aside, there is some strong character development here as we get to see some of the main characters’ insecurities and how they start to push to overcome them. Sorawo’s moments of cowardice are rightly called out by Kozakura (she should be used to all of this by now surely?), which actually we as readers get to see as more of a front from hiding her jealousy for Satsuki being the mean reason Toriko is heading to the Otherside, rather than it being for her. This leads to some dumb laughs when looking at their relationship, as they both try to reach out to each other but ultimately fail, due to their personal feelings of embarrassment and stubbornness. There’s still a lack of anything between them being close to romantic at this point, but you can at least tell Toriko is very attractive and Sorawo is kinda into her. It’s also nice to see Kozakura become more actively involved as the story tries to flesh out her character to being more than just the eccentric guiding voice.
Eita Mizuno’s artwork for this series continues to be enjoyable too, with it consistently excelling in the depictions of the monsters, particularly in the Station February arc, while I also liked how it portrayed the barrier between worlds in this one in different ways, from what looks like fabric that can be pulled away, or bright light that flashes through a doorway. Facial expressions are also portrayed well and really capture the characters’ emotions, while I also continue to enjoy the contrasting character designs between Sorawo’s more androgynous, boyish look and Toriko’s more feminine charm.
The series continues to be published by Square Enix and is available both digitally and as a physical paperback. This volume is translated by Taylor Engel and reads well with no issues to note. As with other volumes, there is a bonus short story at the end of the book that puts a focus on events from Kozakura’s perspective, which this time gives a little more insight into Toriko’s disappearance, making it a more worthwhile read than the previous two.
Overall, this volume of Otherside Picnic shows that the series is continuing to get a lot of things right as it offers both some particularly horrifying moments and some thought-provoking sci-fi mysteries with a good slice of character development exactly when it’s needed. It just continues to be a solid read and one I’d recommend both horror and sci-fi fans picking up.