While the real world has previously been a safe haven for Sorawo and Toriko from their otherworldly adventures, the Otherside’s strange phenomena have seemingly begun to bleed through, threatening their normal (if you could call it that!) lives. In the previous volume we saw Toriko suddenly vanish from the face of the Earth, while three strange women knock incessantly on Kozakura’s front door and a strange doppelganger version of Sorawo wanders the night. What connects these strange events and just what is the Space-Time Man that keeps appearing in front of Sorawo? Whisked away to the Otherside with Kozakura, Sorawo may just be about to find out as the pair begin a desperate search for their spirited away partner in crime.
In terms of the actual mystery and the otherworldly phenomena on show, the Space, Time, Man arc is certainly one of the more confusing stories that Otherside Picnic has told so far. While there’s a clear objective here – find and rescue Toriko – there are a lot of other things going on at the same time and it’s hard to connect them into a single thread. On the face of things, they’re all just creepy coincidences and the bleeding through of the paranormal into the normal, which is completely fine, but it tries to link them all together using the titular Space-Time Man and I’m not entirely sure it works. As an entity he’s very abstract and it’s never clear what he is, or if he even poses a threat – he simply turns up randomly, gives a weird warning, then fades away again. It’s still creepy, yes, and gets both you and the characters jumping at shadows, but with the way things develop I found the payoff to be underwhelming, as in the end it doesn’t really tie anything together and leaves the other phenomena unexplored.
Where this volume really hits off though is in Sorawo and Kozakura’s journey together through the Otherside. After previously just being a side-character, this is Kozakura’s big entrance, where a lot of time is spent on developing her character and revealing more about her. While she may appear as a shut-in and an eccentric researcher, she’s actually a lot more involved with the overall story than you would think, and there are some pretty big revelations here that are just casually mentioned in conversation.
This really turns her into one of the gang, and her unique perspective here is very important in driving this volume forward, particularly in the way it examines fear. Kozakura is terrified of the Otherside for pretty much all the right reasons, yet there’s a solid plot point of challenging both her and Sorawo’s fears as we get to see them being resourceful in ways that we wouldn’t normally expect. While it does distract from the main objective a little, seeing the pair try to survive in a very hostile world is tense and gripping stuff.
This is particularly important for Sorawo’s development as with Toriko out of the picture for most of the volume, you get to see how much she’s grown over time. Even though she feels vulnerable and exposed without Toriko by her side, she still manages to handle not only herself but pulling Kozakura through the Otherside’s swampy marshland and past the Wrigglers that kicked off her adventure in the first place. I really liked the sense of reflection here not only for that but for a look back on how Sorawo and Toriko’s odd relationship has developed, and you can really appreciate that this series has come a long way in a short space of time.
And if you do find yourself too weirded out, the final chapter here pulls in some good laughs in one of the girls’ regular post-adventure drinking sessions, where you can see that all three of them are starting to become good friends and they just work amazingly together on the page. I would note though that by the title this, confusingly, is meant to kick off the next arc when it is more the end of the current one.
Visually the series continues to look great with another strong volume. The sprawling environments in the Otherside are eerie and desolate and turn even stranger when certain phenomena get involved. This volume sees reality-bending moments that fill an abandoned town full of strange flowers and plants that give off a great ‘reclaimed by nature’ vibe. Character artwork is very expressive and monster designs continue to be abstract, weird things that sure creep you out.
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 doesn’t add too much this time around with a lot of the focus being on Kozakura in this volume, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.
Overall, while not quite getting across its ideas as well as the series’ earlier volumes and being rather confusing in the way it handles its central mystery, I’d say Volume 4 of Otherside Picnic is still well worth a read. Sorawo and Kozakura’s quest to find Toriko is creepy and tense, filled with new revelations and much needed character development. It successfully fleshes out Kozakura and makes her a true part of the gang, all the while giving both Sorawo, and the series, a chance to reflect on just how far they have come.
Our review copy from Square Enix Manga was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).