Review: Otherside Picnic (Vol 1)

The Otherside is a dangerous place. When reclusive university student Sorawo Kamikoshi is rescued from a creepy wriggling monster by Toriko Nishina, the two young women decide to team up in order to explore the nightmare-filled space together. But Toriko’s interest is far larger than just a fascination with the supernatural—she’s looking for her missing friend; one who disappeared in the weeks before.

Otherside Picnic is the first novel in this ongoing horror series, written by Side-by-side Dreamers author Iori Miyazawa. The novel features illustrations from shirakaba, and was released digitally in English by J-Novel Club in September 2019. Translation was provided by Sean McCann.

For those familiar with internet horror and popular creepypasta tales, Miyazawa does their best to blend each terrifying monster encounter into a cohesive story, with reasonable success. This is a departure from the author’s previous novel and genre that J-Novel released, but for those looking for a spooky read this Halloween, this is a strong choice.

We open the book with the near-death of our protagonist, Sorawo Kamikoshi, who had discovered the Otherside during one of her expeditions around abandoned buildings. She’s a self-described occult fan, and spent her teen years searching haunted sites—partly for personal interest, partly for avoiding going home. Before she’s able to sink into the nothingness though, she’s rescued by another young woman, Toriko Nishina, who helps Sorawo regain her senses and defeat the mysterious wriggling Kunekune that is attacking them.

Once they’d reached safety back in the real world, Toriko explains what had led her to the Otherside in the first place—her friend and mentor, Satsuki, had been studying the mysterious unknown space up until a few months ago, when she disappeared. Now, worried for the other woman’s safety, she’s decided to recommence Satsuki’s research whilst hoping for a clue to where and why she may have disappeared. Bargaining with the potential profit to be gained from selling Otherside artifacts, Sorawo agrees to help in the search—even though the fear has gripped her mind.

The two aren’t totally unscathed after the Kunekune fight though, as Toriko now has translucent fingers on one hand, and Sorawo has one bright blue eye. Through this eye she’s able to see the reality of the Otherside monsters—breaking through the illusions, and ultimately showing their weak spots. The only problem is fear clouding her judgement; the abnormal terrors haunting her.

The book is structured in a fairly orderly way, with each new monster getting a dedicated chapter as Miyazawa expands on the urban legends that these monsters inhabit. There’s mention of the elevator game, Hasshaku-sama and February Station that those who enjoy Japanese creepypastas will recognise. That final urban legend is probably the chapter and scenario I find most effectively scary in the book—a stranded US military group, slowly being hunted down by their own weapons; unable to catch the train to freedom for fear of being devoured. The tension was slow but methodical, actively skin-crawling as you read more and more.

That also brings up how well the author manages to build the threat within the novel. It’s very rarely the monsters that really strike fear in readers (although the premise would fall apart without them). Instead, it’s the human madness that the girls can’t trust—both in strangers and each other. There are also hints as who Toriko really is, with her fearless attitude and firearm prowess.

The larger plot of finding Satsuki-san doesn’t find its conclusion here—but as an ongoing series, that’s no surprise. Instead, the more specific theme of the novel is overcoming fear, which is developed and resolved in a satisfying way. There are hints towards the relationship between Toriko and Sawano built up here too, as well as potential expansion on the relationship between Satsuki and the mad-scientist Otherside researcher Kozakura. Like with other recent yuri light novels, this one is taking it’s time to build our protagonists’ relationship.

Otherside Picnic is a spooky start to the newest horror light novel series by Iori Miyazawa. The book introduces a well-balanced mix of urban myth and action-adventure that is perfect for those looking for the slow-burn, high stakes tension of J-horror this Halloween As the beginning of the series, it introduces the world and characters well, and I look forward to volume two.

Gee’s Rating: Recommended for a good scare!

You can purchase the ebook online via sites like Amazon. This is an affiliate link, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

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