Sci-fi, Horror, Adventure – 裏世界ピクニック (Otherside Picnic)

裏世界ピクニック (Otherside Picnic)
by 宮澤 伊織 (Iori Miyazawa)

 

Author: 宮澤 伊織 (Iori Miyazawa)
Genre: light novel, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, horror, yuri
Great for: Advanced (JLPT N1+)
Length: 320 pages

Amazon Japan (Kindle): 裏世界ピクニック
Bookwalker Japan: 裏世界ピクニック

 

Japanese Summary (Bookwalker)

仁科鳥子と出逢ったのは〈裏側〉で“あれ”を目にして死にかけていたときだった――その日を境に、くたびれた女子大生・紙越空魚の人生は一変する。「くねくね」や「八尺様」など実話怪談として語られる危険な存在が出現する、この現実と隣合わせで謎だらけの裏世界。研究とお金稼ぎ、そして大切な人を探すため、鳥子と空魚は非日常へと足を踏み入れる――気鋭のエンタメSF作家が贈る、女子ふたり怪異探検サバイバル!

English Summary (JNovel Club)

Her first encounter with Toriko Nishina was on the Otherside after seeing “that thing” and nearly dying. Ever since that day, exhausted university student Sorawo Kamikoshi’s life changed. In this Otherworld, full of mystery, which exists alongside our own, dangerous beings like the Kunekune and Hasshaku-sama that are spoken of in real ghost stories appear. For research, for profit, and to find an important person, Toriko and Sorawo set foot into the abnormal. A tale of two girls’ bizarre exploration and survival, brought to you by an up-and-coming Sci-fi author!

 

Why You Should Read 裏世界ピクニック (Otherside Picnic)

I picked this book up randomly off the bottom shelf of a second-hand bookshop. At the time I had no idea about the manga, the anime, or that it had already been translated into English by JNovel Club. There was just something about the two girls with guns in front of a door to another world that appealed to me. (Yes, I judge books by their covers.)

Again, knowing nothing about this story (and based on the cover and brief scan of the blurb) I had assumed this was a yuri fantasy isekai story. But what I got was an unsettling horror science fiction. And I loved it.

 

My assumptions were flipped…

A lot of western fans seem to really hype-up the yuri but I felt like romance took a back seat in the novel. Yes, there’s chemistry between the characters, but it’s a slow burn as their relationship as friends develops first with the hint there might be more. It’s not full-on making out in every scene like in Sakura Trick or Citrus (thank goodness!) If anything, I loved the fact they very slowly got feelings for one another. Their relationship felt very human and realistic, despite the unrealistic situation they find themselves in.

There is also a fantasy element to this novel… Well, on the surface at least. There are fantastical Japanese creatures from folktales. Only the other world and these fantasy “creatures” felt more like sci-fi than fantasy. I think this was mostly in the way they were portrayed and the slight twist in the narrative. I won’t spoil it, but there’s an element of creepy-pasta / 2chan internet legends and horror stories that come into play.

This novel is also an isekai novel, sort of. Not in the modern “reborn in another world with an [insert stupid gimmick here]” but more like the 90s and 00s style of jumping back and forth between worlds. But this isn’t a typical fantasy world either, it’s more like the wild abyss in Made in Abyss. It’s strange, terrifying, and dangerous.

 

The story and characters are also really good! Sorawo and Toriko are two loners who find themselves teaming up to explore this dangerous other world, hunting for items to sell as well as for a missing person. Each chapter has them come across a new danger and a new challenge. Unlike other isekai light novels Otherside Picnic doesn’t info dump you with explanation. You slowly discover more about the setting and the characters as Sorawo (the POV character) does.

 

Why Japanese Learners Should Read 裏世界ピクニック (Otherside Picnic)

My biggest advice for people who are just starting to study Japanese through media is to read or watch slice of life, romance, high school etc. media.

It’s fine to want to read Tale of Genji in Japanese, but incredibly difficult books that require advanced Japanese knowledge can discourage you. Some people like the challenge of an extremely difficult book. I personally find it frustrating when I finish and have no idea what happened.

This is particularly the case with fantasy and sci-fi novels. Both often use made-up words, uncommon vocabulary and grammar, and rarely used kanji. They can get bogged down in explaining complex systems, hyperboles, and metaphors.

Otherside Picnic is, unfortunately, one of those novels. It’s very, very well written and I loved it. But a lot of the scenes in the Otherside described metaphysical beings and phenomenon that was hard to grasp a firm picture of in my head. (Ironic because the main characters struggle with seeing these too.)

Then again, there’s an anime and manga out for this series, so if you’ve read/seen those then already know what to expect. (I haven’t seen either so I can’t comment on how they compare.)

 

A lot of advanced Japanese vocabulary and kanji.

The Japanese is difficult at times and I came across a number of words I’d never seen before, but they were so well woven into the narrative, it didn’t feel forced at all. Although I stopped to look up kanji readings and vocabulary meanings, I didn’t feel frustrated because I wanted to understand exactly what was happening.

The story also kept me hooked. The way Miyazawa paced the chapters and scenes was so well done. The final chapter, for example, starts with an impossible situation, then jumps back to tell the story of how the characters got to that point. A plot device that’s very common in anime but rarely used in Japanese light novels. A lot of Japanese reviews even say that the writing is too good to be considered a light novel!

 

If you would love to try a challenge with an interesting creepy sci-fi adventure then I highly recommend reading this in Japanese! You can try it with 試し読み on Bookwalker!

If you don’t think your Japanese is good enough then I still highly recommend you read the official English translation!

 

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