At first glance, Otherside Picnic– published in English by J-Novel Club- looks like a boring, CGDCT isekai that uses the cover art of cute girls holding guns to lure you into what looks like an edgier version of Laid-Back Camp. In actuality, it’s a surreal sci-fi thriller that doesn’t have time for sissie things like picnics (sorry, Yogi Bear).
This story jumps in so fast, that you’d think that you were reading the start of volume 2 at first. Our main character, Sorawo, is saved from a threatening encounter in the titular Otherside by a cool, tomboyish girl named Toriko (no, she’s not a gourmet hunter). Turns out that Toriko’s looking for a friend who’s been lost in the Otherside, so Sorawo joins her because she’s got nothing better to do. After this abrupt intro, you get context to how Sorawo found her way into the Otherside, and it’s not long before you find that there are multiple entrances into it.
What makes this novel most interesting is how it subverts a lot of modern isekai’s tropes, perhaps moreso than Ascendance of a Bookworm. The characters aren’t overpowered; in fact, they are very vulnerable at all times. Also, the characters freely move between this world and Otherside, a rarity among isekai in general.
Most importantly, the Otherside itself is interesting, and is by far the biggest appeal of the series right out of the gate. It is very bizarre and strange. It seems almost post apocalyptic, as it has ruins scattered throughout. The place is also- as Stan Laurel would say it- infatuated with terrifying creatures. A lot of the weird stuff that happens in Otherside Picnic are based on real Internet ghost stories and urban legends, which gives a sort of Steins;Gate vibe, as that series incorporated real-life conspiracy theories into its story.
The characters, so far, seem to be the weakest aspect. Sorawo is kind of a generic, ditzy girl, while Toriko is a generic badass. They’re brain and brawn, respectively. They obtain interesting powers early on in the story that force them into some interesting scenarios, but their personalities- aside from a couple of weird things that Sorawo says in her monologues- are a bit lacking. However, I at least see room for improvement moving forward.
The art is appealing. As much as I joked about the cover art earlier, the coloring is great, and the illustrations have a lot of cool tones and shades to them. Its much darker than most light novel art is.
Otherside Picnic is shaping up to be one of the best new isekai. While I don’t like it as much as The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious or Torture Princess, it has merits in that it subverts modern tropes enough to appeal to the critics, while having enough thrills and action to appeal to fans of isekai. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys weird sci-fi thrillers like Steins;Gate.