Here’s a new title from Seven Seas that I feel owes its existence on these shores due to the success of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride.” That’s mainly due to the number of superficial similarities the two titles share. Like that other great title, “The Girl From the Other Side” is about the relationship between a human girl and an otherworldly being, the danger in interactions between the human and spirit realms, a focus on European culture and myth, and an art style that’s somewhat out of the mainstream. However, this “Girl” is no mere clone. Mangaka Nagabe is telling a more unsettling tale that goes further into the realms of fairy tale.
We’re quickly introduced to Shiva, a little girl who lives in the forest alone with Teacher. This may not seem like an unusual arrangement, save for the fact that Teacher is a black-skinned/furred being with horns and a beak-like mouth known as an Outsider. They are said to be a cursed race cast out by the God of Light who created the Inside where normal humans live. Normal humans live in fear of the Outsiders because their touch is said to turn people into hideous creatures.
Even if that’s true it doesn’t stop Shiva from living a relatively normal life in Teacher’s care. We see them take walks through the forest, gather food at an abandoned village, have tea parties, and even pray together before the girl goes to bed. If Teacher looked like a regular human, it probably wouldn’t be hard to mistake the two for a father and daughter. Except that wouldn’t be true because we find out early on that he knows the real truth about why Shiva wound up in his care and is willing to lie to the girl in order to protect her happiness.
The relationship between these two is a little bit unusual by these standards. Usually you expect the otherworldly being in this story to be a kind of grumpy curmudgeon, somewhat clueless about human behavior, or a mix of both. Teacher is actually pretty understanding and accommodating of Shiva’s behavior as he accepts her gift of a flower wreath, attends her tea parties, and even tries baking her an apple pie, revealing his lack of cooking skills in the process. Seeing the two interact together is genuinely adorable and creates a great deal of empathy for them when bad things start to happen.
Part of that is due to the fact that Teacher is willing to indulge Shiva’s belief that her auntie is going to come for her. He acknowledges that it’d probably be better for her to learn the truth, but just can’t bring himself to tell her. It’s a very human decision on his part and the consequences of that become apparent when Shiva goes off one night in the rain to look for her auntie and runs into some soldiers who have been told to look out for the little girl in the woods. Because she’s likely an Outsider and should be killed on sight.
Regular humans don’t have much of a presence beyond that in this story. Nagabe establishes them as well-meaning but tragically and violently paranoid as you’d expect in a fantasy middle-ages setting. Oh, and a little bit deluded as well since they carry the belief that they’re in the right because they live on the Inside. If Nagabe does see fit to develop their side as the story goes on, I’d expect that belief to be shaken up quite a bit.
Still, further development of the story all around would be nice. This first volume gets by mainly on the strength of the relationship between Shiva and Teacher and the eerie atmosphere Nagabe creates with the art. It’s a storybook look that skews more European than Japanese and is perfectly suited to creating scenes of idyllic homeliness and sinister unease. Yet the story and world here still feel kind of slight. At this point it feels like there’s nothing more to it than what Shiva and Teacher have experienced. The mysteries raised here also haven’t quite grabbed me yet, though grabbing does factor into the effective cliffhanger at the end of the volume.
I don’t think that “The Girl From the Other Side” is an exact fit for fans of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” but I have no problems recommending it to people who liked that series or are looking for something different in the manga they read. Slight though the narrative may be at this point, it still registers as the good kind of different because of the style Nagabe brings to this story and the sympathetic relationship between Shiva and Teacher. I want to see where their tale goes, even if it winds up leading into sad or even more unsettling territory.