Lock and load.
Sorawo is a loner of a college student whose curiosity gets the better of her when she stumbles into a parallel realm while engaging in her hobby of urban ruin exploration. Dubbing the place ‘Otherworld’, the story begins as she’s on the verge of drowning in mere inches of water, having encountered a creature which defies explanation. She ends up rescued by Toriko, who has more experience in Otherworld and who is searching for someone she calls her friend, a woman named Satuski. Together, they’re able to defeat the menacing monster… and then make an eye-popping pile of money when they sell the the weird object left behind in the monster’s stead. Despite her misgivings and their frequent run-ins with terrifying threats to their lives, Sorawo finds herself accompanying Toriko on further excursions as the latter enlists the former in her own quest.
I am, I’ll admit, a little late to the party on this one, as, despite having come across good reviews, I was sufficiently underwhelmed by author Iori Miyazawa’s Side-by-Side Dreamers that I couldn’t muster interest here. I was finally nudged in its direction by J-Novel Club’s current promotion, “I Couldn’t Go Outside, So I Just Stayed In and Read Light Novels All Day!”, which runs through April 30th and which features free LN and manga volumes for several dozen titles (including Ascendance of a Bookworm, which, if you haven’t yet, is absolutely worth a try).
I’m glad I ended up giving this one a chance, as while some of the flaws with Miyazawa’s somewhat similar Side-by-Side Dreamers persist here, it takes the bones of the more intriguing elements of that story and builds a stronger narrative with them here. Otherworld is a dreamy, horrific place where urban legends like ghost trains take full-fledged form, the nature of which is such that I am skeptical that the cast has scratched the surface as much as they seem to have in this volume. Whenever they start to get a handle on anything, Otherworld has a way of managing to twist away.
The cast is decent, which is good since it is pretty small. I’m less fond of Sorawo, whose utter disinterest in the fates of a cluster of Marines trapped in Otherworld I found a bit difficult to stomach, but Toriko makes for a pretty engaging character. I also quite liked Toriko’s friend Kozakura, a woman who is a shut-in researcher of Otherworld and its phenomena, even as she is of a type usually not to my taste. Some of this may be that we do get to witness her getting firmly shoved outside her comfort zone when she ends up a grudging companion to Sorawo when they manage to get sucked into Otherworld together.
Since I’m talking characters… and as I referenced Side-by-Side Dreamers, one of my primary issues with that book was how utterly nonexistent the romantic development was. It’s romantic development by fiat, with the heroine more or less saying at the end, “Gee, I guess maybe I do like you.” after ~130 pages of, well, not seeming romantically interested in her eventual girlfriend. I bring this up because Miyazawa doesn’t do that much better a job in this outing, leaving me with a sense that I’m expected to read a degree of romantic/sexual elements into the story so far that the text itself doesn’t merit. I feel more like I was supposed to interpret that Toriko and Satsuki were girlfriends rather than that the story as written truly supports that; ditto for Sorawo’s sudden spates of jealousy where Sorawo is concerned. It’s a bit irritating, so its a good thing that the book’s story is otherwise solidly engaging.
Translator and editor team of Sean McCann and Krys Loh have done a great job with adapting this into English, something all the more noteworthy as between the relative obscurity of some of the urban legends underlying the story and that Miyazawa gleefully has revealed he’s a military otaku, it appears that this was probably challenging at points to translate.* I am extremely good at getting hung up on proper terminology for military stuff (a common occupational hazard), and while I sternly remind myself that such stuff can be utter Greek for outsiders, it still made me pleased to not get tossed out of the text by terminology that was off. (Actually, regarding the military stuff… I don’t care how illogical everything is in Otherworld, the idea that Sorawo could casually pick up firearms and fire them effectively is pretty darn hilarious.)
The short version of this review would be – I liked it enough that after I finish this review I’m going to buy the second volume to read. I still think the yuri is mostly “because I say so” than actually present, but since the book is more heavily focused on what it does do right (creepy atmosphere, mystery, urban legends), I can roll with that. By the way, I should note that an anime adaptation was announced a little earlier this year, although given the pandemic, it may be a good while before that materializes. Good thing there’s plenty to read in the meantime.
* “Ka-bar” gave me some pause, but after looking into it, this is a valid rendering, although I myself am more familiar with “KA-BAR”. Fun fact! I actually own one as issued by the U.S. Navy in the 1950’s as it was part of an elderly relative’s initial equipment issue when he enlisted. Other fun fact! One of the folks involved in the development of the original one was named, somehow, someway, Howard E. America.