The best manga of 2016? Review of The Girl From the Other Side

A story involving a fatal ‘curse’ that infects people at the merest touch seems eerily timely in 2020, but its serialisation began in 2015 already, in those blissful days when ‘Corona’ was still nothing but a beer brand. The first tankōbon was published in Japan in 2016 (and also the second), which makes it a legitimate candidate for the best manga of 2016. The English and German translations followed a year later and were duly noticed by readers and critics, resulting in a top 20 spot in the 2017 best-of list.

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún (とつくにの少女 / Totsukuni no shōjo; German title: Siúil, a Rún. Das fremde Mädchen) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Nagabe
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Mag Garden)
Year: 2017 (originally 2016)
Number of volumes: 9 so far
Pages: 174
Price: € 10
Website: https://www.tokyopop.de/buecher/seinen/siuil-a-run-das-fremde-maedchen/ (German), https://sevenseasentertainment.com/series/the-girl-from-the-other-side-siuil-a-run/ (English)
ISBN: 9783842039780

Shiva is a young girl who lives in the forest with a scary-looking creature. In the Japanese original, she calls him sensei, which becomes “Doktor” (doctor) in German and “Teacher” in English, and while sensei can mean both, he is more likely meant to be a physician than a schoolmaster. Anyway, they live secluded from other people and are shunned because of the ‘curse’ that supposedly turns humans into monstrous ‘Outsiders’. It’s all very mysterious in this first volume and Nagabe reveals background details only slowly, giving ample space to the day-to-day activities of Shiva and Doctor.

This all takes place in a pseudo-historical setting that, typically of manga, eclectically combines elements from the Middle Ages (the soldiers’ armour and weapons) to the 19th century (Doctor’s clothes and his home furnishings).

It is a character constellation that we’ve seen before in manga: just a young girl and her father (or surrogate father). Yumi Unita’s Usagi Drop, Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!, Nagabe’s own Nivawa to Saitō – one could even include Kōji Kumeta’s recent success Kakushigoto with its conspicuously absent mother in this ‘micro genre’. This idea of fatherhood without mother, this ‘asexual reproduction’ as it were, must seem oddly appealing to manga readers.

Another theme here is the Beauty and the Beast motif: only Shiva can see through the horrifying appearance of Doctor and recognise him as a kind person, whereas everybody else only sees him as a monster and is afraid of him. And what a ghastly appearance he has. Doctor’s design is doubtlessly the greatest strength of this manga and one of the most outstanding design achievements in manga of the decade. Obviously inspired by satanic figures with his tail, goat’s ears and horns, he also somewhat resembles a plague doctor due to his bird-like beak and his long dark coat. His lack of a mouth reduces his range of facial expressions, making him look even more hideous. Nagabe exploits this to great effect by contrasting Doctor’s looks with his tenderness towards Shiva, and also by simply juxtaposing his tall and dark figure with the small and light Shiva.

Generally, the art appears dense and dark through the use of hatching, plenty of screentone, and even some white-on-black drawings. Nagabe dramatically punctuates this darkness with some predominantly white figures such as Shiva and the soldiers, Doctor’s shirtsleeves and cravat, or the occasional blank panel background.

If one wants to find a flaw in The Girl From the Other Side, it’s that maybe the writing can’t quite keep up with such impressive artwork; the setting seems somewhat implausible and the story has a bit of a fairytale feeling to it. Also: € 10 for a regular tankōbon?!

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○



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