On the surface, The Girl From the Other Side looks like a fairy tale. It unfolds in a long-ago, far-away place governed by one simple rule: humans and Outsiders must never cross paths. The principal characters are Shiva, a young girl, and Teacher, an Outsider who adopted Shiva after finding her alone in the woods. At first glimpse, their situation seems idyllic, two opposites living harmoniously in a charming little cottage — that is, until the human and demon worlds take interest in Shiva, testing Teacher’s commitment to protecting her.
Probe a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that the manga’s nuanced characterizations elevate Shiva and Teacher from fairy tale archetypes to fully realized characters. Shiva, for example, talks and acts like a real six-year-old, toggling between moments of impetuousness and thoughtfulness. Though she is obviously fond of Teacher, she fantasizes about a reunion with her aunt, fervent in her desire to rejoin the human world. Shiva has an inkling that Teacher might be “sad” if she left, but she cannot fully appreciate his anguish over their possible separation. (Translator Adrienne Beck and adaptor Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane deserve special mention for voicing Shiva’s dialogue with naturalism; Shiva never sounds older or wiser than her years.)
The sophisticated artwork, too, plays an important role in transporting the reader to a specific place and time, rather than simply “long ago.” Nagabe’s elegant pen and ink drawings demonstrate a superb command of light; using washes and cross-hatching, she evokes a world lit by fire, where the glow of a candle casts a small spell against the darkness, and monsters lurk in the shadows. Her figure drawings are likewise strong, neatly conveying the characters’ personalities in a few well-chosen details. Teacher, for example, is a clever amalgamation of animal and demon parts. His most menacing features — his mouthless face and piercing eyes — are tempered by the way he carries himself; he’s fastidious in his movements and dress, gliding through the woods with the graceful, upright posture of a dancer.
Lest The Girl From the Other Side sound mawkish or precious, the brisk pacing and crisp dialogue prevent the story from sagging under the poignancy of the characters’ dilemma. It’s perhaps a little early to nominate it for a “Best of 2017” award, but this promising first volume demonstrates a level of craft, imagination, and restraint that’s sorely lacking in many fantasy manga. Highly recommended.
THE GIRL FROM THE OTHER SIDE: SIUIL, A RUN, VOL. 1 • BY NAGABE • SEVEN SEAS • RATING: ALL AGES