A Delightfully Different Couple: Siúil A Rún: The Girl from the Other Side Vol.1 Review
Story and Art by Nagabe
Translated by Adrienne Beck
Before stumbling upon the cover of “The Girl from the Other Side,” which admittedly is what first interested me, I was ignorant of the series’ existence. To be fair, the English translation debuted in January, not nearly enough time for my regrettable oversight to become sinful. Such a misfortune has since been rectified.
So, what did I think of it? It’s quite good and promising.
Why is it promising? Well, a look at the title should point us towards its appeal. The title’s first part, the “Siúil a Rún,” comes from an Irish folk song that rough means “Go, my love.” The Japanese original bears the same Irish heading as well, creating the odd pairing that makes this volume delightful. “The Girl from the Other Side” is a manga, but not sedately one.
The story for this volume, as with any first volume, is largely story setting and exposition. However, Nagabe, games this in two ways. Firstly, he reduces the world’s conflict to a separation between the endlessly allegorical Inside and Outside. The Inside is safe, the Outside has cursed demons called Outsiders. The story revolves around a little girl abandoned outside and the Outsider who is trying to take care of her. Unfortunately, Derrida is dead, so he cannot enjoy this deconstructionist playground.
What really makes this work though, and moreover makes it compelling, is the restraint in the exposition. There are globules of necessary exposition inserted to hold the book together. We, however, mostly read the story through the interactions between Shiva, the girl, and Teacher, the Outsider. Here, in the characterization of their actions and voices, Nagabe excels.
A spoiler free example of this is when Teacher tries to bake an apple pie. He burns it terribly, or, as he says, “It’s an apple pie. Sort of.” He then proceeds on a rambling explanation of this, but Shiva interrupts him exclaiming “Wow! It’s black all over just like you” – in context it comes across as ingenuous and sweet. The episode continues, but in that snippet one sees the skill with which Nagabe has constructed their dynamic. It is believable, charming, and is one of the main reasons to engage with the story.
The second is the art. Describing the style is difficult, because “The Girl from the Other Side,” like other Seven Seas works, is definitely manga, but slightly off. Shiva and Teacher are designed in the way that only a mangaka can, but they are not as manga as anything one would find in, for instance, Shonen Jump. They, coupled with the forest that serves as the backdrop, remind me of Celtic and Germanic design, but that could be entirely down to me, and not anything actually on the page. Either way, Nagabe is playing outside of Manga’s center, and either way it is beautiful. There is a page sized panel of a falling umbrella that, in context, is breath taking.
To draw on Derrida again – because I know you love that – a lot of comics and manga look like comics and manga, in that they are designed in a manner rigidly defined by their genre. That is, surprise of surprises, a genre has rules that people adhere to when they work in it. They are told that manga and comics look and read a certain way, so they reproduce them in that way, risking stratification. It is interesting and even more delightful, then, to find a manga so concerned with outsides and insides that also mixes various flavors in its story and art. “The Girl from the Other Side” is weird, and weird things – done well – tend to appeal to me.
So I belatedly found this book that I would recommend many people to read. While positive, my recommendation would largely praise the art, as this is only the first volume of the series. “The Girl from the Other Side” has potential to be either good or bad, so we’ll have to see. That said, I fully intend to see.