In The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Ranking of Kingsthe animators at Wit Studio have shown themselves to be particularly adept at adapting fantasy manga that draw from classic fairy tales. Wit’s latest fairy tale manga adaptation, The Girl from the Other Sidehas elements of both series in its character archetypes — Teacher is a dapper and caring semi-humanoid monster a la Elias from Magus Bride and Shiva’s adorable a child as Ranking of Kings‘ Bojji — while offering a truly unique experience.
Wit first adapted Nagabe‘s manga into a 10-minute short film in 2019. This feature-length OVAwhich screened at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival and will stream on Crunchyroll Later this year, it is still pretty short by feature standards with a runtime of only 70 minutes, five of which are credits. With its slow pace and emphasis on atmosphere over straightforward storytelling, however, this short movie nonetheless feels like the right length for what it’s trying to accomplish; A longer version would require a different narrative approach.
The best thing about this film is its art and animation. Even in still moments, there’s never any obvious animation shortcuts; the line drawings are always in some form of expressive motion. The closest comparison I can make is to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but with more Western influences in the design. The way they animate shadows and lighting effects are particularly stunning — the watercolor shading makes the images look three-dimensional without looking like CGI. It may be an OVAbut Crunchyroll You should seriously consider putting this in theaters because the visuals would look incredible on the big screen.
The outstanding animation helps make the characters easy to emotionally connect with. Shiva’s design tends minimalism: you can probably count the number of shots where she has a nose on one hand, and in wide shots her eyes become mere dots. That’s all you really need to get across her joy, her excitement, her loneliness and fear. The teacher, with his demon-like face with no discernible mouth, is his own challenge to animate, but his eyes and body language prove the key to showing his emotions.
On its most basic level, this is a story of a dark, sad man finding joy and light in his life by protecting a young girl from the depressing world around them. Jun Fukuyama‘s deep-voiced performance as Teacher and Rei Takahashi‘s high-pitched Shiva fit the dark-light dynamic, though there are times it feels Takahashi is overdoing the cutesy kid voice (if this gets dubbed, I’d be curious to hear an actual child actor portraying Shiva). Though some of the darker fantasy elements (scary flashbacks, a few scenes of violent knights, a turn towards a more plot-heavy climax) might make it debatable whether this truly counts as iyashikei or not, this film’s atmospheric and thematic strengths fit solidly in with those of the “healing” genre.
Emphasizing vibes, rather than trying to adapt all of the plot from the 11-volume manga, leaves the world building intriguingly abstract. Some things about Teacher’s curse are obvious (it spreads via touch, it erased his human memories, people are hunting him and others with the curse), while other aspects are left a bit more vague (it mostly turns people into animals but also sometimes they explode into trees? the corrupted don’t have souls?). The film’s climax, involving some crossings of borders between worlds, makes just enough sense to go with it, but it’s still hard to follow just what exactly is going on moment-to-moment.
Even if I did not fully understand The Girl from the Other Side movie, it still made an emotional impact on me. In the simple yet strong archetypes of its characters and the astonishing beauty of its animation, this anime is a captivating work of art. It’s genuinely shocking that this is directors Satomi Maiya and Yūtarō Kubo‘s first time directing a feature-length film — all anime fans should be paying attention to what these two do next.