* This review looks at the volume one to five of The Girl from the Other Side, Siúil a Rún
The pleasures of Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side, Siúil a Rún (hereafter The Girl from the Other Side) comes from its slow, deliberate pace. It’s in the way we slowly uncover the mystery behind the story and in the way we get to focus on the characters. It’s full of slow and small moments, like when Teacher walks under the rain with an umbrella with Shiva, the young girl he has under his care, out in the woods. He ponders whether to tell her about a secret he kept from her. She’s young and this secret is probably better kept out her life for now. It’s a small intimate walk that grows our understanding of their relationship between a naïve young girl and the odd monster who cares for her. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, he considers what he can reveal to her, what he thinks she can understand. It’s sublime.
The story of The Girl from the Other Side is essentially one where the world has been beset by some kind of curse, transforming people into dark demonic monster who quickly lose their memories and humanity. Those unafflicted took refuge behind the safety of the kingdom’s wall. We follow the story of Shiva, a young girl living in a vacant village under the tutelage of a demonic guardian who only goes by “Teacher”. He takes care of Shiva, a seemingly immune young girl, though he is unable to touch her lest he curse her. It would be a stretch to say “their adventure” but their eventful life revolve around Teacher’s dedication to keeping the girl safe, even as the underworld wonders about her connection with them and the King and his guard attempts to find Shiva, hoping her immunity to the curse can be passed on to the King. Each volume expands on this basic idea.
The story sets itself up as a confrontation between darkness and lightness, represented by the cursed demonic entities and the surviving humans of behind the border. The truth is much more nuanced than the premise implies. It’s not quite clear what the cursed demonic creatures want, they wish to be, whatever that may be. There’s a supernatural aura to them, but they seem far from the monster the humans make them out to be. For their part, the humans we meet are more of a mixed group, with some being passive, desperate or sometimes aggressive, delusional and violent folks. In the third volume, an outbreak of the curse occurs in one of the small settlements outside the wall. We see the King’s soldier actively attacking their own citizen even though most were unaffected. It’s troubling to see, even more so upon learning that the whole thing could have been easily avoided. There’s layers in this depiction of good and evil. Even the relationship between our protagonists is shrouded in mystery. Why is Teacher so attached to Shiva? Why is Shiva immune to the curse, what makes her so special and why is she using Teacher as a protector. So far, there’s no easy answer.
It captures something truly wondrous about the relationship between a child and a parent, or a surrogate parent in this case. It’s in the way the characters talk to each other and the way they understand each other without any words needing to be uttered. The way the child asks questions that are only logical in the mind of a child and how the older person responds to it. Children are intelligent and they deserved to be talked to with respect. They are curious and want to understand the world around them. I’m constantly impressed by my own son who talks more and more, as he asks questions about things I took for granted for as long as I remember. He challenges me about things I never thought possible. Shiva does something similar in this series, asking questions to Teacher, hoping to get a better understanding of the world, relying on his wisdom and knowledge to grow. Whether it’s about the rain, about cooking or reading. It rings incredibly true. There’s also moments in The Girl from the Other Side where Shiva looks at Teacher for just a brief moment before proceeding to doing what she’s about to do. It’s that look my son gives me when he’s about to do something new, looking behind him for reassurance, that there’s someone there for him, for good or ill and whatever may come. I’m impressed by Nagabe’s ability to capture these tremendously genuine moments.
While the story is exceptionally well-told, it’s Nagabe’s art that carries the series. The design of the world and the creature is amazing. Teacher, an impossibly tall and slim humanoid, dressed in a Victorian Gothic suit with a dark bird-like head with a beak that never opens, long horns and expressive white eyes. By comparison, Shiva, the young girl arrives at his knees. He towers over her like a protector. It’s a perfect visualization of their relationship. Those designs are quite striking, particularly in a black & white series. Additionally, the setting of an abandoned medieval village is perfect for Nagabe’s artistic skills. His mix of of cross-hatching (or line hatching) with shading allows for pretty impressive depictions of country houses and forest scenery. It’s a wonder to look at and contributes very nicely to the darker mood of the series. Another standout is Nagabe’s sense of lighting. Each panels’ use of light help to improve the striking design of the creature and help permeates the entire series with this sense of dread.
It’s probably too early to say whether this will turn into the yearning masterpiece it has the potential to be. I have hope that it will. It’s atmospheric, filled with love, dread, compassion and a fantastic understanding of relationship. Five volumes is too short.