The Girl from the Other Side

Totsukuni no Shôjo
2022 / 70m - Japan
Fantasy, Mystery - Animation
The Girl from the Other Side poster

Art style isn't everything, but it sure counts for a lot in anime. It only took me one still of Yutaro Kubo's The Girl from the Other Side [Totsukuni no Shôjo] to know this film would be right up my alley. Sometimes a picture does say more than a thousand words, and The Girl from the Other Side came with a very clear promise of stylish, mysterious fantasy. The film didn't disappoint in the slightest, maybe even exceeding my expectations. It's not a film for the average anime fan, but if you love the animation medium you should definitely seek this one out.

screen capture of The Girl from the Other Side [Totsukuni no Shôjo]

There are few original anime projects left these days, so it's no surprise even this film comes attached to a manga. It's probably the only way to get a film like The Girl from the Other Side made today, as the art style isn't all that commercial and the animation a little cruder than you'd expect from a feature film anime project. Fans of Studio 4°C's Comedy or Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg will feel right at home though. While not quite on the same level, it boasts a very similar mysterious fantasy vibe, and it is willing to dedicate all its time exploring that.

Part of what makes this film so interesting is that there is very little exposure to the fantasy lore. We experience the film together with the characters, and it is through that experience that we learn about the world(s) they live in. The characters themselves are struggling to make sense of it all too, so don't expect clear or conclusive explanations for everything you'll see. The fantasy lore isn't too complex and people with affinity for the genre should have no trouble finding their way around the plot, just know there is more than enough room to discuss particulars afterwards.

Soldiers are raiding villages and are killing their inhabitants. There is a dangerous and highly contagious plague ravaging the countryside, all infected people are to be terminated. A young girl vast asleep barely escapes this murderous raid. One of the soldiers sees the danger, but before he can get to the girl he is apprehended by a dark figure. The monstrous man saves the young girl, but he is scared to infect her. He decides to take her along anyway, as she has no chance of survival in the wild. The two move in together, but their bond is fickle and danger lurks around every corner.

screen capture of The Girl from the Other Side [Totsukuni no Shôjo]

Anime has certain stylistic traits, but it's also used as a catch-all for animation coming out of Japan, regardless of how it looks. The Girl from the Other Side is a film that has a slightly more European feel to it. The paint-like art style and Gothic inspiration make sure you won't get any immediate anime vibes from it, though the character designs do betray a definite Japanese influence, with hints of Yoshitaka Amano present. It's a real sight to behold, even when the animation itself looks a little stilted. I think they did a solid job incorporating the less fluid animation as a stylistic element, but I'm pretty certain that wasn't a purely artistic choice. It's not that the animation is bad, it's just not quite up to par with the usual standard.

If budget is a worry and atmosphere is the clear goal of your film, the soundtrack is by far one of the most cost-effective tools at your disposal. Though used maybe just a little too sparingly, Kubo understood the importance the soundtrack would play and applies it very wisely. The music has a somewhat gloomy and haunting quality, without compromising on its ethereal feel. The result is perfection, certainly for a fantasy film that thrives on a somewhat vaguely defined darkness. It's another great example of how a soundtrack can elevate an entire film, something too few directors seem to realize. The dub too is very strong, though conversation is generally light and basic. I'm not sure if they'll bother with non-Japanese dubs for this one, but it's hard to imagine them doing better than the original, so my recommendation is to just stick with that.

screen capture of The Girl from the Other Side [Totsukuni no Shôjo]

After a solid introduction, the film slows down considerably and the first half might be a bit too meandering for some. Lack of imminent danger and no clear goals for the central characters mean you're watching them go about their daily business. Halfway through the plot turns darker and more mysterious as they set out on a journey, that's when the film really comes into its own. It builds up towards a magnificent ending that may leave people puzzled as to what went on exactly, then again if you've seen a couple of anime in your lifetime that's probably not a big shocker. It certainly gives you something to talk about afterwards, but you're equally free to simply enjoy the finale as the spectacular mood piece that it is.

Feature-length anime films are quite rare these days, and the ones that do appear are either cheaper TV show extensions, or post-Ghibli fantasy stories. It's nice to see someone take a chance, even more so when the execution is on point and the risks really pay off. Thanks to the wonderful art style, the atmospheric soundtrack and the proper amount of mystery and intrigue, this film is poised to become a future fantasy classic, though one that holds clear niche appeal over broader appreciation. If you like your anime a little different, be sure to give this one a shot whenever you get the chance.