In 2015, a manga series called The Girl From the Other Side was released in Japan. It was serialized in Mag Garden’s Monthly Comic Garden for over six years, ultimately becoming eleven volumes by the end of its run. The Girl From the Other Side was well-loved by fans globally when it was translated into English, and, in 2019, a ten-minute anime adaptation was made to appease the fanbase. But now, a year after the manga ended, another full-length feature has been created following the success of the ten-minute version. The ten-minute version made its way through international film festival circuits, including the Japanese Film Festival and Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It found a wider audience and reach at these festivals, expanding the fanbase beyond the original fans that cherished the manga.
Now the full-length, too, is making its rounds. Wit Studio, which produced the film, launched a Kickstarter to fund it in 2021 and reached its first goal within a day of opening it. By the time the fundraiser finished, they had surpassed their expectations and began to create the movie. With a run time of a little over an hour, it clearly could not cover the entire plotline and world-building that the writers managed in eleven issues. Instead, they have created something new that captures the essence and spirit of the story. Keeping to the quiet nature of the manga, two unlikely friends meet under unfortunate circumstances, creating something that transcends prejudices, good versus evil, and subverts the expectations of how this story should unfold.
The Story of Two Unlikely Companions
The Girl From the Other Side opens in a world highly unfamiliar to the one individuals live in today, although, metaphorically, it makes more sense. This world is split into two different realms: the inner and outer lands. Those living on the inner land are willing to use violence and force to protect what they deem to be their territory, as they believe that beings from the inner world carry a curse. Considering they live within the shadowy depths of the forest, carry a monstrous appearance compared to the average human, and hold the ability to turn humans with their curse in a single touch, it is not too hard to figure out why people might be terrified of them. By the film’s end, there lies a single question: who is a monster, and who gets to decide that?
However, at the border of the two lands, a little girl named Shiva is found by someone from the outer world. He becomes only known as Teacher. Regardless of what may think of those from the outer land, he takes Shiva into his home, showing mercy and kindness to a human that might not show the same back to him. But because Shiva is only a child, she is not tainted by the prejudices that she grew up surrounded by, and so she learns to live peacefully along with Teacher despite being the sole survivor of a major tragedy. Their everyday antics resemble a small family as they engage in their household chores together, sweeping the floors, cleaning the shelves, and sitting down for tea in the backyard. Despite this, Teacher has an underlying fear that Shiva has left him at one point because of his appearance, showing deep inside he is lonely with the life he has been dealt. He did not get to choose to become a quote-on-quote monster, and he is still seen basking in the joy of everyday human rituals and activities.
At the same time, danger lurks outside the makeshift home these two have concocted. Not all of the beings in the outside world are as kind as Teacher, and he is unable to touch Shiva without turning her into a quote-on-quote monster too. Even in a story like this one, where the path seems straightforward at first, the stakes need to be raised. Although Shiva and Teacher get along in the time that they have known each other, most beings and creatures do not have the same intentions they have. This demonstrates that even if people—or creatures—from two completely different backgrounds get along, external factors will begin to apply pressure, thus slowly ruining a good thing. Teacher on the screen appears to be five times taller than Shiva, physically shifting him into the role of the protector as outside threats begin to approach, in addition to the fact he is older and wiser.
As the days pass by, Teacher realizes that he needs to let go of Shiva despite the fact she is a ray of shining light in his life. Teacher’s appearance is drawn in charcoal black, while Shiva dances across the screen in all-white attire, with white hair, like an ethereal sent from heaven. The crushing loneliness and isolation that comes with being afflicted by the curse are eased for a brief moment by the two’s relationship, but as they set out on the road and through the forest to find Shiva a new home of people who look like her, the deep sense of sadness permeates into the storyline. As a viewer, it is pretty obvious their time together is limited even if one wishes for it to never end. Their time together technically should have never happened, but because it did, remarkable changes are brought into both characters’ lives.
An Animated Movie That is Art
The Girl From the Other Side does not have much plot, but it does not need one to succeed. Fans of the source material, the manga, may be disappointed to find out that the movie adaptation no longer contains in-depth diving into the mythology and lore behind this world, but it seems impossible to adapt eleven volumes into a run time that averages seventy minutes. Through visual metaphors and focusing on Shiva and Teacher’s relationship, the story is not bogged down by the contextual details that might overcomplicate the narrative. There are not too many answers besides everything the audience needs to know to understand the implications of their relationship, but this lack of exposition works in the film’s favor. On the screen, the movie comes across like a European fairy tale, adding more layers to how it may be interpreted as a lesson for the real world.
One of the most compelling aspects of The Girl From the Other Side is the visual style in which the animation was created. Studio WIT is the mastermind behind this movie’s animation, and each scene is layered with both movement and texture. There is something constantly moving within every frame, whether it is a ray of light, a flame dancing on the wick of a candle, or a shadow moving across the forest floor. Soldiers seen at the beginning of the movie, presumably protecting their land from outsiders, are seen with shadows draping across their faces, helmets, and armor. However, at the other end, Teacher, a being of darkness, can be easily seen, his face illuminated even in the darkest of nights. Whether the story takes place in the darker realm of the inner world or the outer world within a scene, every single frame looks like a breathtaking work of art. Those who may not be as interested in the story would find it hard to admit that the animation is not beautiful and adds to the story in a more nuanced way.
And that is what The Girl From the Other Side is: art. Your Name, another animated film that made waves globally when it was released, help bring animation to a more prestige level. Previously, animated movies were looked down upon, especially if they came from Asia. With the times changing, the world can now see movies like this in a more accessible manner. The Girl From the Other side is a simple story seeping with melancholy, choosing to focus the story on developing the relationship between Shiva and Teacher for a good bulk of the movie. Shiva’s innocence, untainted by the world around her, and Teacher’s kind heart allow the opportunity to create a magical scene in which two unlikely creatures were able to become friends. Not only was the art beautiful by the end of the movie, but also the story itself. This premise is not complicated, but it is evocative, creating a film that is worthy of rewatching and proves to be quite authentic.
The Girl From the Other Side was screened as a part of the 2022 Asian-American International Film Festival.