The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume One (とつくにの少女, Totsukuni no Shōjo)) is the first tankōbon for Nagabe’s fantasy manga series. Serialized in Mag Garden’s shōnen manga magazine Monthly Comic Garden, Girl ran from September 2015 to March 2021 and has now concluded. Volume One was published in 2016. The English translation dates to 2017.
Shiva lives alone with absent-minded Teacher in the forest. Other humans once lived in the area; now only their empty homes and abandoned belongings remain.
Shiva lives in hope that each new day will be the day when her beloved auntie will come to collect her. Teacher knows that Shiva’s auntie is never coming. Teacher cannot bear to tell Shiva this. Not only would Shiva be disappointed, explaining why her aunt is not coming might involve revealing uncomfortable truths, such as the fact that Shiva’s auntie is the one who abandoned her in the forest.
The world is divided by a great wall. Inside its enclosure, purported safety. Outside is the domain of terrible monsters whose touch spreads a terrible curse. Those within avoid visiting the forest for fear of contamination (also because the authorities execute the potentially contaminated).
Teacher can attest to the truth of some of this. Teacher is an Outsider whose touch spreads a terrible curse. Accordingly, Teacher carefully avoids touching the child on whom he dotes. The lack of contact is frustrating for Shiva. The alternative would be worse.
Bored girls find ways to amuse themselves. Shiva sneaks off into the woods. No sign of her aunt there but there are people. Perhaps these new people will be Shiva’s friends! Perhaps they will tell Shiva where her aunt is.
The strangers are soldiers disposing of the corpses of the latest purge victims. They are as surprised as Shiva at the encounter in the woods. Unlike Shiva, the soldiers have little doubt how the meeting must end: since only Outsiders live Outside, and Shiva is Outside, she is a monster who must be killed.
The spare but effective art in Girl depicts a seemingly charming world. Granted, Teacher is clearly inhuman, but its body language is not menacing and the girl with him is an adorable little tot. The lesson here is that appearances can be deceiving. Matters will no doubt get much worse before they get better.
The first volume is devoted, as first volumes often are, to stage setting. The contagion exists (although its nature and original cause is unclear). The government within the wall is such that Shiva’s aunt would reasonably feel abandoning the girl in the woods offered Shiva better odds of survival than remaining inside1. Shiva might think she lives in a safe, comfortable world, but it is very clear that she does not.
The catch, of course, is that the author has a complex story they want to tell. Necessarily exposition means restricting this first volume to hints and foreshadowing. Readers will close the volume with far more questions than they had to begin with. Will this frustrate readers enough to abandon the series?
In a word, no. At least not for me. The author delivers an enticing appetizer for their multivolume tale. It is only by a supreme act of will and lack of access to subsequent volumes that I did not archive binge the whole series.
1: The execution rate does not seem sustainable, but states do sometimes embrace self-destructive public policies.