I think I would have enjoyed this one a lot more had I not felt like it was trying so hard to be purposefully enigmatic – with the result that I was left more confused and vaguely annoyed than intrigued.
I was quite looking forward to Urasekai Picnic/Otherside Picnic, if only because yuri shows that actually strike me as genuine and non-fanservicey are so few and far between. Thankfully, that’s not where I have any issue with this series, at least based on the first episode – the relationship between Sorao and Toriko, while as yet still brand new and therefore apparently entirely platonic, also gives no hint that it’s being used purely as a plot device for the lulz or for titillation purposes. Seriously, you have no idea (or, if you watch a lot of anime, maybe you do) how incredibly refreshing it is not to see the camera linger on random thigh shots for a change, or just not generally frame things so as to make me feel like a dirty old man getting his jollies.
No, where Urasekai Picnic’s premiere instead stumbles for me is in its introduction and execution of the main storyline, in which two strangers meet up in some kind of mirror reality but with almost zero context of how or why this came to be – let alone if or how this other world has any impact on present-day society, what physical or mental consequences the characters face if something untoward happens when they’re on the other side, or even what they’re on the other side for in the first place, given that they entered this alternate universe (again, I’m assuming) on purpose.
I get that this is likely all intentional, and I have no problem in theory of beginning a story in media res – especially since I’m no fan of the classic info dump or awkward exposition of the “as well know, Bob” variety, of which fantasy anime is frequently guilty. The solution is to draw viewers in with enough background to be tantalizing, but not so much that it comes across as burdensome or unwieldy. Urasekai Picnic feels like it took the latter to the extreme, which unfortunately means that what should be mysterious and, well, otherworldly, turns into something almost impenetrable. Rather than inspiring me to watch further next week, I was turned off by the resultingly baffling script and relieved when the episode finally ended so I could stop attempting to make sense of whatever was going on.
That’s a shame, because I don’t think the direction of the show is bad per se. And while the writing itself might not be my cup of tea, the art direction in particular is strong enough to be worth a mention – nothing crazy good or that pushes the boundaries of conventional anime art, but there’s definitely a spark of creativity there that I think will appeal to a good number of viewers. Personally, it’s not sufficient to get me to stick around given my overall first impressions, but no doubt the series will draw in plenty of other anime fans more patient than I am.