Psychological horror is one area in which Japan excels. Ringu is the most notable, but examples are too numerous to list. Anime has its fair share of representatives of the genre as to be expected] with Higurashi being the most famous such series, at least when it isn’t being gratuitous and creepy fanservice. The hallmarks of the genre as done by the Japanese are often the creation of a tense, unsettling and foreboding atmosphere, and letting the audience breathe that in before ramping up the dread and terror, and the presence of the hate-filled and vengeful supernatural.
Another is the latest anime series in this genre, setting itself up for paranoia from the get-go – a 9th grade class is cursed due to a class some 20 years ago refusing to acknowledge the death of a classmate, meaning at least one person from the class (or a direct relative like a sibling or parent) will die as a direct result. How does it hold up? Is it another horror classic, or just another silly farce?
The first thing that you’ll notice is that the art on this show is absolutely outstanding. Not only are backgrounds highly detailed, mastered at a high resolution, and wonderfully drawn, but their use of colour and their presentation are incredibly moody and help keep the tone throughout. Shadows are plentiful, the palette is muted, and it looks almost realistic.
The animation is fine – there are some brilliantly animated scenes, but for the most part it can be safely described as more than adequate. It’s never bad, but the often quiet scenes and slow pacing result in fewer moments to have impressive animation, so for what it sets out to do it’s more than enough.
The character art suits itself to the setting and the story perfectly. The style and choices means that most characters look pale, anxious and worried even when they’re supposedly upbeat and happy. Given the nature of the class they’re in –that they have potential death to fear – this makes sense and it works to Another’s advantage: when the characters themselves look so troubled all the time, but not overtly so, not in a fashion that calls attention to it, it works its way into the audience. From an aesthetic perspective, the basic character design is not unattractive at all, but does look a little weird.
As should be somewhat apparent now, the atmosphere this show generates is rather important – integral even. Another spends many episodes slowly raising the unease, the uncertainty, the sense of dread in the audience and in the main character, and uses it to its full advantage. Its success in this is by far and away one of the greatest successes of the show, and certainly its strongest point. And how does it create this?
In the first few minutes of the first episode alone, we are treated to an ominous discussion about a girl who died many years ago, and the curse left on the class she was in – not the people in the class, but simply the class as a concept, with new students each year. This goes on as images of scenery, of events, of blood and terrifying people appear briefly. These are already unsettling enough, but they are also all foreshadowing elements of the story – methods or place of deaths, important plot pieces, or background features which deliver strong hints towards the nature of certain things – despite at first seeming to just be miscellaneous ‘scary’ things.
Beyond that, and again just in the first episode, we are treated to the main character sick in hospital with some lung condition, characters obviously holding some important piece of information back, dark and mysterious hospital corridors, a parakeet screeching words out, a mourning grandparent, shots of elegant, glass-eyed china dolls, an old and slightly decrepit school building, and of course the pale, mysterious, eye-patched girl who the rest of the class doesn’t seem to see – Misaki Mei.
Some of this – namely, the random creepy dolls – have been derided for being ‘cheap’ ways to build the atmosphere. I don’t disagree, as that is pretty much their entire purpose, but the fact is they are effective and aren’t totally irrelevant. Not an invalid criticism, but their presence isn’t unjustified. That aside, this build up continues throughout an episode, peaking at the end and often with a cliffhanger, episode to episode.
It all helps to enhance the impact of the plot, of the story, which by its nature in turn helps improve the atmosphere, creating a nice little loop. The first few episodes mostly deal with the main character, Kouichi, interacting with Mei, trying to find out more about her and the curse, and also trying to find out why the class is ignoring her. Kouichi’s determination and desire to help Mei leads him to ignore the class’ warnings, and eventually some of them try to explain things directly but get cut off for one reason or another. We learn more of Mei’s backstory. We learn that she “doesn’t exist”. That no-one can see her. Shortly after she says this, one of the girls in the class steps out, sees her, panics, falls down the stairs, and stabs herself through the neck with the point of her umbrella.
The first death. And, admittedly, it’s pretty goofy. Death by accidental umbrella? It turned a lot of people off, but I still believe the show handled it well. Because she didn’t just die – she twitched, she gurgled – her death was gruesome. It wasn’t just cheap horror gore, it was unpleasant, unsettling and worryingly authentic. Most of the deaths are like this – a hard to believe or ridiculous cause, but with an execution that adds to the horror. The fact that many are preceded by the victim’s resonating fear only further improves the impact it holds.
After another death, we learn that yes, acknowledging Mei’s existence seems to cause the deaths. This is further explained later that one member of the class is actually ‘dead’, a ghost of some kind, but even they don’t know it, and that they are in fact an extra in the class – an additional member that was never intended to be there – the eponymous ‘another’. By having the class act like one member doesn’t exist, and thereby ‘restoring’ the class’ number to its original, the curse is diverted. Mei, obviously, was selected. But because no-one informed Kouichi of this he interacted with Mei, undoing their work. So the class decides to ‘remove’ him from the class as well, meaning both can behave how they want, resulting in scenes like this…
…ok, ok, it was just Kouichi’s fantasy. But in this joint isolation, Mei and Kouichi grow closer and we learn more about Mei’s backstory.
However, the deaths do not stop and realising that it’s pointless to ignore the two anymore, the class stops doing so. Resulting in some friendship bonding moments and criticism being levelled at Kouichi for ruining everything.
At some point they learn that, in one year, the calamity was stopped mid-year. There was an individual responsible, but he no longer lives in the town, so they travel briefly to meet up with him.
Now before I go on, I must really reiterate that this show has, in my books, been doing excellently. The characters are being nicely developed, are relatable and often even likeable (especially the ever moe Mei); the tense, anxious, oppressive atmosphere is carefully cultivated from one episode to the next; the gruesome deaths add intense horror to the feelings of fear, making the threats very real and visceral; the plot is interesting and well thought out, with little more being said than needs to be whilst having enough obvious intelligent undercurrents and hinting to make in depth speculation a real possibility. It’s not perfect, but the bad sides are easy to overlook when everything else is so strong.
So why oh why did they decide that what followed was a good idea?
Yes, that’s right.
A FUCKING BEACH EPISODE
I just can’t do justice to how utterly out of place this is. A series like this pulling out a cliché like that? Who thought this was a good idea? Not only does it ruin all the atmosphere that had been built up, it didn’t bring anything to the plot – the only way it was moved forwards was that they learned that the guy who stopped the calamity left some clue in the school. Could this not have been delivered some other way? And to top it all off, there are some crappy cheap attempts at instilling the fear of death in the characters (oh nooo, a big truck) and the classmate we’ve never met before until this episode dies more probably out of stupidity than curse.
The one positive thing that can be said about this episode is the quiet, sombre piano piece that plays for large chunks of it. Helps retain some semblance of mood, and is also rather good in and of itself.
Unfortunately, the show was much harder to take seriously after this. They discover that he left a tape recording, and sneak into the school media room to listen to it, but panic when they hear someone coming and damage the magnetic tape. This is at the end of the episode. At the beginning of the next episode it’s fixed. So it was basically the cheapest, shittiest excuse for a cliffhanger yet.
Anyway, they find out that if they kill the another, the curse stops for that year. Then they all go on a class trip, with everyone feeling paranoid and fearful. While there, we learn that the curse actually started in April this year (as the first death was actually Mei’s twin sister, who she had been brought up to believe was her cousin, which explains why she was visiting the hospital in the first episode) meaning Kouichi’s arrival has no link to the activation, and that… uh… Mei can see the colour of death. Even in photographs. So she can identify the another in the class.
This does immediately raise the question of ‘why didn’t she tell anyone?’ but this is explained by her character and the revelation of who the another is later on – she just couldn’t tell Kouichi.
Word of the tape leaks out and therefore how to stop the calamity, causing some people to get violent and crazy. And then it’s played over the PA and everybody goes crazy and tries to kill Mei.
This all becomes rather over the top and kinda silly, but credit where it’s due the paranoia and craziness of the place became almost palpable.
Eventually, after lots of fighting, the main character spending like an hour in a burning building and not even coughing despite having a lung disease of some kind, and a fair few asspulls (really? The lightning did THAT?), a lot of the class are dead and we learn who the another is:
…and this is a good result. Why? It’s hinted often but subtly, there’s a lot of internal logic, and even the episode itself goes some way to explaining it. It’s not who I thought it’d be, but given the rules of the curse it’s still totally acceptable and isn’t contrived. She’s an important character with a relation to Kouichi, meaning there is still drama and shock in the discovery. It even explains why Mei didn’t tell Kouichi – Reiko’s his aunt, how could Mei tell him she’s the extra person and needs to die?
Kouichi kills her and, yes, she is the extra, and for the remaining classmembers the curse is lifted and sanity is restored.
Mei and Kouichi discuss and clarify some things a short while later and share some moments together, resulting in a (kinda) happy end.
So ultimately, how do I feel about Another?
As already mentioned, the production values in this are absolutely stellar. The background art is gorgeous, the character art is great, the BGM is excellent, and all of that contributes to the perfect atmosphere the show cultivates. The story makes good use of this in making its slow delivery exciting, and the series of events generally always feel logically connected – at least for the first half.
The completely inappropriate beach episode, cheap cliffhangers, and ridiculous craziness in the lodge, along with a few smaller issues, all contribute to making the final third much weaker and much harder to take seriously. It dissipates a lot of the tension and mood, and in a show that relies on the atmosphere as heavily as it does that is a massive problem. It’s all quite a shame really, considering the really strong and promising first two thirds.
(Also the OP fucking sucks. Fuck Ali Project, seriously.)
There’s a lot to enjoy in Another if you’re willing to let some stupidity and goofiness slide, but it gets rather jarring and can become difficult to take seriously as a result.
Think of it as if it’s a tightrope walker: for most of the line, she carefully, elegantly, perfectly walks at a steady pace, keeping perfectly balanced, and is just wonderfully composed. However she slips near the end – she doesn’t fall off, but she is flailing around, desperately trying to restore her balance, quickly shuffling to the end. She’s able to recover for the most part, return to being steady and upright, and even finish with a flourish, but it’s too little too late.
Her act is no longer impressive.