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Thursday, 29 March 2012 10:36

Another brings the teen horror movie to anime, which is something I don't think I've seen before. A years-old curse is about to strike the senior class of North Middle School, threatening the lives of them all unless they can work out which of their number is already dead...

Kouichi Sakakibara moves in with his grandparents in Yomiyama when his father's job takes him away, but he's soon hospitalized with a collapsed lung. When, after recovering, he joins the 9th grade's class 3 at Yomiyama North Middle School a month late, he is drawn to a girl with an eyepatch, Mei Misaki, who he had coincidentally met in the hospital. Her mysterious air intrigues him, but though his classmates give him a warm welcome, none of them seem willing to acknowledge Mei's existence. She's being deliberately shunned, in an effort to ward of a curse that afflicts the class: in some years, an "extra" student will join the class, one who is already dead - and when that happens, you can count on a string of "unfortunate accidents" whittling down the numbers of the living in the class. When ignoring Mei proves insufficient to ward off the curse, attention turns to Kouichi - could his late arrival mark him out as the "another"..?

Okay, here's how it works. There's no way of identifying the "another", they'll appear and act like any of the living, seeming as alive as anyone else. But for as long as they're there, deaths will happen, with the class-members and their immediate family all on the "at risk" list. The only way around the curse is to either leave Yomiyama - which for most seems not to be an option, for some reason - or to resort to other drastic measures that the kids only learn about later in the series. Chibiki, the school librarian, has lives through several rounds of the curse and offers what help he can, while the class have appointed Izumi Akazawa as their "Head of Countermeasures", tasked with doing whatever is necessary to prevent the curse from taking hold. So far, so good.

It was Izumi who decided that Mei should be ignored by the rest of her class, the reasoning being that if the curse is triggered by there being an extra person in the class who shouldn't be there (on account of their being dead), then removing someone by denying their existence should restore balance - it's a tactic that has been shown to work before, but when people start dying shortly after Kouichi's arrival, it's clear it's failed this time, and the search for another solution begins. With the body count rising all the time...

So. What Another is: hugely atmospheric, with some deft & creative use of visuals and sound effects to create some decidedly creepy moments. Usually when death is stalking its next victim. With PAWorks being the studio behind the series, that doesn't really surprise me - jaw-droppingly good visuals are their signature in most shows of theirs that I've seen - but it's still good to see, as it's an aspect of horror that anime doesn't always get right. Death scenes are also suitably gory - a few of them suffer from edited-for-TV syndrome, but even some of the ones that don't had me squirming uncomfortably in my chair at how they played out. The point of an umbrella through the eye throat? Let's see you sit still for that.

But past the visuals and atmospherics, it all begins to fall apart. The precise workings of the curse are explained mid-season, and don't really stand up to scrutiny - there are ways around it that you would think the characters would have noticed. It helps that the curse has the ability to "retcon" itself (you can't trust the memories or written records of those under its influence), but there are still many gaps that you could drive a bus through. The characters are an unmemorable bunch - thoughout the series, Kouichi and Mei were the only two characters that I could ever remember the names of, the rest simply blurred together (even the ones that survived to the end), and to be honest were mostly too dumb to live anyway, with several deaths being preceded by "Oh, they're not going to do that, surely..." moments. They invariably did.

The deaths eventually lose their impact, too. Early in the series, they come one at a time, slowly enough to be done in ways that make you squirm and at a rate that at least gives you a chance to care about who comes next. By the end of the series, they're coming in a flurry that's so fast it's hard to keep track - and in ways that leave you more wanting to laugh than to cringe. I'll admit that parts of the climax did make sense, given what was presented to the characters as the only way to stop the curse in its tracks. But there were other aspects to the finale that, while arguably foreshadowed, only the most eagle-eyed viewer could have spotted. Apparently, some changes were made between the source material and the manga, in a deliberate attempt to make it harder for the viewer to work out who the 'extra' person was, that leave it feeling more like their identity was pulled out of nowhere.

Ultimately, the series is something of a mixed bag. There's plenty of good on the presentational front, and on some passages of the story - but there are other aspects of the story that undo that good work and left me very unsatisfied with the way that things unfolded. Has its moments, but ultimately doesn't seem to live up to its early potential.

Rating - ***