Another Print
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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 - ***

1 - Rough Sketch
Kouichi Sakakibara moves in with his grandparents in Yomiyama due to his father's job, but is soon hospitalized with a collapsed lung. When 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, whom 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 her...


2 - Blueprint
Fascinated by Mei, Kouichi speaks to her whenever he sees her, but she never answers his questions and only responds with words of caution such as "You should be careful." His classmates can't hide their bewilderment at Kouichi's strange behavior but, still wanting to know more, he decides to follow Mei after school. He ends up tailing her to a residential area that evening, where he sees her entering what appears to be a shop that sells dolls - and other, unspecified things that the rather creepy proprietor won't tell him about. There, in the basement of the shop, he finds Mei - who's been expecting him...

Mystery girlInvestigations

3 - Bone Work
When Kouichi meets Mei in a studio full of old dolls, she tells him the story of a 9th grade class 3 student's mysterious death 26 years ago, but Kouichi's classmates only clam up when he asks them for more information about the incident. His aunt Reiko then tells him that his late mother was in that same class 26 years ago..

Up close and personalAwkward questions

4 - Put Flesh
The credibility of the "class 3 curse" rumor shoots higher with Sakuragi's sudden "accidental" death, and Kouichi can't help thinking that Mei is somehow connected to the events of 26 years ago. Though Mei has noticed the change in the class, she still won't give Kouichi further details on what's going on - but class 3 seems terrified of something, putting Akazawa, the head of countermeasures, in a difficult spot...

Nice saveDoomed

5 - Build Limbs
After Mizuno's tragic accident, the tension in class 3 escalates, and Akazawa is chosen as the new female class officer without Kouichi's knowledge. His classmates have been discussing something behind his back, but once again nobody will tell him why. Takabayashi doesn't agree with the methods taken by the class, though, so he offers to answer Kouichi's questions, but as soon as he tries to answer Kouichi's first question, he's taken seriously ill...

Not quite ready to talkGetting some answers

6 - Face to Face
Class 3 has been enacting a "charm" for the past 26 years to counteract the curse on the class, with each year required to ignore the existence of one of their number for a chance (not a guarantee) that the curse wouldn't activate. After finally having this explained to him, Kouichi accepts the circumstances of the charm, even though it means that he's now being shunned, and begins to spend more time with Mei. He also starts looking into the school's history in the library, and finds the librarian to be very knowledgeable on the subject...

ReflectionLet's dance!

7 - Sphere Joint
When their homeroom teacher missily disembowels himself in the middle of class, Class 3 realises that the curse has not stopped. The "charm" is called off, and the students begin to wonder who among them is actually dead. Meanwhile Kouichi learns that, 15 years ago, the calamity started but then stopped midway through the year - the only time it had stoped in that way. Librarian Chibiki tells him that class 3 had visited Yomiyama Shrine on a class trip during summer break that year...

Spot the next victimWould your trust that face?

8 - Hair Stand
Kouichi and his classmates set off in Reiko's car to meet her former classmate Matsunaga, the man who they hopes holds a clue to stopping the calamity, at the resort hotel where he works. As they spend the day at the beach awaiting his arrival, they run into Mei, who's staying nearby at her family's summer home. They all enjoy their freedom from the anxiety of being stuck in Yomiyama - but despite what they've been told, it seems that the calamity's effects can reach outside the city, too...

9 - Body Paint
The unrest surrounding class 3 has multiplied since the unexpected accident that happened outside Yomiyama. After hearing Matsunaga murmur " the classroom" after the accident, Kouichi decides to search the former class 3 homeroom in the old school building to see if he was talking about something significant. He only asks for help from Teshigawara and Mochizuki to avoid involving anyone else, but Mei joins in after finding them in the old building, and the four of them begin their investigation...

10 - Glass Eye
Kouichi and his friends found the tape Matsunaga left in the old school building, but the casualty count continued to rise. So class 3, led by Ms Mikami and Chibiki, begin their class trip, where Kouichi, Mei, and Teshigawara meet in Mochizuki's room to listen to the rest of Matsunaga's tape. Through it Matsunaga tells them what he did to stop the calamity - and they don't like what they hear. It's possible to stop the calamity in its tracks - but only by deliberately killing one of their classmates...

11 - Makeup
Matsunaga's tape has at last revealed the measures necessary to stop the calamity once it has begun. Kouichi, Mei, Teshigawara, and Mochizuki try to think of a way to bring class 3's continuing tragedies to an end, but when the tape falls into the wrong hands it gives some of the other students the wrong idea, triggering a killing spree that may leave no survivors...

12 - Stand By Oneself
Panic has taken over at the lodge - as it burns down around them, the surviving students take an every-one-for-themself approach, some trying to escape, others doing their best to kill everyone around them in the hope of killing the 'extra' student. Chance is also contributing to the death toll - but Kouichi seems most interested in saving Mei, who's still inside the building and firmly in Akazawa's sights...

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