Thursday 5 April 2012

Anime REVIEW: Another

Horror anime is a genre I find somewhat hit and miss. If you look hard enough there are some real gems out there, but then a lot of those are buried among a swarm of dull vampire series. The Winter 2012 season's offering of anime horror is a particularly brutal addition. Another is based on a mystery horror novel written by Yukito Ayatsuji, which has also been adapted into a manga. The series ran for 12 episodes January and March 2012. In addition this, a prequel OVA has been confirmed (to be bundled with the "0th" volume of the manga) along with rumours of a second season. A live action movie has also been confirmed for later this year.

In 1972, a student named Misaki died during the school year at Yomiyama North Middle School’s class 3-3. The rest of the students, devastated by the loss, decided to carry on as if their classmate were still alive, going so far as to keep the desk in place and bringing it to the graduation ceremony. Yet no one could explain why their classmate, already dead, was present on the graduation photo.

Lead characters Kōichi and Mei

27 years later (in Spring 1999), 15 year old Kōichi Sakakibara arrives in Yomiyama to stay with his grandparents while his father is away working in India. He is placed in class 3-3, but is hospitalised for the first few weeks. One night there, he meets a mysterious girl with an eye patch named Mei Misaki, who seems to be visiting the hospital morgue.

When Kōichi starts school, he notices that the class treat Mei as if she doesn't exist. To add to this mystery, class 3-3 also seems segregated from the rest of the school. Tensions rise when one of the class die after being impaled on an umbrella, throwing them into a panic about the "curse of class 3-3". As those both in and connected to the class begin to die from various circumstances, Kōichi and his friends must unravel the mystery from 1972 that has since cursed the class.

WARNING: This anime contains death...

The problem with Another is that its premise relies on a relatively large cast, and in 12 episodes there simply isn't enough time to get to know any of them particularly well (aside from the lead characters Kōichi and Mei). Given the way the curse leads to the class literally tearing each other apart, more insight into their mentality would have given the series some extra depth as well as making them far more relatable as characters.

Kōichi Sakakibara isn't a particularly interesting protagonist either. While obviously he remains completely in the dark of the class' curse at the beginning of the show, his method of discovery moves when the story deems it necessary. In a mystery/suspense tale, it should be expected for the protagonist to play detective somewhat, but Kōichi moves very slowly toward the answers and more often than not only gets closer to a solution when another piece of the puzzle falls into his lap. His actions make the mid-section of the series move incredibly slow, a long with a beach episode (because no anime is good unless it has a token beach episode right?) that, despite a grizzly ending, sucks you right out of the suspense.


On the other hand, while Mei may be yet another entry into the "mysterious girl wearing an eye patch" cliché,  but she offers far more to the table than the usual "because they're weird" characterisation these types of character usually receive. Her back story is well thought out, her development consistent and still manages to give off the creepy aura she has at the beginning of the series when her humanity is being brought out. Despite her looks, she's by far the best character on offer here.

Once Another gets started on the subject of death, it certainly doesn't skip on the gore. Classmates and relatives are killed left right and centre in a variety of ways (think the Final Destination films), with many meeting particularly gruesome ends. The final few episodes, where the students seem to all finally lose it and attempt to kill the student considered to be the cause of the curse, certainly aren't meant for those who are faint of heart.

...and more death.

A good soundtrack is one of the staples of every horror production, and this is a department where Another sometimes tries a bit too hard. Opening song by Ali Project aside (which unsurprisingly sounds like every other song they've made), the background music feels the need to alert the viewer to the upcoming tension every step of the way. This takes a lot of out of the shock factor for Another's grisly death, instead of amplifying it if only it had been more carefully placed.

Much like another anime I reviewed from the Winter 2012 season, Another starts off with a very promising few episodes, but soon moves into mediocrity when plot advancement is slowed down in an attempt to amplify the tension. However its ending somewhat redeems its slow mid-section with a brutal yet satisfying finale. It certainly would have benefited from a longer episode run, but the result is still a fairly good series which should please horror fans looking for something a little different in their anime.

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