Once upon a time, there was a middle schooler named Misaki. He was a beloved student, as smart as he was affable, and he had the unanimous favor of both his student body and the teaching staff. He died tragically in a house fire that took not only his life, but that of his parents and siblings, too. Distraught by this loss, his entire class adopted a ritual of pretending that he was still in the room with them. They left his desk empty, gave him handouts, and even arranged for his posthumous graduation. But little did they know that by refusing to acknowledge their classmate’s untimely demise, they were creating an opportunity for HIM to ignore his fate as well.
Every year following this event, Misaki’s ghost stayed in that classroom as a student… But his lingering spirit brought a tragic curse upon the residents of class 3. If the number of seats in the classroom matched the number of students, then Misaki would have nowhere to sit, and thus, a string of tragic deaths would occur among the people who were connected to that class… Both students, teachers and their relatives alike. The only way to stop this curse was to alienate one student, pretending they didn’t exist so that Misaki wouldn’t feel left out… And if they could hold this ritual down for one month, the deaths would not occur for the rest of the year. Everything was going fine until one year, one transfer student was absent from the first day of school, and wasn’t able to hear about these rules, and unfortunately for him, the first and second rule of Death Class is “Do not talk about Death Class.” Will his curious questions draw the class closer and closer to their assured doom, or can they find some way to stop it in time to survive the school year and put it all behind them?
With Another, we’re once again returning to the realm of PA Works, a company that’s produced many impressive looking, high budget shows over the years. Another doesn’t seem to have that budget advantage, however, as it’s a very staticky, text-heavy show all around. About seventy five percent of the time, movement on screen is minimal, using fixed camera angles and talking heads for what should have been embarrassing lengths of time. The other twenty five percent of the time, the animation will show off a dramatic increase of it’s frame rate in order to carry the more action heavy moments, especially with it’s bevy of gruesome death scenes. For such a wide clash in animation style, the difference is surprisingly hard to notice, as the aesthetic of the series remains consistent throughout. Chances are, you’ll be too distracted by the show’s gorgeous visual direction to notice just how inexpensive the animation really is, which is what ultimately saves it from looking like a cheap show.
Another adopts a dark, gothic aesthetic, and it’s pulled off very well. It’s the most evident in one character’s house, which is dimly lit and full of creepy looking ball joint dolls, but that one setting is small potatoes compared to the over-all atmosphere of the series which is gloomy, foreboding and full of realistic gritty details. The character designs as well are grounded and simple, covering all the essential tropes while still never being over-the-top enough to distract from the heavy, somber mood. Even the beach episode, while full of contextual fan service, never manages to betray the feeling of imminent danger surrounding the characters at all times.
The music is also very true to this mood. Kow Otani is a legend, famous for his work on the Godzilla films and, more relevant to Another’s tone, he’s also highly celebrated for creating the soundtrack to the video game Shadow of the Colossus. The music matches perfectly with every beat of the story, showing off it’s blend of cute high school melodrama and harsh, heart-pounding horror to a frightening degree. The perfect example of this is the track “The Story of Yomiyama,” which inserts intense dramatic stings into a soothing yet still really creepy piano tune, and the two intermingle more and more throughout the track, sounding downright sinister by the one minute mark, and it creates the image of people running for their lives away from a terrifying monster who wants them for dinner and won’t take no for an answer. You won’t find this kind of feeling from all of the music tracks heard throughout the series, but the feelings they do express are flawless across the board. There are few things lonelier than Mei Misaki’s character theme, and the opening theme, Kyoumu Densen by Ali Project, is a nigh-unskippable fast-paced goth rock piece, with vocals that match hauntingly well with the orchestration.
When I heard that the dub for this show was being both written and directed by the same person, I was initially worried that it might have gone to Steven Foster, the notorious ruiner of material, butcher of teen dialogue, and possible space alien learning human speech patterns piece by piece to further his conquest of the planet. Thankfully, the dub went instead to Chris Ayres. I’m not familiar with his behind-camera work, but if Another is any indication of his abilities, I’m looking forward to seeing more from him. Overall, the performances in this dub are very grounded and naturalistic, with no real standouts to speak of… Although in a dub like this one, uniformity is a good thing.
There are a few performances of note, though. Monica Rial, who plays the character Mei Misaki, the student who’s been chosen to be ignored by the class, brings a sense of bitterness to the character that was sorely lacking in the Japanese, as well as a condescending air when talking to odd man out Koichi. Jessica Boone plays a pig-tailed tsundere girl named Izumi, who’s been tasked with the title of Head of Countermeasures, which is a creative spin on the class rep title that a character like her would typically get. She gives the character strength, as well as a patience that has very clear limits. Blake Shepherd, who I’ve bashed in the past, is used surprisingly well as the soft voiced Yuya.
The actors are directed extremely well by Ayres, who knows exactly when to get subtlety from them, and when to unleash the reigns and let them scream in blood curdling terror. Every single voice crack is on point, every scream is terrifying, and the noises the unlucky students make as they’re dying are skin-crawlingly realistic. His interpretation of the script is faithful to the original, while still altering the wordings and turn of phrase just enough to be accessible to an English speaking audience without even once betraying the intention of any of it.
I first watched Another way back in the fall of 2013, after being intrigued to pick it up by the smattering of clips that it inspired in both versions of AMV Hell 6. The basic plot and several death scenes were already spoiled for me beforehand through word-of-mouth and the aforementioned AMV Hell clips, but I was still finding myself mildly entertained by the material. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t giving me feels, but I was enjoying the dark tone and trying to figure out the mystery. But then the ending happened… The ending that people like to laud as being one of the greatest they’ve ever seen. Even people who didn’t like the show still claim the final two episodes made the entire experience worth it for them.
That’s some pretty heavy praise, which is why I was all the more disappointed by my own reaction to it. If nothing else, I can safely admit that the ending of Another affected me in a way that I don’t think any other Anime’s ending has affected me before… It actually made me feel uncomfortable. Honestly, throughout those two episodes, there were times where I felt sick to my stomach, and I wasn’t sure why. It couldn’t be the violence… Oh no, I’ve seen and loved shows far more bloody than this, so what was it? In the two years that have followed since then, and especially after watching it a second time for the sake of this review, I’m pretty sure I’ve finally pinned down what it was that kept me from enjoying this bloody, bloody spectacle.
Before I get into that, let’s talk about the characters. The two leads are Koichi, the boy who missed the rules, and Misaki, the excluded girl. I hated them both, and they were the only two characters in the show that I actively wanted to see get killed. Koichi, the boy we spend the majority of the series with, is one of those boring and bland main characters who exists as a blank slate for the viewer to project themselves onto, so that you can explore the story right alongside with them. Honestly, the only thing I can remember about him is that his father lives in India. His role in the story is to ask a lot of questions and make situations worse, so he’s basically Mindy from Animaniacs. “Ignore that girl, she doesn’t exist.” “Why? Why? Why? Why?” And I get that, because nobody’s allowed to tell him, and being left out of something sucks, but for God’s sake, have an arc! Get a hobby!
Misaki is where the series gets it’s iconic look, contrived though it may be. She’s the eyepatch girl, which is a tried and true trope, and she is owned entirely by her darker color palette. She speaks in stilted, overly formal slow speech and seems to have a serious phobia of contractions. As far as her speech goes, she’s basically a poor man’s Rei Ayanami, right down to the fact that she literally lives in a house full of dolls that she probably adopted her personality from. She even has a doll’s eye in place of her missing eye. I kind of like characters like that, so I really wouldn’t mind her so much if the series wasn’t such a troll about how they used her. Her darker edges, while somewhat iconic, have absolutely nothing to do with the plot or story of the series, so she’s seriously like that just for flavor, and nothing else.
And then there’s the ghost… Yes, I’m considering him a character, deal with it… Who’s level of power and influence is just plain laughable. He’s omnipotent, can monitor and kill you at any time, in any way, and for any reason as long as you’re within the city limits, and I’m still not sure what his motives are. I just started picturing him as some stereotypical Looney Toons style mob boss, flipping a quarter while chewing a toothpick and daring anybody who he can control to oppose him or his best friend Murphy. He has the Yuki Nagato-level ability to alter not only peoples’ memories, but public records as well, which begs the question of why he doesn’t just force people to think he exists, which he totally could. But then again, for someone with so much power, he’s somehow unable to notice a student leaving a tape full of clues behind in the classroom for years.
There’s only one character I did like, who I actually wanted to see survive… A strong, selfless character with convictions that I really admired, and whom I wanted to learn more about… I’ll let you find out for yourselves whether or not they lived, but aside from those four, there isn’t much of a cast to speak of. The class is made up of walking character designs, some more likeable than others, and they’re all more or less dispensable, so let’s talk about what kind of story Another is.
In the strictest literary terms, Another is a tragedy. You might not think that at first, since it shares the same basic idea as the Final Destination films, which were definitely horror comedies, but it is. Another wants you to take it super-seriously, despite how ridiculous and goofy it’s many death scenes are. To it’s credit, Another is a master of tone, and it places it’s horror exactly where it belongs; on the faces of its surviving characters. Their sense of edginess and unease are only ever interrupted by their terrified reactions to the gruesome demises around them, which goes a long way in making up for the lunacy of watching a girl fall down the stairs and land throat-first onto the pointy end of her umbrella. Yes, Another is very firmly a tragedy, and that’s kind of the problem.
I didn’t make this observation myself… I learned it from the work of another reviewer, who also learned it from someone else… But in order for a tragedy to truly work, it has to be earned. A tragic ending can only be earned when it feels inevitable, as if the characters it’s happening to have done everything in their power to prevent it, but were unable to because of one damning flaw in either themselves or their world that made their efforts futile. It’s basically like going to a casino, making millions of dollars at Black Jack, and then losing it all because you just couldn’t handle not doing one more hand. In Another, I just don’t feel that at all.
For starters, in order to take this story seriously, you would first have to believe that a school with a yearly student body count wouldn’t be closed down and subsequently demolished to make way for a new building. Would this work? Maybe, maybe not, but the idea of people still sending their kids to a school like that and them willingly going there just infuriates me. But what makes me even more angry is the supernatural power that Mei Misaki possesses, and how easily it could have ended the calamity on multiple occasions… But she refuses to use it in the early episodes because she didn’t want to get made fun of, and she doesn’t put it to good use until the last ten minutes of the final episode for spoiler reasons that are complete BS. She could have saved eight peoples’ lives just by speaking up at the right time. She killed them by not speaking up, and the narrative makes no attempt to even acknowledge it. The only thing that was inevitable about this show’s tragic ending is… And I’m going to try and be vague about this… That the ghost trolled everybody by breaking it’s own rules.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about the ending, but that’s where the majority of my serious problems with this series lie, and it’s difficult to talk about why it made me feel so turned off without giving away some spoilers. Instead of saying more about what it did wrong, I’m going to tell you the two things I wish it had done right, both of which could have secured a much higher rating from me.
The perfect ending to this series, for me at least, would have seen the entire class… Plus their vulnerable family members… Forming a united front and charging the school at night with intent to burn it down. The school would have defended itself through it’s Murphy’s Law magic, and a lot of them would have died, but the ones who survived would have succeeded in their task, rendering the school unusable and ending the curse forever. The somewhat less perfect ending would have seen a handful of characters confronting the extra classmate, getting them to remember that they’re dead, and speaking to the class’s ghost through them, reasoning with him, learning about him, and ultimately convincing him to move on to the spirit world, ending the curse forever ala Paranorman.
If you hadn’t noticed, what with me being so subtle about it, the one thing those two ideas have in common is that, in both cases, the curse is ended permanently. This is important for three reasons; First of all, it gives all the meaningless deaths in the series purpose, as at least it would mean they accomplished in exchange for their sacrifice. Secondly, ending the curse during this particular year would have made said year special compared to every other of the 26 years that the curse had been active, thus justifying that year being the focal point of the series in the first place. And finally, for the simple reason that it would have given the series a much needed sense of closure.
Well, that’s why I didn’t like the series, but why did it make me feel so sick and uncomfortable? Well, there’s a very specific reason for that, and it has to do with what I believe to be the intention of the series. Another feels, to me, like somebody with pent up rage issues putting a lot of people into one house in The Sims, putting the carpets too close to the fireplace and removing all the doors. It feels like the writer is a lonely person… Probably in middle school… Who decided to write a story where he could insert himself as a powerful supernatural being who can strike fear and obedience into the hearts of all his fellow students who make fun of him, ignore him and have social lives that don’t involve him. That’s my biggest problem with Another: Not that it fails in a literary sense, which it does, but because it feels like someones sick revenge fantasy that they published and printed for the world to see. I don’t want to see that, and I don’t know why anybody else would.
Another is available from Sentai Filmworks in both DVD and Blu-Ray formats, both of which can currently be found on Amazon for around thirty dollars apiece. You can also find it on Crunchyroll, but they don’t currently offer the English Dub. There are two light novels and a manga that are both available stateside from Yen Press, and a live action film that is still unfortunately not. There’s an OVA episode called Another: The Other, Inga that acts as a prequel to the series. Weird title aside, this is probably the best episode of the entire show, and while it’s intended to be watched after the series, I strongly recommend watching it beforehand, as it’s a much better introduction to the power, circumstances, and personal tragedy behind Mei, the posterchild for the series, which helps to clear up any confusion caused by its insistence on using her as a red herring. It can be found on pretty much any release of the series.
Another is currently considered the greatest horror anime of all time by numerous sources, such as Rightstuf magazine and Watchmojo, but to say that I disagree is a huge understatement. Rather than a dark horror story or a cheesy slasher film, it feels more like watching a PETA documentary on slaughterhouses. Yes, seeing horses on a conveyer belt getting stabbed in the head upsets me, but not because I care about any of them individually… It’s because I’m pissed off at the people behind it for butchering them so heartlessly and mechanically for the sake of human consumption. I’ll give the series high marks for it’s beautiful presentation and for holding my interest as long as it did, but what started out as a mildly entertaining ride ended just on a giant trollface that taunted me for daring to take the mystery and the fates of it’s character designs seriously. I give Another a 4/10.