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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rough Sketches and Blueprints: Another Episodes 1-2

When Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to his new school, he can sense something frightening in the atmosphere of his new class, a secret none of them will talk about. At the center is the beautiful girl Mei Misaki. Kouichi is immediately drawn to her mysterious aura, but then he begins to realize that no one else in the class is aware of her presence. (Source: ANN)
Spoilers for the first two episodes of the anime adaptation of Another. No manga or light novel spoilers are in this post.
Another being slightly disappointed by the Tsukihime anime, I've finally started watching a series from the poll that y'all voted on, which means Another. Sorry for taking so long to covering one of the anime actually on the list! But this one has been worth the wait.
Compared to Tsukihime, it's more genuine horror than any amount of vampires can deliver. Claustrophobic small town? Check. Haunted class with possible ghost girl? Yup. Creepy dolls, questionable animals and shadowy shops? Got it. Between the haunting atmosphere and the slow build of a mystery, it's hard not to be drawn into this oddball short series.

Kouchi starts off the series like any good horror protagonist: sitting in the hospital, having moved to a new town and a new school only to have a lung collapse keep him out of class at the start of semester. It's in the hospital that he meets the important players of Class 3 – Izumi Akazawa, Kazami Tomohiko, and Yukari Sakuragi – as well as a mysterious girl who he first sees in the hospital elevator, heading for the basement level with the morgue – Mei Misaki, the root of the series.
But, as the opening of the first episode explained, Mei Misaki is not alive. She died as a part of Class 3, and her classmates, instead of healthily moving on with her death, pretended like she was still there, even taking her desk to graduation. But even after her classmates have graduated, Mei is still hanging around the school and her old classroom, as if she has unfinished business with the place. And thus, Kouchi and Mei's paths cross and the show really starts.
Naturally, in true horror fashion, nothing in Another is what it seems. No one in Class 3 wants to talk about Mei, she doesn't want Kouchi around her, there's a creepy librarian and an even creepier museum of realistic dolls, and a lot of eerie coincidences surrounding Mei's untimely death, like the fact that Mei died the same night Kouchi was discharged, which rather throws the entire show's timeline into disarray for people who thought the opening sequence was in the present, not the past, or something. It's weird!
The series benefits from Kouchi being both new to the area and naturally curious. He doesn't think twice about following Misaki onto the roof, or asking the nurse at the hospital to look into her death, or entering the dimly lit basement of a doll museum run by an equally creepy lady. Plus, his relative newness to the area means he's a clean slate to all the built-in drama and history that's always in a sleepy small town like Yomiyama.
His foil is Mei Misaki, who says things like "you should probably stay away from me" and "can you handle what I've got to show you?" and lurks around hospital basements and school roofs and decrepit libraries like a proper schoolgirl ghost. And, of course, she has a mysterious eye patch like her character design dropped out of Rozen Maiden, although I'm sure they aren't related beyond that point—right? Considering episode two has her in the doll museum, maybe not.
The artwork in Another is rather gorgeous. The color palette switches between haunted gloomy blues and oranges and more vivid, less subtle reds, especially in the background. Gosh, the background art in this anime is lovely. Studio P. A. Works is really on point with this series, with the strikingly detailed Gothic dolls and the lushly drawn skyline.
Not only is the art ace, the pacing and editing is ace. Through the first two episodes, the mystery of Mei Misaki is a slow burn but it's unfolding in a way that makes it interesting, not boring, to follow. The series is carefully edited so that we are like Kouchi; we aren't sure what parts of the story are real and what is true, but we're looking to find out. The addition of the shots of the dolls that end up being a plot point was a smart move. Each time they pop up, it's another "holy crap" moment, because they show up randomly and effectively tap into the "creepy horror dolls are creepy" motif of the show.
Two episodes in, more questions are popping up than answers. Characters are forming rank and Kouchi is slowly figuring out which of his classmates will give him answers and which ones are dedicated to keeping the status quo intact. Mei Misaki is still the main mystery, but now she's the heart of a tangled web of various plots that all lead back to her. I am looking forward to untangling this series, piece by piece.
Another is currently available on Crunchyroll, in Japanese with English subtitles.