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Friday, December 5, 2014

Return The Dead To Death: Another The Complete Series

Another/アナザー: 26 years ago, in a third-year classroom of a middle school, there was a student named Misaki. As an honours student, also good at sports, the charming guy was popular with his classmates. When he suddenly died, his classmates decided to carry on as if he was still alive until graduation. Then, in the spring of 1998, a boy named Sakakibara Kouichi transfers to that class, and he grows suspicious of the fearful atmosphere in that classroom. (Source: AniDB)

Spoilers for all twelve episodes of the Another anime series.

I've seen people describe Another as the anime equivalent of the Final Destination films, those teeny bopper horror films where young people are routinely made the victims of horrific deaths made to look like accidents, hunted by a mysterious and dark entity. It's an apt comparison but it sells Another short.

Final Destination as a series became contrived and dragged on towards its own eventual demise, and Death is a literal villain to be cheated out of its rewards. Another is a perfectly contained story of human-created horrors and the terror of death, not as an overbearing spirit but as the inevitable fate we all fight to avoid on a regular basis, some more violently than others.

A better comparison might be made between Another and the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni series: both take place in small, near claustrophobic villages; both deal with the regular, almost annual deaths of its citizens and a local mythology that haunts those who survive; both tackle human tragedy and drama as the characters of each series stumble towards their inevitable fates while trying to solve the mystery of their respective villages.

But Another does something few other series have done before: it freaked me out. I am not someone who horror anime/manga easily disturbs, but Another did it. If anything, it was the horrific, freak deaths that occurred in nearly every episode as one by one, Kouichi's schoolmates became another crossed off name on the class roster. By the end of the series, the deaths were coming fast and often, and instead of becoming trite, it just amped up the horror factor.

It also helps that Another executed the creepy small village mentality well, in both the characters and the aesthetic. P.A. Works created detailed background art with appropriate shadows and a consistently gloomy color palette for the town of Yomiyama. There are abandoned classrooms where dangers lurk around every corner, threatening to kill another student; creepy dolls with human-like features and an unusual connection to Mei Misaki and her eyepatch; the looks of the villagers who realize the curse of Class 3 is back with every death, horrified expressions stretched across their faces in grotesque masks.

"Who is dead?": a question that will, in the end, lead
to a lot of people dead.
The series is driven by its characters, centered around Kouichi and Mei and the current students of Class 3. The various personalities' clashing as they fight against the curse is one of the biggest factors of the series, and their true colors come out as the death toll rises. Twintailed Izumi goes from tsundere head of countermeasures to a yandere killer. Takako loses her nerve and her emotional instability spurs a bloody rampage on her orders. Naoya starts off as a shallow joke maker but finds his bravery in the face of death.

I wish we had learned more about Mei Misaki and her family, especially her emotionally distant mother, but that's a small slight against the rest of the series. The relationship between Mei and her cousin/sister is one of the more interesting plot points of the show. It's a shame it doesn't help her when Takako makes her the target of every frightened classmate still alive during the class trip. 

Mei Misaki's character designed must have been
a fan of the Rozen Maiden series.
In Another, information can be used to help but also harm – the audio tape left behind by a past Class 3 member ends up becoming the fuel for a riot and the source of an enduring quote by its characters: “return the dead to death”, turning a classmate's plea to end the slaughter into a rallying cry for blood.

Another is a bloody anime, but it is also a beautiful one. I would not recommend it to anyone put off by excess violence or detailed, explicit deaths. Even though the Crunchyroll stream of Another has some censorship – the usual black shadows on the screen that don't really hide much – it's clear what is going on, and it may upset some people. I would not say these scenes are tasteless or poorly done. We watch people die in horrible ways, but the audience is not so much voyeurs to their loss of life so much as witnesses to this yearly curse that haunts a significant percentage of Yomiyama.

Not pictured: one of the most horrific, surprising deaths
in Another's history - and that's saying something.
I would argue that Another goes so into each character's demise because it illustrates the horror of the Class 3 curse, the inescapable pull of death that these classmates and their loved ones feel the entire year and try so hard to avoid with their tricks and rituals, and how a bunch of seemingly well adjusted young people are hacking at each other with knives by series' end. 

If you can bear to watch people be crushed by elevators and speared by their own umbrellas, you'll see more than just a string of gory deaths sprayed with blood and panic, opened by music from Ali Project. You'll see a dark, disturbed tragedy, nearly thirty years in the making. You'll see a horror anime that can actually scare.

Another the anime series can be watched streaming on Crunchyroll and has been released on DVD by Sentai Filmworks. The light novel and manga are available in English via Yen Press.