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Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunshine and Murder, Or When Another Goes To The Beach

Spoiler alert: Post contains spoilers for Another episode 8, "Hair stand", and other plot elements from the rest of the series.
A melon that looks like it's been murdered?
Yep, it's Another.
I knew I wanted to blog again about Another, now that I have finished the anime, but I had been visibly torn over whether to blog about the series' use of whispers and gossip throughout all twelve episodes or just concentrate on the beach episode and how great it was.
Eventually, I decided. Bugger it, beach episode of Another all the way. Why not? It's the holidays. Let's talk about girls in bikinis on the beach and bloody, bloody murder. 'Tis the season to talk killer curses.

The beach episode is one of the oldest episode hallmarks of anime. It is present in so many series, it is almost expected. Still, seeing Another—a horror title set in a small town centered around curses and ghosts of all kinds—go the way of the beach episode was surprising.
But it totally worked. Why? Because Another fully embraced many of the beach episode tropes while still staying within its own framework. Just look at how the episode opens! It opens with the splitting of a watermelon on the beach—a classic move—but frames it like someone is being killed, with its ambiguous dialogue and the spilling melon juice becoming a substitute for blood as someone screams in the background.
I didn't realize watermelons had so much, err, juice.
Most series send their characters to the beach to relax. For Another, it's not so much to relax as to survive. They believe that the curse of Yomiyama does not travel outside the town's borders, which is why the group of students pick a beach that is not within the village limits. It's a shame this doesn't work—but for the majority of the episode, we see Kouichi and his classmates like we haven't seen them in a long time: carefree.
Even the car trip out of Yomiyama is perilous and tense. Each person is expected the curse to strike them dead or send the car careening off the side of the road, a punishment for daring to have fun outside of town. The relief in everyone's faces when they pass the city limits with no bloodshed is immense. And then we get to see how much of a defensive driver their sensei is—geez, Reiko, slow down.
Sensei's got the road rage real bad.
What happens when they reach the beach turns into a series of typical sea shore fun, with all the boys in swimming trunks and the girls in bikinis and swimming suits—even the Gothic Lolita loner Mei, who just happens to be in the same area as Kouichi and the others. I'm guessing Misaki's family must be loaded to afford to vacation there.
And then it goes into full beach episode mode. Fishing contest! Burying people in the sand! Playing volleyball! Swimming! Watermelon chopping! For a moment, it seems like the curse of Yomiyama has failed to reach our protagonists as they splash around in the surf and playfully tease each other. Even Mei Misaki, who has spent most of the series up to that point isolated from her classmates, becomes a part of the group and actually looks happy. And she is super cute in her bathing suit, so that alone makes this episode worth watching.
And then Nakao gets killed, and this beach episode goes from happy go lucky fun fest in the sun to young people screaming and crying and watching their classmate and best friend go flying across the air after being struck by a passing boat. And did I mention poor Nakao gets caught in the motor, meaning his body is now mangled and I believe missing an arm? Ow, ow, ow.
Nakao, immediately post-discombobulation. I was nice -
I could have picked a much bloodier screen capture.
Nakao's last moments are so out of nowhere as his casual swim out in the deep turns into him drowning. When you add the motorboat unknowingly passing over his body, it becomes almost horribly comical in how Another is making his death. Like: good God, series, give the kid a break! It's like they killed him twice, because they could, and to add even more guilt onto the survivors: what, you thought you could leave home alive? Not a chance.
So wait, why is this episode so great? Because dang it, it's a horror series who went on a beach episode and came back minus one character. It indulged in the usual scenes long enough for the audience to get comfortable and then kills someone, just to remind us what kind of show we're watching.
And what kind of show is that? If anything, Another is a stark reminder that life is weird and fleeting and death comes in many strange forms. Maybe it's an elevator whose cables snap and crush the entire box upon hitting the floor. Or it's someone going out of their mind and taking a knife to their throat. It's a construction crane slipping out of park and driving straight into your bedroom, killing you instantly.
And yet no one thinks to try and signal to the boat to stop!
No, just stand and gawk like extras in Higurashi, that's fine.
Or, like in this episode, you're Nakao and it's the waves that pull you under, then the blades of an oncoming motorboat that spin you up into the air, now that you're dead weight. Also, as the following episode quickly teaches us, head injuries are no joke! If you hit your head, see a doctor immediately. Or do you want to be like Nakao?
Seriously: the Another anime managed to tack one of its most brutal, shocking deaths onto the end of one of its most carefree, fun episodes and it was quite effective. Until the last couple of episodes, the beach episode stands as the prime example that this series has no problem killing off your favorites and slowly turning the rest of them out of their gourds. It's a stand-out episode from a series I won't forget for a long time.
Another the anime series is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and for purchase through Sentai Filmworks. The manga and light novel are available through Yen Press.