When I think of horror in anime, there are a couple of things that immediately pop into mind. It usually involves kids either in middle or high school, an ostracized or different kid is either killed or commits suicide, it's usually in a small and creepy town, the one experiencing the events is a kid that has recently moved in to said small and creepy town from the big city, etc. Add in some sunsets, decrepit buildings and some ominous background music and you've got the right idea.
Watching the first episode of Another, all of the above rings true. Kids in middle/high school? Check. Legend of a girl dying? Check. Creepy, decrepit small town? Check. Newly located guy going into the local school? Check. Haunting background music? Check. Don't let that check list fool you. Just because it has all of the typical trappings of a horror show doesn't mean it's bad. Far from it. Hit the jump to see why you should, no, NEED to watch Another if you're a fan of getting creeped out.
Before the opening (a fairly standard ALI PROJECT song that raised my hackles), we get a quick heads up on the story of Misaki. A ninth grader that died 26 years prior to the series, her classmates kept her memory alive after somebody claimed to see her at her desk. They kept it up even through their graduation. Interposed with scenes that I assume will appear through out the series, it's a good primer to what you'll be seeing fairly soon.
The show proper begins with in a hospital in April of 1998. Kouichi Sakakibara is lying in bed with a collapsed lung next to his aunt and grandmother. Clearly unable to make it to class, several kids from Kouichi's new school show up to welcome him. The three students are clearly disturbed by Kouichi, particularly by the fact that he claims to have never lived in town. A lead character with a dead mother, a father abroad and a potentially unreliable memory? We're off to a great start! Later that night, Kouichi gets in an elevator to head outside and is surprised to find a quiet girl with an eyepatch behind him. She gets off at the second basement, which has the mechanical room, the boiler room and the morgue. Oh, and she says she's there to deliver something…and she's got some bizarre looking doll in her hand…and she says her name is Mei Misaki. Wait, Misaki? As in the girl from the legend at the beginning of the episode? HMM…
A couple of days later, Kouichi is woken up by a call from his father abroad. He calls to wish him a good day at school and tells him that he too had a collapsed lung, something that I'm sure Kouichi would've liked to have known before hand. He gets called away by his grandmother for breakfast, but we see that his grandfather is still mourning the death of Kouichi's mother. OK, absent father, a mourning member of the family and an aggravating bird that won't shut up? The creep factor continues to rise!
Kouichi makes it to school and is introduced to his classmates. After being assigned a seat by the hollow-sounding homeroom teacher, he notices that Mei is sitting at the corner seat in a busted up chair. During break, he gets pelted by questions from the members of his class while the camera pans toward the rest of the class. Before he's strangely passed to another classmate for a tour of the school, Kouichi notices that Mei is gone from her seat. Later at P.E., Kouichi sits with another exempt student with a heart condition. The guy staggers off to the nurse's office and is replaced by Yukari Sakuragi, one of the gals from the hospital welcoming committee. She mentions that their class is the only class that has P.E. alone before quietly freaking out at the mention of Misaki. Kouichi sees Misaki on the roof and goes up to talk to her. Besides forgetting that they met at the hospital and being generally mysterious and hostile, she tells Kouichi that his classmates associate his name with a particular death at the school and that his class is the closest to death in a school that is already close to it. She then leaves, warning Kouichi that he shouldn't interact with her. On the way home from school, he sees Misaki walking in the rain, but when he looks back she's gone.
When it comes to horror in anime, it's hard for me not to compare any show to Higurashi no Naku Koroni. Both seasons of the show filled me with legit dread and freaked me out more than once. A combination of an excellent musical score, subverted characters that kept me on my toes, disturbing visuals and solid vocal performances insured that it wouldn't be leaving my mind anytime soon. In order for any new horror show to work for me, it has to meet or surpass Higurashi in some way or another. I'll take it point by point.
Another's characters were originally designed by Noizi Ito (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Shakugan no Shana), a woman known for her adorable girls. Right there I know that there's going to be some seriously messed up stuff in the future. At least for me, seeing pretty girls in a horror show somehow makes things creepier. This is especially true if I'm suspecting that something awful is going to happen. If those images before the start of the episode are indicative of future events, I have a feeling that a swerve is going to catch a lot of people off guard at some point. Knowing that raises the tension for me. It's a circle of nerves that will continue until somebody gets it.
Music has a lot to due with setting the mood for horror. When done incorrectly, it ruins any sort of suspense that the actors are trying to get across and will collapse a scene. Music done right can keep people correctly off-balance or have their nerves pulled tighter and tighter until the snap. Here is another spot where, uh, Another excels. Ko Otani (Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Shakugan no Shana) makes good use of light piano and strings to make Kouichi's initial interaction his new classmates awkward and unsettling. Of course, the xylophone track that plays while he interacts with Misaki is tonally appropriate, if a bit typical of the mood that is trying to be set. Even when it's following along genre lines, this show is doing its job right.
The voice work is thus far excellent. All the characters are acting to what is expected. Kouichi sounds weak and naive, Misaki is hollow and distant, the various members of Kouichi's class sound collectively nervous and like they're hiding something, etc. I particularly dug the noticeable change in Kouichi's homeroom teacher from talking to the new kid in the hall and addressing the class as a whole. The vocal change combined with his glasses glinting over shook me a bit.
Finally, let me talk about the visuals. This is a pretty looking show, with some good looking characters and some beautiful looking landscapes. Well, perhaps not beautiful in the traditional sense. There's some deliberate work done to make everything in the school look decrepit and falling apart. Rusted rails, overgrown grass, distressed paint, broken benches, this school looks like the epitome of a run-down public school. That can't be a coincidence. Somehow, the busted up look of the school has to have some significance, especially after Misaki's little statement at the end of the episode. Oh, and the repeated shots of some downright disturbing dolls are cheap, but effective.
So what do all these words I've typed add up to? I'm saying that Another is one of the best shows out this season, with a dead serious tone and nary a giggle in sight. If you want something that is probably going to give you goosebumps or raise the hair on the back of your neck, then I'm pretty sure that this show will deliver. Granted, there's no way that I can look into the future and say that it will keep the promises it's making with this first episode, but I have high hopes.
[You can watch Another over at Crunchyroll.]
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