Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Animondo: Another

Welcome back to Animondo, the review series that didn't need a title but I gave it one anyway, so there. Today, we're reviewing another anime, or rather, an anime named Another.

Another is a dark mystery/horror story concerning the attempts of a middle school class to survive a curse. When Sakakibara Kōichi joins class 3-3, he finds them treating Misaki Mei, a classmate, as though she doesn't exist--and no one will even tell him why. His investigations into the matter lead him to a terrible truth--the class is under a curse that has affected every class 3-3 since 1972, in which students suffer seemingly accidental deaths at a very high rate. Together with Mei, Kōichi tries to find out the reasons behind the curse--and to stop it before it claims the lives of more students.

Another makes for a solid, suspensful offering. The story progresses at a steady pace, and gives a feeling of progress for the heroes and significant, rising tension as the story goes on. There's a palpable sense of dread pretty much consistently, with whatever lighthearted moments exist feeling like the characters taking advantage of little moments to try to restore their sense of hope and humanity as the curse bears inevitably down on them. The show does take a slower approach to horror, and is definitely more investigative than actively dangerous in tone for large portions, but whether this is good or bad is a matter of preference. This isn't a slasher flick, and not particularly focused on gore (though the last couple episodes do get quite intense and up the violence factor)--rather, it wants to present a supernatural, creepy story based on pretty solid rules and a question to be answered.

Which isn't to say it is shy about using gore when it is needed. Another usually has at least one death per episode, and manages a skilled balance between some nasty ideas for deaths and a fairly tasteful way of presenting them. With some notable exceptions (a nasty accident involving a pointy umbrella, for instance), it makes fairly effective use of cutaways,glimpses, and suggestions about what happened to avoid having to show some more brutal concepts in full detail. As someone who enjoys suspense stories but has a weak stomach, I appreciated that. Your mileage may vary. What is clear is that Another is much more about the storyline and suspenseful tone than about raw body count or stomach-turning violence, which in my view results in a stronger show.

One further strength is Another's reliance on rules to tell an orderly supernatural tale. I've seen a lot of stories fail by relying on "it's just magic, turn your brain off" sorts of explanations...and others fail by trying to explain every supernatural event through the lens of science. Another rests in an effective middle ground, fully acknowledging there is no scientific explanation for what is happening, while at the same time defining rules so the audience can relate to and understand what is going on. There's a strong sense that the story is being fair with the watchers for the most part, and even the couple "unexpected breaks" with the rules are explained as supporting them later--and, importantly, hinted at beforehand. I appreciate a show that takes the effort to make it clear that there's an order and set of principles even governing the unexplained--for one thing, it is easier to have some hope for the survival of the heroes if they begin to understand how a curse like this operates.

Finally, the show manages a truly nasty final sequence in the last couple of episodes, in which people are going absolutely berserk from desperation and the classmates become willing to do anything--anything at all--to survive. It's a very, very dark sequence that gets at the horrible things the will to survive can cause us to justify. It is also a lot bloodier than most of the rest of the show, for obvious reasons--but while my stomach certainly wasn't comfortable with that, I found it an effective part of the story rather than just an excuse for gore. It's one heck of an intense ending.

Unfortunately, Another does have a few problems, and they stand in the way of the show being truly great. Spoiler warnings apply from here on, though I'm going to do my best to keep from giving much detail--I have to mention a couple things, though, to discuss them in any meaningful way.

First off, Another introduces one element that doesn't seem particularly necessary to the story (unfortunately, this one I have to get pretty direct with). Mei has a false eye, and the ability to see the dead. This ability gets next to no use in the story until it near the end, and even then I had some pretty notable questions with why it wasn't used before. There are points in the plot, particularly during the ending, where it's quite clear Mei doesn't use her ability purely because it would entirely derail the plot, and the ability exists primarily because whoever was writing the story couldn't think of a better way to come to a resolution (even though a few good ways nearly get used near the end, it's pretty clear the story authors just kind of missed the opportunities). Furthermore, because the ability is hinted at early on but never really used throughout the story, Kōichi really doesn't have much if any reason to believe Mei has it. I'm a bit torn on whether that's beneficial to drama or not, but to be frank, the story would be stronger without the ability and whatever it adds to the story could be better addressed in other ways (and almost is). Mei still can be an effective witness at the end without that ability--she'd just need another "trigger" for what she says.

Second, while the final few episodes have a very good tonal shift, which definitely captures a tone of desperation and a willingness to do literally anything to survive, there's one heavy weakness in the form of a new human villain who seemed to come out of nowhere, at least to me. She simply isn't necessary to the story at all--by that point we have PLENTY of humans who are willing to hurt other humans, and putting in one more who hasn't been involved in the plot in the least isn't fact, it detracts from the drama if anything. To be fair, she's only part of the insanity that is the last couple episodes, but even so, again, the story would have been stronger without her.

Finally, while the story is quite fair overall when introducing twists, there is one fairly major one during the ending that isn't quite adequately hinted at beforehand. It felt like something of a cheat. I'm not quite certain I can call it that, as it may very well be that I missed some subtle reference or another...but the way I saw it, an important part of the mystery is just kind of dropped out there in the last moments of the show, and that's a big flaw for me in mystery shows. Looking back, there were actually some hints, and it still felt logical and was still handled well and's just that I didn't feel I was given a fair chance to figure things out beforehand, and that hurt Another for me (especially considering how fair I felt the show was being earlier). That's all I'll say on the topic, though--and I'm fully willing to admit I might just have missed something. There are a lot of things to keep track of in this show, and the fault could easily be mine.

Overall, Another is a well-told and interesting horror and suspense story with some pitfalls that hold it back from true greatness. It is paced well, has well-established rules and a sense that the characters are making progress (and that they are pushed back from time to time), and there's a sense of doom and danger that doesn't fade. The supernatural feels menacing and frightening, and the show is unafraid to use gore but doesn't revel in it either. I can recommend it, with a few reservations--the ending, due to the above flaws, is exciting but ultimately a bit unsatisfying. It isn't enough to ruin the show, but it does damage enjoy the show while it lasts, but be prepared for a bit of dissatisfaction in the end.

Dubbed or Subbed? Couldn't tell ya, on this one. I've seen this only in the subbed version, which is still a pretty easy watch. For what it's worth, the show doesn't have a lot of fast action scenes where it might be difficult to watch both what's going on and the dialogue, so it's quite easy to watch the version with subtitles.

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