Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another – Series Review

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There’s little doubt in my mind that Another will stand as a great series for me, but it will be as one with serious flaws as well.

I can start to list the things that were exceptional here and go on for far longer than I should. It’s P.A. Works, and the series looks fantastic. There are indelible visual moments that stand out for me all throughout the series, right up to the final episode. BGM was excellent, and really found its voice in the finale, where it was a bulwark of restraint and sadness against the visual excesses of gore. I think the show had the most effective sound design since Ghost Hound, another series that used sound brilliantly to create a mood. Sound was almost a character in and of itself, and it did so much to unsettle the viewer – pounding on doors, distant thunder, static… I wish this show had followed Ghost Hound’s example and relied on atmosphere for tension and terror all the way to the end, but that’s a matter I’ve already covered.

Horror is a tough medium for anime, which I think explains why it isn’t attempted more often – well, that and the fact that it doesn’t tend to be a big money-maker. The issue here is that it feels like Another was a mystery for ten episodes, and a horror for the final two. I liked it better as a a mystery, but that’s me. The core relationship in the series was the best one, as some of my favorite moments simply involved Kouichi and Mei interacting as two kids on the outside of the social infrastructure of Yomi North, taking comfort in each other’s presence as they shyly began to explore stronger feelings. Kouichi’s ballroom-dance dream sequence was possibly the best scene in an anime this season, for it’s visual brilliance and stylishness and humor, but also for how it both contrasted with the “reality” of the series and fit perfectly with it. I could have done with even more Kouichi-Mei development than we got, but what we got was enough to make them one of the best anime couples in quite some time.

I won’t argue that Another is under any obligation to explain everything that happens inside its boundaries. I like the fact that the true nature of the phenomenon is still left as a bit of a mystery, but I could have done with a little more background on just why events seemed to be conspiring to kill as many students as possible in increasingly unlikely ways at the end. I would’ve also liked a little more explanation about Mei’s odd ability to “see” using a false eye, which feels a bit like a dramatic crutch to lead us (and the characters) to the identity of the Another, and whether there are any deeper significance to all the mysticism surrounding the dolls.

At its heart, though, I think the central conceit of Another is pretty ingenious. It’s something of a tale of good intentions gone wrong – it seems so noble, to proclaim that a person who has died tragically isn’t really dead, but their spirit lives on. And this is a supernatural horror that doesn’t give is an easy target to focus on – our “villain” isn’t really the Another, who isn’t actually doing anything wrong. In a sense, they’re like any other person – but one carrying a terrible disease (death) of which they’re asymptomatic. Imagine someone carried such a deadly illness, but was otherwise fine and had no desire to hurt anyone. Would it be so easy to just kill that person, never mind if it were a member of your own family? You might think of putting them in isolation, and searching for a cure – but isolation doesn’t help, the disease spreads as long as they’re alive.

There’s no “evil” in this story – not until the truth comes out, and people start behaving in an evil manner towards each other (John Saul comes home to roost, after all). I guess I think of the deaths as nature’s attempt to restore balance when confronted by something outside itself – something quite literally “supernatural”. Nature may abhor a vacuum but it also abhors something that violates its laws, like a dead person among the living. It tries to correct for this by killing someone, but that doesn’t fix the problem – the dead person is still in the living world, so it kills again, and again, and until the imbalance is corrected it won’t stop. This is the dilemma Mei faces – she has no idea that eliminating the carrier will stop the flow of the disease. She has no desire to crush the feelings of the boy she’s come to consider the person closest to her in the world, now that her dear cousin (in reality, twin) has died. So she suffers in silence with her knowledge, until Matsunaga’s tape surfaces – and then resolves, too late, to try and fix the situation herself.

I may wish the ending had been handled differently, but I still rank the series as a resounding success. It made me feel deeply, it unsettled me, it made me laugh, it made me think and it scared the hell out of me. The mystery was engaging and interesting and never boring, even if the ultimate resolution wasn’t completely satisfying. The production values were off the charts. And most importantly, Another recognized that no mystery or horror scenario can succeed if it doesn’t build a connection to the characters, and it did the hard work and heavy lifting to turn Kouichi, Mei, Mochizuki, Teshi and Akazawa – and even Chibiki and Aunt Reiko – into real and complex personalities that we could identify with and care about. That gave the finale arc a power and emotional resonance whose impact not even the missteps of Mizushima-sensei could dull. It wasn’t perfect, but it was exceptional, and Another definitely goes down as the best example of the mystery and suspense genres that anime has produced for quite a while.

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13 comments:

  1. This makes me think of the many Stephen King novels I've read. They are peerless in the ability to create tension, dread and fear. However, the ending is invariably anticlimactic. Perhaps its just the nature of the genre. I do think this series stands on its own merits and will be remembered fondly for years to come. It gets my nod for best of season.

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  2. They cheated a bit too much with Reiko, thats my main complaint.

    Also they killed my lesbians. That irks me slightly.

    Still, quite the ride, no?

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  3. After reading this, I guess that Another was quite deep. The completely left field ending still irks me and since I would like to know about the full workings of the phenomena, that bothers me too.

    It was easily the best animated of horror ever and for the most part was excellent, but that ending was just so...

    8/10 for being a great show for 10.5 episodes and only a good one for the remaining bit. Pretty sad that the OVA will be a Mei and her cousin special.

    Nonetheless this was easily one of the most thrilling and suspenseful show in a while, so kudos to PA.
    Looking forward to their next work in I think Summer along with, wait for it, the return of Hanasaku Iroha, yay.

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  4. Spot on analysis! Voiced everything I felt about the last 2 episodes. A bit disappointing...but still an enjoyable series. It's enough to remove Another from my absolute top favourites, but still a highlight of all horror anime, and a great star to 2012.

    Ah Akazawa...even though you turned a bit bitchy in the end, I still loved your character. =(

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  5. How to get rid of the competition? Kill Akazawa randomly.
    As to why all the explosions, shattering glass and fire does not kill misaki or Kouichi... That sure is weird. They were saved many times but the phenomenon.
    Is it because they were already beings close to death so death does not choose them? If so, how about the other sick guy in the class?

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    1. Simply put they had plot armor. No matter how strong the phenomenon it couldn't stop that. It did seem like a cheap way to avoid dealing with competition, just kill it off. Considering who they let survive in all of this it seemed lazy to not throw people a bone. Plus pretty shocking how many girls were slaughtered in this and survived to the end.

      It wasn't a bad series overall. But the way it wraps up really does impact how you remember it. The destination isn't everything in a journey, but it is pretty important.

      Glad I watched it, but probably won't have it as a favorite.

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  6. It went from a show that had the potential to be a an all-time favourite to "forgettable" from the last two shows, mainly the finale.

    I still liked it, but it could have been so much more.

    I felt detached from the characters after 10 episodes of developing an attachment and the only part that really moved me was the Reiko scene.

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  7. I can't dismiss a series that was great for 85% of its run because the last 15% wasn't at the same level, but I am disappointed. It's not like the last two eps weren't good, but I just wish Mizushima had shown some restraint. Maybe he's not as blameless for the Blood-C debacle as I thought.

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  8. Even though I was spoiled by Akazawa's death(though it was a different way how she died from what they say), it was still painful to see her go. Gonna miss them twintails and thighhighs.

    I didn't feel anything from this ending. It felt so sudden and had less impact. Not to mention those Final Destination deaths in the beginning of this ep.
    The show had a good beginning and middle though. And the music and animation is topnotch. I'd say it was okay. It's in the middle of all the works of PA Works.
    Still, they haven't given me anything to the level of True Tears.
    Let's hope this new show they have in Summer does well.

    Sakakibara is a boss though. Dodging those attacks, stopping Akazawa even if she was going to kill Mei(not to mention stealing her heart) and most of all using the phone inside a burning building.

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  9. Booya booya boooooyyyaaaaa, I was right when you did the poll earlier in the season.

    This show really stepped up its game at the end and made it a great thriller. I hope to see more shows with this level of horror, suspense, and great storytelling.

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  10. Hey Enzo, I really enjoyed your coverage of Another. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you mentioned in one of your earlier posts that there is something that happens before all of the deaths. Could you tell us what that something is?

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    1. Hmm - can you be more specific? TBH I can't recall exactly the statement you're referring to.

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