Jul 9, 2013

Anime Review: Another

another1One thing is for sure, horror anime are few and far between but can be some of the best uses of the medium if done correctly. My interest was instantly piqued upon seeing the synopsis and studio (the always talented, if sometimes mechanically so, P.A. Works) behind Another.

A good horror show has lots of ambiance and mood building. A great one can maintain it, too. Keeping a consistent and balanced feeling of intrigue, suspense, and eerie isn't easy to do but boy is it exhilarating when they pull it off. When most shows are resorting to slapstick and fanservice to break up the drama due to a lack of ability or confidence to stay on target, well… it's refreshing to get a show that can ignore a lot of the usual dumb tropes in favor of sticking with the plot and dark themes.

It's too bad then that Another falls short on pretty much everything else. For all of its great atmosphere, its general refusal to fall back on doinkiness in favor of never breaking its poker face, and its striking visual flair thanks to the skilled studio, Another is not a great horror anime. If anything, it is merely an okay anime in general.

An old black and white class photo, three rows of kids with the teacher in the front center

Things begin quite well, though, with an excellently executed bit of exposition from two classmates whispering about an old story of a girl who died spoken over a montage of deliciously detailed and ominous scenes. And then… the opening theme starts. Most anime have okay or so-so intros, that I may or may not skip when marathoning episodes, and the rare few have openings that I watch every single time. I actively avoided Another's opening, something I practically never have to do. It was so bad I wondered how anyone could have let that pass. Sure, the animation during the intro was good but the music was so unfittingly bad it would have been laughable had it not been mood destroying and worrisome.

These poor decisions (mind you, mixed in with better stuff at times just adding to the frustration of the bad stuff) continue and the opening I feel is really endemic to the larger issues with Another. The main character is a bit of a vanilla type who barely keeps things moving, or rather it is more like he passively flows with things. He isn't so much a protagonist as he is a point of view. Since we spend so much time with him it sucks to have him so boring and unlikable. You probably won't hate him or anything but you'd be hard-pressed to give a good, concise description of his character to someone unfamiliar with the show. The problems with the lackluster lead trickle down into other areas, ruining any opportunity for an interesting relationship dynamic with the lead girl and a host of other family related issues. But let me back up a moment.

A view of a classroom with statuesque students in their seats as seen from a teacher's podium point of view

Our flimsy fellow Kouichi moves from the big city into this sleepy town with his aunt and grandparents while his father is out of the country. Meanwhile, his classmates seem to be on edge and withholding around him. There's a definitely good sense of mystery here but once again the execution is clumsy as it tends to be a bit too heavy handed. Characters are too often making nervous side-remarks under their breath or catching each other and stopping trains of thought in an obviously paranoid manner.  I get that it is meant to be mysterious and all but it tends to come off wooden more than anything, like they're all just playing parts in some weird new-kid initiation game. Like at any moment one of them will jump out and say "PSYCHE! Just kidding, we're all normal kids really... let's have lunch together!"

A three-quarters profile of Misaki Mei, wearing her token white eye-patch, with an overcast backdropPlus, there's the matter of the strange girl with the eye-patch whom everyone seems to ignore. Coupled with the stories of the girl who died many years ago and a curse that followed, the plot gets very juicy quickly, especially once people start dying. But she of course plays up the stilted robotic thing to a fault and never grows even an inkling of a personality, worse even than the lead Kouichi. Most of the rest aren't much better: there's a class leader who's got a stick up her ass all the time, a token soft-spoken nice one, and a MILF teacher who is about as personable as a bag of rocks. There are like a dozen or so more classmates that sort of get introduced and named but none of them ever get very fleshed out enough to care about before folks start dropping like flies. Even Battle Royale managed to have a huge cast of characters with far more depth and memorability despite the similar challenge of frequent character deaths.

Three students stand side by side facing forward, in impeccable but emotionless posture; a girl, a boy, and another girl holding a bouquet of pink flowersTwo teachers, a female and a male, escort new transfer student Kouichi to class

Which is all a big shame because when the show is in the groove it's pretty good. The eerie feeling most of the supporting cast give off, the town's somber and passionless attitude as a whole, and the weird curse story all make for a good bit of drama. Most of the mysteries will have you guessing up to the end (I admit I was unable to figure it out) and it's a powerful, if contrived, way to keep the plot moving.

The show also isn't afraid of sudden and surprisingly graphic violence which helps with the horror angle. Unfortunately, the version I saw had frequent and noticeable censoring which while I won't hold it against it I do think it's probably better to get your hands on the home release version instead if at all possible. But for all of its shock and satisfying violence (censoring or not) it does tend to get rather ridiculous after awhile, especially by the last couple of episodes. By then the shock has worn off and it becomes almost comical, like your typical b-movie schlockfest approaches things with it being so over-the-top as to be silly. Too bad, since early on things manage to be surprising yet plausible. If that weren’t bad enough, the death frequency becomes so high that it can start to become of a game of “who will die next”, which undermines the story it attempts to tell.

Kouichi looks slightly upward from the front; Misaki stands directly behind him unbeknownst to him, looking slightly downward at nothing in particular

Even with all of the problems, the show is still far from truly terrible. Helpfully, the animation quality is good enough to keep things going even when it’s at its worst. The high-contrasting style, with lots of late evening brilliant orange-red tones, is reminiscent of another show I saw and reviewed awhile back, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. The character designs aren’t too flashy or memorable, though mostly this is to keep things semi-realistic I suppose, and while robot-girl is interesting on the surface she is disappointingly never really given much to do. Oh well. I’ll still take a frustrating mishmash of good and bad horror anime over not seeing any of them. As long as you don’t let the shiny cover it presents spoil you into expecting too much you can still easily enjoy this one. Mostly my overly-critical sounding review is a result of missed potential. It’s still not a bad series but you get the feeling it could have been so much better with a bit more rewriting.

As of this writing, you can watch Another for free on Crunchyroll.

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