Reviewby Theron Martin,
streaming episodes 1-6
15 year old Koichi Sasakibara lost his mother shortly after birth, so when his father goes to India on business for a year Koichi goes to live with his aunt and grandparents in the small town of Yomiyama, where his mother grew up. A medical problem serious enough to hospitalize him delays his arrival at his new school but also allows him to meet the strange, eyepatch-sporting Mei Misaki, who is his age, in the hospital. He also gets an odd vibe from representatives of his class who visit him in the hospital and seem strangely curious about his background. When he finally does get to school to participate in Class 9-3, he quickly gets the impression that something very strange is going on there. Mei is sometimes there but doesn't seem to be noticed by anyone else and everyone seems to carefully avoid talking to him about certain topics, including a supposed curse that his class is subject to and a mysterious set of special class rules that he's supposed to follow but is never informed about. As Koichi eventually learns, Class 9-3 has a dark and tragic reputation dating back 26 years, one which, once triggered, causes numerous deaths for students and/or close family members. Has his arrival in class set something insidious in motion, something that could have links to his own family? And what does Mei have to do with it and why won't anyone talk about it?
The anime version of Another, which is based on a mystery/horror novel by Yukito Ayatsuji (the husband of prominent novelist Fuyumi Ono), is precisely calculated to a fault. Nearly every shot and line of dialogue in its first four episodes is meticulously designed to inculcate the kind of gloomy, ominous aura necessary to establish a proper horror series, to the point that the series' very deliberate approach can get annoying after a while. In fact, watching the series can be a frustrating experience early on, especially as it insists on injecting creepy flashes of dolls and goes about specifically not telling its protagonist what he needs to know.
Director Tsutomu Mizushima (who is known mostly for work on comedies) and writer Ryou Higaki seem to know exactly how far the story can push the audience's patience with the story's central mystery, though, and never cross that line. Just when a viewer is about to get completely fed up with the story, the series delivers a punch, and in a big way. In some cases that punch is a dramatic and nerve-wracking death scene worthy of the American Final Destination movie franchise, while in episode 5 it is the long-awaited partial reveal about what is really going on with Class 9-3 and how Mei fits into that. The shockingly graphic violence of the former cases will shake up viewers who might have been lulled into a stupor, while the latter case (which also explains the series' title) should satisfy viewers who have gotten irritated by Koichi's classmates' reticence to tell Koichi what he really should know, as it both gives viewers a glimpse into the overall picture and at least partly justifies the behavior of his classmates.
Naturally, the big revelation raises fresh questions about certain aspects of the overall story while also hardly answering everything, and naturally it sends the story onto its second stage, but it also does something more remarkable: it shows that the series may have more to it than just being a mystery-themed horror story. That is the point where the series starts using Mei as a real character rather than just as a plot device, and seeing that Mei is more than just the soft-spoken Creepy Girl is a real treat. (One dream sequence that Kouichi has about her at this point constitutes the sole bit of levity in the series so far, which is all the more effective for how much viewers will want it to not be a joke.) The relationship which seems to be developing between Kouichi and Mei is also a treat and a nice counterbalance to the rough situation that both of them have been thrust into. By the end of episode six they become an unofficial couple that viewers will want to root for even as they know that some nasty surprise concerning one or both probably still lurks in their near future.
A story on the upswing and heavy atmosphere aren't the only things the series has in its favor. P.A. Works has turned in strong artistic efforts on previous projects like Angel Beats!, CANAAN, and Hanasaku Iroha, and this is just another feather in their cap. This is by far the darkest and gloomiest project they have done so far, so the emphasis here turns towards low lighting, deep shading, and exacting detail on signs of decay, such as the rust on metal railings or the worn texture on an incongruously beat-up student desk, but their talent and effort is also evident in the sharp-looking interiors, luxurious but unsettling depictions of dolls in a doll museum, and finely-crafted backgrounds. Character designs, though hardly fresh, are also sharp, distinct, and well-rendered, and what Mei is hiding under that eyepatch (and what is this fascination with girls with eyepatches, anyway?) is suitably unsettling. The animation is also smooth, including more animation than the normal of characters talking, even though it does take typical series shortcuts. The only nudity (or anything close to it) involves very detailed dolls, but two of the death scenes present are extremely visually and audibly graphic by TV series standards. This is not a series for the kiddies or the squeamish.
Ko Otani's musical score works very hard to promote the dark mood and suspense of the series and generally succeeds at it without going too far overboard; this is exactly what one would expect a horror series to sound like. Ali Project's fully-animated opener “Nightmare Contagion” is typical for their style but seems almost a little too upbeat for the material. Closer “anamnesis,” which is set to stills featuring the primary cast in more casual dress, is a much more restrained number which evokes a wistful mood that actually suits the episode content better. Japanese voice work is also consistently on the money, especially in the first two death scenes.
If mystery and/or horror is what you're looking for in an anime series then the first half of Another is unlikely to disappoint. It does take until near the end of the third episode to get fully up to speed, and takes longer still to throw out its sharpest hooks, but it does eventually deliver and in ways that viewers may not initially expect. It is, so far, looking like one of the strongest entries in the Winter 2012 season.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent artistry, effective musical score, story progressively gets better.
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