Friday, 23 October 2015

#9: Another (2012)

Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Screenplay: Ryou Higaki
Based on the serial novel by Yukito Ayatsuji
Voice Actors: Atsushi Abe (as Kōichi Sakakibara); Natsumi Takamori (as Mei Misaki); Ai Nonaka (as Yukari Sakuragi); Hiroaki Hirata (as Tatsuji); Kazutomi Yamamoto (as Mochizuki); Madoka Yonezawa (as Izumi Akazawa)

Synopsis: in 1998, high school student Kōichi Sakakibara starts late at his new school. To his surprise a girl in his class, a mysterious figure with an eye patch called Mei Misaki, is completely ignored by everyone else in the class baring him, a complete non-entity even to the teacher. He learns that specific class, Class 3-3, has been cursed. Back in 1972, a student died only for the class to pretend they were still alive, their ghostly image appearing in the graduation photo. To the horror of every class 3 onward, an extra student always appears on the class list, one that is already dead, and the students and their loved ones die in violent fashions once every month for the whole year. Mei is central to a way to ward off the curse, dictated this year by the chosen student countermeasure leader Izumi Akazawa, but as Kōichi desires to learn more about the curse, and refuses to follow the rules by talking to Mei, there is more to the curse which emphasises how the students could turn on each other if their lives depended on it.

Another is part of the same horror template of live action films like Ringu (1998), folklore or urban legends usually with horrible demises for the victims affected by them. Even in the modern day, though the story is set in 1998, folklore of curses manage to survive in pop culture in such tales. Like Ringu, it's based on a novel and there's also a live action feature film version of Another making it a franchise too. The series takes its time to build up and explain what's going on, a slow burn to the point the first two episodes are very sedate. Only some underlining issues existing are fed to you as Kōichi figures out something is amiss. Not so long after the first two episodes things get gristly.

The best part of Another for three-quarters of its length are these characters in dealing with the curse. Paranoia starts to grow and to deal with it an extreme form of social out casting is used. The series never goes as far with this as it should, but with its matter-of-fact tone, what is there is immensely entertaining. The characters are clichés but this isn't a problem, as clichéd as characters in American slasher films to British period horror films. Kōichi is your typical, quite male protagonist who in this case suffered from a collapsed lung and has lived all his life without a mother, who died giving birth to him. There's the jock, a little dumb and cocky but kind at heart, the nerdy girl with glasses, and in Izumi, the countermeasure group leader with giant red haired pigtails, even the vague colour of the tsundere, a female character who hides a slowly growing affection for someone through a cold and even aggressive personality, only modified here by the fact her coldness is from concern of protecting her classmates. They exist to play the stereotypes, but like the best, you still like them all, and dread anything harmful happening to them.

Like many a male protagonist in modern day anime, Kōichi is the least interest character of them all, and for all the terrible examples and crass depictions of them in anime, I've found the female characters in most shows are the most interesting, two in particular out of everyone else who get the most screen time. The aforementioned Izumi  could've been more interesting, heading up the machinations of Class 3-3 to protect itself even through a cruel act. Sadly the series closes her story in a terrible way, but for a side character you want more about her like such a seemingly closed hearted character should radiate for a viewer. The other, who's the female protagonist and the potential love interest for Kōichi, is Mei, the complete outcast with a strange personality and a mind firmly in an entirely different reality, who hates mobile phones and speaks with an incredibly distant intonation to her voice. Living with a mother at home that's also an exhibit space for macabre, realistic dolls, there's a surprising amount of female outcasts, potential goths and miscreants the more post-2000s anime I view, and it's for the better as someone like Mei, even though she's meant to be cute in her apathy, is a lot more interesting as  a result. It's a hell of a lot more interesting than a Belldandy from Oh My Goddess! who doesn't even have a distinction of herself away from the male protagonist, only existing in context to him. A character like this is why it feels like female voice actors for me, in English or Japanese scripts, probably get more dramatic meat to chew on than their male peers.

The least interesting aspect of Another is the horror story itself. It's complicated rules of the curse are whittled down to freak deaths, jarring when half the series is about Kōichi learning of the full history of it. The origins of the curse is never brought up directly into the narrative, only a series of unfortunate accidents and freak deaths taking place with a subplot of trying to find out who's the dead extra student in the current class. Some of the deaths, like the first with an umbrella, are straight from the text book of the Final Destination films, only without the Rube Goldberg machination. They also come off as silly in the series' serious tone because many could've been prevented if the students stepped in to help their classmates rather than stand there dazed. Many further are explained with ridiculous amounts of exposition after the fact which rob their impact, and the first two deaths are worsened because the characters are placed in the foreground and given greater personalities just before they're killed. Between all this, the relationship between Kōichi and Mei, with occasional interactions with Izumi  and the others students, are far more interesting.

Then unfortunately the final two episodes happen. In the third and final act the plot gets stupid, monkeys taking over the typewriters. Another suddenly starts introducing plot twists, including a supernatural tool for the character, when there's no time left to prevent it from being a contrivance, not even a pulpy twist to rescue a character, and the slow burn of the entire series is sacrificed for a series of random, countless deaths. Not only are random background students on mass slaughtered, but even side characters we've seen in the foreground are all abruptly killed or turned insane abruptly. It becomes a mindless series of deaths, just nasty for the sake of it for many, and because of this, the problems throughout the series become worse as a result. The fact Class 3-3 still exists, though the story tries to explain it, becomes ludicrous, and playing armchair screenwriter for once, the decision to turn Another into a cheap Battle Royale (2000) scenario rather than becoming Ringu or Pulse (2001) is such a missed opportunity. Even introducing a Shinto or Buddhist priest to try to exorcise the classroom, or a paranormal expert becoming involved, even if it failed, would've been more entertaining than what happens. Worse, there are plot twists that were part of the series since the first episode, ones that were still stupid and contrived even if clues were set up from the beginning.


Sadly because of this, Another leaves a bad taste in my mouth because the ten episodes beforehand cannot work without this ending. The best part of the series, the character dynamics, are only a small part and get sacrificed for this ending. Surviving relationships are left without any real closure or continuing possibility as the series just ends immediately afterwards. Since I covered it before as blog entry #8, I cannot help but think the same mentality of The Curse of Kazuo Umezu (1990) and its plotting style could've been for the better for something like this - emphasis on the unknowable and supernatural, without over explaining the deaths that took place, a simplistic plot to every episode leaving the characters to have more dialogue about themselves instead, and a mood that actually makes the series scary rather than an increasing body count. Another isn't even scary. Instead what started off as a promising TV series, which I anticipated with hope for this Halloween season, fumbles in the finale and becomes an incredible disappointment. 


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