You won’t hear me talk about sound directors much when discussing an anime – perhaps not often enough. Fact is, it isn’t a role that you think about much – the sound design is something we tend to take for granted. But once in a while a show comes along that’s so exceptional in this regard that it demands attention. Ghost Hound was such a show, and Another is, well – another. The sound director is Iwanami Yoshikazu, an industry stalwart, and he’s doing an amazing job here in every way – the hum of machinery, the buzz of static, the calls of crows, distant thunder – Another is a series that can jar your senses with sound and rattle your nerves with silence.
It’s both a good thing and no coincidence that the sound is so good, because this show reminds of of Ghost Hound in many ways. Rather than shock and awe it’s effective in creative an overall mood, an uneasy edge that grips you from the moment it starts and holds you in place till it ends. I know the “horror” aspects of the show are going to pick up, but for now it’s weaving its spell through psychological warfare. I know not everybody loved GH – some found it slow, and convoluted – and I wonder if some of the same charges will be leveled against Another. I loved that show and so far, I love this one, and I’m totally wrapped up in the mystery of what’s happening in Yomiyama.
I’m nowhere close to feeling comfortable in guessing just what that might be, but some interesting things are starting to emerge. Art was a sort of theme this week, with discussions of books and paintings prominent, haiku discussed in class and Kouichi telling his Aunt Reiko (Sakakibara Naoko) – Sakakibara? Hmm…) he’d like to be a sculptor for a living. Another boy in Class 3, Mochizuki (Yamamoto Kazutomi) is drawing a lemon that recalls Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” – an allusion Kouichi gets immediately but that seems to freak out their sexy teacher Mikami-sensei (Miyamaki Misayo). Mochizuki says a couple of interesting things here – he quite pointedly asks Kou-chan what he thinks of Mikami-sensei (“I’m not sure how to answer that”). He says the lemon in his sketch isn’t screaming, it’s the world that’s screaming – the lemon is covering its ears because it’s terrified of the sound. And when he asks Kouichi about joining the Art Club, he says it “just started back up again this year”.
A couple of other seemingly important players are introduced this week, including librarian Chibiki Tatsuji (Hirata Hiroaki – why do an astonishing number of seiyuu in this show have alliterative names?) who seems to be able to see Misaki quite well, and has been around long enough for Reiko to note that “almost all” of the girls in her class were creeped out by him. Even more crucial this week is Kouichi’s hospital nurse Mizuno Sanae (Yoshida Seiko) who recommended horror writer John Saul to her young patient and acts as his mole when he asks for info about whether a girl had died at the hospital on the day he first encountered Mei. Indeed, Mizuno later tells Kouichi, a young girl had died – an “only daughter” whose parents were devastated, whose name was “Masaki, Misaki – something like that”). But there’s odd interference on the line and distant thunder despite it being a sunny day, and the connection is dropped.
We see this happening over and over – just as someone is about to go into greater detail with Kou-kun about the “curse” of Class 3, something interrupts. Several times it’s been Misaki appearing out of the corner of Kouichi’s eye, invariably causing him to follow her. Classmate Teshigawara-kun (Maeno Tomoaki) makes a comment about ending up in “Cursed Class 3” and is about to elaborate, much to Mochizuki’s dismay. Akazawa tells Kouichi that she’s sure she’s met him somewhere before, and seems about to elaborate further. It’s during this encounter that Kou spots Mei on her way home from school, and decides to follow her. She turns a corner and disappears, leaving Kou confused in front of a strange shop with a sign saying “The Hollow Blue Eyes of Yomi at Twilight”. This is Studio M, apparently a doll shop/museum, and an intrigued and unsettled Kou enters and meets the owner, a creepy old lady who remarks on how unusual it is to see a boy of Kouichi’s age inside.
It’s in Studio M that the climactic encounter of the episode takes place. The shop is an unusual place to say the least, and clearly the source of the doll stills that act as scene bridges in the anime. These are lifelike dolls, all looking distressed to some degree, and when the boy goes into the basement he sees a life-size doll in a coffin that immediately makes him think of Mei. He asks rhetorically what she’s doing there, and is horrified when he gets an answer – but it turns out to be Mei, previously unseen. She speaks of a pair of dolls she says are her favorites, as they look peaceful despite being attached. When Kou suggests that’s the reason why, she says no, it would make more sense for them to be calm if they were separated (there are many, many hints that some sort of duality is the key to the mystery of Misaki Mei). Mei then says she doesn’t find the dolls creepy like most people and asks Kou if he does (he says no) and remarks that the green-eyed doll in the coffin looks like her, but “Only half. Maybe less than that”. She reveals the doll’s other green eye, than asks Kou if he’d like to see what’s under her eyepatch, and proceeds to take it off…
I’m going to be very interested in seeing how the reaction to this show evolves, because it’s definitely not a traditional horror story (not yet anyway, and I suspect ever). I’m completely invested in the mystery, and I love the way Mochizuki-sensei is unraveling it slowly, keeping me on edge but not going over the top. While Another superficially seems cold – colder than Ghost Hound, hardly the warmest anime ever – I think it’s deceptively emotional, doing an exceptional job of worming the characters into the psyche and making me care about them. The dominant feeling I get, both from the show and Mei herself, isn’t fear but sadness. I think Ito Noizi’s vulnerable and childlike character designs work well for that reason in exactly the same way Oka Mariko’s designs did in Ghost Hound, providing an emotional connection and firing the protective instinct in the audience, and providing a contrast to the austere narrative style. It’s easy to see this as a classic Production I.G. show, the sort they used to be known for but haven’t done much of lately – psychologically intense, dark, intellectual and technically brilliant. And indeed they’re a collaborator on this show, as they and P.A. Works have collaborated on many series over the years released under the banner of one studio or the other. Another is the best show of the season so far, and an early candidate for best series of 2012.