It’s very hard for a show with the kind of expectations I had for Another to live up to them, and after watching the premiere I have to say it didn’t. It surpassed them.
OP: “Kyoumu Densen” (凶夢伝染; Nightmare Contagion) by ALI PROJECT
Simply put, this was an outstanding effort all-around. It’s PA Works, so you know it’s going to look great, and you won’t be disappointed. Character designs and backgrounds are gorgeous, animation is fluid and natural, and the overall look of the series is hauntingly beautiful. That’s not an accidental choice of words here, as PA combines their usual mastery of color with some interesting muted schemes and use of shadows to help create the pervasive tone of dread that pervades the entire episode. Director Mizushima Tsutomu has put the nightmare of Blood-C behind him, and appears to be back to his usual stellar form.
People are calling this a horror series, but I suspected it would be more mystery/suspense than horror, and that’s the vibe I got from the first episode. From the minute ninth-grader Sakakibara Kouichi (Abe Atsushi) moves to his late mother’s home town, it’s obvious that something is terribly wrong. He’s laid up in the hospital with a collapsed lung, for starters, where he’s visited by three classmates – Akazawa Izumi (Yonezawa Madoka), Kazami Tomohiko (Ichiki Mitsuhiro) and Sakuragi Yukari (Nonoka Ai). They’re quite a glum trio, and seem very interested in whether Kouichi-kun has ever lived in Yomiyama before (he swears he hasn’t). When he meets a fourth Yami North student, a pale girl with an eyepatch who introduces herself as Misaki Mei (Natsumi Takamori) in the hospital elevator, things get even weirder. Mei takes the elevator to the sub-basement (where the morgue is) and says she has to make a delivery to her “poor other half”.
The sense of wrongness here is certainly not subtle, nor is it trying to be – it permeates every frame of the ep, and writer Ayatsuji Yukito – a legendary “neo-orthodox” horror novelist and husband of fellow legend Ono Fuyumi – isn’t trying to disguise that something terrible happened here. The intro tells us that a pretty and popular girl named Misaki died 26 years ago, and the story is set in 1998. Kouichi is told that his name is “linked with death” by Mei when he meets her again on the roof on his first day at school – during which meeting she also informs him that his Class 3-3 is “close to death” and warns him not to try and get close to her. Sickness and ill fortune seem to follow the class – a fellow student has a heart condition, Sakuragi has a bandaged ankle and Akazawa is out sick. While just what’s happened isn’t clear, it’s obvious that the Kouichi is caught up in something he doesn’t understand at all, and it’s something nasty.
I love all the odd little touches that contribute to the disquiet we feel. The crows who appear on the roof behind Mei. The fact that Kouichi’s grandmother and grandfather are heard but their faces never seen (significant?). The sound design helps too, mostly chilling silence with occasional snippets of spare and austere BGM, and strange and jarring bouts of static. Mizushima-sensei gives us quick cuts to dolls in various states of distress (Mei is carrying such a doll when Kouichi meets her in the elevator). The only series I can compare this to in term of feel is Ghost Hound, because of the beautiful visuals and stunning sound but also because rather than gore and violence, both shows mostly rely on keeping the audience unsettled and unsure. This is horror, of a sort, but true psychological horror.
I’m not ready to guess what the true situation here is yet, but I’m on pins and needles to find out. Kouichi can clearly see Mei, who seems very obviously to be dead – but can no one else see her, or are they merely pretending not to? The timing of events is interesting – I’d thought Kouichi’s Mom or Dad might have been involved in the 1985 incident with Mei, but the timing really doesn’t fit. I assume the Grandparents are her parents, as she was obviously born and raised in Yomiyama, and the father is absent, travelling in India as part of his job as a college professor. We know that Kouichi’s Mom has died in circumstances dire enough to make her father tremble and cry when he talks about “that” happening to her – but no details yet. It seems as if things took a supernatural turn when another student referred to Mei being “still here” – and hereafter the school acted as if she weren’t dead, leaving her desk untouched and even making a place for her at graduation. But did the comment spur the haunting, or was it in response to it?
I haven’t been this excited about a premiere for a while – Another looks as if it has the chance to be really, really good. PA Works does have a history of starting out gangbusters and having trouble finishing a series, but the fact that this is based on a highly acclaimed novel should give us some protection against a significant drop in quality. It was obvious from the staff involved that the potential for greatness was here, and it appears that the story is up to the challenge. The cast isn’t full of huge names, but they’re pretty much spot-on across the board – subdued and pensive performances that match the story and visuals. In short, there’s no reason whatsoever why this shouldn’t be one of the best series of 2012. That doesn’t mean it will be, but at this point I wouldn’t bet against it.
ED: “anamnesis” by Annabel