Review: Another - Or how to make horror worth watching / by shadebug

shot0008.png

You’re a horror fan, Yamishibai’s over, Pupa’s been held back until next season and Diabolik Lovers is one of the worst shows of all time. However will you get your fix? If only somebody could release a show on DVD or BD in the interim that could satiate your needs. Turns out you might be in luck.

Lately I’ve been getting to review shows that I regretted dropping once upon a time. This time round was the turn of Another, coming to DVD on the 25th of November. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Story

I’m going to try and not spoil this but the nature of the show makes just about everything a spoiler. Sakakibara Koichi moves back to his mother’s home town and joins a particular class at school. That class has an interesting tale to tell about a previous generation where a student died and the class decided to just pretend it never happened. In the graduation photo for that year, the dead student was in it. Ever since then, that class has been closer to death.

OK, from the story side you’re looking at a horror mystery. It starts off as just straight up suspense with people mysteriously dying in a very Final Destination style. As it progresses we start to understand what’s happening and it becomes a mystery to work out why it’s all happening and find a way to stop or avoid it. All of that is then neatly rounded off in a gruesome finale.

And now spoilers, the artistry section is just down there if you don’t want them.

Those damned spoilers

Those damned spoilers

Initially it just looks like a gruesome ghost/curse story. People keep dying and they die in terrible and ridiculous ways. There’s also a member of the class who seems to be the student that died all those years ago but only Sakakibara can see her.

While this is all we know we see Sakakibara become friends with her, the class ostracise him for seemingly consorting with ghosts and people dying all the damned time. This is great for the first few episodes but is a formula that could get tired very quickly. Luckily, they soon switch it up.

Before long we discover that the ghost girl, Misaki, isn’t a ghost at all. Every year the class has one student too many and that student is actually a dead person. The problem is that there’s no way of knowing who the dead student is. There is, however, a way of preventing the deaths and that is just ignoring a student to even out the numbers. Problem is that nobody told Sakakibara and he didn’t ignore her, so everybody started dying.

The first disc ends on a real knife edge.

The first disc ends on a real knife edge.

Soon after we learn this, the show changes tack. Instead of being just having no knowledge and waiting for deaths to happen, we get the whole story and it becomes an investigation to determine how to stop it. This culminates in discovering what’s actually happening and, long story short, in the discovery that the only way to stop the deaths once they begin is to kill the dead student. The problem with that is that when nobody can tell who the dead student is then you just get everybody murdering the heck out of each other for the most spurious of reasons.

That finale of the whole class at each other’s throats and then the eventual resolution is probably the weak link of the story in that the resolution comes from Misaki. Misaki only has one eye and the other is a doll’s eye. Dolls, being hollow, attempt to absorb the soul and, as such, looking using the dolls eye means that she can see death (or at least that’s what I understood). So the tricky bit is why she didn’t immediately ID the dead class member. The show gives us various excuses but they do feel a bit weak.

The other annoyance with the resolution is that nobody actually solves it, which is especially annoying because they took the effort of leaving clues throughout the show as to what was happening. I spotted a lot of them but never put them together in any meaningful way, and it’s a pretty neat twist.

The point is that this is both horror and mystery done right. It avoids the Shiki problem of having too much scene setting and making the first half boring for the sake of developing characters and it avoids the Heaven’s Memo Pad problem of just forgetting about solving the mysteries (and letting the audience join in by giving them enough clues) by having solved mysteries reveal new ones. So I’m a fan.

Artistry

Let’s get this right immediately. This show has a whole lot of dying, mostly in terrible and often ridiculous ways. Very rarely does it ever turn the camera away so if you enjoy seeing a whole lot of blood happen then you may well be right at home here.

If there were one image to sum up the whole show, this would not be it

If there were one image to sum up the whole show, this would not be it

Outside of that though, this is a very well put together piece of work. Although the scenery is very well done and everything about each scene reeks of atmosphere, what really impressed me was the fact that background characters always have something to do. All too often shows will just not bother doing any more than the bare minimum of work to give background characters business, but here you’ll often see them getting up to do things in the background and generally fleshing out the whole experience.

There’s also substantial creep, accentuated by the creepy doll motif that runs through the whole thing. This is intermingled with lots of foreboding, lots of seeing things that may or may not become ways for people to die and you just have to wait and see how it’s going to roll out. You might say it ruins the experience when you see a particular object being all ominous and the like, but I find it builds the suspense to know how it’s going to be used.

So kawaii

So kawaii

Though the scenery is gorgeous, the soundtrack is equally appropriate.The music and the sound effects throughout are precisely chosen and really invoke that classic horror movie vibe that you’re looking for when you come into something like this.

The really refreshing bit, however, is that there’s no fan service outside of the gore. They have a beach episode and it never gets remotely salacious. They have a hot, young teacher and they say “she’s hot and she has killer style." The characters are an even mix of boys and girls and those characters are well rounded. Admittedly there are some throwaway characters in there who only get screen time to die (some of the deaths do start to feel like parodies of themselves), but apparently we can’t have everything be perfect. 

Translation

We know I’m not a fan of subs but Sentai Filmworks keep throwing the same rogues gallery of VAs at their licenses and they’re back again. I will freely admit that I didn’t bother watching more than a few minutes in English because it just grates, spends too much time trying to lip-sync and makes everybody's names sound ridiculous. Perhaps people who enjoy dubs would think it’s pretty decent but I don’t, so we’ll leave it at that.

As for the subs, they’re not bad at all. They’re even so kind as to not bother with the honorifics and I never noticed it causing any glaring problems. In fact, there’s only one issue I had with the sub and that was the single translator note that the show had. A translator note explaining who Damien is. I understand that people may not have seen the Omen but, as ever, the Japanese would have been in the exact same boat so it should be up to the watcher to have enough horror nous to get the reference.

The more you know...

The more you know...

DVD

You know what? This came very close to actually having worthwhile extras on it. The trailers were separated out so you could watch the ones you care about, the clean opening and ending were in there and there’s only one of each so it works nicely and there was even another special feature on there. At first I thought it would be a documentary, then I thought it was a chibi special episode, but then it turned out it was just a music video. It’s a nice music video, to be sure, but it’s by no means a reason to buy a DVD.

I'm thinking there's demand for a chibi web series

I'm thinking there's demand for a chibi web series

As for the rest of it, I liked the sub formatting. It was nowhere near the quality we saw with K-On! but it did make different speakers have different colour subs if they spoke at the same time and it did put the translations for written things at the right height on the screen. You might think that’s nothing impressive but, when compared to some of the stuff I’ve been watching, it’s mana from heaven. They were even kind enough to alternate between subbing and karaokeing the theme songs.

Despite all that good stuff, however, this one managed some pretty standard mistakes. Firstly we have the English language credits as a big silent scroll on a black background after the real credits. A lot of DVDs do this and it is by far the best way anybody has ever devised of ruining the flow of a marathon session. The other problem is with those trailers I mentioned. Though they were trailers for some great shows, they were clearly for a US audience (with such telltale lines as “coming soon to the US") and were even so kind as to suggest that we watch one of the shows by logging onto a website that British audiences can’t access. It’s that last bit that really exposes the fact that MVM have very little involvement in making these DVDs and they just leave it to Sentai.

Conclusion

This is a great show. If you like horror, gore and mystery then you really have to be watching this. That said, the DVD is pedestrian as ever and a show of this calibre deserves the BD that MVM doesn’t appear to have given it.

Had they put the effort in this could have been the perfect addition to anybody’s bookshelf, but instead it just gets a very respectable

★★★★☆

4/5 Stars

So while you enjoy the spoilertastic gallery below the buying link, I’m off to see what else is on. 

Another: Collection [DVD]
£19.50
Mvm Entertainment