Another is a horror anime based on Yukito Ayatsuji’s 2009 novel of the same name. It’s currently streaming at Crunchyroll, and at only twelve episodes it’s the perfect series to get you in the Halloween spirit. It’s smart, lovely, and genuinely scary, with an unexpected puzzle at its heart that helps the series merit multiple viewings. You’ll want to watch this with the lights off, and then you’ll want to turn them all on again so you can make a map of all the characters – the living, the dead, and the ones you’re not so sure about.
Another is the story of Koichi Sakikabara, a ninth-grader from Tokyo who arrives in his mother’s rural hometown to stay with his aunt and maternal grandparents while his dad does work in India. Sakikabara-kun’s mother died fifteen years ago shortly after his birth, but people in town still remember her. It’s a pretty classic horror setup (urbanite arrives in rural community; deals with supernatural menace), and the series casts it in the “new kid at school” mould that’s popular among anime premises. Sakakibara is a nice kid: he reads a lot of horror novels, minds his elders, and is kind and polite to the nurse who’s watched over him for the past few weeks. You see, Sakakibara has been in the hospital, almost since he got into town. It’s there that he meets Mei Misaki, a quiet girl around his age who wears an eyepatch and carries an unfinished doll down to the hospital’s morgue, claiming it’s a “present” for “a friend.” Sakakibara is instantly fascinated, especially when he sees Misaki in his classroom later.
The problem? No one else seems to see her.
Now, I know what you’re saying: “Obviously, Misaki is a ghost.” Well, you’re wrong. She’s not.
It’s so much worse—so much weirder—than that.
While it’s true that Another is a ghost story, it’s a very peculiar kind of ghost story that functions more like a mystery or a riddle – one that unfolds slowly and deliciously over the first three episodes or so before ramping up to a heartstopping conclusion. To describe that mystery in great detail would be to give one of the best plot twists away, but I can say that the mystery at the heart of Another strikes the same chords that all the best ghost stories do. It’s a story that’s as much about how we treat the living as it is about what the dead might want from us, and it manages to reinterpret “haunting” in a new and interesting way. Too often, ghost stories are about the forgotten dead. This story is about what happens when you try too hard to remember.
In this regard, the story is also about how Japanese schools work. Another worked for me in part because I had read Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, by Michael Zielenziger. In it, Zielenziger chronicles the evolution of the hikikomori (recluse) and links it to a culture of bullying and shunning among junior high and high school students, coupled with an alarming trend toward undiagnosed depression. This isn’t at all necessary for enjoying Another, but I found that some understanding of the unique (and potentially toxic) social dynamics of Japanese schools deepened my appreciation for the series. Bullying is bad enough, but in Another it takes on an entirely different and more terrifying power.
But intellectual matters aside, the series is also just plain creepy. It moves at a slow pace that relishes its atmosphere, and both that pacing at its rural setting reminded me a great deal of Twin Peaks. Like that series, it also focuses on the history of a small town as seen through the eyes of an outsider. In this respect it’s also a lot like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (Higurashi: When They Cry), a horror game (turned anime turned manga turned transmedia franchise) about a small town living with the reality of a demon’s curse.
It’s pretty bloody, too. One aspect of the “calamity” (or haunting) that afflicts Sakakibara’s class is the death of at least one person related to the class per month, and as the body count rises, the deaths get more inventive. The series is so good at infusing even the smallest moments with suspense that tiny, simple activities like running down stairs or passing a van on the freeway become chances to hold your breath. This is also what made Final Destination work, the first time around: you knew a fatal accident was bound to happen, and figuring out how was half the gruesome fun. But unlike Final Destination, the gore in Another never takes center stage. It’s just intense enough to make the calamity something to be feared. Personally, I found it to be a proper balance. There’s a lot of plot going on in the rest of the series, so the gore never feels like a cheap shortcut to emotion. Moreover, the violence never seems sexualized: buttons don’t pop off, skirts don’t ride up, no one dies in their underwear. It would have been easy to make this a fanservice horror anime, with plenty of panstu shots and what have you, but the series never goes there. It’s a nice change.
The bottom line is that if you like your ghost stories slow and smart, Another is for you. In re-watching it for this piece, I found myself enjoying the mystery even more a second time. The clues really are there, if you watch carefully. Happy hunting!
Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her debut novel, vN, is now available from Angry Robot Books.