Another was one of those series which had me waiting eagerly for Mondays to arrive and wishing that the weekend would end sooner. For twelve weeks, it was my priority above all else to watch this amazing series, and to be honest, I'm already awaiting the release of the OVA in May. If I had to say what makes it so incredible, I would cite the short series length, the clever plot with a brilliant resolution, and outstanding animation as the main contributing factors, although the promise of blood will probably be enough for most people to decide whether this show is for them or not. Although the violence means that this is not for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach), I would nevertheless wholeheartedly recommend watching it, as it is well worth your time.
Have you heard of Tantalus? (No, a knowledge of Greek mythology is not essential to watch Another, I am simply at my wits' end with trying to describe the story without giving anything away). Tantalus was a man condemned by the gods to eternity in the underworld, immersed to the neck in a pool of water which he could not drink from, and underneath a tree laden with fruit which he could not reach, no matter how hard he tried. Now, if this is not too swift and broad a leap, this is how the storyline of Another will make you feel; every time you seem to be tantalisingly close to the answer, a new development occurs, and you have to start all over again. This series never goes where you expect it to, but it manages this without being a particularly complicated story, which is quite an achievement. I've read and watched many mystery stories, and I have found that nothing ruins the story more than confusion caused by an overloaded storyline and a huge ensemble of characters. Here, it is simple: one tightly-written, carefully thought out storyline involving a relatively small number of characters, which proves surprisingly durable as a twelve episode series, having avoided the trap of the same cliff-hanger ending every time; they always manage to throw in a new and interesting variation. The resolution of the storyline was amazing; it managed to bring all the strands of information which we had gleaned and wrap everything up in a style which was paced exactly right; fast, but not hurried or rushed. I certainly didn't see the final twist coming- not many people did- but it was masterful. It was also the most emotional moment of the series; even those of you who have laughed like maniacs throughout the entire series will suddenly become sombre during the final five minutes. Being mindful of the strict limits on what I can actually say about its specifics, I shall merely say that it was a perfect ending to a brilliant series.
The art is simply beautiful. This might actually be quite near the top in terms of the best series I have ever seen art-wise. The characters aren't that different from any other series, but the backgrounds are amazingly well defined; they really are just bliss to watch. The art mostly depicts death, lots and lots of death, with some dismemberment and impending doom thrown in. In almost every scene, there's a sense of decay, everything looks decrepit and rusty, the buildings look deserted, and there's gratuitous use of deep, dark reds wherever possible. If it's outdoors, there are crows perched on the roofs, looking hungry. If it's indoors, like the hospital, then the lights are dim and flickering occasionally (and for the provision of information to those who have watched the hospital scenes and noticed the missing fourth floor, it's because four in Japanese is either 'shi' or 'yon', depending on the context, and 'shi' can also mean 'death', so they tend to avoid using four when numbering things, like we do with thirteen. Right, fun fact session over). The use of dolls, often missing limbs, is prevalent (whether they're scary or hilarious just depends on the viewer) and appears to have more significance to the storyline than I originally thought. And every so often, in case you haven't got the message, there's a split-second image of a blood-stained knife which is lying on the floor. I mean, what could possibly happen next? (This was intentionally ironic. For those of you who don't get irony, just assume that this means it was hilarious). To sum up, the art sets up the atmosphere perfectly.
Of course, we can't leave out the sound, as this is key (bad musical pun; I apologise) to the aforementioned atmosphere. From the start, the music creates a sense of eeriness, from simple melodies to electronic effects and string sections. As difficult as it is to describe, I would like you to imagine a full orchestra having a psychedelic freakout (think of that section of A Day in the Life) with a hair-raising selection of electronic hums and whines added, and then multiply that by about ten. That's about what it's like (or as best as I can put it into words). The music never quite goes away, unlike in other, lighter series; it drops right down to a few notes on a piano, but still gives you the sense that something's always just about to happen. The opening has some weird and unsettling vocal melodies going on, creating tension, stress, and suspense. But after a few episodes, I'll express a preference for the ending theme; it proves that strong vocals and a few chords on a piano are more effective than the aural blitzkrieg which we are usually subjected to, and it brings a sense of peace and serenity to the end of the episode. Basically, the soundtrack works perfectly with what's on screen.
Now, the characters; obviously, we know very little about any of them right up until the end, otherwise it wouldn't be a mystery, would it? They're all quite weird and unusual, and they're all either ruthlessly blunt or very obviously trying to avoid certain topics of conversation. As you can imagine, this makes the dialogue quite awkward. Kouichi Sakakibara, our horror story loving main character, seems to have more than half a clue what's going on, which makes a nice change from the average clueless/in denial character in the horror genre. Although it cannot be denied that he is of that genus most favoured by scriptwriters lacking inspiration, the transfer student, he does actually get some background to why he transferred. Mei Misaki develops a bit from the 'weird loner' presented in the first episode to someone who is frustrated by their situation and yet cannot change it. While near-silent and emotionless girls seem to be very common at the moment, I can promise that there is more to Mei than being a mere tribute to consumer demand. If you have watched only a few episodes, she might seem a bizarre person, but she becomes more understandable as the series progresses. Izumi Akazawa, the class representative, is blunt to the point of being rude, but is quite the deceiver and manipulator behind the scenes, as it later turns out. Reiko, who was at first glance a stereotypical 'ridiculously youthful, kind and caring female relative', turns out to have quite a temper, and appears to have a few secrets. In a sentence: don't judge them too soon.
If you are still with me (and it's quite likely if you are indeed reading this sentence), I recommend you go and watch Another now. It's only a few hours out of your spare time and you really have nothing to lose except a night's sleep if you are easily scared. If you are going to watch it, I can recommend watching it at midnight, it's surprisingly good fun (if your idea of 'fun' is the same as mine, that is). Personally, I reckon that from a fairly dull season, Another will come to shine as easily the best new release this season, and possibly one of the better of the year.