Koichi is a boy who has moved from Tokyo to spend the school year in Yomiyama. Unfortunately, there is a terrible secret related to his class. 26 years ago a popular student passed away and to cope with the loss the class made a game of pretending he was still there. The ghost of the student accepted the invitation and appeared in the photographs of the graduating class. Ever since then a door to the lands of the dead has been open to the 9th grade class 3.
After the start of every school year, an extra student arrives; Another. This student is the incarnate ghost of a local who died violently or under mysterious circumstances. The trouble is that having a dead person in the class room brings death closer to all of the other students while the ghost is among them. The students and their families and close friends are all in danger of death by horrible accidents or unpredictable madness. The curse also causes memories to become confused so that no one is able to identify the ghost and even the ghost doesn’t realize that she is already dead.
Over the years several attempts have been made to thwart the curse (such as renaming the classes) but the only effective means of evading the calamities has been to “make room” for the ghost by choosing a student whom everyone will ignore, a student who will not exist for the year. This satisfies the ghost and prevents the death and destruction that would otherwise occur.
Koichi joins the class late owing to illness and misses the briefing about curses, ghosts, and the nonexistent student. His classmates hem and haw, and before they can warn him, Koichi decides that he wants to be friends with Mei, the silent creepy girl with an eyepatch who always sits by herself. Obviously, he has chosen this year’s nonexistent to be his pal and his actions will ruin the countermeasures that prevent the curse. Or has he?
The story twists its way through many horror concepts including human dolls, parental neglect, doppelgangers, and the secret connections that Koichi has to the history of the town. As Koichi explores these mysteries, the calamity proceeds and the body count grows. Slowly the tale changes into a weird whodunnit as the students try to find who is really the ghost among them.
With the emphasis on slowly. That is the downfall of the series.
The story of Another is that of a novel stretched to cover an entire 13 episode series. Sub-plots are introduced but as they are dropped or fade into obscurity it becomes obvious that they were just to provide padding. Even at the story’s climax, with a hotel burning to the ground around them and the panicked students turning on one another in desperation, our protagonists amble slowly through the carnage and ask one another halting questions that are answered One. Syl. La. Ble. At. A. Time. so that there is opportunity for an interruption that will prolong the events of the story into yet another episode.
The cast is sizable, with a core group of 6 students and another dozen incidental characters drifting in and then meeting a grisly end. Even with this large group of teenagers and high school “classifications” to explore, huge amounts of time are devoted to Koichi and Mei who are the most bland of the cast. Mei is pale, dresses in black, her eyepatch covers an artificial eye of a mismatched color with her natural eye and she never speaks in anything more than a whisper. Even if there were no curse, I expect that the rest of the class would ignore her to death anyway. Koichi is sufficiently clueless to prolong the plot; never picking up on a hint from the girls who might actually be interested in him and trailing after the most damaged girl in town, fascinated by how absolutely f-ed up she is.
In their limited time the other characters do manage to grow beyond being “the nerd, the jock, and the tough girl,” though some remain one-dimensional. The characters are all well treated and the story and animation actively avoid any sexualization of the teenage cast, going to far as to defy the laws of physics to keep a skirt in place during one student’s death plunge. One male character has some feminine mannerisms but he is never stereotyped and his orientation remains a non-issue.
The art is well done though some characters become ambiguous in appearance, so that you can only tell them apart by hairstyles and eye color. As the story comes to involve elements of mistaken identity, the ambiguity may even be intended as a feature. Animation remains consistently good throughout the series, showing the budget was well planned to prevent any drop in quality near the end of production. There are some flashes of animated brilliance reserved for the death scenes and even a brief dance number. Early in the series scene transitions are punctuated by insert shots to dolls in elaborate dresses and inhuman poses but this device drops out partway through the series and is never really explained.
Watching subtitled, I found the Japanese voice actors good, though the typical “tough guy” teenager always sounds like he’s been held back about 5 years and Mei’s only direction is to be gloomy so there’s little to expect from her. Music features the suitably creepy soundscapes of weirdly altered and electronic instrument sounds and long sustained tones pad out the cavernous gaps between the character’s lines of dialog.
If the show were not so glacial in story progression I would be able to recommend it for its consistently good art, creepy atmosphere and brutal kills. As it is though, you’re probably better off looking for the live-action movie; short-form media will force the writers to abandon the constant cliff-hanger and shocker endings of the episodes.