Another

Another

For today’s review, I’m going to be taking a look at Another by Yukito Ayatsuji. Another was first published in Japan in 2009. Unlike the light novels that Nick reviews which are often adapted from another medium, Another was originally serialised in Yasai Jidai before being published as two separate volumes. It has since been followed by a sequel novel titled Another: Episode S (and a second sequel has recently been announced) and adapted into a manga, anime and live action film. For the purpose of this review I will be reading the English translation, which was published in 2014 and collects both volumes.

In 1972, tragedy struck Yomiyama North Middle School when a student by the name of Misaki was killed in a tragic accident. In order to raise spirits and honour his memory, the rest of the class decide to spend the rest of the year pretending that he is still alive. When graduation rolls on and a class photograph is taken, they are all shocked to find that the picture clearly shows Misaki standing with the rest of the group as though he was still a part of the class.

Twenty-six years have passed and Koichi Sakakibara has just moved to Yomiyama to live with his Grandparents while his father is away on business. He is enrolled at North Yomi and finds himself placed in Class 3. While he initially dismisses some of the strange things he hears as small-town superstition, he quickly begins to see that there is something wrong with his class. Everyone acts as though they are afraid of something but no one will tell him exactly what it is.

Things become stranger still when he meets Mei Misaki, an odd girl who spends most of her time skipping class. Although Sakakibara is pretty sure that she’s real, none of the other students speak to her or even acknowledge her existence. Soon, people around him begin to die and Sakakibara discovers the terrible Curse of Class 3. When he comes to learn that the curse has been broken once before, Sakakibara makes it his mission to find out how before anyone else can suffer.

Before I begin today’s review, I’d just like to say thank-you. This post marks the 150th review on this blog and that certainly would not have been possible without the lot of you. Everyone who followed me, everyone who posted or emailed me books, everyone who’s ever commented or given me feedback on a review. Thank you all for your endless to support. I hope to be able to bring you many more critical reviews of young adult novels in the future.

With that out of the way, I will start this review with a word of warning. Although many of the deaths occur off page, there are a couple of pretty gruesome scenes and so it’s probably not the novel for you if you’re squeamish. I also feel that I should note that this book seems a pretty direct translation and so makes reference to many aspects of Japanese culture (including naming conventions, funeral rituals and even some references to real crime cases) which may go over the heads of some Western readers. I’m not saying this to put you off the story, just bear in mind that this novel contains no glossary so you may have to Google a few terms to further your understanding (I know I did).

Reviewing the collected volume of Another is actually quite difficult because it varied quite sharply in quality. While the first volume is well translated (if a little melodramatic at times) and does keep up an air of mystery, it felt way too long. I know that Japanese horror stories tend to be less about the jump scares than American ones but, even with this in mind, Another seemed to really drag. The length that fate went to in order to prevent Sakakibara from learning about the curse was quite incredible. Phones rang, characters interrupted each other, people got impaled on umbrellas (yes, this actually happens in what was possibly the most unlikely accident ever put to paper). For almost two hundred pages of novel, Sakakibara fails to uncover the secrets of Yomiyama over and over while people get increasingly angry at him for not knowing things that he’s never been told.

To make matters worse the first volume ends very abruptly, pretty much as soon as Sakakibara finally gets a handle one exactly what’s going on. For this reason, I would probably recommend buying the paperback of this novel rather than the eBooks (which are split into two volumes) as the first novel is not great when read in isolation.

However, the story really did find its feet and become very exciting in its second half. As the true nature of the Curse is finally revealed, Sakakibara is able to invest more time into trying to find a way to break it before anyone he cares about can meet and unpleasant end. The Curse itself is just fantastically presented. You may notice that I’m not going into any real detail here. That’s because you really must read these twists for yourself.

I love how everything that they really know about the Curse comes from Mr. Chibiki’s diligent observations over the years. There is so much open for interpretation and so many aspects that are left unexplained. Some people describe this story as being a ghost story and in a way that’s true but it’s not really in the same vein as popular Japanese ghost stories like Ringu. Chibiki insists on calling the Curse a “paranormal event” which is much closer to the truth. It is merely a reoccurring sequence of events that no one can explain. Even Sakakibara wonders how many of the deaths are actually just coincidences. While some of the happenings are clearly supernatural (especially the ones that occur over the novel’s climax), many more could merely just be very nasty accidents.

The final twist of the novel is certainly unique, though I can’t decide whether I like it or not. I watched the anime of Another first and so did know what was coming. Because of this, I can say that there are small hints throughout the story. However, I’m not sure if it’s enough. Sakakibara is an incredibly unreliable narrator and it’s really for the flimsiest reasons. He’s always perfectly honest with the reader except for about one thing and that thing is purely to conceal the twist. It’s either genius or terrible – I personally think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the book first but please let me know what you think.

In terms of characterisation, this book had a very large cast and it wasn’t always easy to remember who was who. Several of the characters had similar names – Mikami, Mizuno, Misaki (first name), Misaki (surname) – and so I sometimes found myself confusing some of the incidental characters. Essentially many of Sakakibara’s classmates are unimportant to the plot. He has a couple of close friends who get a little more page time but most are just either filling the background or there to die.

The real focus of the story is on Sakakibara and Misaki (Mei). I felt that Ayatsuji did a really good job at fleshing out both of these characters. As the narrator, Sakakibara’s feelings always came across very strongly. We feel is scepticism, confusion and doubt throughout the story. His reactions to the horrible things that he encounters always seem believable, as does his depression as he comes to believe that he could have done more to prevent the accidents.

Similarly, as the character that Sakakibara interacts with the most, Misaki is very well fleshed out. Although she started off seeming like a very weak character – always speaking in a Gothic and flowery way which left you wondering if she was a ghost – her presence grew a lot stronger as the story progressed. As her past is slowly revealed, her behaviour at the beginning of the novel begins to make a lot more sense and she becomes a very loyal and capable friend for Sakakibara. I also praise Misaki for her strength of will – she plays an active role in the climax and is fully prepared to make terrible sacrifices for the greater good.

Sorry, this review is starting to run long and so I’ll wrap it up. While Another was slow burning and occasionally frustrating to read, it did maintain an air of mystery throughout and contained some decent twists and memorable characters. While I personally think it worked better as an anime, I did enjoy reading this novel as a whole and would recommend it to horror fans who are looking for something a little different.

The collected edition of Another can be purchased as a Paperback on Amazon.co.uk

You can also buy the two volumes separately in eBook format [here] and [here]

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Another Episode S/O | Arkham Reviews

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