[some stupid pun involving the word ‘another’]
So, the first volume of the Another novels came out last week from Yen Press, and I finished it a few days ago. I’d meant to do a review of it when I finished, but I’ve been hemming and hawing a bit since I’m not entirely settled on how I feel about it. I’d bought it partially in the hopes that its sales are good that Yen will turn its sights on Fuyumi Ono’s horror works, the tenuous connection being that the author of Another is Ono’s husband, Yukito Ayatsuji, but I also decided to give it a go as I was curious if the novels were more effective as horror than the anime had proven. To which I would say now… well, sort of.
For those of you who missed the anime, Another focuses around a middle schooler who finds himself living with his grandparents when his academic father lands a job in India, stranding said middle schooler in a large rural town at a far less prestigious school than to which he is accustomed. And, oh, lucky for him, he finds himself in an oddly-behaving class that completely ignores the existence of one of his classmates, Mei Misaki, who herself seems fairly untroubled by that fact, and who also actively discourages the lead from befriending her or even spending time around her. And then the people start dying.
I left out the name of our lead in this case because this is the most obvious difference between novel and anime – Sakakibara’s given name is “Seito” in the books, whereas it is the less offensive “Kouichi” in the anime. Less offensive? Well, as Seito Sakakibara is an explicit reference to a pair of murders of children in Kobe in 1997, yes, less offensive. Sakakibara specifically alludes to the matter and talks about how it affected how his classmates treated him, to an extent, in the text, and when his classmates shorten his surname to “Sakaki”, he figures that the incident is the exact reason.
Speaking of changes, shearing the soundtrack and the visuals away from the story does absolutely help – no sudden and obvious cutaways to CREEPY DOLLS because THIS IS CREEPY ISN’T IT? ISN’T IT? And when absurd things do happen, such as death by umbrella while falling downstairs, the description just doesn’t have the level of, “Wow, that’s really stupid.” that actually seeing it did. I’m more willing to accept how it happened, and I’m not laughing at it.
However… while the tone is dialed back from over-the-top, unfortunately the same underlying problem remains as the anime had – the underpinning is patently unbelievable. A cursed class where for more than half of the past twenty-six years massive amounts of students and their immediate family have died? Really? And its all been kept ultra-secret because only the members of the class and their teachers are allowed to know the truth? The narrative tries to come up with a magical plot device to keep the validity afloat – people forget the details after the year has passed! – but it feels desperate and cheap, only drawing more attention to the fact that the whole thing completely beggars belief. I would be far more willing to accept it if the original incident had happened six years ago, but twenty-six is just too much. I can’t accept that a bunch of fifteen year olds wouldn’t be telling their closest friends (“well, if I only tell so-and-so… they’re my closest friend, it doesn’t count!”), or that people wouldn’t start to stop sending their children to the school. Even if these parents were somehow wholly unaware of the why of the problem, or the exact outlines of the problem, if at least every other year lots of people associated with a particular class die, well, folks, you can bet enrollment would fall.
So this flaw in the story just nags and nags and nags as one reads. I kept reading, and I even enjoyed it to an extent, but I could never fully banish my inability to get past the flaw from my mind. If it weren’t for the fact that I like the characters, that the book is fairly decent otherwise, and that I’m curious to see if things derail as stupendously as they did in the anime, I would’ve stopped reading out of frustration long before the final page.
The characters really are the best part of the book, although its so far limited to our leads; Sakaki is a likeable lead, a boy who has some of the hallmarks of the dread milquetoast, but has the depth to avoid that pitfall. Sakaki begins the story having just suffered a collapsed lung for the second time, and his medical condition does have an affect on what he can and cannot do, but his nervousness over having a relapse surfaces when you would expect it to from a fifteen year old – after he has pushed himself too much, or when something traumatic occurs. It doesn’t stop him from chasing after answers, even when he does have a twinge of doubt as to the wisdom of his actions. And although Mei doesn’t get as much depth, as we don’t occupy her mind, her circumstances are curious enough early on, and the realities to some of those odder circumstances are later on darkly amusing enough to keep one’s focus. But I also truly enjoyed that her coldness wasn’t a sign of a person of extremes waiting to happen, but just a fairly level-headed and serious person in a situation most would feel was bad. With these two headlining the story, it was easy for me to keep reading.
The remainder of the cast is fairly undeveloped at this point; you can’t really like or dislike anyone since they haven’t had much time to make themselves known to the reader. The young nurse, Mizuno, who bonds with Sakaki over a shared love of horror, gets a bit more rendering, and I certainly liked her love of horror as well as the fact that she was presented as competent and curious. But the rest are currently one-liners – Reiko gets bad headaches. Mochizuki might have a crush on a teacher. Teshigawara is loud. Which, honestly, isn’t too much of an issue; as I said, our leading pair is certainly good enough that having the rest ill-defined at this point is fine.
Yen’s release is digital-only, and is available, at least, through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I read it on a Nook, and the only thing I noticed that is potentially bad is that my e-reader wasn’t terribly accurate about page counts – frequently, turning a page didn’t change the page number. This may simply be because I have a smaller e-reader, though. As for the product itself, the transliteration read generally fine, although early on there was a passage that was awkward and repeated the same word a few times in a case where it was distracting. It was the only one I noticed, though, and I’m pretty damn picky about that kind of thing, so I feel safe saying that the rest was perfectly fine.
So, do I recommend it? Well… well… sort of, I suppose. As I said, despite the gaping flaw at the heart of the book, it isn’t a bad book… but if you suspect such a thing would ruin your experience, well, obviously you should look elsewhere for your horror fix. I think this is probably best as a read for people who’ve already watched the anime or read the manga, as you’ll be better aware of what you’re getting yourself into and whether you can stand it or not. At the same time, prior knowledge also removes a lot of the tension from the story, since at least in this volume you’ll basically know what happens next at each stage of the narrative, so, maybe not for folks who’ve experienced the story before and want some sense of suspense! On the whole, I liked it, but I fault it very harshly for tripping up in such a big way. I guess its a damn good thing I like Sakaki and Mei a lot.