Final Destination meets the Six Sense in this Japanese horror-mystery novel.
Story: Yukito Ayatsuji
Translation/Adaptation: Karen McGillicuddy
What They Say
In the spring of 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School. In class, he develops a sense of unease as he notices that the people around him act like they’re walking on eggshells, and students and teachers alike seem frightened. As a chain of horrific deaths begin to unfold around him, he comes to discover that he has been placed in the cursed Class 3 in which the student body head count is always one more than expected. Class 3 is haunted by a vengeful spirit responsible for gruesome deaths in an effort to satisfy its spite. To stop the vicious cycle gripping his new school, Koichi decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but is he prepared for the horror that lies ahead…?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Superstition can be a powerful thing.
Another is an interesting choice for a localization. Japanese horror stories have been mined for years by Hollywood, adapted and reworked, but not so much their written counterparts. The Another anime garnered a loyal fan base when it was released and Yen Press decided to bring over the manga and the novel that inspired it.
The story is broken into two parts, the first on identifying the horror at hand and the second focused on trying to find a way to make the tragedy stop. We follow Koichi as he encounters the odd situation in Class 3 and befriends a girl who is both there and yet not. Koichi lampshades his the whole situation with his interest in horror novels, and his potential demise with his lung condition. He is a walking specter of death, and yet a still a normal kid navigating a surreal and violent horror story as it unfolds around him.
And what a horror it is. He finds himself staying with his grandparents for a year as the newest member of North Yomiyama’s Class 3. He starts the school year out sick with a collapsed lung relapse, but isn’t concerned with high school entrance exams because he’ll be returning to a Tokyo to attend a private high school. That leaves him free to form, or not form, any attachment to his mother’s home town.
Almost as soon as he arrives it becomes apparent that things aren’t what they seem. A girl who attends class with him, Mei, is ignored by all other classmates. Koichi becomes fascinated by her and attempts to reach out to the reclusive girl, even as his behavior startles his classmates. Questions to others about what is going on go unanswered, until the first horrific death occurs.
What unravels after that is a tale which entwines superstition and ghost story with a natural disaster that seems beyond anyone’s control. It’s a genuine curse and a mystery, where asking too many questions might break the collectively held breath of ritual developed to appease the phenomena. Koichi throws caution and fear to the wind to ask the questions, and is eventually rewarded with a very uncomfortable truth. No one seems to know how to stop the disastrous untimely deaths from occurring each month, and the few tactics that have worked in the past are failing this year. No one close to Class 3 is safe. After that it’s a race against time to find a way to avert more deaths, and perhaps find a way to break the curse once and for all.
While never particularly heart-stopping, there are descriptions of gore but it’s hard to convey the almost comical deaths some characters face in text, there is a feeling of helplessness about the whole story. Death can and did strike for these characters, loosing a particularly great character early on to the curse drove home the idea that several main side characters were likely not going to make it through to the end alive. I never felt that Koichi himself was in danger, despite his lingering medical condition. At some point the horror falls away and I became engrossed in the mystery of who the ‘casualty’ was, and if Koichi and Mei would find a way to stop more people from dying. There was one moment where the tension felt real, during the search for evidence of how to stop the deaths. As Koichi and friends roamed around a closed school building searching abandoned rooms, trying to finish the task before sunset I found myself waiting for the horror to descend on them.
Eventually the final pieces of the puzzle fall into place. I guessed the ‘casualty’ correctly sometime before the end of the story, but not from the clues left by the author and more from a gut feeling. He does leave plenty of clues, and there are several good fake-outs along the way. Koichi’s final confrontation with the cause of that years curse is a psychological jolt that could make any reader sympathize with the split second decision he’s forced to make.
The story isn’t without it’s flaws however. The school goes to some lengths to stop the tragedy from reoccurring, but you have to wonder why they didn’t just close the whole school down. I guess you could make an argument that fear is the driving factor behind their actions, and that their unwillingness to discuss the tragedy will somehow cause it not to worsen. Then there is the ultimate cause that the classes and students have narrowed the continuing deaths down to. It would have been more powerful to keep the horror eldritch and undefined, but the intrusive static grounds the horror in physical space. It takes away from the potential that the phenomena is untouchable and lessens the impact of it’s horror. (There’s also an interesting point made with the cell phone usage by the lead and his friends, because to an American reader that struck me as anachronistic. Until I remembered Japan was ahead of the US in cell phone technology and adoption rates for a long time. I knew one friend with a cell phone in 98, and it was because her father was an IT guy.) The other part is that Koichi seems oddly detached from the events he’s relaying until the final chapter. If I saw half of the carnage that he witnessed or heard of first hand I would have probably broken down.
Yen Press originally released the Another digital only a few years ago before demand was enough to do a hardcover release. I’m glad they did, because it might meet with an audience that would have otherwise overlooked the book. The novel closes out with an afterword by the author, in which he does note Final Destination as at least a partial inspiration. That’s followed by a ‘Analysis’ by Sei Hatsuno that is perhaps a bit too glowing in it’s praise of the author. The translation by Karen McGillicuddy reads smoothly and naturally, and should be easily accessible to anyone even if they aren’t familiar with Japanese culture or language. Although I’m left wondering one thing about the choice of using bold text in the narrative. At first I thought the bolded words might have been hinting at clues or something, but in the end determined they were just for emphasis. I’m guessing it was present in the Japanese editions in some form. It ended up being distracting rather than helpful, my brain kept translating them into a rising inflection that made everyone sound like a valley-girl in my mind.
Another is a solid and well written horror novel, with the otherworldliness of a foreign school setting adding to the unsettling and horrific situation as it plays out. Koichi’s detached narrative of events plays out as the story of a sceptic that slowly has to become a believer, and finally has to make an ultimate choice to believe the myth and give in to the supernatural or risk the deaths of more classmates. The goal is to simply survive, and that existential horror is strong and grows larger as the pages mount to the frantic climax. I’m not a huge horror fan, and while Another won’t keep me up at night, it is giving me a lot of things to think about relating to untimely deaths and bad luck during the darkest time of the year.
Content Grade: B +
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: October 28th, 2014