Another

In the spring of 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into third-year class 3 at Yomiyama North Middle School. But little does he know…his new class has a horrible secret. When he takes his seat in class for the first day of school. Koichi is unsettled by his fearful classmates. Despite this atmosphere and warnings from fellow students, Koichi is drawn to the beautiful, distant Mei Misaki, another classmate. But the closer he tries to get to her, the more mysterious she and their class become. And when a fellow student dies a disturbing death–the first of a long chain of deaths–Koichi seeks to learn the truth behind the curse of third-year class 3. But can he get answers before the curse kills him?

Another (Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
Another MangaOriginal Story: Yukito Ayatsuji; Art: Hiro Kiyohara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Horror
Price: $29.99 USD
Rating: ★★★★★

I put off reading Another because of the horror descriptor associated with it. I’m particular about my horror titles, and with this being based on a novel, I was afraid it might get more graphic than I like. Fortunately, the horror in this story isn’t the gory type. It’s more of the psychological horror that Japan has been so good at and that I really enjoy. Add to that a fascinating mystery, and you have one mesmerizing read.

Another is a story filled with mysteries that build on each other, and give the main characters Mei Misaki and Koichi Sakakibara a run for their money in trying to solve them. Neither Mei nor Koichi are detective types. This series is a murder mystery with no detectives to put the pieces together; just a couple of middle school students trying to protect their friends and families. Stopping the murders is complicated by the fact the culprit is supernatural. There is no one to accuse or catch. Their only goal is to solve the mystery and stop the deaths.

The mystery they need to solve is “Who is the Casualty?” Twenty-six years ago, a popular boy in Class 3 of Yomiyama died, and his class didn’t want to lose him so much that they started to pretend he was still alive. When the class picture was taken, he was in it. After that, on random years, someone who had died in a previous “On year” would come back. Everyone’s memories and records would be changed so no one would know who the extra person was, and then, at least one person would die each month until the school year was over, when their identity was revealed, and even that memory would eventually fade away.

I absolutely loved this story. The mystery was executed perfectly. All through the volume you can only guess what is going on. First with the mystery of whether Mei is real or not. Then there are Koichi’s own doubts about his existence when he learns of his connections to the curse going back to the first class. Clues are dropped subtly, leaving the reader to question along with the characters what is real and what isn’t. The quest to find “The Casualty” doesn’t start in earnest until the second half of the story, but by then the tension has mounted and suspects bounce around as the characters get more desperate. The reveal was a complete surprise, and absolutely perfect in its staging and execution.

It helped to have two great characters to follow. Koichi is an average middle school boy, expect for having a medical condition that can leave his hospitalized for several days to weeks. It’s because of this condition that he misses the beginning of school, and all the important information he might have needed. Though, it later becomes apparent, it was already an “On” year before he arrived. He is doggedly persistent, and it’s this trait that gets him in trouble with the rest of the class at first, but that also leads to a possible solution to the curse later.

Mei is a good counterpart to Koichi. She is just as determined to find the truth, though she takes the more subtle approach. She struggles to find answers on her own, and proves to have a bit of an advantage that is invaluable in the end. It’s related to the eye patch she usually seen wearing, which covers a different colored eye. Mei accepts the role the class gives her without a fuss, but also uses it to her advantage to research the curse.

While I did really enjoy the story, I was kind of bothered that part of the plot relied so much on characters making the wrong choices and bad decisions. I don’t blame Koichi’s classmates from reacting the way they did, but so much of the hardship he was forced to go through was because it was “never the right time” to tell Koichi about the curse and the things that were being done to try to circumvent it. It’s not a major flaw in the story, just a personal pet peeve.

Another is a strongly told mystery with a good dose of psychological horror to keep the reader both guessing and creeped out. The art is well done, adding to the atmosphere. Kiyohara did a good job pacing the story and expanding characters without making it feel like padding. Yen Press packs four volumes worth of pages into one omnibus, for a hand-breaking hold, though it is also available digitally for easier holding, carrying and storing. Color plates are included, marking the beginning of each volume.I’m glad they went for the omnibus. Having to wait for new volumes of this series would have been killer.

 

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