Koichi Sakakibara doesn’t want to spend his last year of middle school in the middle of nowhere town where his mother grew up. But his father’s off researching in India, leaving him in the care of his maternal grandparents. A Tokyo boy at heart, Koichi doesn’t believe in any of the local superstitions — including one that leaves classmate Mei Misaki ostracized and ignored. He decides to befriend Mei despite the warnings from others.
But it turns out that third-year Class 3 was ignoring Mei for a reason. And breaking that ritual means inviting in the “disaster” that’s followed third-year Class 3 for over 25 years.
My first exposure to Another was when I first read the manga, which is available in the U.S. via Yen Press. At the time, I made the admittedly terrible decision to read it alone in the dark at 1 a.m., and subsequently couldn’t sleep for a week.
When Yen On released the original novel Another by Yukito Ayatsuji digitally in 2014, I bought a copy right away, then purchased the hardcover when that was released later. I figured that, since I’d already read and enjoyed the manga adaptation, the novel wouldn’t be much different, and that I’d be able to handle it better.
This time, I also made the admittedly terrible decision to read the book alone in the dark of the apartment where I live alone. It’ll be fine, I told myself. I know how this book ends. I won’t be scared.
Spoiler alert: I was scared.
Ayatsuji is a reknown mystery writer in Japan, known for writing mysteries both including and not including supernatural elements. Another is one of his supernatural mysteries, revolving around a “supernatural natural phenomenon” that follows third-year Class 3 at North Yomi Middle School. The protagonist, the son of a scientist, at first dismisses it as superstition — until the curse kicks in, slowly killing a classmate or a family member of a classmate every month.
Much else may lead to spoilers, but Another is a fantastic example of horror that functions well without resorting to slasher gore. I’ve always been a fan of horror that’s based on mythology — our book club pick this month is similarly based on Japanese ghost stories — and while some of the deaths are pretty gross, nothing stands out as excessive.
The first-person narrative is handled masterfully, and it’s obvious that Ayatsuji’s been at the game for a while. The careful buildup of suspense can be credited in part to the beautiful translation, which manages to explain or cover some of the native Japanese wordplay — like explanations of the different ways to write “Misaki” in kanji — while remaining engaging and smooth.
While the book is about teenagers — Koichi and Mei are fourteen, as Japan’s third year of middle school is equivalent to American ninth grade — I would hesitate to label Another as a young adult book. The style definitely doesn’t read like young adult at all. The characters take some philosophical side conversations to great lengths, and it’s not nearly as fast-paced as most young adult novels from the U.S.
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji reads more like mystery than horror, making it an excellent Halloween or horror read for those who are more interested in suspense. I would recommend this novel to readers looking for a scary read without the gore factor, especially those with any familiarity with Japanese culture or J-horror.
5 out of 5 stars
Feliza Casano founded Girls in Capes and currently edits and writes for all sections of the site. In her approximate 2.3 hours of free time each month, she loves watching anime, reading science fiction, and working on her novels-in-progress. Keep up with her antics at felizacasano.com and follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.