Review: Occult Academy 1 & 2

You are entering the world of Pumpkinhead!

Like my fellow editors here at Project Haruhi, I have been pretty disappointed by the new summer anime thus far. In my humble opinion, this season’s shows are either overrated, subpar or just outright horrible. Of course, I’ve experienced this kind of thing before. I always take solace in the fact that, just when things are looking darkest, a single great anime emerges from the shadows. Like a brilliant beam of light from the heavens, this one show drives back the darkness and brings hope to all the downtrodden, world-weary otaku.

This season, that show is Occult Academy.

Think I’m being hyperbolic? Find out more after the break!

Don't screw with her, or she'll show you the business end of her axe.

Occult Academy begins normally enough; in the year 1999, a man is running through the forest being chased by a monstrous batlike creature. He desperately phones his superiors and requests an emergency escape teleportation. Sadly, the bat-monster catches up to him, and only his arm makes it through the teleportation portal before it closes. We then cut to our heroine, Maya Kumashiro (pictured above), as she attends the funeral of her father, the principal of the so-called Occult Academy. During the funeral proceedings, a recording of Mr. Kumashiro’s farewell message is played, in which he accidentally recites a spell that causes his corpse to become possessed by a vengeful spirit. In order to calm the panicking student population, Maya gives a speech about how the occult isn’t real and the corpse reanimation is merely a trick. However, her argument is quickly subverted when the demon-possessed corpse escapes by flying through the ceiling and begins terrorizing the entire school.

Green corpse drool? That can't be sanitary.

Fortunately, despite her earlier claims, Maya is quite knowledgeable about the occult. She identifies the spirit as a lamie, which can only be killed by decapitating its original victim. With the help of a few other students, including an overweight goth spiritualist and a lazy mechanic, she searches the school for her father’s possessed corpse. After a brief run-in with a possessed bookworm glasses girl, Maya finds her father. He appears to have returned to normal, apologizing to Maya for being neglectful of her. She doesn’t buy this act for a moment, and coldly decapitates him with an axe. DAMN!

Sexy, stylishly dressed and ax-crazy. I think I'm in love.

Pondering on the day’s events while watching the sunset, Maya loudly proclaims that she hates the occult with a vengeance. Just then, a pillar of light bursts forth from the heavens, bringing with it a cell phone followed by a naked goggle-wearing man, who slowly descends to earth. Upon landing, he nonchalantly removes his goggles and proclaims “That was bright!” Roll credits.

This episode blew me away. I wasn’t expecting much out of this show, namely because occult-themed anime are usually laughably bad. Imagine my surprise when, instead of highschool kids giggling over candles and ghost stories, I received a heaping helping of frenetic action and mysterious horror with a light dash of deadpan comedy. Of course, the presence of Maya also contributed greatly to my enjoyment of this episode. She’s exactly the kind of sexy, self-confident, intelligent and capable heroine that Highschool of the Dead is so sorely lacking. Maybe Occult Academy wasn’t quite as messianic as I stated in my intro, but it was still damn impressive. This was the show I had been waiting for; smart, fun, and not burdened with an overabundance of fanservice and tired cliches. Bring on episode two!

Alright, I admit it. I have a crush on Maya.

Episode two begins with Maya running away from the naked sky-man, who upon noticing his nudity desperately tries to cover himself. After escaping, she spends the night in a hotel room, where she watches a late-night variety show featuring Nostradamus prophecy speculation and spoon-bending psychic children. (For those of you who don’t know, there was a big Japanese media frenzy in 1999 concerning Nostradamus’ prophesied destruction of the world in July of that year. It was comparable to the Y2K phenomenon in the United States.) Tired of hearing about occult matters, Maya decides to use the naked man’s cellphone to take a picture of herself, only to have the photo show a bleached skull and bone fragments. Foreshadowing!

The next day, Maya uses her father’s will to seize control of the Occult Academy and become its new principal, with the intent to destroy it. She then learns that the naked sky-man, whose real name is Minoru Abe, is the school’s new Japanese history teacher. As you can imagine, Maya doesn’t take this news well.

This girl just chopped off her own father's head. Minoru, you don't stand a chance.

After Maya calms down, Abe explains that he’s actually a time traveller from the year 2012. It seems that, thanks to the Key of Nostradamus, aliens from another dimension have conquered Earth. The human resistance decides to send agents back in time to prevent prophecies of Nostradamus from coming true, thus saving the future. Sadly, the first five Minoru Abe’s failed in their task and were killed. The one standing in Maya’s office is the sixth. As for the mysterous cellphone, it’s capable of seeing into the future via it’s camera function. By taking pictures of various items, Abe can learn what influence they might have on the future, thus determining what he needs to destroy in order to prevent the invasion of Earth.

Oh, and the reason he was naked? He ran into a space-time storm that stripped off all his clothes. Hmm, where have I heard that before…

Naturally, Maya is pissed as hell to be confronted with yet another supernatural event, and kicks the bum out of her office. Later that night, as she’s taking a shower in her father’s old mansion, she spots a shadow on the other side of the shower curtain and the words “Don’t get in the way.” written on her bathroom mirror in blood. Wrapping herself in a towel, she searches the house, only to be stalked by an invisible ghost who can only be seen during lightning flashes. Hearing the racket, Minoru bursts through a window in an attempt to rescue Maya, only to receive a tsundere-style beatdown due to a misunderstanding. Fortunately, Minoru stumbles across a secret passage which they use to escape from the encroaching ghost.

What? It's not any less skimpy than what she usually wears.

I use the term ‘escape’ loosely, because the ghost easily breaks through the wall and begins strangling Maya. (Miraculously, her towel stays tightly wrapped around her body during this ordeal.) Suddenly, a brick from the wall becomes displaced, revealing a bright light that vaporizes the ghost. Maya discovers the source of this light… her father’s journal, imbued with defensive magic to protect her. Reading the journal, Maya learns that her father was trying to stop Nostradamus’ prophecies from coming true, only to be killed a by a mysterious group who would rather see these prophecies fulfilled. Upon learning that her father’s demise was not accidental, Maya vows to take revenge on the killers and agrees to aid Minoru in his mission. Just as they’re about to seal the alliance with a handshake, however, Minoru makes the mistake of asking if Maya likes the occult. Naturally, she delivers another tsundere beatdown, this time using her bracelet as a makeshift brass knuckle.

And you thought the ghost was scary...

This second episode was a pretty standard character introduction, further establishing the premise of the series and setting up the main storyline. It wasn’t quite as frenetic or humorous as the last episode, but it was still interesting and fun to watch. Altough I did enjoy Maya’s violent tsundere tendencies towards Minoru, I hope they don’t overplay the joke… after all, that kind of humor can wear thin pretty quickly. Additionally, the deus-ex-machina ghost-disintegrating book at the end felt a bit too convenient for my tastes. Nevertheless, these are only minor flaws in an episode that was, overall, quite excellent.

If you aren’t watching Occult Academy yet, you should be. It has a near-perfect balance of horror, mystery, suspense and comedy, all blended together into an enjoyable whole. The characters, especially Maya, are well-rounded and interesting. The fanservice is subdued and used sparingly. The animation and art design is top-notch.  The music is atmospheric and appropriate (especially the theramin tracks from the first episode).  Overall, this is just a great show, and a welcome diversion from the cliche romantic-comedies and brainless zombie-fests that have been plaguing anime of late. This is, in my opinion, the best show of the summer season. Here’s hoping it can continue to impress in the upcoming weeks.

TL:DR – Go watch Occult Academy. Now.