Project Haruhi
28Sep/1012

Final Thoughts on Occult Academy

Do you see that look on Maya's face? That expression of disappointment and contempt, mixed with just a hint of anger? Yeah, that's how I feel right now.

Look, I wanted to like Occult Academy, I really did. Back in the early days of the summer season, I called this show "messianic," a gift from the heavens destined to drive back the forces of mediocrity and darkness. Here, at long last, was an anime that had a plot beyond "cute girls drinking tea," characters with more depth and originality than tired archetypes like "twintailed tsundere," and humor more sophisticated than "LOL BOOBIES." In other words, this was exactly the kind of thoughtful, original show we needed to counter the ever-increasing tide of fanservice and moe garbage that's been swamping the airwaves. Sadly, it was unable to live up to those high expectations.

Find out why after the break.

My high hopes for Occult Academy may seem foolish now, but they are entirely justified. From the beginning, this show set very lofty goals for itself. The first two episodes had a perfect mix of humor, action and supernatural mystery, delivered at a frenetic pace with some of the finest animation I have ever seen in a TV anime. The main plot was equally enrapturing: Fumiaki has traveled back in time from the year 2009 in order to find Nostradamus' Key, which is hidden somewhere in the enigmatic Occult Academy. It is there he meets Maya, who has taken over as prinicpal of the Academy since her father's death. Fumiaki explains that if he does not find and destroy the Key by July 21st, 1999, an interdimensional rift will open, bringing an alien invasion ripped straight from the pages of War of the Worlds. Sounds like a perfect setup for a season-long myth arc tying various occult phenomena together into a greater alien conspiracy, right? RIGHT?

Wrong.

Occult Academy took this wonderful setup and completely squandered it. From episode two through ten, the main story is cast to the sidelines and replaced with an episodic "monster of the week" anthology, interjected with dreadfully boring slice-of-life scenes featuring Fumiaki's fling with Mikaze, a character that somehow manages to be both incredibly dull and a blindingly obvious red herring. From the moment we see her, we know that she's hiding something... not because the show drops any ominous hints or anything of the sort, but merely because that her character is totally extraneous and distracting from the narrative if taken at face value.

So I endured eight episodes of episodic frivolity that had no connection, explicit or otherwise, to the main plot of the show. Sometimes these standalone stories were entertaining, sometimes they weren't. At yet, the specter of the alien invasion always lay in the back of my mind. Weren't Fumiaki and Maya supposed to be looking for Nostradamus' Key? Why were they wasting time on things like weekend dates and summer festivals when the world is in peril? Was there any point to all this nonsense? To add insult to injury, the animation quality also took a nosedive, as if to match the mediocrity of the writing.

Seemingly reacting to my chagrin, the writers tried to tie it all together in episodes eleven and twelve. "Those episodic occult encounters weren't pointless!" they told me. "It was actually a secret plot by Mikaze all along! She created those monsters to kill Fumiaki and Maya!" My response was incredulous. "Seriously? I might have believed that if you had bothered building up to that revelation, or at least dropped a few hints about Mikaze's true nature. But instead you just neglected the main plot for eight friggin' episodes, then pulled some BS out of your ass and tried to pretend it was part of the plan all along. What, did you learn screenwriting from George Lucas?"

And there you have it. This show, which started out with such promise, quickly descended into schlock as the writers desperately tried to find enough plot to fill their requisite thirteen episodes. The end result was sloppy and unsatisfying, despite their attempts to pretend it had all been part of some grand master plan all along. To be honest, I should have seen this coming. So Ra No Wo To, another Anime No Chikara project with a similar premise, suffered from the exact same problems. I had hoped that Aniplex learned their lesson last time around, but I guess I was wrong.

In the end, Occult Academy is a forgettable anime from a forgettable season. I'm eager to put this experience behind me and dive into the new fall shows. I hope they won't be as disappointing.

[Check out Otaku In Review's terrific review of So Ra No Wo To here.]

About Jon

Jon is a Japanese culture enthusiast, professional pervert and roleplaying fanatic who appreciates flexible gender identities. He enjoys science fiction, Gunpla, classical music and Red Stripe.

  • I didn’t mind the episodic “Monster-of-the-Week” direction that most of the episodes took. They were entertaining for what they were worth, despite not having much to do with the overall plot.

    The only issue I really have with this show is its ending, where I feel they ignored a rather important technicality. I’d go into more detail, but that’s big spoiler territory. I might discuss it on the next episode of Otaku in Review though.

    • Kei

      Still, it would have been nice if the episodic plots had tied into the myth arc. Some of them were indeed entertaining, but that pleasure was hollow since they turned out to be ultimately pointless.

      Also, is the technicality you’re referring to a predestination paradox? Feel free to post spoilers… just stick something like Warning! Spoilers Ahead! before you do.

      • No, my issue is much simpler than that…

        Warning! Link contains spoilers!
        http://a.longreply.com/3635903

      • No, my issue is much simpler…

        Warning! Link contains SPOILERS!
        http://a.longreply.com/3635903

        Also, I should make a note that I have an issue with your use of the term “moe garbage.” Wasn’t it you who said to not bash moe? Yet you’re doing it right there.

      • Kei

        Nah, I wasn’t saying ALL moe is garbage… but 90% of it is. For example, I think we can agree that Kampfer is ‘fanservice and moe garbage,’ as are most anime being released these days. It would be the same as if I said I was tired of all this “vampire romance novel garbage” I’ve been hearing about lately. I don’t think the genre of vampire romance is inherently flawed, but most of the recent novels in that genre have been subpar.

        The big plot hole for me in the final episode was as follows.

        SPOILERS
        If the dimensional rift was caused by Future Fumiaki meeting Past Fumiaki, then how was it ORIGINALLY caused? To state the problem in simple terms, I’ll use this example.

        A man travels back in time to discover the cause of a famous fire. While in the building where the fire started, he accidentally knocks over a kerosene lantern and causes a fire, the same fire that would inspire him, years later, to travel back in time.

        This kind of problem is referred to as a predestination paradox. Fumiaki travels back in time to discover what Nostradamus’ Key is, only to find him meeting his younger self is the key. So… was the Key something else originally? How did this time loop start? They never explain.

      • So the act of meeting his younger self was the Key that opened the rift? That leaves so many questions. Also sounds a lot like what Doc Brown explains to Marty the consequences of meeting a future self:

      • Kampfer a moe show? That show doesn’t really fit your Four Laws of Moe very well.

        SPOILERS
        I thought that Mikaze was originally the key that caused the rift to open. Then, after Mikaze was destroyed, the act of Fumiaki meeting himself became the new key.

        The whole thing really doesn’t make much sense, actually. I mean, I guess we can assume that Mikaze was going to summon the aliens or something… but how exactly does Fumiaki meeting himself cause aliens to appear?

        I could be totally missing something here, as I tend to do, so I’m not sure if I’m either stupid or the plot really is just a mess.

      • Kei

        Kampfer did have moe elements, yes. Natsuru in particular… she started out as a fiercely independent and badass character in the first two episodes, but quickly degraded into a shy Mio-esque moeblob whose only purpose was to let the other characters dress her up in various skimpy outfits. Perfect example of how adding moe degraded a show with high potential. Another good example is Otaku In Review’s So Ra No Wo To review, which I linked to above.

        Also, with regards to Occult Academy, I’m casting my vote for “the plot really is just a mess.”

      • Paradox, meeting his younger self caused a rip in time and space to appear. It seems the aliens just found it and used the opportunity to invade earth. I assume this is independent from the “gate to hell” that Mikaze planned to open.

  • Anonymous

    Maya’s face also expresses how I feel about Anime no Chikara in general. Not it’s idea of making original shows, but of their execution of said shows.

    • Kei

      It’s a pity, too. I really liked the Anime No Chikara concept. It’s too bad the shows couldn’t live up to the hype.

      I think the main problem is the creative talent they were using wasn’t experienced enough. Maybe if they brought in a more well-known director for the next project?

      • Anonymous

        I think that could be it, when I look at the directors of all of the Anime No Chikara anime and even the upcoming show they are putting in the noitamina slot, they all have people who have had little to no experience directing. Sora, is an exception but the guy directing hasn’t done anime original works and in his list of directing, the only stand out title is Elfen Lied which isn’t a showcase of originality and thoughtful plot. Maybe most anime directors don’t know how to effectively make an original project as most of the time they have a manga, novel, or game to help guide them. I am interested if they were to get one of those directors who have done good original work such as Masaaki Yuasa.

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