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?
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.