As a 90’s kid, I grew up in the midst of the occult fad: Nostradamus’s Prophecies, Roswell, hoax alien paraphernalia, X-files, and countless others; conspiracy theories and the paranormal were some of the biggest draws in media, news, and box offices during my childhood. Naturally, these curious, sometimes scary, themes have always held a special place in my heart.
Thus, I was extremely excited when Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin) aired. However, much like most supernatural phenomena and pseudosciences, Occult Academy, though very entertaining, eventually falls apart under critical eyes.
As the series opens, our heroine, Maya, returns to the occult-oriented school her father founded to act as the principle after her father mysteriously died. On the same day, Fumiaki, an ex-psychic from a desolate future, arrives in Maya’s time, year 1999, at the academy to prevent an invasion by aliens that will happen in several months. According to Nostradamus’s Prophecy, this end of the world hinges on the Nostradamus Key. Knowing that the key is somehow related to the academy, Maya and Fumiaki team up to search and destroy the key.
In their various investigations, the two are met with meddling forces, false leads, and emotional entanglements. Unfortunately, these events are merely randomly-inserted distractions that divert focus away from the core plot; they add little to meaningful character development or plot progression. Further, the attempts to tie these events back to the core story are too little, too late—a mere few minutes of passing mentions of past subplots after those episodes have long fallen out of memory.
This is exacerbated by the poor pacing. The plot twists and revelations, while poignant, lack proper set up and feel rushed mostly. For a story so convoluted—time travel is never straight-forward—Occult Academy really needs a bit more properly paced, well positioned exposition. Without it, the main plot feels as if it were erratically thrown together and not really all that important. Indeed, if there is one thing most extraordinarily impressive about Occult Academy, it is that it manages to make something as world shattering as an apocalypse feel insignificant and forgettable.
That most of the side characters are unimaginative makes the story even less relevant to the audience. The supporting cast never evolve past their gimmicks: fat dowsing student, the quirky father, occult-obsessed glasses girl, and Maya’s childhood friend. Perhaps the poor pacing and the unimportant early episode are to blame. And, while more important side characters are developed with more success, it only happens near the end of the series long after the story has begun in earnest. The hurried development makes the growth and changes of the characters a bit hard to digest, particularly with Mikaze, a relatively forgettable character, who would later get a surprisingly large role.
Luckily, the lead roles are colorful. Fumiaki, having had a more smooth transition from coward to hero, suffers less from development issues. More impressively, the even more compelling Maya is enough to save the series from its subpar cast alone. She has an incredibly memorable personality. Her drive and her attitude give the anime the bite it craves. Moreover, she is abrasive, yet likable, and she is able to easily command our total attention—I love harsh girls! Furthermore, Her father-issues and the resolution of that tense relationship not only makes Maya a very three-dimensional character, but ties Maya to the story. She is our strongest reason to worry about the end of her world, and continue watching until the end.
Though Occult Academy may feel somewhat trivial and boring early on, and the climax feel rushed into, the series finishes fairly strongly. The ending ties up loose ends, avoids plot holes, and yet still leaves enough room for us to ponder over time continuum and the concepts of (self-fulfilling) prophecies. These are not easy tasks for time-travel stories. Moreover, Occult Academy details how Maya and Fumiaki work out their inner issues with their vulnerabilities, childhoods, and parents. That is perhaps even more poignant than saving the world.
For all the weaknesses in the flow and the cast, the anime is wonderfully enjoyable. The childhood nostalgia inseparable from the obscure paranormal references and themes and the unique, beautiful character designs—I love the way the faces are drawn and Maya’s very sexy, elegant, petite dress—are part of this anime’s charm. Most importantly, the story tickles our fancy despite some undeniable flaws in execution. In that sense, Occult Academy is just like most paranormal studies.
- Maya is yet another girl, by whom I would love to be abused. Step on me please wearing those knee socks!
- Just an example of the numerous references to some of my childhood’s favorite stories on the supernatural: Slit-Mouth Woman (Kuchisake-Onna)
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