Oh, Maya. Even your angry charms and endless pleasure sticks can’t hold together this shambling show which, too little too late, is trying to redeem itself at the end. (Spoilers ahead: so be warned.)
Occult Academy began as one of the more potential-filled shows of the summer season. The comedic pacing was excellent. The concept was fairly run-of-the-mill (there are plenty of stories about ancient prophecies predicting doom unless certain conditions are fulfilled), but Maya, who is a not-really-tsundere-but-her-glower-is-just-so-hot sort of character, seemed to be a strong lead. The promise of constant supernatural action seemed to be kept. There was Bunmei and his bumbling behavior to laugh at, starting with his naked descent and continuing through his initial courtship with Mikaze. None of this was original. All of it, however, was a lot of fun to watch, and at the end of the day, it still is. It’s a marathonable show, if you will, easy to take in in large chunks.
So why does it feel a little hollow, with only two episodes remaining?
There was something up with the storytelling quality as the episodes wore on. Bunmei became too much of a coward and deadweight in almost every major encounter, reneging on every commitment the moment Mikaze came calling; he is an example of the passive male lead taken too far—and in an age when that type is at last falling out of fashion in anime. Moreover, the ease with which Mikaze came on to him was a blindingly obvious red flag that took far too long to be revealed—much filler needed to be waded through first, so by the time the reveal came, it felt unsatisfying. As the show began to take a dramatic turn in its middle, the plot points of the mini arcs seemed to have been written from a book of television formulae: best friends get in a fight, make up when one is put in danger and in the heat of battle. A spirit seeks consolation and the protagonist realizes how similar her plight is, too, before a rote reunion scene takes place. It was constructed with enough competence to be effective for a relatively new viewer, though, and so sometimes I long for the days when I was new to anime: I’ve just seen too many of these plots now. I saw the conclusions of both plots well before the midpoints of both arcs.
The poor series pacing is most evident in the 11th episode where that reveal is made—it’s as the writers suddenly remembered the main plotline only just then and stuffed all of the revelations in that and the forthcoming final episodes. Mikaze’s true identity for instance: the audience has been bludgeoned with the notion that there must be something wrong with her, but is given almost no hints of what that might be until it is unceremoniously dumped onto the viewer in a single scene. This is not smooth foreshadowing. The title of that episode, “Maya’s Death,” is also a poor signaling of their intentions: a title like means that Maya will certainly not be dead by the episode’s end, and any grief scenes are not to be taken seriously, robbing them of any emotion heft they might have carried.
This is a shame, because Maya’s backstory, as standard as it is, bore the most promise in creating an interesting character. Her inner struggle with the occult and whether she really wants to continue her father’s legacy underwrote the best parts of episode 10, where her old home is to be torn down. The “tsundere to the occult” attitude is also the richest vein of humor, partly because she is the only character who has a genuinely serious side and thus her foibles can be pointed out more effectively. The other characters like Bunmei, Mikaze, the vice-principal, Kozue, and others are not much more than a single trait or two (he’s an idiot from the future! she’s an occult obsessive! etc). This is fine if the show intended to be a pure comedy, which is why it worked initially. Now the plot has to pull things forward with sudden dramatic revelations and a final battle.
Is it too late for the last two episodes to redeem the show? Not necessarily. There is still enough time, for instance, for Bunmei to go through some genuine soul-searching when his crush turns out to be an enemy. Or for Maya to confront what it is about her father’s work that is relevant to the battle and to her character. The final episode’s title has been revealed to be “Maya no Bunmei“, and so we know the focus will end up centering on them, probably in some kind of hasty quasi-romantic pairing if the usual sort of thing happens. Having gotten this far, I will certainly finish the show, though without very high expectations.
Occult Academy is not as perfunctory and mediocre as shows like Rental Magica: there are no harems, thankfully, and there is at least one lively character. It’s just that my hopes were a bit higher for it than what it delivered. Perhaps a second season may alleviate this problem: if K-ON! is proving anything, it’s that having ample episodes has turned many fans’ skepticism into devotion by the end, simply by spending time with likable characters. There is a sense that the world of Occult Academy is rich and worth inhabiting for a little longer too, and it would be a shame for this Anime no Chikara title to go the way of its predecessor, Sora no Woto: a series that gave far more hint of depth than it was willing to dig.
You can watch Occult Academy, along with many other shows, on Crunchyroll. That’s what I did—using the CR Boxee app, no less. Anime was meant to be watched on TV!