Episode two pretty much confirmed what I suspected after the first one – this is the best series of the summer.
Perfect? No – but we’ll get to that in a minute. What Occult Gakuin has in droves is style. The animation, the BGM, the ED – this is clearly the work of major talents. The character designs are wonderful, and a delightfully perverse sense of humor pervades the show so far. Reaction shots (very difficult to pull off well) are hilarious.
The plot is still something of a muddle, but in a good way. With a little more clarity now, we see that Wells-ian aliens have invaded the Earth and in 2012, hold humans in slavery. Our naked friend from episode 1 is Fumiaki Ushida – a former “spoon-bender” boy and now a time agent, the sixth of his kind (clones). Mankind has obtained some alien technology and has been sending the time agents back to 1999 to try and change history, but unfortunately the previous five were all killed in the process. Ushida’s job? To find “Nostradamus’ Key”, and snap a picture of it with the magic cell phone while thinking happy thoughts about the future. Preposterous – but it fits. And with that melding of “War of the Worlds” and “Terminator”, we have our premise.
Turns out Maya’s father also knew about Nostradamus’ key, and was apparently killed in pursuit of it. He’s left behind a diary for Maya in a secret compartment by a secret staircase behind a hidden door which Maya and Ushida used to escape what appears to be some sort of vengeful ghost with human form straight out of Japanese horror. This part of the story took on the tone of “Young Frankenstein”, with elements of classic horror films and even a nod to “Psycho”. It’s a complete and utter hodge-podge, a mess – but all put together so artfully that it draws you gleefully along in its wake.
Maya is the weak point of the story for me, so far – her physical abuse of Ushida stopped being funny after about the 3rd time (of what felt like 20). Still, if they tone that side of the relationship down there’s a bit of the Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant chemistry between them, a sort of nod to the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. The rest of the gang at the school are mostly a cipher so far, with the exception of the Vice-Principal (and apparent murderer of Maya’s father) Chihiro Kawashima, in a wonderful performance by the great Kobayashi Yu.
There are the seeds of greatness in this, no question. The writing is literate and smart and the production values top-shelf. If Maya emerges as a somewhat balanced and sympathetic character this could turn out to be something really special.