There’s certainly no question in my mind that Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin is the best series of the season. Some of the reasons are obvious – writing, animation, casting – but others are coming into more clarity six episodes in.
The first thing that strikes me in watching this week is the sense of balance this show brings. There are other series out there that do individual elements well, but in Seikimatsu we have all the elements in proportion. The show is funny, serious and genuinely moving in turn, when each is called for. And it has the remarkable ability to slide between these states effortlessly and gracefully.
The second thing that strikes me is just how adept the writing is at telling the audience just enough with every episode. With all mystery/puzzle series the quest for equilibrium here is crucial – reveal too little and you frustrate your audience, too much and you bore them. Here the mix is perfect – a little piece of the puzzle every week, enough to satisfy – but always leavened with a new bit of mystery we didn’t have before. I feel as if we’re going to see a series that ends at exactly the place it should, with everything coming together.
The mysteries aren’t just of the occult variety – the characters are slowly being revealed too. This week it’s Fumiaki/Ushida/Bunmei/Abe Minoru. It’s clear his is a story of powerlessness. All his life he’s been a tool of others, including his mother as it turns out – who this week is revealed to be a rather cruel and exploitative woman by Fumiaki’s visions in the NDE tank. The forces Maya, thinking back on her own hurtful childhood with her father, to reluctantly reassess her feelings for him. While Fumiaki’s faults are obvious, here he did at least volunteer himself to save Kozue. And a pretty good job of it he did too, though the solution was right under (over) our noses. Fumiaki’s frustration at being used is the obvious motivation that controls him – he resents everyone up to an including Maya for that – but he’s at least trying to take some responsibility for his actions (and his students). And this week represented an important watershed between he and Maya. Will it be a romantic as well as professional watershed? Time will tell.
This series continues to remind of a darker, more cynical version of Kamichu. Gatou Asou’s peerless character designs call that series somewhat to mind, but it’s also the easy transition between the worlds of fantasy and reality and the supremely classy production values. Like Kamichu, Seikimatsu features gorgeous backgrounds and animation, tremendous BGM and genuinely creative and innovative direction. There’s even something of the Yurie/Matsuri/Mitsue dynamic between Maya/Kozue/Ami. The tone of the show is darker, of course – Kamichu seemed to dwell on the wistful side of Shinto, while Seikimatsu lives squarely in the creepy, menacing world of multi-cultural occultism. But the two shows give the sense that you’re watching something special – the work of extremely talented and innovative artists who have something interesting to say. Enjoy it for what it is, because shows this good don’t come around every season.