Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin – Series Review

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin was the best show of the summer for me, on balance. I loved Mitsudomoe and I’m enjoying Shiki a lot, but for my money Occult Academy had the best overall package. Tremendous production values, courtesy of A-1 pictures. Phenomenal voice cast. The most intricate, clever and challenging plot. Likable and/or interesting characters. And the most dexterity in terms of style – it was able to deliver suspense, action, horror, slapstick and character comedy in equal measures. Most of all, perhaps, it was the most ambitious – setting it’s sights high and often achieving brilliance in the process.

But in many ways it was the most maddening series of the season, too. Honestly, for me, this is a series that should have been 26 episodes. There was so much happening here – it was a series densely packed with big concepts and enough good characters that their relationships begged to be developed further. Frustratingly, even at 13 episodes too much of middle run was spent on “filler” eps – stories that didn’t do anything to advance the overall plotline. Some of them were very, very good – not all – but there were just too many for a one-cour show this smart and complex. As a result – as I bemoaned yesterday in the Giant Killing summary – we were left with so many threads dangling that it required shortcuts to tie them up in the finale, and left us little room for an epilogue.

With all that, though, this was still a tremendous work. While the overall series pacing may have suffered from those filler eps, almost every ep itself was a masterpiece of pacing. Even the frenetic episode 11, when the creators threw everything including the kitchen sink at us and shattered a lot of preconceptions, totally worked – it was like going 100 MPH on a motorcycle without a helmet (which I don’t advise, BTW). The writing was astute enough to spill enough information every week not to frustrate the audience too much, but in the process to create more unanswered questions and keep us guessing. The mystery worked right up until the very end, and if the finale itself seemed to cut a few corners for convenience, that can be forgiven.

Gatou Asou, the character designer behind Seirei no Moribito, filled that role for this show as well and his designs were the best of the season. A-1 has earned a reputation for stellar animation and they reinforced it here, in spades. Backgrounds were detailed, movement natural, the character’s faces incredibly expressive. And what characters they were – even if some of them felt a little under-explored. It was really Fumiaki who was developed the most here – we saw all sides of him (adult and child) and his inner nature – not always pretty – was bared for all to see. He was a man who was always being manipulated, always under the control of others – and his redemption in the end was poetic justice. Maya was much more opaque – an angry, guarded girl who would be a fascinating character to follow in a sequel. Their supporting cast – Kazue, Smile, Ami, JK, the Vice-Principal, even Mikaze – were vibrant, interesting and often mysterious characters in their own right.

In the final analysis I can forgive a lot from a series that really tries to be great. Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin did have some swings and misses, but that’s because it was always going for the home run – and I’m always more interested in a series that does that (Ghost Hound is another that comes to mind) than one that plays it safe and goes for the easy path. My biggest wish is that this had been a longer series, because there was plenty of extra life in the material. But even at 13 episodes this was an intriguing mix of suspense, mystery, irreverence and really smart comedy. It didn’t succeed all the time but even its failures were more interesting than most of the other shows out there.

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