Occult Academy Episode 2 – Hasta La Vista
I was afraid this would happen.
From the looks of this episode, it would appear that Occult Academy, despite its unique setting, is actually a pretty normal anime. I can already see it start to slip into the same old patterns: the overly familiar characters, the stock premise, my spiraling lack of interest.
I guess, if you wanted to be charitable, you could chalk it up to this being the boring ‘set up the premise’ episode that last week forwent in order to give us some undead father-punching character development. But the truth is, good shows manage to be interesting even when they’re dumping exposition on you.
So the mysterious naked man that slowly drifted down from the clouds is a time traveler named Fumiaki Uchida (or Minoru Abe, his cover identity), okay? Aliens invaded the Earth in July 1999, as a result of something that happened at Waldstein Academy, so he’s been sent by earth’s back by Earth’s guerrilla army in the far-flung year of 2012 to stop it from happening.
He has a magic camera that can imagine what things will be like in 2012 even though it’s apparently built out of 1990s technology, and he’s using it to find Nostradamus’s key, which is the MacGuffin that sets the whole ball rolling. And the higher-ups at Waldstein seem like they’re part of a conspiracy to cause it, or something, so they killed Maya’s father, who found the key.
That’s not so much to explain, is it? I mean, ignoring the fact that it’s all pretty rote, and what isn’t clearly inspired by Terminator is ripping off Lovecraft, that only seems like it should take about half the episode. But the whole thing drags on and on, mostly because none of the characters are very interesting or likeable.
Take Maya, for example, who spends the episode beating the snot out of Fumiaki because she doesn’t believe he’s a time traveler. Never mind that the previous day she had taken down her undead father, who had been possessed by a spirit, then saw him gracefully glide down from the heavens, and took a photo of herself with his cell phone camera that turned her into a skeleton. I know grief makes people irrational, but Maya is suffering from a serious case of genre-blindness.
You know what all the great films and TV shows of the 90s Occult Academy is self-consciously ripping off had in common? Strong main characters you could sympathize with. The audience can cheer on Buffy Summers when she’s beating up vampires, and sympathize with her when it affects her personal life. They care about Mulder’s quixotic quest for truth, and Scully or Sarah Connor’s struggle to make sense of their beliefs in the face of the unbelievable.
Occult Academy’s heroes, on the other hand, are disappointingly boring when they’re not being obnoxious. Despite being remarkably overconfident in 2012, in 1999 Fumiaki is as limp and awkward as his shadow penis, adding nothing but exposition to this episode. There’s a hint of his future self in his impetuous attitude towards his admittedly boring mission (take photographs until you find a world that isn’t destroyed), but you know what? Making a character bored in the face of the constant weirdness of Waldstein Academy isn’t a great way to make him likeable.
And Maya is a tsundere without the dere (lovestruck) part, leaving her a shrill, ill-tempered witch who does nothing but snap at people—mostly Fumiaki. Her haughty demeanor and razor-thin temper make her one of the more obnoxious anime protagonists this year.
I know she’s grieving and all, but to play that card you have to make her seem like she has any emotions other than unbridled rage or snotty displeasure at the incompetence of everyone around her, and Occult Academy has thus far failed miserably in that regard.
I think her violent outbursts are supposed to be funny (it’s certainly all this episode has in the way of “comedy”), but irrationally violent girls haven’t been funny in anime since Love Hina, at least, which aired only a few months after this show takes place. It just makes her unlikeable, which is damning in a television show where she is in 95% of the scenes.
More to the point, it ignores what makes this type of tsundere popular. The secret to this kind of character is her vulnerability, the weakness that knocks her off her pedestal and makes her seems like a flawed, endearing human being. The only thing we’ve seen remotely resembling that from Maya has been the pretty obvious indication that she really does like the occult, but that’s not a very interesting character defect. It’s just something for the girls from episode 1 to gossip about, and yet another thing for her to punch Fumiaki for suggesting.
Absent that, I can’t see any reason to like Maya, unless you’re into the domineering, violent type. Increasingly, I’m beginning to feel the same way about Occult Academy.
Everything about it seems designed by committee, from the way the characters are all generic stock characters with exactly one quirk, to the unbearably dull MacGuffin collection plot. The setting is novel, sure, and the animation still impresses in the little details it gets perfectly right but setting and animation alone can’t carry a show when the rest is so overwhelmingly mediocre, and that what Occult Academy is looking like.
Hopefully the next episode will throw some twists into the mix. If we just get 11 more episodes of Maya and Fumiaki trying to find Nostradamus’s key and the school administration trying to stop them, there’s no way I’m sticking around.