Home > Episode Reviews, Occult Academy > Occult Academy Episode 4 – The Poop at the Heart of the Universe

Occult Academy Episode 4 – The Poop at the Heart of the Universe

This episode, Occult Academy finally figures out what it wants to be: a comedy, but also with supernatural action elements. Just like we knew it was going to be all along. It’s actually not that bad.

But first: the bad news. The show sadly seems to have all but thrown off the weird 90s paranormal horror feel it so successfully created in the first episode, in favor of more traditional anime wackiness. The supernatural bits are there, with our heroes finding Yggdrasil under a Japanese mountain, and the revelation that mothmen were the real things responsible for abducting people. Beaver girl is back, too, if you’re not a fan.

But, weird mythological transplants from the West aside, there’s nothing else in the show to support the kooky/creepy 90s paranormal tone that we saw in the first episode or two. It’s still got the same off-beat sense of humor, but it’s got more in common with other goofy slapstick comedies than what we were teased with earlier.

Yggdrasil is pretty gorgeous. The animators' eye for detail continues to impress

The revelations of Yggdrasil and mothmen are accepted pretty matter of factly, which is fitting with the blasé attitude pretty much everyone around the Academy takes towards the occult, but pretty inconsistent with a supernatural show. In those, the rampant weirdness and tension are the point. It’s an atmosphere that has to be built up slowly, not something that can be crammed haphazardly into the latter half of an episode.

Instead, the whole thing plays like a Scooby Doo episode, full of slapstick and oddball humor that completely undercuts any tension that may have been building. This is punctuated by two notable scenes of Fumiaki proving his cowardice, running away like Scooby and Shaggy from some imagined terror, only to trip or run smack into a tree. Or the scene that inspired the title, where Fumiaki falls into a whole bunch of mothman crap left all around Yggdrasil.

As a one-time wielder of gigantic wrenches, I can safely say that that thing is incredibly heavy

Come to think of it, the whole formula is there: The gang all stumbles upon some creepy maze under a mountain, the party splits up and get lost, mild freakouts happen, and then the only person who has any brains at all figures out what’s going on and explains it to everybody else. They duke it out with the monster at the end, and a keytar plays a pretty significant role in the finale, which puts it a couple notches above your average Scooby Doo episode, but otherwise it’s by the book.

Except Maya is an incredibly violent Velma, Scooby Doo doesn’t have a complicated time travel/revenge/apocalypse plot arc, and the monsters are rarely real. By introducing an overarching plot and some serious dramatic hangups in its characters (well, Maya), I feel like I should hold Occult Academy to a higher standard than Scooby Doo.

Maya continues to show her oddly thorough understanding of men with odd views on the occult and excellent moustaches

Okay, unlike pretty much all of Scooby Doo, this episode of Occult Academy is pretty funny. You won’t be in stitches, and it pales before Asobi ni Iku Yo!, this season’s comedy champion, but it’s got some good gags. The Vice Principal’s feelings for Fumiaki have intensified, and manage to be goofy without being as creepy as comically misguided unrequited loves usually are.

The love-struck vice principal continues to be the funniest part of the show

Like most Japanese love stories, it’s at its best at a distance: when she’s swooning over him to the shock and surprise of her minion, who is expecting his seduction to fit into some devious plan, or writing simplistic (and terrible) love poetry while he is running in terror from a drop of water. It’s kind of sweet to see the master of a villainous conspiracy infatuated with someone else, a bit like watching Lex Luthor nervously trying to chat up a pretty girl at a party.

The aforementioned pile of poop and keytar bring some funny moments, too, even if some recurring jokes—like Mikaze’s reckless driving or Maya’s constant abuse of Fumiaki—have outlived their welcome.

Okay, Mikaze's driving is good for exactly one sight gag

The thing is, can a show that’s been so hit or miss with comedy stay funny enough to stilll be interesting? And can the writers successfully execute the dramatic elements that seem inescapable (the conspiracy in the school, Maya’s dead father, the end of the world) with characters whose more human attributes (like dignity) are constantly being sacrificed to feed gags?

I know drama is going to rear it’s ugly head again, and I don’t think it’s going to work. The whole thing just feels like an unplanned mess in danger of collapsing at any minute. For now, though, it’s pretty fun. Worth sticking around, at any rate, until it falls apart on itself.

This episode concludes that mothmen, like real men, cannot abide the awful synth tones emitted by most keytars

Watch the episode here. Gratuitous mothman shot follows.

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