Review: Occult Academy

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Waldstein Academy is a high school devoted entirely to the occult. Mara Kumashiro returns after a long absence for the funeral of the principal, her father. Having seen her father’s obsession destroy her family she sets out to destroy Waldstein. But her plans are interrupted when Fumiaki Uchida, a time agent from the future, arrives to stop a world ending calamity. Bandaged[1]

Occult Academy starts off as a tool to poke fun at shows containing supernatural elements by building its  premise around a school dedicated to the occult. This becomes a vehicle to explore different types of stories involving supernatural elements from monsters to near death experiences. In fact, the entire premise of the show transcends genre in an attempt to combine science fiction and fantasy into one big super show. But all these elements don’t fit together perfectly and parts of Occult Academy seem like they don’t belong in the show at all.

The first episode is about a poltergeist haunting in place of the dead principal, the second episode is about a time traveler who returns from the future in order to prevent an alien attack, and the third episode plays out like a wacky romance anime. On paper those two plot lines sound like they couldn’t possibly fit together but the early episodes of Occult Academy enable these elements to work well together and it is fresh that a show is attempting to transcend the tropes of these genres by combing them, by weaving them together. But that pattern soon ends and Occult Academy becomes a monster of the week show where the group encounters a new occult-esque problem and go off to find its source while the main plot is completely ignored. This seems comparable to the X-Files where each episode Mulder and Scully encounter a new supernatural element and attempt to disprove it. However, the monster of the week episodes of Occult Academy have the characters doing a lot of running around and participating in cheap action sequences instead of exploring the source and mythology behind these unique creatures. I have always been a fan of stories that have been able to combine elements from different genres. Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road and the anime Scrapped Princess filled that desire but Occult Academy constantly fell short because of its silly tone but also because the show didn’t juggle its genres well. Not that all the elements of Occult Academy failed, a lot of the genre mixing was interesting and gave the show its initial shine. There was simply too many elements playing in this and no one genre was treated with proper respect. 

Maya%20upset[1] While the one off episodes hurt the overall quality of the show the characters do a good job of rescuing it. The two main characters are complex and each get plenty of time in the series for their stories to be explored and it brings a human element to the jumbled narrative. The time traveler, Fumiaki Uchida, is forced to face himself in a past where he has no utility over his life, having his physic ability exploited for profit by his mother. This adds a compelling element as Uchida has to confront his demons by literally facing his past self. Maya Kumashiro goes through a similar arc, hating everything about the occult because she believes it made her father distant she is brought into a world where the occult is revered. She slowly comes to accept her father’s work and the positive impact he had on the students of Waldstein.

The background characters act only as that, background. While they do help shape the two lead characters all the side characters lack depth. I didn’t expect them to have much of an impact on the story but they appear in every episode and never seem to grow or change along with the story. Even after being witnesses to some pretty amazing supernatural spectacles they go on as if nothing happened. I’d expect them to think about withdrawing from the school after a few of the deadly encounters with supernatural monsters but no, nothing prevents them from making it to class on time every day.Evil%20Witch[1]

While the monster of the week episodes distract from the main story it picks up in the final three episodes, which  are completely dedicated to the main plot of the show bringing the total number of plot centric episodes to six. The elements that made Occult Academy fresh and exciting in the beginning return, but with more elements and genre switches the plot becomes weighed down and overcomplicated. Occult Academy attempts to make all the monster of the week episodes connect to the main plot but it is forced with only the tiniest of hints being in the individual episodes that they are all connected to the central plot. Each episode leading to the finale introduces more twists that change the show, destroying any payoff the main storyline could have possibly had. Despite the inadequate juggling of the material I found the last episodes enjoyable because it went back to the original aspect that made Occult Academy such a huge star of the summer season, the show reinvented itself with each episode. While the narrative didn’t pay off, it certainly was entertaining. More importantly the best aspect of the show, the character arcs of Maya and Fumiaki, were brought to a satisfactory end.

The most offensive elements of the show were the pseudo science fiction that the show implemented. In a show that combined so many genre elements I’m not surprised that Occult Academy didn’t really has a solid grasp on any of them individually. But it breaks its own rules constantly as it reaches towards the sacrosanct conclusion that I could tell the writers just didn’t care about following any kind of logic. Inconsistency and illogical plot harm any story but it is especially detrimental to science fiction.

While many of the elements of Occult Academy are refreshing and the main characters have some real depth that is explored well throughout the series, the pointless monster-of-the-week episodes and haphazard main storyline drag Occult Academy down to mediocrity. Still, there is a lot to like about Occult Academy because of the innovative ways it plays with genre. I think this will serve as an example of how the mixing of genres can be interesting but still serve to undermine the quality of a story.

Good

  • Main characters and compelling and developed well
  • Innovative in the way it combines genre and plays with genre tropes

Bad

  • Monster of the week episodes don’t advance the main plot or characters.
  • Main storyline becomes weighed down and over complex
  • Ending relies on “twists” not on building a successful story arc.
  • Minor characters are flat, don’t act realistically.

 

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