Occult Academy 13 – Finale

Give Occult Academy credit. They made the finale much more interesting than I thought they would. I was expecting a little cleanup, maybe somehow Maya meets her dad, maybe Uchida meets his younger self and makes peace with himself. I didn’t expect the curveball they threw us. Good job! So it’s a shame that it ends incoherently.

Patience, Maya, patience.

Never mind, up to the end of the episode this was good stuff. It was quieter than most episodes. For the most part the soundtrack kept out of the way. Even after the new threat was discovered it stays mostly quiet—with foreboding added. Also, I called it! I said last week that I thought little Bunmei was the Nostradamus Key, and I was, er, half right. It’s Uchida meeting Bunmei that’s the Key (okay, I also said it was my backup theory, but I’m willing to forget that if you will), thanks to the “Ramachandran-Fischer Conjecture,” i.e., in scientific terms, when the same people in different times meet it means kablooey!. Bah, I knew that. Learned it from Doctor Who.

So all they have to do is prevent Uchida from meeting Bunmei. Should be easy, right? He can get transported back any time he wants, like RIGHT NOW. But Uchida lets me down again, a little. July 21 is still two days away, and he at least wants to see his mother, who’s in town escorting Bunmei to the school closing ceremony. This revelation, by the way, made me grin. The same gig that got Bunmei slapped is the Waldstein Academy ceremony! Well played!

Bunmei runs amok in the academy.

Even so it looks like it’ll be all right. He and Maya meet with his mother and cancel the boy’s appearance. So that’s that, only Bunmei thinks the academy looks so cool he runs away and starts exploring. This gives every scene until the inevitable one an edge. What if Uchida is right around the corner? At the same time you have to be happy for the kid. It’s the only time we’ve seen him having fun on his own. Meanwhile the gang throws Uchida a goodbye party. It would be a fun scene if not for the looming threat, but it inserts a final bit of characterization for Uchida: Ami says he just does what everyone tells him to do, something that will play a part when the episode becomes incomprehensible later on. Also, it’s nice to see the gang one more time.

By now we know what must happen. Not only for the plot, but because the show would have been incomplete if Uchida had not met Bunmei. When the time comes we get, at the start, an amazing scene. Maya begs Uchida to stay (she’s pretty much a side character this episode), Uchida hesitates, and when the boy arrives … Maybe Uchida figures out it’s too late. He tells Bunmei to keep doing what he wants to do, even tousles his hair. It’s completely against common sense but again we know exactly why he’s doing it.

Here come the aliens.

The invasion scene is brief, loud and exciting, the only special effects we get in the episode. In terms of Uchida, it’s moving. He decides to act against his normal tendencies and sacrifices himself to save the Earth. His final line to Maya, “Take care of me!” is beautiful. But in terms of WTF the scene sets a new series standard. Bunmei runs toward an alien invasion craft and is knocked unconscious. Uchida takes the kid’s spoon and becomes some sort of superhero. It just doesn’t make sense. He must have gotten the power from the unconscious Bunmei, who was indeed glowing in a “cosmic power transfer!” sort of way. I don’t recall the Ramachandran-Fischer Conjecture saying anything about that. Oh, well, it’s great to look at. And the Earth is saved, hoorah.

(And Maya winds up living with her father and Bunmei. Wonder what Bunmei’s mother thought about that. Or did the show forget about her?)

I guess in the end the show was more interested in working with the characters and seeing that their needs and desires are worked out than giving us a coherent explanation to the story. That’s okay. And it did use the characters well. Uchida dies but gives the younger him a chance to grow up less broken. Maya and her father reconcile. Because of this I can forgive the lapses in plot, though I’m still annoyed at the unnecessary snowy-girl two-parter. Moreover this show was always great to look at and was smartly directed. There was rarely a weak scene. My only complaint about the side characters is we didn’t see enough of them, and we got to see plenty. I would have liked a JK or Smile story. Ami is a solid best friend character, and her dad, I’ll say it again, is the coolest in anime. Then there was my favorite, the hapless, clumsy, monster-magnet Kozue. She is so determined to witness the occult that she blindly walks into danger (or the danger finds her first), gets abducted, nearly eaten, possessed, etc, but always comes back for more. What a fun character she was! She deserves her own series.

One more of the gang.

A pleasure to watch. Occult Academy, along with Highschool of the Dead and Shiki, were the only three summer shows really worth anything.

Occult Academy 12

This is what happens when a series with a definite, built-in crisis kills too many episodes with unimportant story arcs. They have to crowd all the important stuff into the final episode, or two. On the other hand this can lead to an episode like Occult Academy 12, full of chases, explosions, confrontations and crises. Great fun.

And a bit of humor, thanks to Kozue.

We can all think of other series where the climactic bits throw everything they can at us. Most recently, I recall Ichiban Ushio no Daimaou, and while those three episodes were fun to watch rarely did I know what was going on. Everyone was fighting and rescuing everyone else to no real purpose. OA is different. Yes, all the characters are set in motion but you know exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, even if what they’re doing is pretty much a side story to the main battle (I’m talking about the gang in the pickup truck).

The mysteries have mostly been solved. The existence of Maya’s father is the exception. I had long suspected that Mikaze was the Nostradamus Key, though I hadn’t expected her to be a dark witch as well (my backup theory was that it was little Bunmei—that would have been interesting). Nor had I expected Chihiro to be one of the good guys, let alone a white witch. The show did a nice job misleading us. But even though I learned this last week I had no time to let this sink in because they go straight to battle while Chihiro’s scary bodyguard (who is a dog demon with wings—who’d have thunk?) flies Maya away. The fight and the flight are almost relentless, spells cast and light shows, thumping music and explosions, interrupted once when the dog lands on Ami’s roof, getting the side characters into the episode. And they deserve to be involved (good to see Ami’s dad get involved, I’ll say it again: he’s the coolest dad in anime) even if they mostly just drive around and get attacked by little granny demons. That’s all right because at the time we don’t know that they only have one use to the plot—get Uchida to the Academy, where Maya and Mikaze are having a little confrontation.

Kozue’s abduction into the cult (geez, the girl can’t win) isn’t the only funny moment. While Mikaze and Chihiro duke it out with explosions and arcane glowing symbols it suddenly seems like they’re not fighting over Maya’s life, they’re fighting over Uchida and the nature of men in general. That bit of humor leads almost logically, to a nice little moment where the fatally wounded Chihiro rescues Uchida, drops some info-bombs into his ear, but not ours, and says her goodbyes. She truly loved him, well, we knew that, but the fact that a character everyone disliked at the beginning dies heroically, while making her peace with what mattered to her, is especially satisfying.

The finale stumbles somewhat at the climax. We get Maya, Mikaze and then Uchida on the ledges of the academy, and for a while it’s a question of “The notebook still exists? Here it is! Oops, I dropped it! Where’s the notebook?” Mizake’s reactions slow down a hundredfold as Uchida reads the spell out loud and Maya repeats each phrase. Surely, even if she couldn’t hurt Uchida because he had the notebook (“I’ve had worse from Maya”) she could have just killed Maya instead. Also, she seems a little confused when Uchida defies her. Surely she couldn’t be that naïve. Slow thinking kills the witch.

3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
We have ignition.

Well, it’s over. I think the good guys won. It didn’t seem to affect the lives of the future guys, at least, they’re surprised to see they’re still living in a ruin. What did they expect? Alternate timelines and all that. On the other hand, the Maya’s dad, if that’s who he is, shows up but says nothing. Chihiro said he’s alive … Maybe the finale, yes, this wasn’t the finale, will clear all that stuff up for us. Or maybe they have a surprise in store. We’ll find out. Whatever happens it won’t live up to the explosive fun this episode brought us.

Occult Academy 11

Occult Academy has been blowing its time away with minor ghosts and apparitions for too long. I guess to make it up to us they spend episode 11 throwing everything at us but the kitchen sink. Whoo! What fun!

The first couple scenes are typical enough. Maya and Uchida plan to check out some ancient masks, then Mikaze sneaks into Uchida’s apartment and makes him dinner. What’s surprising is what happens next. First, she comes on to him, and the next thing you know they’re at a cult ceremony. It happens so fast I thought they skipped a scene, but this show likes to do this sort of thing. Now Mikaze is trying to convince Uchida, through sloppy kisses and cleavage views, not to mention a scary crystal ball, that Maya is an evil witch, the cause of everything, and must be killed. Uchida, tool that he is, seems to believe it. And I have to say that it’s about time Mikaze did something besides flirt with Uchida and make him nervous. The more she stayed the same the more you knew she was more than she seemed.

Give Uchida a little credit: he does bring this up with Maya. I honestly thought he would be too indecisive to spit it out. The trouble is it takes forever for him to get the nerve to say anything, the only time the episode drags, though superimposing Mikaze’s head on Maya’s body was a nice spooky moment. Ironically, up to then Maya had been friendlier with him than she had ever been before. But his news leads to a fight and Maya storms off alone. Next thing you know—she’s dead. We get some mourning scenes, the side characters rally to conjure Maya back, and Uchida is blubbering in his room, blaming himself. I understand why, but in spite of his dilly-dallying he had nothing to do with her death. It was important to involve her in the Nostradamus Key search, and she knew how important it was. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the repercussions. This is more plot than they’ve given us in a long time. They weren’t finished. Heh.

I’m not going to spoil all the surprises; I’ll just say that more than one person has been lying about their identities and it’s not the people you think. It leads to a bizarre confrontation I never would have expected and lots of danger for our heroes. I love it when an anime episode can make my head spin, and it’s not over yet: at one point we learn who killed Maya’s father. But if that’s the case …

... then who's this?

Occult Academy 10

This was episode ten. We have three more in the series. They’re still no closer to finding the Nostradamus Key. Instead, they’re fulfilling wishes for little ghost girls and helping fathers and daughters reconcile in general.

I’m being a little unfair. From the outset this show has been as much about Maya and her troubled past as it has for alien invasions. Here we see it at work again. Because Akari’s situation bears some resemblance to hers, Maya becomes stubborn and makes the gang (minus Uchida, again distracted by Mikaze’s charms. She’s up to something, or she’s the Nostradamus Key. Has he taken her picture?) wait outside the father’s apartment until he finally lets her in. The sob story is almost unbearingly schmaltzy, on the “Little Match Girl” level of bathos. Distracted by his wife’s leaving him he doesn’t take Akari seriously when she says she’ll wait for Santa. Outside. Where she freezes to death. We get lots of happy scenes of Christmas past to try and soften us up. Instead, I got bored.


So they throw a Christmas party for her, blah blah blah. Uchida has torn himself away from Mikaze and the jealous vice-principal to play Santa, only the father shows up and takes his place. Actually, this part wasn’t quite so bad. It was fun to see the gang do tricks to entertain Akari, and the Santa scene was very well done. He gets to see is daughter one more time. But there’s more to it. As she happily fades away she says “Goodbye Santa! Goodbye Papa!” She didn’t just want to see Santa, she wanted to see her father, who had grown distant from her, return and fulfill her wish.

This leaves Maya and her own troubles. She returns to her old house, to be destroyed the next day, has memories, breaks down in front of Uchida. I’m not following her logic. All of a sudden she says it’s she that turned her back on her father, not the other way around. We’ve seen plenty of evidence to see otherwise. On the other hand we learn that he created Waldstein Academy because of her childish Christmas wish to have a monster school. Now we’re getting mixed signals. We’ve seen him, obsessed with work, slap her. Is this change of heart because she saw Akari’s father’s remorse? Ehh, not really buying it.

Next week, according to the previews, Maya dies! If it’s true it’s a hell of a thing.

Occult Academy 9

Another episode of Occult Academy where they do absolutely nothing to locate the Nostradamus Key. If they continue to waste their time with heartwarming tales it’ll be all over soon. Get to it!

Jimi Hendrix comes to mind ... Wait! What the hell is THAT?

I mean, Maya and Uchida both remind each other that they’re not doing enough, but both times the current situation takes precedence. This time the vice principal leads a class and this time they’re looking at 19th century American spiritualists, ectoplasm, that kind of thing. Nice that this show casts a wide net in its choice of occult things. After Kozue rather stupidly asks that they raise the spirit of the ex-principal (tactful, Kozue) the vice principal conjures up … practically the opposite.

Not the ex-principal.

Her name’s Akari, she’s cute as a button, scared, wants to go home, and vanishes and reappears with puffs of snow. So much for the Nostradamus key THIS week … The rest of the episode involves the gang, minus Uchida, tracking down her home and figuring out her story. And sadly, it drags. Little Akari makes friends with them all and becomes less scared (her playing with JK was the show’s best moment), all well and good, but apart from a bizarre scene when they find her home it’s mostly discussion.

As usual, Kozue will bear the full brunt of the upcoming weirdness.

Her parents divorced, the dad got custody of the girl but found it hard to take care of her and work, so she was alone a lot. She was found outside her apartment frozen to death. A lot of exposition and not much else. They track down the father who angrily tells them to fuck off and says he was responsible … and that’s about it. I have to say this is the weakest episode of the series so far. I can’t think of anything else to write about it. I can only hope that the second half makes up for the first.

Occult Academy 8, Asobi 7

Occult Academy 8 fixes all the things that went wrong last episode. Maya and Ami are friends again, and Shigeru proves again that he’s a cool dad. Too bad they had to throw in a monster invasion to do it, except the girls weren’t all that mad after all, so what’s the point of the monsters? Okay, I know this show depends on monsters and aliens and things like that, but … bah.

Chupacabra have no sense of timing.

I mean, after the usual tense school scenes where the girls don’t talk but go humph a lot, right when Maya and Ami meet at the shrine to sort it out, Kozue (natch) runs back with a little monster on her back, and then there are more, then a really huge one who takes Maya away. Why it didn’t just suck all her blood then I don’t know. That’s what they do to the cows (I was hoping we’d come back to that). We learn later that they’re pretty easy to kill; maybe it was afraid.

Shigeru and Kohta would get along.

The following scene stretches my credulity but in a way that’s very satisfying. Maya and Kozue rush over to Shigeru’s place babbling a story about monsters kidnapping Ami, the day after Shigeru had gone to extremes to give the girls a UFO experience. He’s got to believe that this is some kind of revenge hoax, right? Nope. Not only does he forgive Maya on the spot for her outburst that night, but he believes the story, arms himself, and off they go!

The rest of it is tracking the monsters to an old hut, fighting off the little guys (Uchida actually contributes here, which is nice to see), rescuing Ami, a final big-guy threat ended by Shigeru with a handful of nails. Some monster. Head came right off. As for the girls it’s the usual breathless apologies while whacking monsters. Saw that coming. It’s fun to watch, this show usually is, but it felt forced, especially since we were conned into thinking the girls had no intention of making up until the monsters showed up. Turns out that’s why they were meeting at the shrine in the first place. So a normal make-up scene gets hijacked by monsters for, I assume, our benefit. Gotta have monsters, right? I was more interested in the Maya, Ami and Shigeru. I say it again: Bah.

Asobi ni Iko Yo is the sort of brainless show that conveniently forgets anything that stands in the way of silliness, fanservice, or both. I seem to recall that Manami and Aoi have quit their dangerous jobs and thus stand in danger of revenge plots, so they’ve been staying at Kio’s. In episode 8 not only are they back in school, but so is everyone else in the cast.

They do add one amusing moment, when Antnie and her bodyguards are introduced, all with toast in their mouths because they believe it’s the custom in Japan. Hmm, maybe by now it is. Anyway, Kio’s in the film club, so Eris joins, so Antnie joins, so Manami and Aoi … you get the idea. And where do they go for the field trip? The beach! As if we hadn’t seen enough skin in this show.

It’s half swimsuits and half girls talking about Kio. I keep waiting for them to talk about something else, and they never do. Each talk comes back to him. This show fails the Bechdel Test every which way … well, there was that early negotiation scene, but does it count if the girls are cat-aliens? After the swimsuits and requisite barbeque it’s back to Kio again, who asks Aoi if she’ll teach him to fight. This is a pretty useful talent to have in his situation; Aoi’s the perfect one to ask, but it’s not quite what she was expecting. This is our poignant moment before the inevitable attack begins.

The inevitable attack.

Of course, in this show it can’t just be a straightforward attack, if you can count attacking dog robots flinging old tires at assistaroids and gun-toting maids straightforward. They have to add fresh weirdness in the form of a girl named Ichika, who supplies Aoi with magic seals which give her superhuman abilities. So now we have another strange character in an already strange story. Okinawa gets more interesting every day.

Occult Academy 7

Even though you knew what was happening in Occult Academy 7 from near the beginning it’s still a fun episode—until the end where they force in a little drama.

Childhood memories.

Ami, Maya’s other close friend, hasn’t gotten much attention in this series. This week it’s her turn. What’s more, we meet her father, Shigeru, who as it turns out is one of the coolest dads in anime. Early on the ever-serious Maya runs into him. After he bores her with some spooky stories she rather brusquely says goodbye, causing him to think. The next day there’s a report on a crop circle. Normally Maya would ignore it but her recent experiences now force her to take anything seriously. Here’s where the fun begins, until it stops.

Shigeru, Ami and Kozue insist on coming along to stake out the crop circle in the dead of night. But that’s a while off. So until then the father does some grilling, they eat watermelon, set off fireworks, the sorts of happy things you do together. It’s clear now what Shigeru is up to. He wants Maya to loosen up and have a good time. And soon it becomes apparent just how far he’ll go to do this. As for Maya, she does loosen up. Nice to see. A good thing about her character is that she’s serious about many things but she craves friends just like anyone else does. But apart from a handful of rooftop scenes with Ami and Kozue we don’t see much of this.

By now we’ve guessed that UFO and the alien are all Shigeru’s work. JT and Smile are suspiciously spotted talking with him about some plan. And the effects are cheesy in a 1990’s sort of way. But it’s still fun to watch. In a terrific moment during the chase Maya looks at Ami while she joyfully shouts directions to her dad in the truck, and thinks back to old times. Too bad they have to ruin it. After the deception is exposed Maya turns on Shigeru. Doesn’t he know how important this stuff really is? She hasn’t got time for it! In other words, Maya hasn’t learned a thing. Understandably Ami turns on Maya. How dare she talk to her father like that? She has a point. He doesn’t know anything about the Nostradamus Key (Come to think of it, neither does Ami). He had simply gone all-out to give the girls an adventure. To increase the ugliness Shigeru slaps Ami and tells her to apologize to Maya. This might be the hardest slap to watch. The show had taken pains to show the rapport between father and daughter, what fun they have together. Now everyone is mad and we have a two-parter on our hands. A shame. The episode had been good harmless fun up to then.

But it does bring up a question: Instead of furtively looking for this key on their own, why don’t Maya and Uchida announce it to the entire school and get everyone involved?

And another question: What was up with that dead cow? Everyone forgot about it.