Otaku USA Magazine
A Memorable Stay at the Occult Academy

In the latest issue of Otaku USA magazine, we bust out a feature on the mega-popular Sword Art Online, based on the light novels by Reki Kawahara. While Kawahara is no doubt a hot topic when it comes to SAO, the anime adaptation is also something director Tomohiko Ito has come to be known for. That’s fine and dandy, but let’s not forget Ito and studio A-1 Pictures’ 2010 show, Occult Academy, which is doing a fine job of standing the test of time so far.

It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but we posted our first impressions of the series back when the summer 2010 anime season was underway. Many of those feelings came flooding back when revisiting Occult Academy recently. It’s a sharply directed show that keeps things tight and fun throughout its 13-episode run, which is actually something Sword Art Online could have taken a cue from. While Ito is also known for his work on the 2006 adaptation of Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note—and is also helming the upcoming anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist creator Hiromu Arakawa’s Silver SpoonOccult Academy stands out as a successful crack at original anime.

The series follows Maya Kumashiro, daughter of the headmaster at Waldstein Acadamy, AKA the Occult Academy, who visits the school after her father’s passing. Her initial goal when arriving to attend his funeral is to accept her inheritance of the school and then promptly shut it down. It’s clear from the beginning that she holds a hefty chunk of resentment toward the occult—a subject that completely dominated her late father’s life—so she’d just as soon be done with it for good. Things change, however, when she gets entangled in the Prophecy of Nostradamus, which predicts the end of the world, and a mysterious force that’s intent on seeing it come to pass. It came after her father, and she’s most certainly next.

The key to stopping the prophecy is, well, a Key. The apocalypse can be prevented by destroying the Nostradamus Key, and that’s precisely why Fumiaki Uchida, AKA Abe Minoru, has been sent back in time to find it. This brings him, floating nude like a descending angel, face to face with Maya, who eventually comes around and decides to team up with Fumiaki to stop the apocalypse. Thus we have all the makings of a series loaded with occult action and an all-or-nothing race against the clock.

Occult Academy manages to create a really potent blend of light horror elements, Japanese folklore, and plenty of humor that keeps things from getting too dire. At times it scratches that monster of the week itch, but never strays too far from the pressing matter of finding the Nostradamus Key by any means necessary. While Maya initially comes off as an extremely cold character, there’s plenty more to her than that, and we gradually witness the shedding of various layers as the show progresses. Likewise, Fumiaki is a really interesting character, especially with the way his current mission is woven in with flashes to the future, and references to the other Abe Minoru characters that attempted to find the Key before him. Needless to say, those missions didn’t end too well.

The end result is worth experiencing for yourself if you haven’t yet, and I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the fun here. Occult Academy is a great show to marathon over the course of a day or two and, best of all, it looks fantastic. A-1 Pictures did a bang-up job on everything from the character designs to the animation, which holds up well a few years later. There are plenty of options for checking out the series—NIS America released it on Blu-ray and it’s still streaming over at Crunchyroll—so do yourself a solid if you haven’t given Occult Academy a shot yet.

©A-1 Pictures/Aniplex, TV TOKYO