Occult Academy

| June 8, 2012

Occult Academy aired on Japan’s TV Tokyo in 2010 and the complete series is now available in a 2-disc Premium Edition Blu-ray collection from NIS America. The narrative of this 13-episode original anime from A-1 Pictures and Aniplex follows the occult-obsessed students and faculty of the Waldstein Academy, referred to by area locals as the Occult Academy. And rightfully so! The students of Waldstein contend with any number of supernatural forces on a daily basis, including ghosts, zombies, mothmen, chupacabra, and imminent end-of-the-world prophecies.

Set in 1999, the crux of the narrative centers around the alternatingly conflicting and converging efforts of Maya Kumashiro, the daughter of Waldstein’s founder, and Fumiaki Ushida, a time agent from the year 2012. At the opening of the series, Maya returns to Waldstein for her father’s funeral and thereafter claims the academy as her own, which she secretly intends to destroy. Since childhood, Maya has harbored a severe distaste for all things occult, as her father’s obsession with it ultimately drove the two apart. And yet, Maya finds herself compelled to aid Fumiaki in his decidedly occult mission. With the future of mankind at stake, Fumiaki has travelled back in time to locate and destroy the Nostradamus Key before it activates and brings about the end of the world.

It may seem like I’ve given away a lot about the plot here, but I’ve honestly only scratched the surface of Occult Academy and its winding, branching narrative. In fact, the storylines branch off of one another so extensively that I found myself concerned as I approached the thirteenth episode that the series was going absolutely nowhere and that the numerous narrative threads couldn’t possibly be adequately tied up. But I couldn’t have been more wrong in my preemptive appraisal! Impressively, the myriad narrative threads all converge at the series’ climax, creating a satisfyingly epic conclusion. So contented with the series’ resolution was I, in fact, that I actually felt a tinge of shame for having ever doubted Occult Academy. It is truly a series well worth the full-blown NIS treatment and I can’t recommend it enough.

Ever since I reviewed NIS America’s Katanagatari releases, I’ve resolutely maintained that if you consider yourself an anime fan, you absolutely must own at least one of NIS’s Premium Edition releases. They are the stuff of collectors’ dreams! Occult Academy: The Complete Series comes packaged in a hard board case measuring nearly 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD), and boasting unique, poster-like designs on the front and back with the series’ title displayed on the case’s long and short spines, making it worthy of presentation from almost any angle. Contained therein are two slimline cases housing the release’s Blu-ray discs along with a 36-page, full color, hardcover art book, featuring character bios, episode breakdowns, an occult encyclopedia, and artwork exclusive to this set, including background and concept sketches. A word of advice, though: don’t even open the art book until after you’ve completed the series as it contains extensive spoilers! The series is presented here exclusively with its original Japanese dialogue accompanied by English subtitles (i.e. no English dub).

Unlike the previous NIS releases I’ve encountered, which included both DVD and Blu-ray versions of the collected series, NIS chose to release Occult Academy exclusively on Blu-ray. And they made the right choice here, as a deceptive simplicity characterizes Occult Academy’s character and background designs, which, in an SD transfer, could easily obscure the true depth of the series’ animation. The animators’ attention to the human form stands out in the detail, details as minute as the subtle gradations of color that present themselves in characters’ irises or the shadows cast on characters’ legs by their knees. What’s more, these richly detailed, yet highly-stylized figures move about in three-dimensional spaces, as the slight lack of detail in background and foreground elements give a distinct impression of depth to the series’ imagery.

Special features on this set include the obligatory clean opening and closings, a series of four shorts, and a bizarre music video for a song called “Love Machine” that inexplicably utilizes the series’ primary cast of characters and numerous clips from the first episode. The four shorts pursue a single narrative centered on a period in young Maya’s life when she and friend, Ami, adopted a legendary Tsuchinoko as a pet. These shorts, which really should be viewed after you’ve completed the series despite taking place prior to the events of Occult Academy, provide an interesting context for Maya’s relationships with her father and the occult as they stand at the beginning of the series.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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