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Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin Wrap-up Notes

Well, that was uneven. The series starts out with one of the most spectacular first episodes I’ve ever seen, swerves back and forth between highly-funky comedy/action and relatively straight emotional drama, launches into an over-the-top spectacle of an action-heavy finale out of nowhere, then closes with a full episode of low-key melancholy of the sort that comes of playing around with time travel and trying to avert the apocalypse.

Given the end, I’m now more or less certain that the whole thing is a kind of 12 Monkeys reference, and if the creators were into Terry Gilliam it would also explain a lot about the quirky sense of pacing and humor (also plenty of Sam Raimi Evil Dead/Army of Darkness in there). There weren’t as many movie references as the first episode had me hoping for (really, there wasn’t as much of pretty much everything the first episode had me hoping for), but there were still plenty of amusing nods.

A look at the credits hints at why it’s so scattered—five different scriptwriters, and no less than eleven episode directors, each working with a different animation director and storyboard artist. Only two pairs of episodes had the same team—2 and 8, and 1 and 13. It’s not that unusual to have a number of different teams working on a high-budget series like this, but it couldn’t have helped. Series director Tomohiko Ito, it’s worth noting, also handled the first and last episodes.

The question is whether the whole thing was so funky from minute one that the wildly inconsistent moods and styles work, or if it whets your appetite for something that it fails to deliver on. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle; the weird swings in mood and nearly-random plot twists worked for me well enough, but I sure would have liked to see more of what the show proved it could do under ideal circumstances in the first episode. And, overall, I just wasn’t jumping up and down cheering as much as I felt like I should be—it started so well I really wanted to like it, but on occasion I found myself having to try in the way you just don’t when something is fundamentally awesome, rather than good with flaws.

Of the two people I was watching it with, one really didn’t like where it ended up, while the other thought it was so quirky that it worked; I suppose that just indicates that it’s going to depend a lot on personal taste.

The final episode also rubbed me the wrong way a little.  I’m not big on feedback-loop time travel stories, but I admit that this one was pretty much guaranteed to have something like that pop up at the end—you can’t make a story about time travelers trying to change the future they came from without stepping on some causality principles eventually. Even so, I’m not sure if the rest of the series and the premise had enough of a foundation to allow it to work as pure drama (epic spoon aside—I have to wonder if that was a subtle Tick reference), and the characters seemed a lot less intelligent than they’d been established to be up to that point. I will, however, give credit for following through on the fact that Fumiaki had grown up to be, fundamentally, a nearly-irredeemable loser.

What I mostly ended up wondering, though, was whether the series had been originally planned for two seasons then cut short at one. Given the number of subtle hints at the underlying plot that it dropped, and how leisurely it was through the first nine episodes, it sure felt like it wasn’t anywhere near the conclusion when it comes screaming in out of nowhere in episode eleven. Combined with the number of completely random plot twists, intended sympathy for characters you had barely even seen up until that point (the bodyguard dude), and somewhat rushed conclusion, it sure seemed like there was a dozen episodes missing in there somewhere. Then again, the show was so funky, who knows—maybe they really did plan it that way. If somebody decided Mission E was a good follow-through on Code E, anything is possible.

Final plot comment, I was disappointed with where they took the romantic subtext. While the show did a good enough job with setting up Maya and Fumiaki as having a sort of shared past that eventually lead them together, I was holding out a little hope that—for once—the two leads wouldn’t end up romantically linked in the end. Plus, even for all the hints it dropped that Mikaze wasn’t going to be what she seemed, I did like her cheerful-but-not-ditzy character. There was also nowhere near enough chemistry to explain Maya acting as stupidly as she does in the final episode—she had been clearly established as way too practical for that, which it’d have taken an awful lot of love-blindness to hand-wave past.

One thing that isn’t in any way uneven is the production values—the show looks like it cost a fortune and is gorgeous throughout. Even more so since it doesn’t really try to show off—it’s not wild or stylish, just very, very polished. The music is also great—nearly every episode has a different sort of score, with a huge range and a lot of fun, funky stuff.

Overall I’d recommend it—it ranges from moderately entertaining at its worst to all kinds of fun at its best—but only if you go in ready for the fact that it’s going to be all over the map and it’s going to end oddly.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin Endgame: Where Did That Come From?

Now that, I didn’t see coming. Seikimatsu Occult Gakuen starts with a first-episode spectacle to rival just about anything. It then proceeds to casually stroll through a series of largely unrelated one or two episode plot arcs, blending a moderate amount of character development with funky humor, while dropping occasional hints about the larger scale plot. And then, after a quietly dramatic pair of episodes, BAM! All-in on the action-heavy endgame—zero set-up, zero warning.

I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen it hit the fan quite that abruptly and violently in anything before. Amusingly enough, this show is already so funky it sort of works.

Even so, it’s so sudden I’ve got to wonder whether the series was planned for two seasons and got trimmed down to one. Either way, if there were ever a series I didn’t expect to see a full-on transformation sequence into a black mage for a flaming magic battle, it was this one.

Overall, it’s kind of disappointing it didn’t have more time to work with—it feels sort of abbreviated—but still thoroughly enjoying it, both for character drama and the whacked sense of comic timing.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin: Now That’s A First Episode

Oh, great, another show about a school with a bunch of supernatural stuff going on, taken over by the surly high-school-aged daughter of the crazy founder.

…is what I was thinking, but wow does this show have a heck of a start. The first episode is spectacular: A quirky, brilliantly-timed sense of humor, huge animation budget, a pile of nods to movies from The Exorcist to Porco Rosso to Terminator 2 (heck, the whole thing seems to be something of a 12 Monkeys homage), time travel, Nostradamus, unintentionally undead parents, a huge, hilarious action sequence, a touch of human drama, and a funky, piano-heavy soundtrack.

The razor-sharp blend of way-funky humor—both offhanded, concept stuff and sight gags—and horror/sci-fi standbys reminds me a bit of the Evil Dead series, of all things, which is to say potentially all kinds of awesome. The second two episodes are rather lower-key than the spectacular opener—they seem to be setting up the premise and developing the characters as people some—but still have some funky stuff, and the comic timing is near-perfect. Plus, the characterization even seems to be decent.

It’d be too much to ask for it to keep up the first-episode momentum all the way through, but if it manages to stay even half as good it’ll still be a memorable show. Definitely looking forward to more of this one.