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Occult Academy Complete Series Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

The fate of the future is at stake and an odd group of people are coming together to save it.

What They Say:
In the year 2012, the world is a wasteland invaded by aliens. Time travelers like Fumiaki are sent back to the year 1999 in order to destroy the “Nostradamus Key” to prevent the apocalypse. In 1999, Maya, the daughter of the former principal of Waldstein Academy (a.k.a. Occult Academy), returns to the academy to replace her father. Despising her father’s obsession with the occult, Maya is hell-bent on running the school into the ground out of spite. Her plan is interrupted when she meets Fumiaki and learns of the forthcoming destruction of the world. They form a pact to look for the key.

Contains episodes 1-13 plus a 36-page artbook with exclusive artwork, draft designs, and occult encyclopedia!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is fairly straightforward for an NIS America release in that it contains the original Japanese stereo mix done in lossless PCM format. The show has a pretty solid mix to it overall with the way it deals with the action and even the dialogue at times with placement and depth. The action has a good sense of space to it where things are moving around the forward soundstage and a welcome amount of bass that doesn’t go too far or deep. The music is a standout piece for it as well with how it unfolds, both in the opening and closing sequences as well as the incidental bits throughout it. The series doesn’t really go above and beyond in any way, but it’s very well conveyed here and serves the show well with the mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in the summer of 2010, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second where the extras are also all placed. Occult Academy has a very good design to it with its colors and animation, something that looked striking during its simulcast run but far more so here. The transfer captures the look of the show very well and really made it even more engaging for me. Colors are striking where appropriate but the rest of it just has a sense of depth and warmth to it that really made me connect with it. The CG animation stands out when it hits, particularly with the aliens, but it’s something that’s quite intentional and the overall effect is strong. I love the look of this show and the transfer captures it about as good as I could imagine.

Packaging:
The NIS America release of this show is done in their “standard” premium packaging which is why I’m always glad when they get a new show but especially one that I really like. The packaging for this release has the oversized heavy chipboard box that utilizes some great colors and character artwork to it. One panel is done in green and the other with red as it shows various bits of iconography related to the show in the background while the foreground gives us different incarnations of the lead characters with what they’re wearing and the positions. It’s bright, bold and colorful in a way that really is quite appealing. Inside the box we get to clear DVD sized thinpak cases where it does similar to the artbox, just in orange and blue, using some of the same artwork for the front covers. The back covers use some additional artwork and shots from the show along with a breakdown of the episode numbers and titles. Add in the clean technical grid that lists everything clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The artbook included in this is fantastic and really hits home with everything that I wanted. It’s designed as a “confidential” book on the people that go to the Waldstein Academy so that we get a series of character pages with various designs and notes as well as full page breakdowns of each episode with shots and details about it. There are some very good pages of visual artwork as well of the landscapes, the technical designs for some of the locations and an encyclopedia of various occult terms as well. It’s a rich and detailed book that’s definitely a big positive for fans of the show.

Menu:
The menu design for the release is pretty good as it fits the show well without being too in-theme or too bland. The two main menus use different colors and character artwork, but the premise is to use the occult symbolism in the background while the foreground has four different pieces of character artwork “phasing in” one by one before it loops over again. There’s a good touch of movement to it all that along with the sounds that are used gives it a slightly unnerving feel, especially as it loops around. The menu design along the bottom is kept simple with a black strip with some nicely done text with a font that fits and the symbol as the cursor. It keeps it in theme without going too far again. Submenus load quickly and the layout is standard but well done with no problems in moving around.

Extras:
The extras are all on the second disc here and we get a few good things in addition to the stanrd opening and closing sequences. The final episode gets its own separate clean ending since it went differently as well. The first thing we get is a four part mini bit of fun with shorts that run a few minutes each and do silly stuff with the characters, such as working with them when they were kids. It also includes a short extra that runs for 90 seconds called Love Machine which is bsically a music video that sexes up the show, or at least highlights its sexuality, violence and fun. It’s cute and definitely a very fun inclusion.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series from the Anime-no-Chikara block that was produced by Aniplex and TV Tokyo using the A-1 Pictures animation studio of Aniplex’s, Occult Academy is a thirteen episode series directed by Tomohiko Ito who has done some single episode directing in the last couple of years with shows like Stitch!, Kobato and Monster. While Ito doesn’t have a ton under his belt, the series is being put together script-wise from Seishi Minakami who has done some interesting titles, such as some of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brortherhood, Shigurui: Death Frenzy, Sugar: A Little Snow Fairy and parts of Boogiepop Phantom. It’s a pretty diverse mix just scratching the surface of what’s familiar in the US and it gives indication that this seemingly serious series is in pretty good hands.

The series is one that has a structure to it that I like with what it wants to tell, reminiscent of the film Twelve Monkeys for me. The main bookends of the series to some degree is that we see the year 2012 and learn that in 1999, aliens invaded the world and threw mankind into a special kind of hell. In the years since, there’s been efforts to fight back against it, but the main focus after acquiring a particular piece of alien technology, a race that we never truly see, is to travel back in time to 1999 to find something called the Nostradamus Key. This is what was considered the item that changed everything and allowed the inter dimensional aliens through. So this one group of survivors ends up throwing various people back in time that seem to have some sort of power, such as psychokinesis or telekinesis, and supplies them with a special phone that can show them that item in the future, or that part of the world so they can see whether it’s what would be the Key.

It’s through this lens that we see a young man named Fumiaki sent back in time to take on the role of Minoru Abe, a teacher at the “Occult Academy,” a place where all the things related to the occult, aliens and mythology is studied among other classes. Minoru’s arrival in 1999 comes at the same time that a young woman named Maya has come back to the academy as her father, the principal and founder of the academy, has died and she’s there to take over while also being a student. The pair end up in an odd relationship for a number of reasons, but the balance between the two is what works. Minoru’s story is told in a couple of pieces and we get a big chunk of it when we get to see his life flash before his eyes on a mission that he has to deal with. Because of that, his story is pretty simple when you get down to it, but Maya’s is what spans the series as a whole.

Maya’s a disbeliever when it comes to the occult which makes her the one that kind of wants to take down the academy overall, though it’s not a full on stated goal. She just wants to show up her father since she has issues with him that are unresolved since he’s dead. Over the course of it, she gets thrown into a fair number of situations with the supporting cast that grows around her, especially since one of the students there is a childhood friend, and the exposure to the occult that does happen helps to edge her along. It runs the gamut like a series of X-Files episodes with the mysteries and what it covers, but it doesn’t get so deep into it that you feel put out by it. When she finally does come over to the fact that Minoru is from the future and that there are some bad things in the offing her, her seriousness goes just right over the top and it has fun with it.

The hard part of the series is the middle arc where it does more to tell the story of the characters, primarily Maya, but also the supporting cast and those that have a greater role as it goes on. There is a good supporting cast here, from the vice principal who has her own agenda to a young woman named Mikaze that has a strong affection for Minoru. Even Minoru’s younger self has a key role in the series that gets explored throughout in small ways. But there are a couple of two part stories that just don’t click too well. One deals with the group helping a man who lost his daughter to try and come to terms with it and help her on her way spiritually. The other involves when some of Maya’s friends try to fake a UFO appearance to try and help their overall position.

The show may seem a little like it wanders at times, but it’s all in service to get us to know the characters better so that it all comes together when things go all wonky in a wonderful way as truths are revealed. The show actually goes for two endings which makes it pretty exciting to watch since it resolves two different storylines that are pretty tightly connected. With the first ending, it deals with all the magic and unusual things that have happened over the course of the series, making it all clear what was going on yet leaving enough open to interpretation. When it shifts to the larger storyline involving the future and events there, it has a couple of twists it has to run through in order to bring it all together, but I loved the way it kind of topped itself at times and then hit all the right marks. And with a perfect epilogue closing that just made me smile, it’s a series that certainly had more places it could go but also gave me real closure.

Occult Academy has a really great sense of design, both in the architecture and the characters. A-1 Pictures has quickly become one of my favorite animation studios in the last year with some of the things they’ve worked on as I love the flow of the designs they use with the characters and much more so when it comes to the backgrounds and building structures. There’s a certain kind of detail and love in how they design things even in simple things such as a school hallway that gives it more of a life. I also like how they can take a good serious series and slide in a little bit of humor here and there, such as Maya tumbling after her possessed father surprises here, or the little bits of background to Maya’s younger days. They’ve found a really nice balance here with the way they’re telling the story but also in animating it by having both adults and kids dealing with what’s going on.

In Summary:
Occult Academy was a series that I enjoyed during its simulcast run even with some weaker aspects in the middle with the two part story lines. Watching it in this marathon form here definitely smoothed out some of the problems I had with it and the show as a whole really came together well. It has a fun storyline that I like, a good sense of humor about it when appropriate and it knows when to be quite serious as well. The mixture of magic, aliens, time travel and more is spot on with how it wraps it all together even while adding in a high school context. NIS America has put together a great looking high-definition only release, the first one out there I believe where no DVD release accompanies it, and for fans of the show that wanted it in a high quality fashion, it’s definitely a strong release.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Four Short Story Episodes, Clean Opening, Clean Closings, Music Video

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: NIS America
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
MSRP: $64.99
Running Time: 334 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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