Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

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Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Occultic;Nine – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: We are introduced to nine strange individuals linked in some fashion by the occult affiliate blog of high school student Gamon Yuuta, whose operation is staffed by his platonic friend Narusaka Ryouka and fortune-telling idol Aikawa Miyuu. His research leads to him finding a scalped corpse in the office of “paranormal scientist” Prof. Hashigami.

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Why You Should Watch: Whatever else you want to say about O9, it looks the business, with richly detailed, lived-in locales and retro-ish character animation a la Gundam Recon in G. The color palette is diverse and the soundtrack is above average.

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Why You Shouldn’t Watch: This is going to be a longer list, unfortunately. O9 just didn’t…click for me. It could be the pace: there is a lot going on in the early going and with nine main characters to quickly introduce and a ton of extraneous conversation, I found it hard to keep up or care. And it doesn’t really matter how good a show looks or sounds if you can’t find a way in.

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I wasn’t clear on why Yuuta’s buddy Ryo-tas has such a ridiculously large bust, or why the two of them, and the guy who runs their hangout, were trying so very hard to be weird and kooky. Oigakkosan brought this up with Drifters, but I think it’s even more of a problem here: idiosyncrasy is a delicate tool, and it’s used more as a sledgehammer than a scalpel here.

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The rapid-fire banter, inner monologue, and flashes of people’s names all contributed to an over-caffeinated presentation lacking any kind of anchoring element. Everyone is talking about the “Occult”, but only in the most general terms. Kamisama no Memo-cho, Occult Academy, even Persona all featured far stronger opening salvos.

And more than half of the titular nine characters left no impression on me whatsoever, though they’ll surely play larger roles later. The one who left the strongest – Gamon Yuuta – left a negative one; he’s just plain not a likable protagonist. It’s just that with all the shows already out, O9 didn’t quite do enough to make me want to stick around for later.

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Rewrite – 01 (First Impressions)

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Rewrite is a sprawling adventure with a little bit of everything in its hour-long premiere. MC Tennouji Kotarou jumps from fantastical dreams, and being bitten by a “ghost” in his bed every night, to gradually stocking his harem group of female friends at the fancy academy he attends in real life.

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The show often suprises with its transitions from the supernatural to the mundane, often merging the two visually, as when Kotarou locates a dozing Kotori under a tree (he meets a lot of girls around trees).

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Rewrite wastes none of its hour introducing a bevy of characters, from Kotarou’s fellow outcasts in class, the “delinquent” Yoshiro and his childhood friend Kotori, to the literally fiery class rep Konohana and the cherry pantsu-wearing, super-strong transfer student Ootori Chihaya.

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It’s a lot of people to keep track of, but I wasn’t overwhelmed, as their designs and personalities were distinctive enough to tell them apart. That being said, Lucia and Nakatsu seemed extraneous to this first episode, while the newspaper girl losing a piece of paper that leads to Kotarou learning about the “Academy Witch” was a little forced. But the Witch’s almost Howl’s Moving Castle-style sumptuous, comfortable office. She’s just nowhere to be found, which is kind of the point.

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If Kotarou wants something done about his nightly bitings, he has to find the Witch, but she makes him work for it, communicating through curt notes, including one saying he’ll be dead in two days.

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Another extraneous scene is the one in which Kotarou takes Ootori on a bike tour of the city, which is pleasant enough, but Ootori’s initial aggression towards him seems to fade away too quickly into an all-too-pliant potential love interest; one of several introduced.

It’s as if he initially chose the wrong options of speaking to her, but managed to climb out of the hole he dug. I won’t deny the tour of the eco-city was pretty, though.

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That night, things get considerably less pleasant and pliant for Kotarou, as he jumps through several hoops in hopes of meeting the Witch. Instead, he gets chased through the halls by weird creatures, the ghost girl who’s been biting him steals his (Key Brand) coffee, and he gets trapped in a stony void with two pixies named Pani and Gil.

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He and the pixies then accidentally wake up a giant crab monster (in just the place Kotarou expects to find the boss), but the silver-haired ghost girl comes to the rescue. Well, she doesn’t so much rescue Kotarou as level an immense and outsized portion of magic-based wrath upon the crab that spilled her delicious stolen coffee. Her cool-headed battle with magic shields and weaponized ribbons was pretty fun to watch.

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Hilariously, Kotarou falls a great distance and lands…on the floor of the school, everything back to normal, with a Colonel Sanders mannequin smiling down on him. Upon delivering the mannequin to the Occult Club office, he finally meets the Academy Witch, Senri Akane, in person. And it looks like she’s got plans for the kid.

Oh yeah, dreams, hallucinations, and illusory spells aside, Kotarou himself is “gifted” supernaturally, though we only see small hints of it in his ability to leap great distances and in preparing (but never unleashing) a skill he calls “accelerating.”

No doubt we’ll see more of his abilities now that he’s met the Academy Witch, who ask him the question of whether he wants to change himself or change the world.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 04

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I love how this show subverts our expectations…even expectations established as recently as this week by the other Mappa series this Fall, Shingeki no Bahamut. Creepy village full of ugly people? Rumors of disappearances? A gorgeous woman (Herman’s type!) living with her bowl-cut son on the outskirts?

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The logical path of least resistance tells us that if this beautiful creature Aurelia isn’t a witch, or rather a horror in disguise (and let’s be honest, “Aurelia” sounds like a witch’s name), then her son,  he of the intense gaze who talks to his wooden doll, most certainly is. Now that Leon is a full-fledged, under-control Makai Knight, it’s up to him along with Pops to root out Horrors and protect humans…even the thoroughly unpleasant-seeming, highly private inhabitants of this town.

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Well…THIS is certainly very creepy…

When Herman rules out everyone else, including Aurelia, the conventional process of elimination says the Horror is Alois, and Herman tells Leon He’ll Get This One, as it’s not fair to ask his son to kill a child when he’s really still one himself. Leon bristles at this (as he bristles at pretty much everything his dad says): it’s a Horror; the fact that it takes the form of a child is of no consequence.

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I want Herman’s neat little Horror-detecting bell.

Only…Alois isn’t a Horror either, sending the knights back to square one. Having wached Bahamut this past Monday with Hannah, in which innocent little Rita ended up being a necromancer, was pre-conditioned to suspect the kid too. Yes, even with all those hundreds of creepy wooden idols in that abandoned hut.

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Similarly, the overall sketchiness of the townsfolk, and the way in which they dealt with Aurelia, made her story about their seedy occult “ceremonies” make us start to suspect them as at least harboring a Horror or being in it’s thrall, if they weren’t Horrors Herman could detect with his bell for whatever reason. And yup…still wrong!

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No, this week’s Horror is the wooden doll Alois walks around with. He talks to it because it takes the form of another boy who, unlike the rest of the town, wants to be friends with him. It also taps into Alois’ desire for revenge against the town for persecuting and murdering his father, who reported their activities to the church.

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So, this is a Horror facilitating a young, angry boy’s thirst for revenge. Basically, a younger version of Leon, no? Herman is always possessed of many of the show’s best lines, and this week’s no exception:

Revenge will only destroy you. At the very least, be destroyed by women, that way you can go like a man.

Raging sexism aside, this line not only gets us to suspect Aurelia even more early on (be destroyed by women) but also hints at the situation they’re about to face at the town: Alois wants revenge, and the Horror wants to give it to him, but the Knights can’t allow it. They have to save Alois by depriving him of that which he desires most in life, because the Horror won’t stop with the townsfolk.

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This week is notable for its focus, eschewing any Emma or Alfonzo updates, but also for Herman never needing to don his Zoro armor, because this is another lesson for Leon first and foremost. When the Horror’s face morphs into that of Alois, Leon hesitates for the split-second needed for it to escape, but he doesn’t get fooled again, knowing that as seductive as the prospect of revenge can feel, his father’s words in this case are spot-on: it will only destroy you in the end.

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While he and his mother are now safe, he’s still sad he lost his “friend” and any hope at getting his revenge, but the Knights helped keep his soul clean. He’s young, and he’ll get over it. Their job done, Herman and Leon start off to the next town to gather info on their next target, whatever it may be.

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Aurelia and Alois blow town too, because, and this is the interesting part: the town hasn’t stopped the rituals. Furthermore, Herman and Leon aren’t going to do anything to stop them. They’re Makai Knights, charged with eliminating Horrors. They’re not all-purpose heroes, and it’s not their job to judge humans. Had a Horror not been involved in any part of this case, Aurelia and Alois probably would’ve been SOL.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 07

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Sometimes I know how I’m going to rate an episode right at its start, especially with beach episodes, which can be half-assed chores. So as with most other episodes of its ilk, a “5” or average score is a good early baseline. From there, it’s up to the episode to convince us to either raise or lower that 5.

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For the first three quarters of the episode, it was looking more like the latter: utterly boilerplate beach antics, complete with big bouncy boobs and male mischief. The only hint of originality was the fact that one notable character wasn’t wearing a swimsuit: Rurumo. Turns out she never bought one at the mall, possibly because she didn’t know she was supposed to.

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That proves key, as Chiro (one of the fanservice centerpieces in shellkini-clad human form) manages to find her a swimsuit that just so happens to be “The Legendary Swimsuit” the president of the Occult Club is searching for. It imbues its wearer with romantic assertiveness, and when a witch dons it, it also augments strength and speed.

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It comes up quick, but this is the turning point of the episode, because we know Rurumo harbors (and is trying to repress) feelings for Kouta, and we know Kouta is still invested in “reaching new levels.” This leads to Rurumo, under the influence of the swimsuit, making the first move on Kouta. Can Kouta resist? He can.

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Watching a slightly sunburnt Rurumo doze on the train home, Kouta admits to a certain degree of regret he didn’t let Rurumo “have her way”, but considering how he’s treated her so far in the show, it’s really, as he said earlier, “better this way.” If and when Rurumo plants her first kiss on his lips, he’d rather she do it while of sound mind and frail body, not under a spell with him trapped under a concrete tripod.

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After all that beach blandness, the episode finishes strong, reinforcing the show’s overarching premise that having Rurumo a persistent fixture in Kouta’s daily life continues to bring out the best in him. When push comes to shove, he can—and more to the point, wants to—set his hormones aside and do the right thing by her. And that’s what elevated this beach episode’s rating from the default of 5.

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Plans are being accelerated left and right. Yuri the Orca aims to marru Tabuki, who is firmly under her spell cast upon him by really tacky singing (so to speak). So Ringo takes more and more drastic measures (dragging a hapless Shoma along for the ride) to ensure that what is written in the diary will become reality. There are lots of bathroom signage extras this week; I personally think they work as a money-saving device: they enable the core cast to have a very impressive wardrobe (i.e. not just school uniforms).

Last week showed that Ringo truly has more screws loose than tight, and this week only reinforces that. Not only are there more period daydreams, she tries to get a seasonal frog to lay eggs on Shoma’s back for a love potion (Penguin #2 gobbles them all up, perhaps by design?) She’s also not above fully exploiting Shoma’s love for his sister by ordering him to do increasingly strange things. But after everything these two have been through, it’s really fun to watch them interact, despite the fact Shoma is totally submissive to her. His resistance is limited to complaining.

When the occult fails her (in a gross egg-laying scene), the diary tells her the M in plan M is for “maternity”. Combine this with Kanba and Penguinhead’s suggestion they simply get the two in bed together, and Ringo decides to break into Tabuki’s house and somehow get pregnant with his child. That is a survival strategy, after all. However, we don’t actually see who’s under the covers when Ringo enters the bedroom…

Meanwhile, the shifty redhead continues tailing Kanba, who gets more rent cash from the trenchcoated stranger on the train. Also, this is the second straight episode where they don’t even bother showing HImari in her non-possessed form. The survival strategy song-and-dance happens rather randomly. I would hope at some point they shorten it. It’s starting to remind me of Star Driver’s Tauburn summoning…we don’t really need to see it in its entirety every week.


Rating: 4

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This week’s a field trip, with Himeko and Bossun bumping into each other in the city, then spotting Switch on what initially looks like a date with Yuuki, the plain, pallid, Ring-like occult chick. It turns out he’s coming with her to pick out a computer, but it soon evolves into much more than that.

I really enjoyed their philosophical banter. These two are definitely intellectual rivals who are more alike than different; they’re simply dedicated to opposite ends of the human condition, namely the supernatural and the scientific. When they bump into a former classmate of hers, it’s learned that back before she was so involved with the occult, she confessed to him and got shot down because she was “scary-looking.” Switch’s cosmetic advice to her is similarly amusing.

They’re at a department store, so they avail themselves of the available services, and tarts her up. The transformation is striking, and the fact she still sounds the same and walks with the worst posture in the world is hilarious. I must say I definitely enjoyed virtually a whole episode dedicated to Switch and Yuuki; they really bring out the best in each other. The fresh setting brought back memories of Tokyo’s massive department stores that sell just about everything.


Rating: 3

RABUJOI’s Top 15 Anime of 2010

15. B Gata H Kei – A surprisingly solid and funny series that really delved into the unclean mind of a teenaged high school girl approaching the threshold of adulthood. Her antics and attitudes toward her eventual boyfriend were the source of constant entertainment.

14. The World God Only Knows – Having a character with a ridiculously obsessive gaming habit really invigorated what would have otherwise been a placid but uninspired sequence of romances. That his vast gaming experience gave him such an edge in analyzing and conquering real-life girls’ hearts proved a winning theme.

13. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – No shows matched the manic intensity and sheer irreverance for dignity as this latest Gainax installment, which had excellent, diverse animation and a kick-ass soundtrack.

12. So Ra No Wo To – The first anime-only “Anime no Chikara” series didn’t turn out to be the best, but it was still quite good, being perhaps the anime that most closely resembled a Miyasaki-like alternate fantasy world, richly depicted.

11. Katanagatari – Spreading out its twelve installments over tweleve months gave this series the most presence this year, and when each month ended it created great anticipation for the next. Some months were better than others, but the chemistry, music, and clever battles were more than enough to put this epic journey on the list.

10. Working!! – Sometimes you just need a simple, happy, straightforward slice-of-life without villains, monsters, or the world on the line. Working!! was just the ticket, with an eclectic cast of oddballs just working at a restaurant.

9. Star Driver – While only half over, this series was the best of the fall, and firmly established its penchant for gorgeous vistas, short-but-sweet battles, cinematic score, and intricate tangle of characters, most with dual personas.

8. Senko no Night Raid – The anime that went there: China in the 30s, to be exact. It told a story different from history, but it didn’t go all nationalistic about it; there was no black-and-white here. But there were spies with superpowers, which was awesome.

7. Durarara!! – This show did such a good job establishing the rich, energetic city of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, the real place was one of my first stops on a summer trip there. But it wasn’t just the soul of the city it captured, but the complexity of its people and their hopes and dreams. It could have ended better but few series started as good as this.

6. Angel Beats! – From episode one, this series pulled you straight into the afterlife and played by its own rules. An etherially beautiful yet confined setting, a sizable cast of lost souls, a soaring soundtrack, and the right dose of comedy earns Angel Beats! its high standing. More than anything, it was just fun.

5. House of Five Leaves – Though I was originally hung up on its creepy and altogether unattractive character designs, I wisely stuck with this ultimately gorgeous, atmospheric story of a time in Japan long past when life was tougher. It’s a well-told, well-acted, authentic story that really drew me in.

4. Occult Academy – In any series here deserved 26 episodes, it was this third and latest “Anime no Chikara” series. It did a great job developing Maya’s character, but too often went on side-tangents and had an incredibly-rushed ending. Still, the best episodes of this series can be counted among the best single episodes of the year for the sheer awesomeness they packed.

3. Shiki – Shiki started off slow and strange, but its meticulous build-up paid off in the best way. It too suffered from odd character design, but once one was acclimated to it it really complimentary to this dark and twisted horror story. Vamps and werewolfs are so overdone these days, but Shiki really contributed something unique and terrifying. Its soundtrack was also among the best of the season.

2. The Tatami Galaxy – Density. That’s what this series had in spades. Visual and verbal. For those who could keep up with the rapid-fire narration, it was an immensely satisfying and hilarious ride, with an ending that tied it all together.

1. Armed Librarians – The Book of Bantorra – This cool, confident, unrelenting anime wrapped in late January, making it just eligible for a 2010 list. January was a long time ago, but the awesomeness of Bantorra still shines clearly in my memory. No series throughout the remaining months packed so many interesting characters, stories, twists and turns into its run.