Midnight Occult Civil Servants Anime Review

Let’s Talk It Out

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin only has a score of 6.82 on MAL and that’s no real surprise. A visually dull anime with a slow story about a character who can talk to supernatural creatures isn’t exactly ticking everyone’s box of a must watch. Arata has no other power. No magic banishing spells or supernatural mojo to back anything up. He literally can just speak with these Anothers and so we spend a lot of the series either sitting around the office or walking around the city having conversations. It isn’t exactly designed to be riveting entertainment.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin - You Can Talk To Them?

Despite that, this ended up being an anime I loved coming back to each week. The slightly darker and more mature tone was appealing and the absence of explosive fight sequences was kind of a nice relaxing view after the powerhouses of the season, Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer and One Punch Man were done. While there is certainly more this narrative could have done to play to its strengths, there was definitely enjoyment to be had in watching Arata slowly growing into his job and figuring out what he could do with his gift and what his limitations were.

Midnight Occult Civil Servants - Arata

The story is decidedly episodic with only one or two episodes carrying over to the following week. The general set up is something weird happens and Arata and his co-workers go investigate or Arata just happens to stumble upon something weird and gets involved. Over the episode we see the various characters talk about how inscrutable Anothers really are while Arata has his doubts and ends up trying to speak with the Another and then one way or another, the situation resolves itself.

Great suggestion.

Where Midnight Occult Civil Servants fell a bit flat was despite  the incredibly dangerous scenarios set up at times with humans being kidnapped or falling into comas they pretty much without fail saved everyone and restored them to how they were. It kind of deflated a lot of the tension that could have naturally existed in this story because the Anothers were using a very different set of values to govern their actions and by default they didn’t see their actions as evil. There was a lot that could have been explored here and yet it really wasn’t.

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The other area, outside of the visuals, where I found this anime lacking from the experience it could have been was in Arata himself. As a character he’s a little bit of a space cadet early on and while that makes sense given he’s been thrown in the deep end, it doesn’t really give him a chance to establish his values. As the story progresses, we see him become more determined and assertive of his views, but he still doesn’t have all that much of a personality.

Arata - Midnight Occult Civil Servants

And for a story based around a character who can talk to supernatural creatures, he doesn’t say a lot that is all that profound or interesting. In one case he’s negotiating with an Another that is transporting humans to her realm and then stealing their emotions in a bid to recover something she is searching for. Arata’s argument that it is wrong makes sense but when she disagrees he doesn’t back it up or propose any kind of alternative. He merely reiterates the point and then acts shocked that she doesn’t get it.

For the rest of the department the characters get some development but by and large remain fairly one note. While we do have a case involving the sister of one of Arata’s collegues, outside of this we just have them standing in the background a lot of the time or cautioning Arata. They also endlessly reiterate that you can’t negotiate with Anothers and that Anothers are dangerous but despite being tasked with dealing with Anothers they seem to know practically nothing about them.

As the story progresses we see more and more often human antagonists that seem to exist simply to oppose Arata’s views on the Anothers and while these characters could have been nuanced and interesting, they end up being one note characters who hate Anothers because ‘insert tragic back story’.

Tragic back story always comes with a scar – Anime Logic.

Basically we have all the ingredients for a more subdued dark urban fantasy but the anime itself doesn’t really deliver. The warning signs are there from the OP with a really great song and absolutely boring visuals that do not do the music justice at all. The idea is solid but the execution is shaky.

When we throw in the visuals which are poorly contrasted and routinely dull or ugly to look at and we end up with an anime that is difficult to recommend, yet I’ll do it anyway. As a break from stories about the power of friendship, high school girls being cute, shouty protagonists proving their values with their fists, or protagonists finding themselves in fantasy lands and suddenly super powerful, Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin is actually quite refreshing in its own way. While it never reaches its potential its an easy watch and one I enjoyed week to week.

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Karandi James
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Midnight Occult Civil Servants Review Episode 12

A Sleepy But Satisfying Conclusion

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin Episode 12

This one ended as it began with Midnight Occult Civil Servants slipping away without fanfare or anything overly noteworthy; just a sense of a story going quietly about its business without putting on airs or drawing attention to itself. Whether or not you like it will entirely depend on your particular fondness for the slow and steady tone of the story or quiet interactions with the supernatural that seldom have world ending consequences.

In this quiet little episode, Arata is taken to a field by some fairies where he meets an Another that seems to have amnesia. So begins a long and tiring journey as Arata seeks a new home for the Another the old fashioned way; he literally walks and looks around Tokyo for a place for the god to go.

While there are certainly some surprises and upsets along the way, and the god learning that he was draining the life force from Arata quite unintentionally certainly gave a bit of time pressure to the resolution, mostly this was Arata going about his job. Yes, his very mundane job as a civil servant even if the service he provided had supernatural connections.

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There’s nothing in this final episode that will push the undecided into watching this series but it feels like a nice way to bookend the story as Arata’s wanderings bring many of the minor characters that we didn’t see last week come back into play even if only for a few moments. We also see that Arata now deals with the Another’s in a calm manner and he deals with unexpected problems in a sedate fashion.

All and all, it was a satisfying watch even is a fairly unspectacular one.

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime With Blood and Gore

Tuesday's Top 5

Yes, we have more Halloween list fun this week as I count down my five favourite anime that have a lot of blood and/or gore. Now I had to think long and hard about my pre-requisite for something ending up on this list because just most amount of gross out moments didn’t seem like a great criteria. So instead I decided to go with anime that use blood and gore the best as part of the narrative rather than for the shock factor. That said, it is my list so I’d love to know what you would include on yours.

Please note, there will be spoilers below. And while it should go without saying given the list title, a lot of the images will be disturbing if you do not like blood and gore. 

Honourable mentions: Tokyo Ghoul and Attack on Titan, both provide blood and gore aplenty but it always feels more sensationalist than necessary.

Number 5: Higurashi

Higurashi

Cute kids who turn into psychos and kill their friends, in sometimes truly horrifying ways. This anime really does push the boundaries with a young cast that are subjected to torture, dismemberment, and generally just misery and death. Despite the young age of the cast it doesn’t really hold back on showing the deaths seemingly relishing in each and every failed attempt to break free from the time loop. This one definitely earns a spot on the list even if it isn’t quite as graphic as some of the others.

Number 4: Elfen Lied

Elfen1

I almost just made this an honourable mention given a lot of the blood and flying body parts could definitely be seen as just an attempt to shock the audience. Still, the story does rely heavily on human fear of the unknown and of fear of the monster, and Lucy delivers both as she walks her way through a mass of armed guards leaving nothing but blood in her wake. After the opening the blood keeps coming but it is certainly diminished after the anime has set its scene.

Number 3: Another

Another

While more about atmosphere and creepiness than blood, there’s something even more shocking about the moments of pure gore this anime delivers because of the slow build to them. Very few people forget the umbrella on the stair case incident and the teacher suicide in the classroom is a truly unsettling and disturbing visual that isn’t leaving me any time soon. As these deaths are the result of the curse the class is under the violence and shocking nature of these events are actually kind of necessary because otherwise the kids wouldn’t be half so desperate to undo the curse.

Number 2: Devilman Crybaby

Devilman

Want a break from simply dripping and splashing blood around the screen? Devilman Crybaby delivers true body horror with some truly violent and gory sequences that will leave you feeling fairly unsettled. As much as I didn’t really get into the story or characters of Devilman Crybaby, I have to admit that if you are after a genuine round of body horror with a lot of gore thrown in, this anime is going to deliver provided you don’t also mind a lot of sexualised content mixed in with that.

Number 1: Pupa

pupa2

This one wins again (as it previously in 2016 on anime I recommended for Halloween). This is one graphic and disturbing short anime that will definitely get under your skin as a younger sister, infected with a virus, will feed by eating the flesh of her still living older brother (also infected but fast healing). This is blood, gore and a whole lot of shudder inducing imagery and definitely not for the faint hearted. Also, not for anyone who wants a conclusion because you’ll be left wanting.

And there we have it, my top 5 list of anime that use blood and/or gore. As always, feel free to share your list in the comments below.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime School Uniforms

Tuesday's Top 5

I’m thinking most of you have never had the misfortune of going to a school in Queensland and wearing what are arguably some of the worst school uniforms in existence. Mostly because most schools go for cheap and affordable with easy substitutions and rather than actually looking in any way respectable, most uniforms end up looking like everyone just decided to throw the same black or maroon shorts on and a polo shirt and off they went (yes there are some schools, particularly private ones, that do in fact have decent uniforms, but they are not the majority). Which probably explains why I became fascinated by school uniforms in anime because they always look totally adorable and like something I would have loved to wear day in day out (maybe if I’d actually been asked to I’d feel differently).

So the end of this long preamble is that here is my list of top 5 anime school uniforms that I would personally have wanted to wear. With that said, I’d love to know which uniforms have caught your eye in anime.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable mention: Another

Number 5: Sword Art Online

SAO - Uniforms.jpg

Seriously, look at how cute those uniforms are. Firstly there’s the colour scheme with the fairly dark and plain colour with white accents and gold buttons and emblem. It is fantastic. Not too flashy, but quite flattering to most people. I also love the blue cross pattern on the collar giving it just that little bit extra and the red ties/bows just finish off the look. I know you can’t see it in the image, but Asuna pairs hers with white stockings and black shoes and to be honest looks fabulous. I would have loved this kind of uniform at school.

Number 4: My Hero Academia

My Hero Academia - Uniforms.jpg

Once again I like the reasonably plain grey colour with the green trims and gold buttons. It has the look of a uniform without being too plain and the colour is reasonably suitable for most people. The red tie again makes a nice contrast and I like that Uraraka gets to wear a tie as well and not a bow or ribbon as many female uniforms do. My Hero Academia looks pretty classy with this uniform, but we tend to spend more time watching the kids in their sports uniforms rather than this one.

Number 3: Code Geass

Code Geass - Uniforms.jpg

Okay, if I’m practical and brutally honest, I probably wouldn’t wear this uniform given the short skirt length for the girls, but still, look at how adorable that is. The yellow and green contrast really nicely, the belt gives it some great shaping, and all and all it just looks really adorable. The male uniform is definitely the nicer of the two, though that’s probably just my preference for both the colour and the fact that they are wearing long pants.

Number 2: Vampire Knight – Day Class

Vampire Knight - Uniforms.jpg

Super, super, super cute. While I didn’t love Vampire Knight as a show (certainly enjoyed it and enjoy making fun of it), the uniforms at Cross Academy are to die for (or at least the day class is). The super cute black blazer with white accents, the red bow, the knee socks, everything about this uniform is adorable and there are so many little details to it. A friend of mine cosplayed as Yuki at one point and ordered a costume and the sheer amount of detail on that uniform is just crazy. Absolutely love it and would love it to be a real uniform.

Number 1: Inu X Boku SS

Inu x Boku - Uniform.jpg

While I know for an absolute fact I could never wear this uniform, both because of the short skirt and because I just lack the shape to really pull it off, I totally fell in love with this look when watching the anime. I really relate to Ririchiyo’s character and this uniform is kind of superb. It’s like if there was a fantasy version of me going to a fantasy school, this would be the uniform I’d want that version of me to get to wear. The colour scheme, those shoes, the style, it is absolutely divine and I love it.

Okay, now that I’ve admitted I have no actual taste, what uniforms out there have you fallen in love with?


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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Uses of Dream Sequences in Anime

Tuesday's Top 5

Previously I looked at the best uses of phones in anime and this week I’ve decided to turn my attention to dream sequences. My criteria wasn’t that these were the best dreams but the best use of a dream sequence to serve either the character development or the plot. This is strictly my opinion so as always, I’d love to know what would be on your list.

Please Note – There are spoilers below.

Honourable mentions to Ouran High School Host Club and Card Captor Sakura.

Number 5: Madoka Magica

Madoka.jpg

Madoka Magica uses dreams in a similar fashion to a lot of magical girl stories. Our main protagonist starts by having a dream of fantastical and terrible events before waking in the mundane real world where she is decidely ordinary. However, what sets this particular story apart is the nature of the dream itself. Madoka is seeing alternate realities where she has lived through the events to their conclusion before Homura has rewound time start over to try to change the outcome. This makes the events of the dream fairly significant to understanding the eventual outcome of the story and gives it a bit more weight on rewatching than just a cool battle sequence to start events off.

Number 4: Another

Mei3

This one is as straight forward as it comes and yet very affective. Kouichi has started to get to know Mei and as a result has been ostracised by his friends (okay is being deliberately and entirely ignored). It makes sense that he is starting to have fantasies and dreams about the one person who is talking to him still. However, other than showing that the two are forging a bond, this dream sequence also gives the audience a space to take a breath. Another is continuously hitting its audience with a dark and gloomy atmosphere with each scene dripping in over the top seriousness, so this brief moment of respite, even though it is a dream, is welcome and also the calm before the horror that follows. All and all, it works well within the narrative.

Number 3: One Punch Man

OnePunch.gif

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of One Punch Man but I did appreciate what they did in the dream sequence where we see Saitama energised and enthused in a way we rarely see him reality. What does a man who can defeat everything in One Punch actually want? Clearly, he wants a decent fight. Seeing his character quite literally come to life in the dream made the contrast with his everyday incredibly flat emotional state so incredibly clear and just made him a much better character because you could see he wasn’t bored and disinterested by choice. He genuinely wanted to feel alive. There just wasn’t anything left to challenge him.

Number 2: Sailor Moon

Moon Kingdom.jpg

Like Madoka, Sailor Moon also begins with a dream sequence where Serena dreams of the destruction of the Moon Kingdom as well as the guy she thinks she’s going to fall in love with. However, revealing their past lives isn’t the only thing dreams are used for throughout Sailor Moon. Villains attack characters through their dreams, the dead communicate with the living, future selves send dire warnings, and prophecies for the future all come through dreams. Then again, the entire show is about protecting the dreams of people so it makes sense that the idea of dreams is returned to again and again. Overall, remove the dreams from Sailor Moon and you wouldn’t have much of a show left.

Number 1: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

haruhi3

The climax of season 1 (broadcast order) sees Kyon and Haruhi stuck in a closed space she created where the two characters get to spend some quality time together and may or may not reveal some fairly interesting points about their developing relationship. However, what I like about the sequence is that after it is over Kyon wakes up from a dream but the next day at school Haruhi has her hair up in a pony tail (a direct reference to something Kyon had said in the ‘dream’). They never actually confirm whether this is a dream or an actual alternate reality that was created and nothing more actually needs to be said. Whether it was a dream or a reality, the impact on the characters has been clearly established without further explanations. Also, when you place this story in the appropriate place from a chronological point of view it makes Kyon’s actions and acceptance of some of Haruhi’s worse moments a bit more believable even if the guy is still a little bit of a doormat who really needs to tell her to stop a lot sooner.

So that is my list of top 5 uses of dream sequences. I’d love to know your favourite anime dream sequences so be sure to leave me a comment below.


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Friday’s Feature: Was That Good Atmosphere Or Just Poor Visuals?

Welcome to October and the lead up to Halloween. I know Australia doesn’t technically do Halloween but I find it a lot more fun than a lot of other holidays (less tinsel for one) plus Halloween lends itself to movie marathons. So, tis the season to drag out all the B Grade horror you can find and binge to your heart’s content. In the meanwhile, my features this month are going to focus on various aspects of horror (some more directly than others).

Tremors

Today, I want to look at the visual aspects that make up horror. One thing  you know going in to a horror (of any sort) is that it is probably going to be dark. Tremors is probably an exception given it is set in a blindingly bright desert and most of the action happens in full daylight, but it is more a comedy than a horror anyway so we’ll move right along. One thing that is a problem when you have a lot of dark going on is that it starts getting hard for the audience to distinguish what is happening in a scene.

This is something that was a real issue in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the grainy quality of the show, plus poor distinction between light and dark, meant some scenes just ended up being a grainy mess. It wasn’t until the DVD’s came out that some of that got cleaned up and even now the first and second season aren’t exactly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliantly lit scenes that set the tone and give us the needed contrast and then there are all the other shots.

However, let’s link this back to anime.

During the Summer 2017 season I watched Vatican Miracle Examiner and while this isn’t a horror by any standard, it was trying very hard for a creepy and unnerving atmosphere. I say trying because it was let down by its writing and characterisation and ultimately what we end up with are a lot of dark scenes with poor contrast and very little to draw us in.

I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of brown, grey and black. I’m not even sure in most of those images what I’m supposed to be focussed on. Basically, this is someone thinking all they need to make something creepy is to paint it black and they’ve just kind of missed the point about how atmosphere actually works.

Another2

On the other hand, Another really gets atmosphere. The slow pace and ending to the story may irk some people, but looking at how the anime visually creates atmosphere is fascinating. It is every bit as dark in scenes as Vatican Miracle Examiner but in those moments brings the characters to the front, and the character usually contrasts sharply with the rest of the scene. You can always clearly see these characters, particularly their facial expressions (or in the case above, the blood splatter). You still get the sense of a dark place but now you have something to connect you to that scene and to distinguish it from all the other grainy black and brown backgrounds.

Another3

Even without characters in the scene, Another manages to make its point clear. Yes, the scene is dark and cluttered, but we have the red light in one corner that gives way to the green lighting on the other side of the room. It is darker in the foreground and lighter further back in the room, meaning we can actually see the room in all its creepiness (because dolls are creepy). The room, and actually most scenes in Another, lacks symmetry, which just adds another element of strangeness to the whole thing.

Another4

The final sequences in Another are all fairly dark, taking place on a rainy night, but a handy fire manages to illuminate sequences with an eerie golden glow. It creates strange shadows and a sense of movement, while at the same time allowing what needs to be seen to be seen. This show was dark and a lot of the sequences were dark, but it was never hard to see what was going on and you always knew what was important on the screen. These visuals when combined with the music and the fairly creepy story of a cursed class worked really well to construct the atmosphere that became the highlight of the show.

Vatican1cBack to Vatican Miracle Examiner and if we look at the scene above, well… At least there is a light source in the foreground because otherwise we would have lost the limited bit we can see. And I guess it kind of shows us the facial expressions of those in the foreground. However, the best descriptor for the image above is murky. By the time the audience has even figured out what they are looking at and what might be the focus, the anime will have moved on.

Given the kinds of stories I love, particularly around this time of year, I end up watching a lot of shows that are quite dark visually. I always appreciate it when they do more than just make things hard to see and actually consider what the audience is looking at and what affect that will have.

So over to you. Which anime do you think have managed to create an excellent atmosphere with their visuals and which do you think missed the mark?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Female Characters with Black Hair in Anime

Tuesday's Top 5

Time to update this list. There are just so many great female characters with black hair that it would be hard for this list to never change.

While not as flashy as certain other colours, there’s something to be said about the beauty of black hair. Below are my top 5 female characters from anime with black hair and I’d love to know your picks. I kind of based the selection on how cool a beauty they were so some of my favourite black haired characters got cut a little bit. 

Please note there are potential spoilers in the descriptions below.

Honourable mentions: Rukia Kuchiki (Bleach) and Ran Mao (Black Butler).

And moving down from number 5 is Yukino Yukinoshita (SNAFU). Sorry Yukino.

 

Number 5: Rory Mercury (GATE)

Do not let the cute costume fool you. This black haired beauty is almost a millennium old and a demi-goddess to boot. You do not want to mess with her even if she isn’t wielding her scythe because she’s another on this list with a dangerously sharp tongue. While Rory has some very fine moments on screen (when she isn’t being used for fan service purposes), her finest hour came when she visited earth and was testifying about the actions the soldiers took on the battlefield.  It was a fantastically delivered speech that left very little room for argument.

Number 4: Mei Misaki (Another)

For someone being shunned by her classmates in a desperate but futile attempt to ward off a death curse, Mei Misaki certainly defines grace under pressure. You almost want to see what she was like at school prior to entering grade 9 just to see whether the girl we meet is who she always was or whether the successive pressures of being in the class, being made invisible, and the death of her sister played a role in creating the cool and quiet Mei we meet.

Number 3: Chuyun (Voice of Fox)

Voice of Fox Episode 10 Chuyun and Hu Li

Chuyun is just gorgeous. As an idol, that’s kind of expected, but even when she’s just at school or hanging out on the roof where she regularly ends up chatting with Hu Li, there’s an elegance about her. While I would have liked more from her character story in Voice of Fox, she was an excellent supporting character, and really, her solo was just phenomenal. 

Number 2: Rei Hino (Sailor Moon)

Rei is an interesting character, mostly because she can switch between cool and sophisticated to middle school brat in the blink of an eye (and usually when in the presence of Serina). Still, in the 1990’s Sailor Moon, she was the cool beauty of the group and the sometime rival for Darien’s attention prior to the whole revelation that he was Tuxedo Mask etc. I’m kind of glad Sailor Moon got an update if for no other reason than it saved Rei from some of those dreadful 1990’s fashion choices (the pink overalls are definitely springing to mind).

Number 1: Yuuko (xxxHolic/Tsubasa Chronicles)

The cool and mysterious dimensional witch and a very intriguing lady, Yuuko can be every bit the lady, or she can drink herself silly while lazing about and still look cool doing it. Don’t expect a straight answer from her and don’t expect a favour without payment, but she does always honour her agreements no matter how hard a bargain she drives. With a fantastic wardrobe full of a wide variety of truly glamorous and unique outfits, Yuuko is my number one pick for a true cool beauty with black hair in anime.

That’s my list done so throwing it over to you. Which lovely ladies have made your list?

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Karandi James
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