Occultic;Nine - First Impressions [Episodes 1-3]

A new anime from the mind behind Steins;Gate mixing science and the paranormal,  Occultic;Nine follows nine characters and their various connections to the occult. 

The Lowdown

Nine idiosyncratic individuals are linked by the “Chōjō Kagaku Kirikiri Basara” occult summary blog run by 17-year-old second-year high school student Yūta Gamon. Little incongruities that occur around these nine eventually lead to a larger, unimaginable event that may alter what is considered common sense in this world.


Episode 1 Impressions:

Underwater
Airing October 8, 2016

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Thanks to its occult detective theme and being created by Chiyomaru Shikura, the writer behind Steins;GateOccultic;Nine quickly became one of my most anticipated anime of the season (the only other anime I was more excited about is Yuri!!! on Ice because I’m a fan of figure skating and I would watch anything Sayo Yamamoto directs) and I was let down I think but then I did enjoy it as well?

First, some background information. The A-1 Productions animeOccultic;Nine is based on the eponymous light novel series by Shikura and is directed by Your Lie in April’s Kyōhei Ishiguro and newcomer Miyuki Kuroki. That alone is enough to have potential viewers excited. Interestingly, only two novels exist as the planned third volume of the series was cancelled only a few weeks ago. This may or may not explain some of the issues some viewers had with Occultic;Nine’s premiere. On a side-note before the actual write-up starts, I’m going to use the end cards as headers for each episode and credit the illustrators.

Occultic;Nine is frantic. The pacing is incredibly fast and even messy, you’d think A-1 Pictures was trying to out-Trigger Trigger and failed. I had the feeling important plot points were just glossed over and as it turned out that is in fact the case. The pacing’s speed is something director Ishiguro even acknowledged and he recommends viewers tape the episodes so they could go back to them for future reference. However, the pacing wasn’t a big issue here as the trailer already made it seem like the anime would be quite hectic. The main issue was that this episodes, this first episode, rushed through the whole plot of the first light novel. This caused the whole episode to feel disjointed. Things happened. Characters were “introduced.” However, there was no - or at least it seemed like there was no relevance to the plot. A whole novel was crammed into ~20 minutes. Regardless, I still enjoyed what I saw.

Maybe it’s my love for the Monogatari series but fast-talking, pop-culture savvy anime with occult components are kind of my thing. Yet, that personal preference is not all Occultic;Nine has got going for it. The characters that received proper introductions all were incredibly likeable and I love their character designs (apart from one aspect that everyone has already pointed out so I’ll not bother with it.) I thoroughly enjoyed the banter and character dynamics between blog-samurai Gamon, cute and bubbly Ryōka and moe medium (that’s what the official marketing calls her) Miyū. The writing was clever and the voice actors did a fantastic job delivering the lines with such energy that it simply carries you along. But it doesn’t carry you so far along that you wouldn’t notice that you don’t get a single thing that’s happening. 

Something that clearly stood out (no, not that) in this episode was the amazing soundtrack! Masaru Yokoyama did a great job with the score. It’s perfectly fitting for the spirited (heh) tone of the anime and the OP as well as the ED are simply unskippable.

As I mentioned, the premiere episode blasted through the first volume and I’m very confused as to where it’s going from here. I suppose the remainder of the story could be told through flashbacks or maybe the anime will only loosely adapt the visual novels? As of right now, I’m very confused as to what happened, how exactly the characters are connected with each other and what will happen. Yet, I don’t really see this as a negative and the episode even reminded me of cult-favourite Paranoia Agent. Occultic;Nine is a mystery anime about the supernatural and science after all so a little or a bit more mystery and intrigue is absolutely alright with me as long as we get a satisfying conclusion and it’s much too early to say whether it gets one or not. I’m cautiously optimistic and very intrigued so I guess I’m hooked. Well, maybe not hooked. I’m intrigued. Yes. Let’s say I’m intrigued.

In one line: A very messy, yet equally intriguing first episode. 


Episode 2 Impressions:

My Cold Dimension
Airing October 15, 2016

Yes. This is what I wanted. Intrigue. Mystery. Suspense. This episode was riveting from start to finish and didn’t suffer from any of the problems that plagued the first episode. As expected this episode featured far less fan service, is far less frantic and is still adapting parts of the light novel series’ first volume. A lot of people were afraid that Occultic;Nine would just skip the first volume entirely and becoming really confusing but this isn’t the case. Also, don’t worry about the planned but cancelled third volume. After all, we still have Shikura’s vision. Well, maybe worry a little bit because he can be a little hit or miss. Or choose to go into it with an open mind. Or be cautiously optimistic because this episode was splendid.

The pacing was a huge problem in the first episode and while the second episode’s pacing is still fast, it’s far from frantic. Instead of being chaotic and confusing, it serves the tone of the anime and has you on the edge of your seat. Things happen again but this time you can tell what is happening and it’s riveting. Pacing, art and music design work together so harmoniously to create a suspenseful episode full of teeth-pulling and accounts of living together with a mummy. Even the cliffhanger at the end of the episode worked well because the hinted tragedy surrounding Miyū and the ominous smile of Ririka Nishizono, the dōjin mangaka who seemingly has a connection to the murder of Sarai’s father, set it up nicely. This is how you do a cliffhanger ending. It’s not just tagged onto the ending of the episode to have viewers want to keep watching but it feels natural to the episode and, most importantly, it keeps the momentum of it going. There was no forced shock value, only the continuation of what was started in the first minute of “My Cold Dimension.”

To be honest, I was a bit shocked at the reactions Occultic;Nine got. We had only seen one episode and yet a handful of people already formed a steadfast opinion on it. The first episode was what I expected it to be: a set-up for the general plot and characters that tried to draw in viewers. Did it execute those expectations well? No, it didn’t since the pacing suffered from crowding the episode with every single important character and the fanservice was very unnecessary and over-the-top. Interestingly, most of the criticism was addressed towards Ryōka’s Ultra C cup without getting to the real issue of it. People criticised the anime for Ryōka’s physique yet still disregarded everything else about her and dismissed her bubbly and charming personality. The issue isn’t that she has a made-up size that would cause her back to permanently ache but that this kind of fanservice has no place in this kind of anime. Thankfully, the second episode toned down the fanservice a considerable lot and, while it’s still there, it’s not as in-your-face anymore. This episode will surely have a lot of viewers stick around for longer than they had thought.

I’m grateful the issues from episode 1 are largely absent in the second episode as it allowed the fast, clever and funny character interactions and the gorgeous art direction to shine. Kouta Michishita, the art director for this episode, has worked on the Monogatari series and it really showed, especially during the Facebook posts sequence which featured text over avant-garde imagery reminiscent of Shaft’s cult anime, emphasising just how out-there and haunting “Mummygatari” was. Furthermore, the backgrounds are a joy to look at, being full of little details that are fun to spot. The whole art design team is doing a fantastic job and deserves praise. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this episode. The first episode already showed promise and this episode lived up to it and what’s more, it lived up to my expectations, too. I was hoping for an occult detective anime that drives me so far at the edge of my seat that I’m running the risk of falling and this is exactly what I got. Bring on episode 3!

In one line: With none of the first episode’s issues around, Occultic;Nine lives up to its promise.


Episode 3 Impressions:

She Cracked
Airing October 22, 2016

End card by Ryoka’s voice actress Ayane Sakura (Eleonora in Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, Uraraka in My Hero Academia)

End card by Ryoka’s voice actress Ayane Sakura (Eleonora in Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, Uraraka in My Hero Academia)

I am absolutely in love with this anime. From the way it’s directed to the way it’s animated and designed, it is pushing all my buttons. Plus, this episode featured none (!) of the issues that plagued the first episode. No fanservice and no pacing issues, only heart-pounding suspense and paranormal horror. I feel sorry for those who dropped Occultic;Nine after its first episode.

As it turned out, Aria was the girl from “Mummygatari” living with the corpse and ghost (?) of her older brother, a twist many saw coming since the different storylines had to converge sooner or later and “She Cracked” actually had a few intertwinings. While “Mummygatari” may not have worked out too well as a shocking turn of events, it did treat us to some excellent direction. During the flashback-scenes of Aria and her brother, you could notice that he had no shadow and no reflection. It was clear from the start that what we were shown was “Mummygatari” and that the brother was dead but the way it was subtly hinted at and hidden in plain sight was fantastic and well thought-out. Just another instance ofOccultic;Nine’s backgrounds being full of life.

While the “Mummygatari” twist was rather obvious, the cliffhanger at the end of the episode wasn’t, even though it was teased since the very first episode. The first episode’s Japanese title was たくさんの人 which translates to “many people” and that was also one of the first lines spoken by Yūta, who dreamed of many people underwater (hence the English title) drifting lifelessly. Tōko Sumikaze, the reporter, also had a similar dream, though she could only remember vague details. Although her thinking back of the conversation she had with the professor made it clear that her dream would have something to do with the plot, I was surprised to see it resolved by the end of the episode. Only to raise even more questions.

Yūta, Tōko and mangaka Ririka - if she is to be trusted - all seem to have prophetic dreams but how are they connected to each other? Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea and I’m loving it. We’re three episodes in andOccultic;Nine won’t stop giving us mysteries to puzzle over. How are they connected? Who was the kid with the creepy grin? Who was the guy with the creepy mask? Where is Chizu? Is the occult real? I can’t wait to find out and I hope Occultic;Nine manages to give us satisfactory conclusions to those and all the others questions it will undoubtedly raise.

My personal highlight of this episode was the back-and-forth between clairvoyantic acquaintance of gods Ririka and otaku detective Agent Moritsuka. It showcased not only the great writing but also emphasised the chemistry between the voice actors. Furthermore Moritsuka’s “You already know me. After all, I am the detective of your story.” gave me the goofiest grin. Here’s a character pretending to be pretending to be cool and it could easily come off as obnoxious and annoying but instead he manages to be one of the coolest characters in the anime as well as the comic relief. Ririka and Moritsuka’s conversation will again call forth comparisons to NisioIsin’s style and indeed, given Occultic;Nine’s visuals and pop-culture-referencing as well as endearingly savvy dialogue, I’m sure a lot of viewers will find Occultic;Nine to be aping the Monogatariseries. I don’t see anything wrong with that though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Pacing was a huge problem but it seems Occultic;Nine has found its groove and what a groove it is. What used to be one of its major issues is now one of its strongest points as the pacing and tone leave you positively breathless. This is how a mystery anime should be. I doesn’t give you time to catch your breath while still allowing you to effortlessly understand what is happening as long as you pay attention and Occultic;Nine demandsattention. The advantages of the anime’s fast pacing would be wasted if viewers were to not watch closely but the production team is doing excellent job at forbidding viewers to look away. The animation is fluid, the colours are lush, the backgrounds are filled with details, the dialogue is (I don’t want to say snazzy but) snazzy and the music, oh god, the music. I need the soundtrack so badly. I digress. Everything works in tandem you give the viewers 20+ minutes of thrilling suspense. This is how you do a mystery anime. I can’t stress it enough because it’s been ages since I saw a show, any show, of the mystery genre that managed to end every episode with me trying to catch my breath.

However, it’s not just the suspense elements that Occultic;Nine does well. It also has its fair share of horror. Horror isn’t just about being scary. According to Devendra Varma, horror is the stumbling against a corpse.Occultic;Nine seems to have taken these words very literally. Yet, shocking revelations aren’t all we are offered as the anime succeeds in creating an apprehensive mood fitting its different storylines. The confrontation between mangaka and detective was light, yet had an underlying tenseness to it, while Yūta’s dream (?) carried over its paranoid and oppressive atmosphere to the viewers and “Mummygatari” was like a dream that slowly but surely turned into a nightmare and I don’t think this nightmare is over yet. Far from it. Oh boy, I’m looking forward to delve further into the nightmare.

In one line: Occultic;Nine knows how to do suspense and horror.


Vital Stats:

Occultic;Nine is produced by A-1 Pictures and airs during the fall 2016 anime season. It is based on the eponoymous light novel series by Chiyomaru Shikura, was directed by Kyōhei Ishigur and Miyuki Kuroki. and written by To-Jumpei Morita.