19 January 2017

V Reviews: Occultic;Nine - An occult trainwreck

All right, I've got a bunch of reviews lined up, so let's do this! Let's start of this series of reviews with the biggest turds I've seen this year! Occultic;Nine

V Reviews: Occultic;Nine

Occultic;Nine was announced for the 2016 fall season, and had a title and short info box that kind of picked my interest. Though I should've seen the red flag as well.

Yeah, A-1 Pictures studio and the term "Light Novel" is NOT a good combination (cough*SAO*cough). Though in A1-Picture's defense: since they usuallywork with freelance animators, the end result really depends what director, writer and animators they have at their disposal.

So if there's a challenge, I'm here to pick it up. Let's open the details on this anime and see what meat is available...

The director (Kyohei Ishiguro) has directed Your Lie in April (which IS a great anime), but also the turd called Lance N'Masques (oh, dear).
The screenwriter (Noburo Takagi) is the man responsible for the screenplays for both Durarara and Baccano and did work on other supernatural shows like Shigoku Shoujo and Koi Kaze. Overal Takagi has done great work up until now, including in the same genre.
The overal editor (Akinori Mishima) has done so many things, it's also hard to pinpoint him as good or bad.

And then there is the light novels this anime is based upon. They're not awful, but not too amazing either. The novels score around 7-8/10 regularly.

So what went wrong?

Okay, I went a little digging here. The novel apparently got put "on hold" after two volumes due to "printing issues" (which is a very Japanese way of saying: "It didn't sell"). Though this might also be to refocus the effort of the writer (Chiyomaru Shikura) to finish the script for the anime AND the visual novel (slated for release this year).

I guess he's hoping the game will be a big enough success that the light novel can go on sale again? (sorry, I can't help but laughing after reading that sentence)

Not only that. People who have read the novels say that the entire first novel got adapted... into ONE single episode... which makes sense if you watched that clusterf**k that is the first episode.

So let me ask you this. A half-baked script that needs to be pushed into 12 episodes which at best functions as a promo for the upcoming visual novel that isn't even finished either? How can that work? That's asking for Murphy to pass by and apply his law.

And who knows what happened behind the scenes while creating this train-wreck. There are rumors enough that Your Lie in April was Lightning in a bottle and that Lance 'n Masques is the regular approach to how the director (Ishiguro) actually works (which I can't confirm nor deny, since I haven't watched THAT train-wreck).

But that's enough speculation. Let's get over the biggest missteps one by one.

The infamous first episode

Occultic;Nine quickly became infamous for having one of the worst first episodes in anime of recent memory.

If I hadn't looked it up I would've thought this was the director's first shot at directing an anime, because it was so horrendous. The episode direction was horrible, the aesthetic choices weird, the character introduction a mess, the pacing dreadful, the music editing sometimes real baffling and so on and so on.

If it wasn't for the murder mystery that seemed somewhat interesting, I think most of us would've just dropped it like it's hot. This was an episode that could be seen as "so bad it's good."

But since I recently finished Shirobako and thus the general process of making an anime, I kind of wanted to follow this trainwreck to see how hard it would continue crashing. I wanted to see if this was going to be a "boing boing paradise", if you know what I mean.

So did it? No, not really. The anime team obviously picked up all the bile that was spilled after the first episode and enforced changes on the series.

Though I kind of wished they didn't fix it. Why? Because an anime that's so-bad-it's-good is interesting to watch for years on end. But a trainwreck that gets repaired along the way removes much of what made it such an interesting spectacle in the first place.

So while story and editing sure got less awful over time, some things did NOT change.

Awful Pacing & Storytelling: Infodumps at 110% speed, preferably at a bar

One of the bad things that remained a constant throughout this mess was the general pacing and especially the character interaction. The main characters ramble on and on. And that would be fine if it was a fast-paced comedy (like Gintama). But this is a supernatural mystery, NOT a comedy (at least, not intentionally). And a lot of the rambling happens in exposition dumps at a bar. If you know anything about decent screenwriting, Infodumps in restaurants or bars are not done, or should be avoided as much as possible.

Infodumps are already bad by itself, though they're not always unavoidable. But doing them in bars or restaurants is cliche and generally bores the audience. Not to mention, the audio of several infodumps was sped up to 105-110% (just enough to have no audible voice changing), while the sound editors cut away the breathing moments.

No, that is not a joke. In some episodes you can actually hear the moments where the audio got cut (which actually was more interesting to listen to than the actual dialogue spoken).

The worst part about this... infodumping/rambling at 110% speed is the main "character trait" of several of the main characters, including the intended protagonist (Yuuta Gamon).

If you think that is bad, you are absolutely right. Literally more than half of all dialogue spoken can either be cut without consequence or kept to inner monologues. And doing that would result in way more interesting main characters than the ones we ended up getting.

Distracting character design: Boob physics Engine

But don't worry if you haven't noticed this pacing annoyance after a few episodes. You were probably too distracted by Narusawa Ryouka's boobs.

Oh my. It DID went boing...

One of the frequent complaints (or compliments, depending on who you ask) from people watching this anime is Ryouka's boobs. Ryouka is a hyperactive ditz who keeps hopping around (LITERALLY), which causes her boobs to be in constant bouncing movement. This in such a way you have to look at her, while wondering what the hell you're even looking at.

You could call this fanservice... but there's nothing to be served; the bouncing boobs only function as a distraction for the mess this show really is.

Bad character introduction: Let's fix this one at least

I've watched the entire series (you WILL require alcohol to finish it) and I still have no clue how most of the 9 "occultic" characters are named. We got a name clip, similar to the introduction of the Baccano and Durarara characters. But something apparently got lost in translation.
I'm sure it was the intention of the writer to have the name clip with all nine names appear in the opening credits (which was a thing in Baccano and Durarara). But it ended up being splashed in the first episode instead, way before most of these characters even got a decent character introduction.

Yeah, I know I can read the novel, or look up the names on myanimelist or so. But seriously: if that's the only way to figure out who everybody is, you're doing something wrong!

Anyway: Character introduction is something I can do instead of the anime, so here we go:

Yuuta Gamon: Main character. A self-proclaimed NEET and a blogger of the occult who sucks at his own character description. No, really. A NEET who goes to school is contradictory to the definition of the word. And while he blogs about occult stuff, he doesn't like occult stuff at all.
Yuuta gets involved with the murder of a professor early on and only starts sinking more into misery (and mystery) the further this story goes.
Ryouka Narusawa: Hyperactive bouncy girl with her own personal boob physics engine. Nuff said.
Miyuu Aikawa: The cute girl. Does Tarot card reading and is good at it... but doesn't really use it outside of her introduction episode (due to plot convenience).
Sarai Hashigami: Son of the murdered professor. Is supposed to be smart and edgy. But in reality he sucks at his own character description and just keeps rambling instead.
Aria Kurenaino: Self-proclaimed hex girl (or witch) who sucks at her job and has a sickening backstory.
Takes up a lot of screen time in the first half, but has NO FUNCTION WHATSOEVER. This is a character that could be cut (together with her "demon") and there would be NO difference.
Shun Moritsuka: Deus-ex detective. He somehow knows everything without any explanation whatsoever, doesn't do anything relevant, has the worst case ramble-itis and is annoying without end.
Seriously, f**k this guy.
Touko Sumikaze: Reporter on the occult. Doesn't get enough screentime in the first half, is totally useless in the second half (sigh)
Ririka Nishizono: The yaoi doujin artist who can predict the future. Never explained why, has virtually no real role in the series and hardly gets screen time. And the way she's handled in the last episode is indicative of her presence on the series as a whole. She just disappears.

Other characters include the devil of the Hex girl (useless character that could be cut from the story), the creepy albino kid (obvious villain alert) , the stand-in detective with psychic powers (who, even with her limited screen time ironically is the most useful person on the show), the weird bartender (interesting concept, horrible execution) and the evil corporation (I... I just don't... sigh...)

All in all, there are almost NO characters to attach to, and the supporting "occult" characters that are somewhat likable get so little screen time, you keep wishing for certain other ones to just die (oh, wait...).

Is there anything that saves this heap of drek?

The murder mystery and the "256 incident" by themselves were actually quite interesting. It starts out with the murder of a professor in the occult (and the father of Sarai Hashigami). But the murder ends up having a deeper meaning when a yaoi doujin is found at the scene of crime that predicts events that are happening. Not too long after this murder, a mysterious event occurs where 256 people end up in a (sort of) suicide pact, drowning themselves in the park river of the city.

Yeah, he be dead boi

Our main cast tries to figure out what happened here while trying to find a friend who went missing shortly before this "mass suicide" occurred. And in this process they slowly start discovering shocking truths, since not everything is as they assume it is.

And if that sounds like an interesting premise of a story... that's because IT IS! Even if more than half of the characters involved are poorly written and executed; even if the animation is B-level quality and even if the direction often makes you wonder what the director was smoking while making his decisions... The mystery in this series kept making me come back (that and the fascination to watch a train-wreck in motion). Too bad even that part got ruined with the last episode.

The ending

Nope. Nope... The amount of stupid in the last episode is way too high to even comment on it.

I knew I was going to need alcohol to get through the finale ("probably a better time if you're drunk", like Jeremy Jahns would say it), but it clearly was NOT enough.

Look, mom! I can fly!
Why? Because f**k the story, that's why.

In all seriousness... with a clearly unfinished source story (since the game still isn't finished) and dozens of loose plot threads, you can't finish a series in one single episode (at least not in a good way). But the director and screen writer clearly tried (and failed). It's ironic, really. The reasons the first episode was a disaster were all the technical aspects, which have been fixed by the last episode. But the one reason to keep watching it after the first episode (the story) got absolutely ruined by the end.

Which means that this is one of the few rare anime that has a horrible beginning, a horrible end, but a somewhat enjoyable middle part...

Final conclusion

Don't touch this anime with a 50-foot pole. Unless you want lessons on how NOT to adapt a novel into an anime.

You may find the mystery interesting to keep following it (like I did). But since there is no satisfying conclusion to it, you should not bother.

My score: 3/10: A supernatural mystery covered in many layers of awfulness

Well, this is the worst I've seen in the past year. From here on, it can only get better.

Until next time,

V out.

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