Miyako Arata’s new job at the Shinjuku Ward Office is a strange one. He’s been assigned to the “Nocturnal Community Relations Department,” which he’s never heard of before – and which, true to its name, operates primarily at night. Luckily, he has helpful coworkers in shift leader Sasaki and scientist / inventor Seo, who happily explain just what the Department does: keep an eye on and handle any problems with Shinjuku’s large population of supernatural occult creatures!
With Seo’s help, Arata gains the ability to see these creatures: fairies, demons, yokai, angels and more, all collectively referred to as “Anothers”. The three coworkers travel to the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens to resolve a territory dispute between feuding tribes of angels and tengu (flying crow-inspired yokai). Arata accidentally stumbles on the cause of the fight: a forbidden romantic liaison between the tengu Taroubou and the angel Adiel. A fight breaks out, leading to members of both sides escaping the Park – making it the Department’s responsibility to locate and contain them.
When Sakaki and Seo immediately resort to aggressive tactics, Arata realizes that he is the only person capable of understanding the speech of the Anothers. He negotiates with the leaders of the two tribes and, although distrust still runs high, both angels and tengu agree to meet and have a rational discussion about things. It even seems that Tarobou and Adiel will be allowed to be together, with Adiel’s sister and Tarobou’s father requesting their family members to communicate better and be honest with them. However, Arata’s eventful night is made even more so when an elderly tengu refers to him as “Abe no Seimei,” the name of an ancient, famous mystic and spiritualist who apparently also possessed the gift of speaking with Anothers.
I was incredibly hyped for this series, and man does the first episode deliver! It establishes a fascinating, richly populated world through the eyes of the “naive everyman,” Arata. However, viewers who might despair of having seen such a protagonist in many shows before this one, can be reassured that Arata does not remain an “everyman” for very long – as his valuable talent for understanding Anothers is revealed (and even somewhat explained) during the very first episode.
I’m usually the type of viewer to be drawn to strong, compelling characters, but in the case of Occult Koumuin, it was instead the setting which caught my eye. We get a beautifully detailed present day Shinjuku (one of Tokyo’s busiest and most vibrant wards, depicted with amazingly accurate detail) filled with a huge variety of creatures drawn from mythologies and traditions all around the world. Just in this episode, we’ve got pixies, tengu, angels and even a Celtic dog spirit called a Cu Sith all sharing the same park. (Speaking of the Cu Sith, I hope we see more of him in future episodes. I love his “grassy” design made to blend in with the park scenery.)
I’m also not typically one to focus on visual elements like animation, not being particularly knowledgeable in that area, but I have to say: The scene where Arata gains the ability to see Anothers is one of the most beautiful moments I can remember seeing in recent anime. At first, he’s surrounded by nothing but dark, indistinct trees and shrubs, and then the lights of pixies begin to appear, gradually followed by more and more types of Anothers until, as the scene reaches its climax, he is utterly startled by the appearance of the giant Cu Sith. It was such a genuinely magical moment – as a viewer, I truly felt like I was experiencing the entry into a new world right alongside Arata.
Pretty much the only flaw of this episode is that Arata’s human coworkers are not particularly fleshed out compared to Arata himself and the Anothers. Sasaki and Seo mostly serve as “exposition devices” to tell Arata what the Department does, and their introductory “banter” – probably meant to be humorous – early in the episode fell rather flat. I found myself checking the time, wondering how much longer until we got to see some actual occult creatures. (Plus, in my personal opinion, it wasn’t that funny…hasn’t “guy who looks so feminine and pretty that all the girls are jealous” been done a few too many times before?) For now, though, I have faith that the human characters will get more depth later on. The OP / ED also show more characters who seem to be affiliated with the Department, so I tentatively applaud this show for not dumping its entire cast on us in episode 1, even if Sasaki and Seo maybe weren’t the most compelling ones to start off with.
At the moment, I have no idea where this show is going. Police procedural with a supernatural twist? Full on fantasy epic? Episodic workplace-focused story? Maybe even a “reincarnation romance,” based on the imagery in the ED? What I can say for sure, though – wherever Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin is headed, I’ll be following along for the ride!
Out of 5 Dios: