Dr. Strangesmile or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Occult
Almost every single review you’ll read that deals with Occult Academy will emphasize the notion that the series’ tone abruptly shifts. Many of these reviews see this as some sort of narrative flaw that helps ruin whatever drama is inherent in the storyline.
I, personally, haven’t minded said shifts in tone up to this point since the series’ sense of humor is so spot-on, and I figured that it was just a way to make a comedy out of the situation. Like Ghostbusters and whatever other series peeps like to make comparisons with. But the latest episode made me think that these “shifts” are being used for an entirely different reason.
Occult Academy’s humor isn’t there to lighten the tone. In fact, the humor makes the series far more bleak and hopeless than you might initially expect.
Fumiaki’s quest to save the world seems to be thwarted at every turn. One second he’s out trying to take pictures of stuff to see if he can find the Nostradamus Key, the next he’s puking and fainting because Pod Girl drives like she’s playing Gran Turismo. Any time we seem to be heading in a direction that may help solve the puzzle and save the world, some inconsequential thing (compared to the bigger picture) gets in the way, and said inconsequential things are often fucking hilarious.
The latest episode, where a seemingly genuine clue to the mission’s success ends up being an elaborate prank to cheer up Maya, hammered in the idea that the humor is essentially a means to deliver a far more grim message: There is no hope in their mission. There’s no way Fumiaki and Maya can save the world because there’s nothing a couple of insignificant kids can do about saving the world from a predestined fate.
We’ve seen nothing in the series to this point that suggests that they’ll ever reach their goal. Neither of them has much of a clue as to what needs to be done other than “it’s going to happen at the Academy.” Fumiaki’s fairly incompetent, no matter how well-meaning he may be, and Maya’s so caught up in her personal issues that she’s far too distracted to really be of much use. They’re the only two people in 1999 that know about the fate of the universe and all they can barely handle a few mothmen and pranks, much less saving the world.
The fate of the world is in the hands of a fool and a bitch, and we’re doomed. That’s the vibe I’m getting so far, and it makes the already fairly dark humor of the series all the more hilarious. This isn’t just Ghostbusters-level “making light of a serious situation,” this is the Dr. Strangelove of apocalypse fiction if my feelings are right.
Occult Academy is satirizing the “end of days” feelings that so many people have had since 1999. Even though most people don’t believe that we’re in the “end times,” there’s been a hell of a lot of end of the world fiction made in the past decade or so that reflects on the overall defeatist attitude that so many people have nowadays. The conflicts in the world aren’t of the “us vs them” sort from the Cold War or WWII. There’s no clearcut enemy. Said enemy can strike at any moment, without warning. Many of said enemies aren’t just concerned about conquering us and winning wars. Many terrorist groups and other forces opposed to many of us reading this are just like aliens, since their motivations are just as seeming foreign and they’re more concerned about destroying a way of life rather than taking what we have and using it for their own devices.
Occult Academy is satirizing this existential dread that so many people feel by showing that there really isn’t much one can do even if one knows exactly what the hell’s going on, since even knowing who one is fighting isn’t saying much.
All we need is an ending that has Fumiaki riding a crashing UFO-tripod into Tokyo Tower. That would be awesome.
Also: Fat Marylin Manson is an uberbadass. Not only does he survive the alien apocalypse (Something that neither Maya nor Fumiaki will do it the aliens manage to invade, as demonstrated by when each of them have their pictures taken.), but he also participates in humanity’s new cloning program to help repopulate the world after the apocalypse. He must have been chosen because of his superior DNA or something. I bet Smile gets in on that cloning action as well.