To put it bluntly, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the first two ‘Anime no Chikara‘ series as the first one (So-ra-no-wo-to) was technically well-made yet didn’t make any mentionable effort to break out of generic anime patterns and the currently airing ‘Senkou no Night Raid’ is extremely dry and a bore to watch despite its interesting setting. So I am earnestly hoping that, as the saying goes, “The third time’s the charm” and A-1 Pictures will finally present something worthy of the projects’ ambitious name. Considering the staff of the third attempt – “Occult Academy” – it has at least a solid grounding and starting point with some really talented people in key positions. First, there’s director Tomohiko Ito who has an impressive record of works for all that he’s never directed a series or movie before. Recently I had an ‘aha moment’ when I found out that Tokiichi Kagurazaka is his pen name as suddenly everything began to make sense. I had always wondered who was behind the laid-back feeling and Hosoda-like elaborate framing of ‘Michiko to Hatchin’ #4, so it makes perfect sense that Tomohiko Ito had been in charge since he was the assistant director of “Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo” and “Summer Wars”.
More recently, Ito directed/storyboarded Kobato! #5 which also made quite an impression on me. While the script was pretty cliche (a more or less typical shoujo-ish slice-of-life story), he managed to achieve a dramatic intensity unlike any other episode I saw. The arrangement of the screen was again quite reminiscent of Mamoru Hosoda, i.e. studied and intuitive scene compositions with a strong underlying feeling of realism.
He was also the assistant director of one of the more prominent Madhouse shows of recent years – Death Note – and directed a bunch of episodes himself. Originally, he started out as setting producer on X (TV) and later moved on to directing episodes of Monster. I couldn’t find a complete list of his work neither in the English nor Japanese web, so I gathered following information from various sources:
♦ MONSTER (2003-2004): Storyboard #43 #56 #71, Ep. Director #43 #56, Ep. Director Assistant #23
♦ Blood+ (2005-2006): Storyboard #2 #14 #34 #46 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Legend of Mahjong: Akagi (2005-2006): Storyboard #5 #21, Ep. Director #1 #5
♦ Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (2006): Assistant Director
♦ Cluster Edge OVA (2006): Storyboard #3 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Saiunkoku Monogatari (2006-2007): Storyboard #17
♦ Death Note (2006-2007): Assistant Director, Script #26, Storyboard ED2 #14 #26 #35, Ep. Director ED2 #2 #7 #14 #23 #26 #29 #35
♦ Majin Tantei Nōgami Neuro (2007-2008): Assistant Director, Storyboard ED1 #24, Ep. Director ED1 #24
♦ Kurozuka (2008): Storyboard #3, Ep. Director #3
♦ Persona -trinity soul- (2008): Storyboard #23 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Kannagi! (2008): Storyboard #11 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Michiko to Hatchin (2008-2009): Storyboard #4 #12 #19, Ep. Director #4 #12 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Stitch! ~Itazura Alien no Daibōken~ (2009-): Director OP1
♦ Kobato. (2009-2010): Storyboard #5 #17, Ep. Director #5
♦ So-ra-no-wo-to (2010): Storyboard #4 (synonym: Tokiichi Kagurazaka)
♦ Summer Wars (2009): Assistant Director
♦ Occult Academy (2010): Director
As far as other staff of Occult Academy is concerned, I find it quite reassuring that award-winning veteran director and animator Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Blood Movie, Roujin Z, Pop Chaser, etc.) is involved in planning activities. I would be incredibly glad if we saw him doing other work as well (such as storyboarding or key animation), especially because he’s almost disappeared into thin air since his last two jobs as director (Ragnarok Online Opening Movie in 2002 and the “Easy Breeze” Fluximation short in 2005). Other than that, the only work on anime he has done since 2002 was some key animation on Osamu Kobayashi‘s Someday’s Dreamers (2008) and on the Burst Angel OVA (2007).
I’m also thrilled that super-talented animator Takahiro Chiba of Kamichu! fame serves as the character designer and chief animation director, so quality should be good. I find it particularly interesting, though, that Xebec is helping out with the animation production. Xebec has its share of talented animators and directors (such as Mori Kai, Akio Takami and Yuuko Sera), it’s just hard to notice due to the horrible source material and content of their shows. Hopefully, some of them get the chance to show their skills here.
On the script side of things, Seishi Minakami is the supervisor, who did the series composition for shows like ‘To Aru Kagaku no Railgun’ and ‘Birdy the Mighty Decode:02’ in the past. There was some information floating around in the Japanese web assumedly from Ito‘s appearance on a radio show. The genre is reportedly “occult comedy” and Ito said that it was difficult to combine those elements and that he had a hard time with his directorial debut project, yet they had the ambitious goal of overwhelming male anime fans (and it contained themes which would resonate with 25-35 years-olds). Furthermore, the heroine is a ‘tsun’ character of ‘hyper-degree class’. You know, ‘tsun’ as in ‘tsundere’ but without the ‘dere’ side. Anyway, Occult Academy promises to be a refreshing genre mixture so let’s hope that July comes quickly!