The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Midnight Occult Civil Servants
How would you rate episode 1 of
Midnight Occult Civil Servants ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Despite this being such a busy premiere, nearly everything you need to know about this show is contained in its title. Takes place mostly at night? Check. Fantasy/occult twist? Absolutely. And what do our heroes do? Civil service, of course.
Midnight Occult Civil Servants' first episode introduces us to Arata Miyako, the newest employee of the Shinjuku Ward Nocturnal Community Relations Division. As he soon learns, these nocturnal divisions are actually dedicated to managing relations between Tokyo's various magical creatures and its human populace, ensuring all the local tengus and pixies and whatnot don't destroy society altogether. And over the course of this episode, he manages to defuse a tengu-angel turf war by revealing it's actually a Romeo and Juliet narrative, ending on the punchline that he alone is capable of understanding fantasy creatures' speech.
Civil Servants has to move quickly to get through this episode's setup and first case, but it never feels particularly rushed. The storytelling felt neither inept nor inspired - this is a competently constructed narrative, and though Arata doesn't possess much personality yet, it does a fine job of introducing the show's setting. This already feels like a robust enough template for diverse episodic adventures - “the bureaucracy of fantasy” is an inherently rich subject, and I appreciated how this episode offered hints of mystery, action, and character drama all at once.
Civil Servants' aesthetic execution is similarly so-so, though a little worse than its writing. The animation is choppy and character designs a little bland, but I liked the novel creature designs used for the various beasts in this episode. This also doesn't seem like a show that is all that undercut by a lukewarm visual delivery; it's more about personal drama and community relations than action thrills, and yet was still able to deliver a reasonably convincing illustration of an aerial turf war.
On the whole, Civil Servants doesn't seem to really excel in any one category, but also doesn't have any major flaws, either. It's a middling but altogether competent take on its very specific premise, so if the concept of mediating Shinjuku's fantastical nightlife sounds fun, I'd suggest you give it a try.
In the darkness where the business district of Shinjuku meets the seedier Kabukicho lies a nondescript government office building. Inside storage closet #1 dwells the small night crew that handles the area's various occult phenomenon. Newcomer Arata's first case is a Romeo and Juliet scenario between a tengu and an angel and their disapproving families. Midnight Occult Civil Servants is a modest production with equally modest goals. Fans of the supernatural may not find this premiere dark enough to scratch that spooky itch, since this looks more like an office comedy with an occult twist.
There's never a point where the creatures and environment Arata is introduced to seem intimidating. The character design and art in general is pretty flat despite the hustle and bustle of the city at night and the array of monsters and fairies living in the area. Arata, Seo, and Reiji attend each escalating situation with little emotion beyond incredulity. Seo seems the most well-developed of the three by the episode's end, even though Arata is supposed to be our “everyman” lead. The twist that he's some kind of reincarnation of famed onmyodo practitioner Abe no Seimei adds some more interest to the story, if only slightly.
I think Midnight Occult Civil Servants has the potential to be a better show, but that would require more inspired monster designs and thoughtful interactions between the many supernatural creatures inhabiting Shinjuku. I'd have liked something more clever incorporating the myths of angels and tengu to start us off than a simple misunderstood romance. If a series is going to center entirely around the inner lives of different occult beings, it needs to tap into their lore to build an understanding with the audience and create a unique show. Right now, Midnight Occult Civil Servants is merely skating by on its genre staples alone.
Stories about secret government agencies who deal with supernatural matters are commonplace in anime, so what separates this title from a crowded pack? Well, this particular government agency seems to be staffed entirely by bishonen.
Actually, there's more to it than that. This particular variation on the concept also brings up a few other interesting notions. In this world, mythological creatures from various different belief systems coexist, even if not always peacefully, in a Japanese park. More unusually, being able to see supernatural creatures doesn't automatically mean you can communicate with them, and these civil servants aren't exceptions to that rule. The audience piecing this together alongside Miyako makes for a neat story hook, and it also turns Miyako from “the newbie learning the ropes” to a resource of incalculable value to the Nighttime Relations office. That also opens up a big mystery as to why Miyako has this ability, though the episode ends with the implication that he's the descendant or reincarnation of the famous onmyoji mystic, Abe no Seimei. The mystery then becomes whether or not someone in power knew enough about that and channeled him into this position.
Miyako's abilities and the circumstances under which he came into the job aren't the only intriguing details, although it does give him a critical role as an interpreter and possible diplomat to the “Anothers,” fueling potential conflicts in the future. The bit about the police tape that produces a mystic barrier was an amusing twist, but so are the designs for the Anothers. This isn't the only time I've seen angels being portrayed as extra-large, but it does make for a much starker visual difference between them and the tengu. Other supernatural creatures are more typical in design but still well-drawn. The opener and closer also promise more handsome guys (including some supernatural ones) and lavish displays of color.
The real question is whether or not the series has enough appeal to attract viewership beyond the otome and BL fans that it is obviously aimed at. So far I think it's a borderline case, but I would give it a tentative recommendation for now.
If people move around the world, why shouldn't supernatural creatures? And who says they'd be any better at getting along with each other than humans are? I have to admit that neither of these things occurred to me before watching the first episode of this show, but now that I've thought about it, it does make sense, especially as cultures and religions mix and mingle. According to Midnight Occult Civil Service, Judeo-Christian angels and tengu have their issues, and when both are living in the Imperial Gardens in Shinjuku (unbeknownst to most people), problems will arise. What no one anticipated was that one of those problems would be an angel and a tengu falling in love and neglecting to tell anyone why they're spending so much time together. See? Just like humans!
That's of course only part of what's going on here, but as far as setting things up for protagonist Arata to excel at his new job, it works well. I admit to a bit of eye-rolling when at the end of the episode he was revealed to be the either reincarnation or descendent of the famous onmyoji Abe no Seimei (trust me, you've seen him before in countless supernatural anime), although that does give the story something to work with. Since Arata was totally oblivious to this piece of his heritage, and since it also makes him uniquely qualified for the job he's just started, that implies that someone somewhere was aware of this fact about him, and that's probably how he got the position in the first place. Seeing the supernatural (called “Anothers” in the show) is apparently fairly easy; speaking to them absolutely isn't. Arata's understanding of the situation not only de-escalated the tensions between the angels and the tengu, it also prevented the humans from getting involved, making it a win all around – and one that wouldn't have been possible without him there.
What this is going to mean in terms of how he functions with his coworkers remains to be seen. Both Seo and Kyouichi are pretty floored by his ability, and right now they seem more shaken than excited, although you can see that starting to change at the very end. That's the main draw here, for me at least, although I do love the breadth of supernatural beings introduced as well – Celtic spirits like the cu sith (dog fey), pixies, what I think is a snake god, tengu, angels…it's neat to see them all together like this and to think about how they'd get along. The art isn't terrific (something about the faces is very immobile) although the Amazonian proportions on the angels compared to the human-sized tengu is interesting and the animation isn't much either, but this is worth coming back to. Even if you're sick of Abe no Seimei, this might be a lot of fun.
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