Miyako Arata is newly assigned to the Shinjuku Ward Office's Nighttime Regional Relations Department. Each of Tokyo's 23 wards has one such department, established to mitigate paranormal and occult-related events. Arata's special skill is the understanding of non-human speech, and the story begins with him encountering a youkai at Shinjuku Gyoen park who refers to him as the legendary Heian-era exorcist, Abe no Seimei.
Without counting sequels, Spring 2019 has been pretty underwhelming in terms of quality, with very few solid series within this seasons catalog. So, as others sometimes do, I entered the uncharted territory, throwing darts in the dark, looking for something good and worthwhile. Most series were definitely in the lower reaches of my expectations but I was hoping that one of my darts hit its target. And that brings us to a series called Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin, a show that completely surprised me in how good it was.
Barely anyone of the Western anime audience is watching it, or know of its existence. One
reason why I think this occurred is that production values from Lidenfilms for this series are certainly low-rent. I just wish the production side were a little less pedestrian, just enough so that I didn’t keep noticing how bland the show looks. The animation is choppy and the details a bit spartan, which is a shame because it would be interesting to see this show on a workable budget. It is well-written, competently directed and acted, and presents a genuinely interesting premise. Besides the visuals, I don’t think there’s much else preventing Mayonaka from being fairly exceptional. We have a really interesting recurring plot playing out behind consistently good episodic storylines, and outstanding attention to detail when it comes to the world-building. It’s quite an engaging setup, and I like all the characters—after the premiere episode, I was unexpectedly intrigued.
The premise here is that creatures of fae—and just about every other mythical race and a creature you like – are real and living in Tokyo. It’s the job of the “The Night Time Relations Department” to keep their existences from overlapping with humans too much and causing problems. Newbie Arata Miyako has just joined the office and gets a crash course in his new reality from Seo Himezuka, the science guy, and Kyouichi Sakaki, the team leader. Their beat is a hotbed of midnight activity for the “Another” the collective name given to these fairy creatures both eastern and western. I quite liked how all this played out —the attention to detail for starters, and also the way the exposition only gradually clued us into how this department actually goes about their job. It turns out that no one in the department can understand what the Another is saying, which obviously limits the sort of work they can do.
Except Arata can, as he proves in mediating disputes between different species of Another, as well as those whose acts become a conflict with the humans. The twist here is that Arata is apparently a reincarnation of Abe no Seimei, who certainly turns up in many guises in manga and anime. It allows him to have the ability called the “Ears of Sand” which makes him a master of languages and can understand the words of Another who should not be able to be understood. That places him in a zone that’s unique in this mythology as far as we’ve seen—precariously wedged between the human and Another worlds, in the manner of Ginko or Natsume. Arata and his fellow team are pitted in situations where their moral compass and world views are put to the test when dealing with Another and amongst themselves in the methods that they should handle them. The subplots often reflect on the enormous gap in perception that exists between humans and youkai.
I like the idea that through Arata, the message that Mayonaka is trying to get across is that to sort conflicts, we need to first understand each other and work out solutions through discussion. There are a lot more messages that are contextualized throughout, and moral lessons to take from it. As this series has progressed it’s started to put me in mind of “American Gods” just a bit, for the way it takes the old Gods and places them squarely in the new world. As with Gaiman’s classic, Mayonaka doesn’t play favorites with culture—everybody’s belief system seems to have an equally valid seat at the table. And while the Japanese Shinto traditions have certainly made their appearance, if anything Mayonaka seems more focused on Western mythology than Eastern. I always appreciate it when a series is able to navigate a wide variety of tonal changes. It can be thrilling and suspenseful, emotionally heavy, or lighter and more whimsical. The writing is crisp and intelligent, the continuity between arcs is unbroken, but moods can switch to be dramatically different without whiplash.
The writing of Mayonaka shows a great understanding of conflicts. There are high stakes that really matters whether or not conflicts are resolved. We know the motivations of our protagonists, we know what they are risking in accomplishing their goals, and we learn what are consequences if they fail—and they do fail sometimes with significant consequences that kept me intrigued. All the events within the story (even though it deals heavily with the supernatural), are as realistic as possible, nothing comes easy for our protagonists. Additionally, everything is consistent and every scene contributes to a common goal. There’s an elegance to the writing with Mayonaka that I find to be very rare in anime these days, and a trust in the audience that’s equally so. Series that splice the ancient and mystical into the modern world are not rare in anime, but those that do so as seamlessly as this series certainly are.
It is well-directed too because despite the cast being full of familiar actors, they’re actually acting here rather than simply offering their usual on-screen personas. in terms of writing, it’s the sleeper hit of the season, the quiet workhorse of the Spring. It delivers an awful lot in its unprepossessing package—tonal diversity, smart writing, top-notch acting. It would be so easy to completely miss this show’s existence—as indeed the overwhelming majority of the Western anime audience seems to be doing—but it’s a secret those of us who appreciate it are very happy we’ve discovered.
With the abysmal number of people watching this series, it's SOOO easy to forget that this anime ever existed in the eyes of potent men, at least it was for me anyways. I really also find it hard to understand why this series GOT a green light, because, more than the manga (translated) adaptation that doesn't exist (as of this review and probably forever), I hardly doubt that even the Japanese people watching this would be happy about this.
However and anywho, the crux to this series is about a new working-adult recruit called Miyako Arata. He is assigned to the Nighttime Regional Relations Department squad
in Shinjuku, of which, each of Tokyo's 23 wards has departments like this, founded to mitigate paranormal and occult-related events. Unbeknownst to anyone, Arata's special skill is the Ears of Sand, which translates to the understanding of non-human speech, and through mythical Yokai creatures, many say that Arata is the Heian-era exorcist, Abe no Seimei, resurrected in spirit.
And that's the story overall, because we only get to watch and listen Arata's special skills as one that we wished to have if we could have a superpower of sorts. Plus, his interaction with the Shinjuku crew and the never-ending groups of Yokai that revere the Seimei spirit into reconciliation, just like a Yokai councilor. Needless to say, you can easily pass by the episodes with a nap, as it doesn't really try to engage with the audience well with its overarching episodic story lines.
The character count doesn't pay too well-off either. Seo Himezuka and Kyouichi Sakaki, the 2-man crew that has been in the job more than Arata doesn't strike off as redundant or useful (depending on their help to Miyako), but foremostly being assistants to helping solve daily crimes that involve Yokai, and often the 3-man crew are able to get by nicely. Even through the progression in this series of Arata meeting the mischievous Aztec god Huehuecoyotl and working together with misunderstanding colleagues from the various wards, and Sakaki saving his family member, that "meh" experience stays stagnant, as if there isn't any story nor character development to try to take advantage of to establish a base to the anime. Nein, I say.
Liden Films' art and animation is getting much worse, but thankfully it doesn't detract from the watching experience that is this and last season's Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka, which is plenty fine for its target demographics. Trying to play on the available budget offered is a good advantage, but if this is all it has to offer, I would still gladly watch it.
Musicality-wise, Evan Call is back to do the music for this series, and I can only really say it's one of the more mellow music soundtracks (as opposed to Violet Evergarden), but more action-y type of music. Both the OP and ED, performed by the characters themselves (Arata for the OP and Huehuecoyotl for the ED) fit the premise for the occult-feelings of the anime to a T. Not the greatest sounding, but not bad either.
Overall, this anime just reeks stagnancy for me. All the while I try to watch this with an open mind that it will eventually get better, it instead went onto an entirely different route that hopes the aesthetics will somehow make up the difference in viewership. And it honestly never did.
And I'm finally done watching this show, on with the OVAs later in the year!
To preface my review, I will make this clear to anyone questioning if they should watch this show in case they are not interested in male romance, it is not a BL show, the men are definitely designed to look feminine and overly cute but there are no romantic or sexual undertones at all. The show is fundamentally about a new detective who learns that all sorts of supernatural lifeforms called anothers exist in his city and that there is a detective agency that specializes in community relations with the supernatural.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
The story is pretty basic, it is episodic at the start
but eventually has 2 multi episode arcs where the detectives have to deal with a particularly significant problem in each arc. There is no overarching goal or plot, the main character is simply doing his job, although it turns out he is special as he is the descendant of a great priest in the past which gives him special abilities regarding the supernatural. One of the abilities is called the ears of sand which allow him to communicate with the supernatural, something I found sort of funny as apparently until he showed up the so-called community relations agency did not even understand anything about the anothers.
The plot is very predictable, we got the overly broody straight edge detective who clearly needs to visit a therapist over some underlying issue, who of course ends up creating a story arc about a family member lost to anothers. There is an antagonist detective in a different branch who of course stirs up a great deal of trouble with their heavy-handed approach that our protagonist has to resolve. You won’t have to think at all while watching this show, it is very straight forward and basic, if you want to relax watching a show without having to think at all this show might be enjoyable to you.
The anothers themselves range from all sorts of myths and fantasy stories, most of them are interesting as far as background goes. Most of the problems in the story that the protagonist faces can be predicted based on which type of another they come across, such as pandora, or the Aztec god of disaster. So, if you enjoy trivia on supernatural monsters you might like this show as well.
The character design is far too cute for me, most of the men look like they belong in an idol show instead of one about detective agencies. It is even more annoying that there is a trap detective at the start for no reason and their character design is inconsistent through the show, with them looking like a cute girl at the start, and just a slender and nerdy guy later on.
The animation isn’t anything special, they don’t overuse CGI for the monsters which is a nice touch, but a lot of the anothers are animated poorly and the few actions scenes are very heavy looking and slow. The CGI flames in the second last episode also look pretty terrible and have awful fire physics, the same could be said about almost every special effect they have on the show.
The OP and ED are boring, and I don’t think they add any value to the series.
The background art was the highlight of the series with realistic offices, and a detailed city. To bad it is wasted as most of the story is character focused and there is little cinematography involved in any major scene outside of a straight shot view for the audience.
The sound: 4
Boring, basic, and repetitive, these 3 words essentially summarize the soundtrack, not much needed to be said here.
Lots of BL bait for a normal show, basic one-dimensional law enforcement personalities, and a completely generic protagonist make this show hard to enjoy, especially since it is a character driven episodic series. The spirits and anothers were a bit more fun, especially when they demonstrated their version of common sense to humans. They had personalities that were decently researched for their respective myth background, and I found myself liking the spirits that showed up more then the main cast of characters.
I did not hate watching the show, its an easy watch if it is watched weekly, and there is only one other show airing on Sundays this season. However, there is no value in rewatching this show, and I would never even consider watching this outside of a seasonal anime schedule, it is far too boring to try and watch multiple episodes.
I give this show a 6, its just not good, if you really want a basic show to watch on a weekly basis while getting some supernatural trivia its worthwhile. However, there are many shows that do the same thing but better and I can’t see why someone would pick this show up outside of watching it during the season it aired.
It's shocking and disappointing that this anime is getting overlooked by so many people. Personally I blame the massive amount of coverage things with more money behind them are getting. Because this is a joint Funimation-Crunchyroll venture, thus it SHOULD have enough going for it to get as many views as possible. If they'd promote it.
So what is it and is it worth watching? I say absolutely. This show is basically what would happen if Men In Black and CLAMP's xxxHolic had a baby.
What it pulls off best is the art and sound most of all. It's VERY pretty to look at a
lot of the time, the environments especially.
Most of the show takes place at night (go figure), and the people who animate and illustrate the world we're peaking into clearly knew how to work with that. The city looks amazing and there are a lot of gorgeous shots of the night sky from the Imperial Gardens.
The music is similar to Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, with a lot of jazz and jazz-adjacent pieces. As a matter of fact the aesthetic on a whole is comparable to that, even if the themes and characters are vastly different.
Writing is important to of course, and if you liked the curiosity and occult themes in xxxHolic (which is well worth watching as well) then you're sure to enjoy this.
It's hard to explain how good the overall narrative of the season is without spoiling things, but suffice to say there are some good twists and a surprising number of emotionally evocative moments.
This show is quite tonally diverse, with the first episode being moderately light and focusing on Miyako Arata (the protagonist)'s curiosity at what he's just gotten himself into, the second and third episodes continuing this but adding some darker turns before turning things on their head a bit for a more lighthearted fourth episode, which still has some pretty serious stakes.
That's a line Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin tends to balance on quite well. It keeps things relatively light but the stakes can be quite high or emotionally intense.
This ties in quite well with how Arata's demeanor is as well. There are numerous occasions where his dealings with Anothers (occult creatures derived from real world myth, they're what make this show like Men In Black, because the Midnight Occult Civil Service is dealing with supernaturals instead of aliens, but their relationship is similar) threaten his life and/or the lives of people he cares about.
In spite of often being present when his or other lives are being threatened, Arata tends to always keep a relatively level head, and errs on the diplomatic side, generally trying to find out what the Anothers want and how to give it to them without upsetting the social balance.
Thus we have a relatively light approach coupled with serious consequence and stakes. And balancing those things in a way that isn't jarring or cringe is quite a feat.
Characters! There's a dude who looks like a chick, they mention it once in the first episode with a joke and then move on, it's only a big deal if you make it a big deal, because the show and the people in the show certainly don't, and as a character his androgynous appearance barely even registers when you couple it with his voice. This guy's the resident occult expert/nerd/scientist for the Nocturnal Relations Division.
Arata's only other non-boss co-worker at the Shinjuku Ward Office is a former host for what I assume is a karaoke bar, he has his own arc which is kinda a B story wile the A story of each episode goes on, I think it gets enough attention to be interesting without detracting from the really interesting and mostly episodic plots. And it is itself a good arc, and it makes you see both Arata's colleagues as more than just meat sacks with voices.
The effeminate one doesn't get an arc or much character development at all, but that feeds into what they are as a character, which is a professional with an avid interest in the lore which relates to their job. If this character was also given an arc and pRoBlEms the show wouldn't feel as tightly written as it is.
Arata also has a best friend who probably wants to be more than that, but the show doesn't dwell on this very much, but it does involve her somewhat in the plot on occasion. Though once again not in such a way as to feel overbearing.
Some of the other characters would be spoilers but there are a couple of Anothers who hang out with Arata/live in his house.
Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin is an excellent anime.
It's compelling (I recommend watching the first 4 episodes in one sitting to get the full range of tone that the show has), expands on itself at a decent pace to not be overwhelming, pretentious or otherwise daunting, and if you like occult things from both Japanese and other cultures, you'll enjoy seeing who pops up over the season.
The finale especially I will say was great. It showed just how much mythology the writer/s of the source material are aware of, because the Another in that episode was O B S C U R E but amazingly well executed.
Absolutely give at least a few episodes of this a watch. Also the dub isn't bad. They mispronounce a couple of words but the quality of the voice acting overall is pretty good. As I said I watched 7 episodes with it, now 8, and I'll probably keep going with that just because it's cool to see how they spin things. I think I also prefer the Anothers voices in English, though it's hard to pin down why.