Because if anyone is going to make a deal with demons it’s going to be the Government! (Hey, my first ever political joke on the blog, I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed).
What’s the Story?
When Miyako Arata joins the Shinjuku Ward Office, he’s expecting a run of the mill office job, but he really should have given the job description more than a passing glance because it turns out his new role is a lot more ‘supernatural’ than he was banking on. See Japan, and the world in general, has a large population of spirits and non-human beings called Anothers, each with their own ways and customs and its up to the various Ward Offices to keep these beings under control. A job that isn’t made any easier by the fact that no human can understand what an Another says, well, except for one. See Arata has a special ability, he’s inherited the ‘Ears of Sand’ from a distance ancestor and he can communicate with Anothers, an ability that will both help and hinder him in his new job.
Midnight Occult Civil Servants is a series that really should have been tailor made for me, we’ve got a procedural series that has characters typically dealing with a case of the week and it explores different spirits and myths. Heck just the fact that this series pulls from mythology that I’d never expect an anime to, such as Aztec and Ukrainian, is a huge bonus. I do love it when I series doesn’t just rely on the same old supernatural beings all the time, werewolves, vampires and so on and you won’t find a single one of them here, well, not in the typical form anyway. I want to love this series, and don’t get me wrong I hugely enjoyed this series, but it never quite crossed the threshold into love. I think my main problem is that this series feels like it’s stuck between two versions of itself and it can’t quite decide what it wants to do. Then again it could just be that what the show wants to do is clashing with what I want it to do, that’s an option, but let’s break this down and see which it is.
For starters, this series is very low key, so if you’re expecting drama and action on a massive scale, then you’d better either lower your expectations or look elsewhere (this is a series about civil servants after all). A lot of the time the employees of the Ward Office are dealing with one spirit or another, trying to work out what their deal is before it all comes to some nicely tied up ending. There’s never any real sense of danger or tension as the Anothers hardly ever come across as threatening and the characters just spend a good chunk of time wandering around and talking. All of which sounds really boring, but it actually works for this series. As I said I like the variety of the Anothers in this show and I get a great deal of fun out of seeing the characters either working out how to deal with them or just interacting with them. And it’s not as if things never feel dangerous, whenever the series does a two-part story they always manage to end the middle cliff hanger on a moment where you think ‘Oh, this is actually getting serious now’.
The trouble is that a lot of the multi-part episodes tend to end unsatisfactorily. How events play out all makes sense and it builds off of what has already been set up, but a lot of the resolutions feel too easy. It never feels like there’s much of a lasting impact, even though there is, but things in the Ward Office quickly get back to normal as if nothing happened, which makes me ask what was the point of building up the tension in the first place. It’s not like this show doesn’t have the potential for drama, but it never quite plays it up as much as it should. Take the Anothers for example, a lot of Arata’s co-workers describe them as natural disasters and talk about how they can’t possibly be understood, yet every Another we meet acts in such a human way it’s hard to see how Arata is the only one able to work this all out? If the series really wanted us to buy into this view of Anothers then it really needed to play up the otherworldliness of them. There are a couple of times where it does manage it, but not all the time and that would have added so much weight to when Arata did butt heads with his co-workers, or when they warned him about being overly sympathetic with Anothers.
I feel like I’m being way too harsh on this series because, as I said, I really did enjoy it from beginning to end, I just can’t help thinking about what it could have been. In my opinion, this series needed to really go one of two ways to really make an impact. It either needed to keep things entirely low key, remove any tension around Anothers and just have the characters dealing with a new spirit of the week as they tried to solve cases based around them. Or, it needed to go full throttle with the drama, make the Anothers something completely unknowable to anyone but Arata, don’t just say it, show it, have the characters argue over situations and really make the threats something truly difficult to overcome (actually the first proper encounter with Kohaku is probably the best example of this as things get really tense towards the resolution with an army of zombies threatening multiple employees and Arata and the gang faced with a difficult choice). As it stands Midnight Occult Civil Servants is sat in the middle and while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure how long I’m going to remember it for.
Midnight Occult Civil Servants is an enjoyable series, but I don’t think it’s going to stick in the memory for long. The characters are all likeable and the mysteries and spirits involved are all interesting and pulled from sources I wasn’t expecting, but the show never really puts them to any great use. The low-key adventures are fun, but the series never manages to make complete use of the natural drama and tension on hand so that a lot of story resolutions feel unearned, though that’s too harsh a way of putting it. I do like the series and it’s worth a watch, even if only once. If you’re after meeting some more unique spirits and so on, then give this a chance.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.