The world is full of coincidences. And yet, as a result of trying to give meaning to everything, conspiracy theories are born (…) you can’t deny that people clamoring conspiracy theories are illogical, right? They also put aside the parts that are inconvenient for them.
Spoilers for up to Episode 6 of Occultic;Nine!
The X Files is one of my most favorite TV dramas. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its faults – the show veers on pretentious at times depending on the writer, and slowly tapers off into absolute nonsense towards the end of its run – but it’s a story about many things, including love, the search for truth, and aliens. The show essentially became a touchstone of what defined the 90’s: conspiracy theories and government propaganda. It’s no wonder it became a huge success. So big of a success it was, that Chris Carter, the director for the show, tried to bring it back for an eleventh season earlier this year, and while the show still retained some of the spirit that made it feel so thrilling, it was also a sore reminder that alien conspiracy theories and that sense of paranoia no longer really work in this era. We, after all, already know we’re being spied on; everywhere we look, there are horror stories about hacking and war. Disillusionment has become a norm, rather than a surprise.
But we still find our sources of mesmerization. We stick like glue to fake news and gossip. Black Mirror is an example of this; it portrays a bleak future where technology almost always goes wrong at humanity’s expense. It is frighteningly close to real, but it draws on the basic questions of mystery: “What if?” and “What would happen then?”
The anime Occultic;Nine is not very real, nor is it actually terrifying. But it is incredibly creative. Using current culture and elements of suspense and fantasy, it manages to succeed not only at being a murder mystery but also as a fascinating look at the concept and nature of conspiracy theories and why, as human beings, we are so inherently drawn to them.
Occultic;Nine starts out very similar to a conspiracy theory – undecipherable, messy, and filled with overwhelming details that seem to make little to no sense. We are rushed midpoint into a story where many things are happening at the same time; a professor has been murdered, which is somehow related to a cast of high schoolers, and another mystery is ongoing by a detective with a shady agenda. Last but not least, we also have over 200 people commit suicide at the same time by drowning themselves in a lake.
It’s a lot of information, and what starts off as random details becomes a series of events that converge as our large cast are tied together by two focal elements: setting and their age. Occultic;Nine uses urban elements to contextualize the bond between conspiracy theories and the cast. Every character in the show is young and heavily reliant on social media, much like our current generation. They also live in the same sprawling city and use that to their advantage, whether it be using a cyber cafe, an isolated park, or a crowded street.
Our main character, Yuta Gamon, for example, is a NEET who runs the very popular blog, Kiri Kiri Basara with his friend Ryota Narasuwa. While Yuta does not believe in the occult, he makes click bait articles and encourages discussion to gain traffic on his site and earn money. Yuta does not explicitly make conspiracy theories, but he does not actively dispute them either. A girl in his grade named Miyu Aikawa uses social media differently. She streams her fortune telling live via video camera, and predicts any caller’s future using tarot cards. Whereas Yuta’s intents are far more self serving, Miyu’s intents are more innocent, which leads to her getting harassed by people who claim that her abilities are false. Professor Hashigami joins a TV show to discuss his theories on spirits and the occult – a decision that ultimately leads to him being murdered in the first episode. Occult reporter Toko Sumizake and detective Shun Moritsuka also rely on the news and feeds to gain their information and dig deep for questions and suspicious individuals.
While Occultic;Nine‘s fast paced story and large cast make it hard to flesh them out, we can link each character’s heavy usage of social media back to a common nature: insecurity and powerlessness. The cast of Occultic;Nine may all be cynics, but it’s precisely because they are disillusioned that they thrive on conspiracy theories. They use the occult to define them, whether they believe in it or not. In fact, one could argue up to this point that Occultic;Nine‘s use of fantasy and surreal elements is nothing but a reflection on its lonely cast as they seek to be relevant in a society which belittles day to day events and them in the process. Aria Kurenaino is a clear example of this, as she is isolated from society and looked down upon for loving her brother to the point where she became delusional after his death and pretended he was alive. With all hope and purpose in life lost, she changes her name to Ria Minase and turns to black magic, dealing curses for a price.
This reflection turns out to be true, as it’s revealed in Episode 6 that most of the cast (though at this point it’s hard to argue who and who isn’t) is actually dead, and we have been watching their departed souls. From here on out, Occultic;Nine changes gears: as much as the mystery of who made them commit suicide and how it’s related to the Professor’s death is important and no doubt the central driving force of the show, it is now equally about a cast struggling with the realization that they are not as omnipotent as they think they are. Most conspiracy theories flourish with the idea that the unreal is real; what makes Occultic;Nine’s twist powerful isn’t the fact that the occult does exist. It’s the fact that it gives no agency to our cast. Instead, it casts the opposite result: our cast, for the most part, is even more powerless than they were before. They cannot speak to their loved ones. They no longer dwell in the physical confines of the world that made them at least feel that they were somewhat important. It’s a brilliant cliffhanger that not only comments on the true nature of conspiracy theories, but their effects on the people that interact with them willingly.
Ironically, from here on out – and there’s still a second half of a story for us, luckily – the departed cast of Occultic;Nine will have to rely on the same urban elements that they used to prop themselves up to now cast some kind of real effect on the world. How they will do it, how they choose to interact with each other, and how they choose to believe in whatever unfolds lies beyond my thinking, but I’m excited to see where the show will go.