Winter 2017 First Impressions – ACCA: 13 Territory Inspection Department

In a world separated into 13 wards, with each ward having an observation division controlled by the organization known as “ACCA.” Jean is known as the craftiest member of ACCA.ANN

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: 12

Source: Manga

Summary of Episode 1: The Dowa kingdom has been experiencing a period of unprecedented peace for many years. The king is celebrating his ninety-ninth birthday and there are no signs of political unrest. This makes the government’s observational division, known as “ACCA” obsolete, or so say those in charge; without a need to utilize the employees of ACCA to help maintain political control, why not just trim the budget and get rid of them? Jean Otus is one of ACCA’s most recognizable members, known as the “cigarette peddler” for indulging in a smoke here and there while on the job. ACCA’s imminent closure doesn’t come as a surprise to Jean, and he has the family business to fall back on. But after being sent out on an audit and discovering some hints of low-level corruption within his organization, he learns that ACCA is to remain open. Jean also begins to notice that he himself is under observation. What could possibly be churning behind the scenes to prompt the change?

Impressions: Though my interest in anime and manga tends to be pretty broad, I do have a small stable of creators whose work I follow more closely. Most of these are the more auteur-style anime directors, such as Masaaki Yuasa, or Akiyuki Shinbo (though his actual directorial involvement is questionable – I just really like the Shaft aesthetic so take that how you will). Natsume Ono is one of the few manga-ka whose body of work has really resonated with me, though unlike Yuasa her particular style is a bit harder to define. Aside from her character designs, which most people can identify by their general lankiness and round, almost protruding eyes, the settings for her stories run the gamut from Asia (modern and historical), to Europe, to the fictionalized nation depicted in ACCA. The unifying trait between her many disparate works is difficult to point out from the surface, but it’s definitely there in the pacing and feel of her stories – they all tend to depict adult characters involved in often mundane, slow-burn drama (romantic or otherwise). This type of character-based drama is something I seek out, and it appears that ACCA will likely demonstrate that sort of structure. In short, ACCA, with its lackadaisical pacing and (currently) low-stakes drama is (maybe counter intuitively) just the kind of thing that gets me going. That said, this is also the type of opening episode that’s likely to turn away a large portion of the anime-viewing audience, because it doesn’t have a lot to offer upfront.

Very little happens in this episode, plot-wise. We’re introduced to the setting via a fairly standard “as you know…” info-dump, presented to a sub-set of characters who would likely not need to hear the basic breakdown of how their society works. I’m always a little bit amused when this happens, as the Japanese language is based so much around inferences and indirect, implied meaning; it’s always seemed odd to me that the plots of so many anime are blurted-out awkwardly rather than revealed organically. In any case, we’re introduced to Jean Otus, a protagonist with a cool demeanor who leads a relatively unassuming life. He shares an apartment with his sister; their family serve as landlords for their luxury apartment building, which they’d otherwise be unable to afford. Jean is good at his job as an ACCA observer, and he’s also known for his smoking habit (tobacco is an expensive luxury in their society).

The primary bit of drama in this episode comes as the result of one of Jean’s audits, during which he discovers some low-level illegal activity cropping up from within the organization. The resulting kerfluffle isn’t huge – even the highers-up don’t appear to be all that concerned about it – but during the fallout it’s revealed that Jean is actually surrounded by an air of suspicion and that there are some people in positions of power that suspect him of some sort of wrongdoing. He remarks that he feels as though he’s being watched, and while it’s not quite obvious whether or not anyone is yet, it’s at this point that the show establishes an unsettled feeling in the viewer. Is this setting really so peaceful and bland? Will the entire series be just a serialized account of Jean’s travels with bureaucratic commentary thrown in? I doubt it. There’s also an odd sort of separation between the audience and Jean right from the get-go. While he’s ostensibly the focal character, it feels as if we’re looking at him from the outside, seeing him from the POV of the other characters around him. It’s a bit disorienting, but I can’t help feel like it’s intentional.

This seems to me like the type of anime where the viewer really has to be willing to read between the lines to gain a sense of what the story might involve. I’ve seen quite a few complaints aimed at ACCA about how “nothing happens in the first episode,” and yet to me the entire set up seems inherently intriguing and I feel like the groundwork is solidly in place. I also admittedly enjoyed watching Jean perform his mundane job duties, since my day job sometimes involves auditing and performing tasks in line with strict procedural outlines, so there’s a certain familiarity there that I’m guessing maybe a lot of anime fans might not connect with as well. This isn’t to say that I think I have every detail of the show nailed down simply because I’m an adult with a compliance-focused job – I’m definitely left with a lot of questions on my mind, too, and I feel like there are still a lot of hidden details that haven’t come to light. But rather than being frustrated about that or feeling as though the show hasn’t provided me something to which I’m entitled, I feel drawn in by the mystery and even just the sheer openness of the various directions the series could take. I’ve never been shy about saying that I find very few anime series directly relateable, since most anime just isn’t made to directly appeal to adult audiences. When something like this comes along that seems to be aiming for more mature appeal, I just don’t feel bad about it.

If I had to point out something that I did find frustrating, it would probably be the occasional tonal shifts throughout the episode. The bulk of the episode reads as tonally serious to me, not in the sense that major things of gravity are happening all the time, but this definitely isn’t meant to be a funny series. There are a couple of scenes, though, that read more like an office ensemble slice-of-life comedy, since several of Jean’s coworkers are very focused on their ten o’ clock break time and eating cakes from the local patisserie. These scenes do a good job of establishing how mundane things currently are, but I find that it’s rare when comedy and drama in anime truly mesh, so while it wasn’t a complete turn off, it was a little eye-rolling.

If I haven’t made it clear by now, I’ve pretty much already bought into what this anime series is selling. That’s a confidence that only really comes as a result of having meshed with the author’s style many times in the past and appreciating being in the target demographic for once. I will say, though, if I were trying to trick an apprehensive fan into giving this show a try, I’d definitely mention that the series director also directed the (also quite excellent) One Punch Man. It’s a bit tricksy, since the shows otherwise have nothing to do with one-another and are profoundly different in plot and style, but I’m admittedly kind of hoping that we might get some moments of very neat, more subdued character animation out of the deal. From what I understand, people like working with Shingo Yamamoto, so we’ll see.

There are times where I get kind of bummed that other fans don’t seem to get much out of certain anime series as I do (*cough* The Lost Village *cough*), but there are also times where I completely understand, and I’m not too torn up about it. This is one of those times. I really appreciate the slow pace and the little mysterious bits floating beneath the surface, but a lot of people likely won’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the story unfold.

Pros: It has a unique look and setting. There are inklings of unrest beneath the calm exterior. There’s a level of separation between the viewer and the main character that feels somewhat intentional.

Cons: There are a few tonal shifts that seem unnatural. There’s some “as you know…” info-dumping. The episode is slow-paced and not very much “plot-y” stuff happens to draw people in.

Grade: B

This article has 1 comment

  1. If a work of fiction starts with the protagonist’s organization about to be shut down because it’s no longer needed, 99% of the time this means that something is about to happen to show that the organization is in fact still needed.*

    I wonder if the internal corruption and the lackadasical attitude of Jean’s coworkers come from the same feeling that the job is rather pointless.

    *Of course in Skyfall, it turns out British Intelligence accidentally _created_ the menace that proves they’re still needed, but the trope stands.

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