An adaptation of the multi-year smash hit manga series showcased in Monthly Big Gangan (Square Enix), ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. tells a tale of political intrigue and deep rooted birthrights.
Jean Otus is an internal affairs inspection officer for ACCA- a civil group composed of various agencies representing thirteen autonomous states within the Dowa Kingdom. Incredibly lax, Jean quietly excels at his work and rarely takes interest in much else outside of work besides helping his sister Lotta manage an apartment complex they both reside in and late night drinking with his life-long friend Nino. Despite being a country of sustained peace, whispers throughout political channels speak of a coup d’état on the horizon. While doing a normal (albeit brutally short scheduled) tour around every territory, Jean is requested by the calculated Director-General Mauve to seek out the sparks of rebellion. The deeper he gets into what is going on behind closed doors, the more the investigator realizes very unlikely folk are moving pieces around to lay their claim to the throne.
How Was It?
With a multitude of shows demanding the short amount of free time audiences have, some viewers might prioritize the most interesting premise or a series that their friends recommend over longer, slower paced ones. Pace, however, is incredibly hard to get a grasp for without experiencing content firsthand or (to a lesser extent) through impressions of others that typically align with the judge. A series that continues on for multiple seasons might change its pace several times in existence- potentially spurning an audience. Conversely, a smaller sized story could lose fans rather quickly if things don’t pick up or make sense until the later acts of the outing. The great unknown for whether or not something has a pace just right for a viewer keeps millions binge watching (or ignoring) series every day- anime is no exception. Thankfully, anime has a way of bringing out some rather unorthodox series that captivate and keep audiences as hooked as they can be split. These rare birds don’t contain their content to short spans or drag on forever, but rather command their own journeys and keep everyone (including critics) on their toes to see the next turn. A beautiful personification of the expression often used in books as “page-turners”, the series feel just as interesting in small week-to-week doses as they do in only a few sittings. One such series is Studio Madhouse’s ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
In ACCA, the highly skilled yet absent minded investigator Jean Otus traverses through many locations and crosses paths with a colorful cast of individuals ranging from the smallest of office jobs to men gunning for royalty. Jean serves as an excellent viewpoint character in that not only does he refrain from providing commentary and impressions over every event unfolding in the story, but also that these events are just as new to him as the audience. Having a character like Jean in place goes a long distance for how effective a web of intrigue can keep the plot interesting. The kudos for characters doesn’t stop with Jean, however, as the plentiful amount of people mentioned earlier all provide maturely written snapshots of all walks of life. Even what eventually is revealed to be the series “antagonist” barely gives off any hint of motives and instead masks them in silver tongued banter that every government official or civil worker shown does. Certainly people lose their cool, accusations are thrown around, and even riots start, but somehow none of this detaches from the tranquility that is found in intelligent interactions and mellow bar talk. Very rarely have I ever carefully watched and listened to simple A to B conversations like in this show, as unpredictable amounts of whichever week’s discussions gave subtle, thought-provoking pieces into the big mystery of who is who and what really is going on in the world’s most peaceful kingdom.
Strictly speaking from a direction standpoint, the series brings out the most of its scenes with striking details in an impressive fashion. Shots of deliciously realistic looking food sit idly by as Jean discusses different territories’ respective concerns with the overall state of the nation. Smooth music accompanies relaxed drunks spilling beans over the day’s work and reminisce on old days. Characteristics shine at the right moments and don’t need to be broadcast for them to be left with convincing impressions. While I don’t like to compare series, it threw me off to go from watching certain dramas have to spell out the composition of their characters to something like a woman sitting alone waiting for someone who isn’t going to show up and continue on with her decisions without so much as a “I feel this way so I’m going to do this” kind of statement worked into the scene. The show not only trusts your ability to read context, it demands it heavily.
Sometimes a misconception will arise in that to create a lively setting or sequence of events, there has to be a fast pace or live-wire type of character to get things rolling that even the most mild mannered anime can fall into. If the show is too careful, however, it risks losing interest and becoming dull or lacking in a beating heart to the elements around it. ACCA finds a strong balance between the two extremes and gives off controllable signs of life that are notably normal. Something as simple as a character purchasing bread at a bakery or two individuals grabbing lunch shouldn’t have importance to the story at large, but by making the characters actually concerned with these routines, it allows the shopping and eating to feel just as necessary as the events surrounding the actions. Think about the last time a character stopped, reminded themselves to pick up bread for the house, and managed to make the narrative flow just by doing such a natural task. The only times would probably be from a home-directed movie filmed with an old camcorder or by a freshman film student. Point being it is really hard to get something like this to work and flow right, and ACCA masters this and is rewarded with supplementing the natural feeling the story gives.
Most of the issues viewers will come into with the series rests on how much they can get invested into the defined politics and detective work. This isn’t asking much at twelve standard length episodes, however it is certainly worth noting that if someone is looking for their intrigue fix from high speed action or deep rooted romance, they are going to be out of luck with this one. Like a rich tasting meal, this series is meant to be savored one bite at a time. While it is certainly doable to shotgun the whole thing without reflection, a lot of the highs could be lost in the process and the overall impression soured in turn. Pair this with an ending that left even some of the most dedicated viewers let down by its execution and it is safe to say that there is a very niche community of those who speak nothing but praise for the series.
The animation works within a comfort zone to fit the aforementioned direction in the necessary details, however doesn’t overreach past what it needs to do to be effective. In many ways, this control in style echoes the mature tone of the most noteworthy element of the show, the writing. There was an anticipated drop in quality around the time things picked up speed due to situations or brief moments of conflict, however they did not appear. In fact, the steadiness of the animation quality helped keep the rich flow of the series intact for these very moments. There is an old expression “no news is good news” that comes to mind with this- while it won’t win any critical response in the company of many wild imaginative worlds illustrated alongside the Winter 2017 lineup, it is worth a nod for how subtle animation works well.
ACCA easily shows merit in being a mature story of politics and spoken word despite isolating itself from a wide amount of audiences for the very same elements that compose it. The best bet for how it will be remembered is as a cult classic; its fans will be in love with everything it brings and for just about everyone else it will fly under the radar. If you’re looking for reference on how to properly write dialogue or balance elements in scenes from a direction standpoint, add this one to your queue.