Review/discussion about: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka features lots of smoking. Thankfully for me, I’ve never smoked a day in my life.
The horrible side effects. The frightening commercials. The wisdom from my parents. Many an influence has made the decision to avoid cigarettes an easy one, indeed. It’s not an incredible feat by any standard, but I’m glad that I did not start something that would only negatively impact my health.
While ACCA itself does not (and literally cannot) smoke, its mistakes hurt it enough that it doesn’t need to inhale nasty chemicals to reach the same unhealthy state.
ACCA centers on an unassuming man by the name of Jean Otus. As Deputy Chief of the Territory Inspection Department within ACCA, the esteemed organization that protects the people through governmental rule, Jean finds himself tasked with visiting each of the nation’s thirteen districts. But, little does he know, a coup d’état broils – and he’s at the center of it all.
From the very beginning, the anime sets itself up as a mystery drama with all the makings of an intriguing tale at its disposal. The encroaching coup foreshadows the endgame. Jean’s semi-unreliable-narrator status forces the audience to keep everyone under scrutiny. A handful of different perspectives, from the royalty of Dowa to the Five Chief Generals of ACCA itself, keep the puzzle pieces in reach but slightly out of position.
It’s all there – but ACCA cannot complete the picture.
One of ACCA’s bigger blunders comes from an inability to land firmly on its more dramatic reveals. Despite the show’s penchant for mystery, when it comes time to unveil certain information, the landing doesn’t stick either because the show fails at qualifying this info or because it isn’t as weighty as the anime would have the audience believe.
For example, Nino reveals himself to Jean once Jean knows that Nino has been spying on him. Yet the subsequent “showdown” occurs in the middle of a forest without much consequence, leaving the dynamic between them unaltered.
Jean learning of his royalty status also makes for weak drama. He and Mauve cross paths on a sidewalk in Dowa where she drops the info bomb on him. The two talk a little more about his actions and his suspected involvement, but this revelation does not lead to anything more plot-wise.
The gifted cigarettes are even more anticlimactic. Upon visiting a new district, Jean receives an oddly designed cigarette that will presumably hold major significance or be used for something grander later. Nope. Instead, they simply represent each districts commitment to the coup. Something that Jean already knows and hears regularly when he talks with the nation’s different peoples directly.
To the anime’s credit, it does itself a service in providing a full backstory into the origins of this tale and how Jean’s situation came about. Episode eight goes back in time, taking on different perspectives and highlighting the series of events that eventually led Jean (and Nino and Lotta) towards their strange lifestyles. This dramatic reveal, unlike almost all others in the show, gives an appropriate amount of time, an appropriate amount of detail, and an appropriate amount of importance.
Besides the dramatic reveals, there’s also trouble with the districts themselves. As the title of the show describes, thirteen distinct districts split up the entire nation. A territory where, like Texas, everything is bigger. A city gung-ho about gambling. A tropical place where the inhabitants live uncharacteristically long lives. As Jean travels abroad, the audience comes to see that each district truly does have its own personality.
However, this separation also leads to a disconnect. These districts neither affect one another nor ACCA, failing to introduce anything wholly relevant to the plot save for representing another area that Jean visits. Plus, as the season progresses, the anime must make way for the reveals and the backstory and the ensuing finale, leaving even fewer chances for ACCA and the districts to make a name for themselves.
And that’s a problem. Thematically, the anime argues for two key points: the necessity of order and the existence of individualism. The former comes through in ACCA’s ideals, the continued peace of the nation, and the looming threat of a coup that drives the story. The latter comes through in those districts and the uniqueness with which they handle and portray themselves.
These two points are linked. Order gives the districts the freedom to express themselves, and individualism gives way to a nation that respects ACCA’s guidance. Throughout the season, the anime likewise makes this connection between the two. Each district has their own strengths, their own wishes, and their own presentation that shape their identity, and ACCA’s representatives watch over their territories, taking in their culture while managing their direction.
Yet ACCA almost never challenges this symbiotic relationship between order and individualism. Instead, it keeps the disconnect going – to the point that it’s way too late. The threatening coup that the anime has been building towards the whole season doesn’t actually happen, and, when the districts finally do come together, there’s no meaningful exchange. They don’t share interesting words or create thoughtful ideas. It all amounts to an unfulfilling ending that makes the audience wonder what was so important about this story to begin with.
Episode four, where Jean travels to Suitsu district, marks one of the only times such a challenge occurs. Stuck in 1700’s America, their coup (lots of coups in this show) demonstrates what happens when too much order takes hold, inviting Nino’s involvement, Jean’s promise to hide what went on, and the show’s arguably only memorable sequence.
Despite so much misplaced importance, the anime does try out other narrative routes. An assassination subplot targets both Lotta and Jean, but Lotta’s lacks reasoning and Jean’s isn’t too effective since Nino (willingly) stepped out of the picture for a while.
There’s also the real coup forming under Lilium’s leadership, but it’s not handled well. It’s introduced too late, and it’s rather convenient that Pranetta district strikes fortune to keep the nation afloat (since Lilium’s district’s defection means no more resources for anyone). And why would Jean even be manipulated by them in the first place? He never showed signs of that throughout the season, and his calm approach to life wouldn’t make him an easy target whatsoever.
The anime does reveal that Owl, Jean’s supervisor, was the guard that watched over Schnee, served as Nino’s secret boss, and destroyed Jean’s letters for reassignment. And there’s symbolism attached to the red bird: freedom, optimism, peace. But these small details are not nearly enough to make up for the anime’s numerous narrative problems.
Although ACCA’s narrative structure lacks cohesion, its artistic direction makes for an entirely different case.
It’s mainly seen in the characters’ designs. Their generally taller, lankier builds give them an air of maturity, and the decorated ACCA uniforms – all black with gold and red accessories – up their professionalism. They do at times go for the classic multicolor hair choices – dark-blue hair for Mauve (which is quite ironic), green hair for Payne, pink hair for Moz – that seem to go against the more realistic direction of the show itself. But this diversity matches that of the districts and their own diverse personalities.
These districts often have new scenery for the audience to admire. Idyllic plains with hills and grass. An underground civilization made of rock and stone. Red, mountainous regions. Snowy forests. Beautiful flower gardens amidst Egyptian-esque buildings. In essence, the very nature of ACCA’s plot provides many opportunities for the anime to showcase its diverse nation. Opportunities that it clearly takes full advantage of.
This scenery speaks nothing of the softer style portrayed or the more localized spots like the cozy bakery, the stalwart castle, and the headquarters of ACCA. It also doesn’t give insight into the anime’s actual animation which, sadly, does not maintain a similar quality as that of the background art. Mostly because there isn’t much movement going on at all.
Granted, ACCA can’t do much about the lack of movement when the show’s cool vibes demand a more subdued presentation. Moreover, the action therein doesn’t rise above the level of a chase-and-getaway sequence.
To make up for the subpar animation, then, the show incorporates a few directorial techniques to help improve engagement with the visuals. Certain shots provide interesting perspectives like when the camera takes on a fisheye lens atop the table where Jean and Mauve speak over dinner. And lighting as well as other small details, like creased clothing and a wide range of sky patterns, keep time and realism in mind.
At times, the show can falter slightly in its artistic integrity with the rare slipup of a character’s facial model. But the opening track’s and ending track’s respective visuals demonstrate that such slipups can be forgiven. For the OP, it involves a ton of different styles, colorings, and tricks that perfectly fit the super-cool vibe of both the show and the song. For the ED, the rough approach adds a floaty element to the dancing, and the choreography of the dance itself follows the emotional weight of the dancer’s pleas.
When it comes to ACCA and its cast, the anime unfortunately does not give them their due for one reason or another. To put it differently, the anime refuses to involve many of the characters or simply leaves them unexplored.
To start, and to be fair, many of the characters aren’t that essential to the plot. The different supervisors for the districts are simply there to show ACCA’s reach, and Qvalum, the king’s royal advisor, controls events in secrecy but doesn’t necessarily need anything else on him to play his part. Even Jean’s younger sister Lotta isn’t “required” to have more to her character since she is not a vital piece of the plot.
This argument begins to degrade once the scope tightens to those closer at the heart of ACCA. Rail, the side character who has a crush on Lotta, fails to find love, fails to protect Lotta, and fails to contribute anything besides furrowed gazes at Jean. There’s also three of the five main ACCA generals who may as well have never existed since two of them barely have more than ten lines total throughout the season and one of them had patriotism for his district about three different times.
Even if one excuses these characters for not being more involved in the story, two characters in particular are tougher to justify for their similar sidelined status: Mauve and Schwan.
Mauve stands as the idol of ACCA. A responsible leader and steadfast protector, she seeks to keep not only ACCA whole but also order maintained as much as possible. Thus, she investigates into the happenings of the potential coup – only for the higherups to stop her in her tracks.
So, she enlists the help of Jean to find out what he can since her hands are semi-tied. And that’s the end of her character. The first three episodes characterized her, provided her purpose, and established an interesting relationship with the main character. Afterwards, though, she does almost nothing at all besides give a standard speech about ACCA’s upcoming centennial event and talk briefly with Jean about his roots. I.e., despite being propped up as this major player in the game, the anime refuses to let her on the field.
Same thoughts go for Schwan. The king sired only daughters, so as the son of the king’s youngest child and the next in line to claim the throne, Schwan expects to take over the proceedings early on. When he does, he will make his first decree: the disbandment of ACCA (hence the people’s coup). But the king doesn’t relinquish his seat, infuriating the young prince.
Like Mauve, though, that’s the extent of his character. He has a liking for Lotta (who he doesn’t know is his cousin), and he passive-aggressively lets certain events unfold, like hanging his picture in front of the king’s favorite sitting spot and not stopping his aunt from attempting to assassinate both Jean and Lotta. Otherwise, he sits around eating bread, playing with his sword, and berating his subordinates without receiving any other important character developments.
Which makes his situation worse than Mauve’s because of how the story progresses. In the final episode of the season, ACCA enact their fake-coup plan to oust Lilium. Their “demonstration” and Mauve’s words convince the prince to keep ACCA around. That’s a nice gesture, but there’s no basis. No reason for him to suddenly flip his stance in the last several minutes of the anime. All because it never took the time to do more with his character throughout the season.
Speaking of Lilium, he gets (not that surprisingly) a similar treatment. However, he’s a bit more active. He approaches Jean a couple times, appears to butt heads with Grossular, and occasionally talks with some of the other side characters. Nothing extensive, but it’s there. His big development comes from the fact that he is the mastermind behind the upcoming coup. By getting Jean on the throne, he plans to manipulate the man and have his own district take over the nation.
It’s reiteration at this point, but his motivation isn’t impactful simply because this information comes about too late. Worse still, his tenuous relationship with Grossular isn’t that exciting or meaningful for the same reason. As for Grossular, more of the same words apply. He has one interesting aside with Jean in episode six within his own district where Jean remarks how he respects Grossular and does not believe he is a part of the coup. Otherwise, he sits at the Five Chief Officers’ table, taking on the role of pseudo-leader of ACCA and not much else.
Now, there’s a surprisingly easy explanation for why the anime skimps out on giving proper focus to Mauve, Schwan, Lilium, and Grossular. The explanation being that the story inherently forces almost all its attention on Jean and his travels. The focus follows Jean, so, because these characters almost never tag along with him, they lose out on appropriate developments.
Suppose, then, that these characters are, like the smaller side characters, also excused for their misplaced focus. This excuse-filled situation leaves the only two characters who remain consistently at the forefront of ACCA’s narrative: Jean and Nino. A question arises: Do the two best friends rise to the challenge of carrying this anime?
For Jean, the answer is a resounding “no.” Jean is a man known for two things: for wanting to leave his position as the head of the Territory Inspection Department and for smoking cigarettes (an upper-class item in their nation). As rumors swirl about a coup and his involvement with them, ACCA tasks the blonde-haired man with traveling to each of the thirteen districts to conduct his inspections per usual.
Characteristically, Jean is an emotionless man. Almost nothing fazes him; life and its weirdness create only calmness in his demeanor. He, alongside his sister, is also the proprietor of an apartment complex. Inherited after their parents sadly passed away during a horrific train accident. Mauve describes him as someone incapable of lying, and his fellow workmates respect his dutiful behavior.
In ACCA’s case, it’s debatable whether a stalwart character like Jean best fits the aims of the show. On the one hand, his reserved nature greatly helps in building the suspense and the mystery since he makes it hard for the audience to read what he’s thinking. Plus, he doesn’t let anything get to him, making him rather uninterested in coups and kings and courts.
On the other hand, his lack of a more interesting personality hurts his chances at becoming a more well-defined character. Furthermore, the biggest argument against Jean comes from what he did and didn’t do. He did visit all thirteen districts; he did not let his journey affect him.
He goes to all these places. Meets all these people. Discovers all that there is to this nation (something that his mother would have appreciated). Simultaneously, he learns of his heritage, almost loses his best friend, and even takes part in the fake coup.
ACCA sets him up as the perfect person to take over the throne since he, more than anybody, understands what this nation is about. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, come the anime’s end, he’s in exactly the same spot as he has always been. No different worldview. No different outlook. No different thoughts. He’s just unfazed, unchanging Jean from start to finish.
For Nino, the answer is a wishy-washy “maybe.” Nino (codename “Crow”) is Jean’s best friend, the two almost daily eating a meal and drinking alcohol at whatever restaurant suits their fancy. He’s close with Lotta, too, but as more of an uncle than a brother or romantic interest.
Unbeknownst to Jean (for a time anyway), Nino keeps track of the cigarette peddler from afar. Not as a stalker but instead as a spy, relaying information back to Grossular about what the potential coup sympathizer does during his inspections. Nino also confides in another, more mysterious figure. His behind-the-scene ploys and various actions are some of the biggest drivers behind the anime’s mystery, making him already a vital player in this tale.
Throughout the season, Nino sates Lotta’s worries about her big brother, protects Jean from wooden poles and metal bullets, and works his butt off in the shadows. Yet episode eight does the most work for his character. The twenty-minute-long flashback highlights how Nino went with his father to watch over Schnee (Jean’s mother) and her eventual family. Living a life of secrecy, becoming friends with Jean in high-school, and losing his father in the same train accident that also killed Jean’s parents.
Nino’s position and situation create a very interesting relationship between him and Jean. To Nino, Jean isn’t just his best friend. He’s also the only person he has left. Yet he could never be as close or as forthcoming as he probably would have liked. Always a camera-lens length away, he kept a thoughtful, watchful eye on the would-be prince while also sincerely looking out for him as best he could.
Come the end of the season, when Nino no longer must take pictures of the king’s extended family and can finally choose his own path, Nino rides away on a motorcycle. However, true to his character, he comes back, meeting with Jean not because he needs to but because he wants to. Sharing their relationship over food, alcohol, and a bit of reminiscing.
Does one okay-ish character make up for the main one remaining unaffected by the events he experienced and almost everyone else having little to zero impact? That’s a resounding “no,” too.
Just as with ACCA’s artistic direction, much of the music within the anime oozes style and coolness that forms the mature vibe of the show itself.
Nowhere is this style more prevalent than in its opening track. Titled “Shadow and Truth,” a bit of reverb and a bunch of bongos get the song rolling. Sharp and wild saxophones with light piano work and a killer beat form a cool backdrop, and some English rapping brings the hip-hop funk. (“Silhouette, conspiracies, indefinite; never fool, gotta stay cool, smoke another cigarette.”)
Once the female vocalist steps in, the track officially flies high, her sensual singing and those of the other harmonizing singers smoothing out the piece that much more. It’s just too cool for school, standing proud as one of ACCA’s best traits.
The original soundtrack continues with the coolness through more jazz and rhythmic tunes. “Cigarette No. 13” uses lots of bass guitar and timed snaps for a weighty feel that knows it has nothing to fear. “In the Night Wave” goes with a cello and a slow, slow electric guitar that invites a moment’s rest. “Cold Talk,” arguably the best track offered, combines a slick riff, a steady drum beat, and the occasional piano strokes to create a piece that practically defines the word “smooth.”
Other tracks aim for more of the mystery. “Movin’ On” uses a faster pace and more grating effects. “Behind the Haze” uses a deliberate, singular piano note. “Breach of Faith” uses xylophones and ambient sounds. “Irregular Point” goes back and forth, both in playing and on the ears, with its music.
There’s even more variety available, and the examples above are only taken from the first disc of this two-disc, forty-five-track-full OST. Metaphorically speaking, the whole package deserves a district all its own.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any noteworthy voice-acting performances throughout the season. But the ending track does what it can to make up for this loss. Unexpectedly, though, the ED chooses something neither smooth nor cool but instead graceful. Light piano and soft singing dance across the ears, evoking a sense of beauty and longing in the listener.
The song goes for something completely different when compared to the music that precedes it. Arguably, it’s unfit given the anime’s style and the direction of the plot itself. Even so, the track proves that ACCA can do more than just cool and smooth.
As I was watching this one, I had a couple of guesses for who the ultimate mastermind behind the coup would be. I attributed “rankings” to them based on their plausibility and intrigue.
The “way-too-obvious and really bad writing” choice was Grossular because that was too easy and too cliché.
Jean was the “you can’t trick me” choice since I knew the anime had the option to go with an unreliable narrator the whole way through.
Mauve was my “this is the correct answer” answer because she was in that innocuous position of coup preventer, and it seemed to me that she would make for the best twist.
And Lotta was the “almost no chance but just in case” guess since I wanted to cover the conspiracy-theory bases and make it known that the show did not “get” me in case they went for the super-ultimate plot twist. Also, it would have been crazy to see how they would handle it.
Lo and behold, Lilium was the culprit all along. I admit, and as is evidenced through my guesses above, that I was wrong, tricked. But I can’t say I was impressed.
That’s my whole stance with the show. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. To have the drama unfold and the mystery appease. Instead, nothing really took hold. Most districts were visited with little to zero fanfare. The same dialogue about coups and heritage were thrown about to ill effect. Its themes and writing didn’t get to those nuanced levels.
It also didn’t help that I didn’t like almost all the characters. Side characters like Maggie and Rail were meant to be there for semi-comedic relief, but I wasn’t laughing. The prince was annoying. Grossular and the other generals were never as intimidating as they needed to be. Lotta ate bread and sweets. Worst of all was Jean. Emotionless and plain, he turned out to be one of the more forgettable main characters I’ve seen in anime, doing almost nothing else besides smoking his cigarettes for twelve straight episodes.
Only two characters caught my attention: Mauve and Nino.
The anime’s decision to sideline Mauve for a large portion of the season was not welcome to me. While it seemed as though she would have a bigger role to play given her involvement in the earliest episodes, Jean not working with her and the show’s desire to focus on everyone but her let her potential go to waste. A shame, really.
As for Nino, he is to me the only worthwhile character from the entire show. Cool dude, unorthodox behavior, neat bit of backstory. If nothing else, he takes notable action throughout the season, making him better than almost everyone else by default. Which honestly says less about him and more about everyone else.
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka inhales too much smoke. A neat artistic direction and a set of cool, smooth musical offerings create the show’s strong style. But its weak, unfulfilling story, its lackluster characters, and its boring developments leave it coughing and wheezing and far too unhealthy.
Story: Terrible, a dramatic mystery tale that continually misaligns itself through anticlimactic reveals, lame subplots, and an inability to challenge its symbiotic theme on order and individualism
Art/Animation: Good, cool character designs, diverse background art, and a few directorial techniques do a lot to make up for the mediocre levels of actual animation
Characters: Terrible, Mauve, Schwan, and many of the other side characters don’t receive nearly as much attention as they should when considering their roles, Jean remains largely unaffected by his literal nationwide journey, and Nino’s intriguing relationship with Jean cannot carry everything by its lonesome
Music/Sound: Good, while none of the VA performances stick out, the ED dances gracefully, the OP oozes style, and the OST explodes with smoothness
Enjoyment: Terrible, lame choice for the mastermind behind the whole coup, Mauve was not around nearly enough, Nino’s the only one who seems to do anything tangible, and nearly everything else was boring
Final Score: 3/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3