Reviewby James Beckett,
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
In a kingdom divided into thirteen districts, it takes a strong system of government to keep things in check. After disgruntled citizens threatened a coup d'état a hundred years ago, the inspection department known as ACCA was formed to make sure all thirteen districts are operating free of corruption and with the interest of the people in mind above all else. Jean Otus is a perpetually drowsy chain-smoker who also happens to be one of the greatest inspectors at ACCA; when he isn't busy hunting down sweets for his sister Lotta or knocking back a couple drinks with his best friend Nino, Jean is busy sniffing out chicanery across the kingdom. Now that there are murmurs of another coup brewing throughout the districts, Jean must work to prevent the collapse of his world, even if it means getting much closer to the kingdom's conspiracies than he ever imagined.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. passed me by when it originally aired in winter of 2017. The bureaucratically focused premise didn't appeal to me at first glance, and even now that I've finished Funimation's Blu-Ray/DVD combo set of ACCA, I still find it difficult to describe. The pastel-colored setting of ACCA is fanciful enough to feel almost like a fairy-tale (the kingdom the show takes place in literally resembles a bird in map form), yet the politically charged narrative and film noir overtones bring those romantic overtones down into a world that is surprisingly grounded. The rhythm and presentation of the story is not quite slick enough to feel like a thriller, but there's too much going on under the plot's hood to classify ACCA as a slice-of-life story either.
So in a rather paradoxical turn, ACCA's uniqueness does make it feel fresh, but its idiosyncratic storytelling and measured pacing also might make it less approachable for anyone like me who isn't familiar with the original manga by Natsume Ono and bristles at the thought of a series centered around the lives of professional bureaucrats. All the same, I'm certainly glad I stuck with it, despite my initial misgivings, because ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. ended up being a delightful experience all around that I find myself appreciating more as I reflect on it.
The first thing that stands out about ACCA is its wonderful visual aesthetic, especially the character designs – I hadn't encountered Natsume Ono's work before watching ACCA, and even through the slightly more streamlined lens of Studio Madhouse's anime redesigns, her art is simply too charming and unique to ignore. There's a lanky quality to the characters that meshes perfectly well with the series' background art and painterly color palette; it makes me think of a shoujo manga from the '70s, but with a slightly more European fashion magazine bent to it. The artwork on display is generally excellent, striking enough to make up for when the actual animation is too stilted and stiff for its own good. Even when I was struggling to get attached to the plot and the characters up front, ACCA was always great fun to look at, which is only ever a good thing in the medium of animation.
Thankfully, I did eventually get on board with the plot, mostly because I found myself growing surprisingly attached to the cast, especially in ACCA's latter half. Jean's aloofness initially comes off as too cutesy, but as ACCA explores the charming bond he shares with his sister, Lotta, and the complicated friendship he has with his old pal Nino, Jean does come into his own as a compelling leading man. I will admit that it was only in the final few episodes that I became genuinely invested in the parts of ACCA that focused more on royal intrigue and political coups, but Jean, his family, and his cadre of dorky ACCA co-workers managed to hold my interest until the machinations of the plot managed to catch up.
There's also an endearing kind of quaintness that I didn't expect from an anime that's ostensibly about the impending collapse of a century-old dynasty, and while that laid-back tone might result in some getting impatient with the story, I ended up appreciating the time ACCA took to indulge in its worldbuilding and character development. My one issue is that, for all the time Jean spends travelling the kingdom and digging up dirt, the thirteen districts don't all feel as unique and well-developed as they could have. Mostly they get boiled down to their most general characteristics: Hare is the tropical island district, Furawau is the faux-Indian district, Dowa looks ripped right out of a British costume drama, etc. It's true that Lotta and the girls from ACCA make sure to thoroughly investigate each district's confectionary offerings (ACCA is borderline food-porn at times), but while Jean's adventures did their best to pay lip service to some of the districts' deeper cultural and political issues, this aspect of the script too often felt like checking items off the plot's To-Do-List than anything else.
The same sentiment goes for Prince Schwan, ACCA's would-be royal antagonist, who is easily the least interesting character in the show. In a world that paints primarily in broad strokes, Schwan was too thinly drawn for my tastes. He serves his purpose in the plot but nothing more, and having seen how the story ultimately concludes, I wonder if all the time the show spent building him up couldn't have been been redistributed to better narrative causes and characters.
Funimation's BD/DVD combo set preserves ACCA's appealing visuals and pleasing score, and the dub included on the disc is good enough to recommend to anyone who prefers English language tracks. J. Michael Tatum's script is characteristically liberal in its adaptation from time to time, but the production does an excellent job of translating the tone and the spirit of ACCA's dialogue. Austin Tindle does a fine job of selling Jean's laconic attitude without making him boring, and Nino is the kind of lovable bad-boy-type that Christopher Bevins could probably play in his sleep at this point. Lotta doesn't get quite as much to do as she deserves, but Alexis Tipton makes sure to sell the spirited sibling dynamic she shares with Jean. The Blu-Ray version of ACCA also includes a half-dozen short OVA episodes dubbed in both languages, which are cute little skits that earn enough chuckles to justify watching through.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. won't be for everyone. It's a slow paced political mystery that doesn't aspire to do much more than gently entertain with its likable cast and intriguing world. It won't blow anyone's hair back, but it takes what could have been a bore of a premise and works it into something quietly compelling. If you brushed ACCA off when it first aired, it may be well worth investigating on a quiet, laid-back weekend.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Lovely character designs, interesting story and world, likable and engaging cast
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