Well, this was a pretty encouraging night on the whole. Onihei was distinctly better, and so was ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – though the reasons behind its improvement are a shade harder to pin down. Superficially this wasn’t a whole lot different than the premiere: glacially slow, loaded with exposition, quite proudly odd and rambling. But for me at least it clicked in a way last week’s episode didn’t, and I found myself starting to get swept up in the world Natsume-tachi are creating here.
I do like weird anime, it’s true. Certainly when that weirdness falls towards the quirky, as ACCA certainly does. But I get the sense that rather that quirkiness for its own sake we’re looking at a slow build here, a story where at least some of that weirdness has a deeper meaning. Clearly this is a setting where very little is as it seems – a world full of deception and willful blindness and hidden agendas. It’s a calm pool beneath whose surface the water is riddled with sharks, as contradictory as that seems. And it’s that contradiction that provides a lot of the tension with ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka.
We did get a little more clumsy exposition to start the episode, which remains a pet peeve for me. This time it’s a kindergarten tour guide explaining the history of ACCA to us, and it seems natural to assume the stuff she said will be important in the story otherwise she wouldn’t have said it. Acca, apparently, was a bird – a symbol of peace – that became extinct the year Douwa’s civil war ended and its current political structure established (that can’t be a good omen, can it?). The message that the current utopian state is a mirage could hardly be clearer, though who exactly is the instigator behind the growing unrest and likely coup is still undetermined.
I don’t know if there are eight million stories in this naked city, but there are certainly a lot of them.. Among them is that of Rail (Yashiro Taku), the young branch officer jealous of Jean for what he mistakenly believes is his wealth and privilege. He even tries to set up Jean as a fall guy for the string of arson fires, but he’s no match for Jean in the subterfuge department (did Jean have a tracking device on that lighter?). Rail is not above some small-time graft, but Jean proves he’s willing to look the other way when it suits him to do so. Complicating matters is that Rail has fallen hard for Lotta – so much so that he immediately turns into a stalker.
Niino is the figure more and more at the heart of the mystery. He’s known Jean for a long time (he says for “thirty years”, which would imply since they was born) and plays the role of his beatnik best friend and an investigative journalist, but he’s also a rat working for internal affairs as “Crow”. They – at the instigation of Grossular – appear to be setting up Jean as the fall guy for the coup that’s supposedly coming, and they send Niino to follow Jean on one of his audits to keep an eye on him. It’s pretty harsh to think that Jean’s best and probably only friend is betraying him, but the funny thing is, I’m not yet 100% convinced Jean isn’t up to no-good himself. He might actually be plotting a coup for all we know, or be fully aware of who Niino really is. Like most of the cast of ACCA, Jean is clearly full of secrets.
This all develops at a snail’s pace, mind you, and is almost entirely left to interpretation. But Natsume and Natsume do a skillful job of communicating what’s really happening without showing it outright. And the abject weirdness of the piece is strangely appealing – Jean’s boss with the walrus moustache, the obsession with food… On one of Jean’s audits he visits a province where the produce is huge, which in turn produces huge food and huge people, except the vice-manager of the ACCA office who for some reason appears to be Tintin. Is all of that significant – or any of it – or is it just atmospherics? That guessing game is part of the fun of ACCA, and it is fun, that’s become obvious. I’m still bemused more than entranced, but we’re definitely making good progress.