Seriously, deer fetishes, bread fetishes – what’s up with this season?
It’s funny, but more so than with almost any series I can remember I feel about ACCA very much the way it seems to feel about itself – bemused, amused and not taking things all that seriously. Am I being too hard on it? I don’t know, really, but it’s difficult to get too drawn into a story that seems so preternaturally detached. It’s almost hard to believe this springs from the same pen as Sarai-ya Goyou, so different is the emotional palette of the two series, but then Natsume’s stories do span an enormous stylistic range for all they superficially share.
Maybe more so than any time in the first act of the series, I really began to feel this week as if Natsume and Natsume were trolling us a bit. When Prince Schwan’s subordinate Magie loses the flunky he’s had shadowing Lotta because of sweets, the proceeds to lose the trail himself after becoming obsessed with toast, I kind of lost it. I wouldn’t call ACCA a satire but it’s clear it’s not playing this premise straight at all. Not all of that strangeness is plot-relevant (though the bread thing is modestly so in this instance) – much of it really is there just for effect. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show spend so much narrative time talking about bread (even the ones about bakeries, and there are a few).
Such true drama is there is here is in Niino being outed to Jean by Lilium. Ostensibly this is a huge betrayal, but as ever Jean seems hardly flummoxed when he finds out. We know it’s Grossular that’s sicced Niino on Jean at the moment – though not the truth of why – but it’s obvious that he’s been spying on Jean since their school days (how old was Niino then? How old is he now?). The obvious question is: what is it about Jean that was worth watching and has been for all these years? Is it possible he could be the king’s illegitimate son or something? That explanation seems to hold as much water as any of the others.
Everyone’s motives are in-question in ACCA, that much has been made clear to us. Grossular, Mauve, Lilium – all are using Jean for their own purposes, but I’m more interested in whether Jean is really the one using them. I got the sense in his exchange with Niino (over what happens when Niino gets him drinking) that Jean has known Niino was spying on him for a long time, and was deliberately playing a role. And nothing that happens during the rest of that exchange in the snowy woods of the Birra district dissuades me from that suspicion.
In a curious way ACCA acts as a travelogue, too, a kind of “Douwa Through the Back Door”. It takes great pains to show us the peculiarities of each district – the local cuisine (naturally), the hotels, the street life. One gets the sense that Natsume is genuinely interested in this sort of thing, as if she’s exploring a real country through her writing. There are bit of Japan in these places – Birra certainly has elements of Touhoku – but they’re spliced with European an American elements too. And I guess that makes Jean the tour guide, which in a curious way fits much better than you’d think it would.
So where are we with the spiderweb, then? Well, Magie has teamed up with Rail to jointly stalk Lotta, united in their love of sandwich bread. Niino’s secret isn’t fully out in the open yet, but I think he’s hiding less from Jean than Jean is hiding from him. And it seems as if Jean is finally going to confront Grossular in the latter’s home district of Rokkusu (theoretically Grossular is home for the holidays and Jean on an audit, but in ACCA I’m not big on coincidences). When he does we may finally find out what Grossular believes about Jean – and I’d be willing to bet that the reality is dramatically different than the picture that’s been painted so far.