The Wandering Witch Ponders Lucky Number 13

Posted on Feb 15 2017

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Welcome, all, again. Please let me apologize for there being no January column–a death in the family compelled my travel overseas and otherwise consumed my attention. I am grateful to be back, and am excited to review ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept., a smart and stylish intellectual drama. Strong storytelling and character exposition are rewarded with a plot worthy of the effort they represent. Indeed, this series reminds me of nothing so much as the very best of British drama offered on BBC; everything from musical choices to artistic style simply exudes sophistication. I predict that this will become one of those shows referenced when discussion turns towards the status of anime as an actual art form. It’s that good, really. But what’s all the fuss about?

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The 13 in the show’s title refers to the thirteen autonomous states which comprise the kingdom of Dowa, what appears to be a [fictional] modern European nation. The current king’s father granted such autonomy in an effort to avoid the bloodshed and strife of civil war against his government, maintaining his role as monarch but passing the actual rule of the land to a civilian organization called ACCA. But it is a difficult thing to govern quasi-independent states that each have unique traditions and legal institutions, while further complicating the situation is the fact that ACCA seems to have official concerns outside the realm of governance. Put simply, a situation exists that seems almost predestined to produce weak or incompetent administration and certain corruption and graft. And that is the specific province of ACCA’s Inspection Department, of which our protagonist Jean Otus is second-in-command. The Inspection Department monitors and audits the activities of the other ACCA departments in order to maintain functionality and public trust–and as a fail-safe against plots against the regime. Serious stuff, then.

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Meanwhile, Jean comes off as something of an enigma: a dedicated bureaucrat who hates his job, as well as a razor-sharp intellect plagued by absentmindedness (although I suspect that last bit might be more feigned than factual). To his chagrin, he is often mistaken as wealthy due to the fact that he lives in a very exclusive high-rise–only because he and his sister manage it as landlords–and also because he smokes cigarettes, a habit regarded in Dowa as indicative of monied decadence. It’s such a glaring vice, in fact, that it has earned Jean the epithet “Cigarette Peddler.” Still, Jean has bigger worries than the gossip surrounding his personal activities–or so he believes. But it turns out that malice given the form of judiciously poisoned words can become a rather immediate cause for concern, especially when a coup d’etat is alleged. Jean’s job (particularly his rank within his job) makes him a target; his lifestyle makes him an easy target. What’s worse, Jean must consider that his sister might also be targeted, or even used as a tool against him. No wonder he hates his job! Still, things aren’t all bad for Jean: besides having a very supportive sister, he also has a loyal crew of subordinates back at the office. And he seems to have the trust of his immediate supervisor, the head of the Inspection Department. But the intrigue is deep and swift, and our hero might just get swept away in its current. After all, autonomous does not mean sovereign, a fact that will always (and often rightly) have self-proclaimed nationalists up in arms. Specifically problematic at present, moreover, is the fact that Dowa’s reigning King is of advanced age, with a young and ambitious heir-apparent impatiently awaiting his own ascension to the throne. The danger is palpable.

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This is a well-constructed anime, its story cohesive and comprehensible while its plot is developed and complex. The artistry is of consistently high quality, with frequent moments of exquisite detail and stunning beauty. [One note on this topic: most of the characters are drawn with a feminine softness to them, men included. While this does nothing to detract from the story, it is nonetheless pronounced. Personally, I would have preferred a more masculine–or at least less androgynous–look for the men.] And while I have not yet witnessed so much character development as character exposition, that is understandable given the story. These are active adults viewed in situ, so it is only natural that personalities, attitudes, and tendencies are already well-established to the point of dependability. As I stated earlier in this discussion, I can only compare the quality, scope, and ambition of this series to the very best drama offerings on the BBC. (Really, I keep expecting Helen Mirren to walk right into a scene!) Of all the new shows offered this viewing season, it is this one which has impressed me most. And I’m already hoping for a second season. . .

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