We’re reaching the end of the Winter premieres and the past week has been one of many first impressions. New anime have a short 20 minutes to impress their viewers or possibly lose them forever. Animation, humor, and fanservice are common tools used in the first episode to impress and engage a potential audience and nailing a particular mood is, in itself, an art form. Things are considerably harder for ACCA, which looks to be telling a dialogue-heavy story of political intrigue. To sell a mystery, the events of the first episode have to hint at secrets which capture the curiosity of the audience. ACCA has a definite visual charm working for it, but the true strength of its first episode was in creating a sense of uncertainty with incongruity between word and action.
ACCA opens with Jean receiving news that the Inspection Department will be shut down. The nation of Dowa is in the midst of an unprecedented period of peace and the Inspection Department, originally created to root out a potential coup d’etat, is now considered a relic of a bygone era. The final decision seems to be made as the result of something as mundane as a budgetary concern, ACCA simply can’t justify the cost. Although disheartened, even the members of the department themselves see the move as a long time in coming. Their preoccupation with the department’s daily 10 o’clock snack indicates they don’t have much of real importance to worry about. Jean himself agrees with this assessment, commenting that the department could do more harm than good by preventing the district branches from developing their own unique identities.
Yet what we’re hearing isn’t what we see. A rash of arsons have been occurring within the central city and suddenly the Five Chiefs seem paranoid regarding the possibility of an approaching end to their peaceful times. After Jean uncovers corruption within his own department, which might only further motivate his superiors to close them down, the Five Chiefs instead reverse their decision and ramp up his inspection schedule by 400%. Lilium comments that if something were to happen to their time of peace, the inspection department might be the first to know. It becomes apparent that something is brewing beneath the calm surface of ACCA and they believe Jean may be able to act as an early warning yet Grossular, who was so willing to change his assessment of the Inspection Department, also orders that Jean’s activities be monitored.
Jean’s treatment in itself is a curiosity. The one potential insight we receive into his inscrutable character is that he dislikes working for the inspection department. In addition to its irrelevance, he claims that he has a distaste for work which requires him to distrust his subordinates. This is supported by the fact that he has, on numerous occasions, requested a transfer out of the department. Despite his apparent unhappiness with his position, he appears to be exceedingly good at his job. Multiple rejected transfer requests a small reveal about the positions poor pay might indicate that fed rumors that the upper brass has something against Jean to sideline him into a doomed department.
Again, reality seems to disagree with the characters perceptions. Upon a chance encounter with two of the Five Chiefs, who not only recognized Jean by sight but treated him in a particularly casual manner, bumming a cigarette off of him and engaging him in shop talk about their private meetings. Contrasting with the official sweating through his uniform at the sight of member of the Five Chiefs, Jean greets them with similar nonchalance. While his reputation as a cigarette peddler may precede him and serve the purpose of getting people to engage with him in just that manner, it seems more likely that he has more friends among the brass than enemies. If anything, it’s those beneath him who resent him for his inexplicable wealth and familiarity with the leadership.
If all these strange contradictions are beginning to raise some questions, then ACCA is setting the right tone. Rail has an interesting line near the end of the first episode “Rumors about people you don’t like are easy to come by.” There several possible interpretations for this quote, either claiming there’s always information out there that paints someone in whatever shade you’re predisposed to viewing them is one or, in absences of rumors, anyone so inclined can easily create some. The next time we see Rail, he pockets Jean’s misplaced lighter and comments on how unusual it is to carry around something that can start a fire in this day and age. Whether you believe he suspects Jean or plans to frame him may just reveal his meaning, but its relevance to story is clear. Both the information you have and even how you interpret it can be unreliable.
Where typically providing so little information regarding the intentions of the protagonist in the first episode could be considered a narrative weakness, ACCA’s atmosphere of uncertainty turns it into an asset. By presenting us with conflicting information, ACCA provides us with room to theorize and lets our own biases do the rest. Whatever we’re inclined to believe, we may seek out evidence to support. Even something so innocuous as providing catalogues to the heads of isolated departments may be considered with new scrutiny. Throw in a secret meeting at the end with a promise of a coup d’etat and the embers of speculation are already glowing.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll and author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight. You can follow him on Twitter at @PeterFobian.