It's rather appropriate that I brought up Natsume Ono in the last review, as her latest series came out here less than a month ago. Does it live up to the high standards of her previous work? Well, that depends on how you look at it...
ACCA 13: TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT (Acca 13: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka), by Natsume Ono. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2017.
The land of Dowa is a seemingly peaceful collection of 13 districts united under a king. This peace is maintained in part by the Acca Office, whose duty is to inspect the other territorial bureaus for discrepancies. Their best agent is Vice-Chair Jean Otus, who is known just as much for his smoking habit as he is for his keen eyes and mind. Initially, his goal is to simply preserve the office from being shut down as a budget-saving measure, but as the story progresses we learn that he may have more ambitious goals in mind for himself.
I could see people dismissing ACCA 13 as boring. On the surface, it's the story of a bureaucrat who travels to other offices, has conversations about office procedure, and spends an inordinate amount of time talking with others about baked goods. Meanwhile, other people in other offices debate about shutting down ACCA and gossip about others. Even compared to other Ono works, this would be a hard sale. That's saying something considering her best-known work can be summarized as "sad girl goes to Italy to chew out her mom, falls in love with Italy and old guy instead" and "shy samurai finds acceptance in a literal den of thieves."
That's not giving ACCA 13 the credit it deserves, though. The true cleverness of this series is that there's an entire subplot going on in the margins of the story, one that's far more sinister than Jean's everyday routine would suggest. You don't have to read too deeply between the lines here to realize that there's something darker and more autocratic going on in Dowa. You can see it in the ways that people treat things like tobacco and baked goods like a luxury. You can see it in the way that the officials' mouths can say one thing, but their glances say another. It's especially evident in Jean himself, whose blase affectations and mundane conversations conceal a cynical yet keen mind. It's not always elegant, as there are a couple of world-building moments that are handled with the ever-clumsy "as you know..." Still, there's a lot going on just under the surface of ACCA 13 and Ono trusts you, the reader, to be clever enough to put it together on your own.
While Ono's signature style is in full effect here, there's a certain polish to the artwork here that feels different than before. Maybe it's the wider range of character designs than usual, or just how well those big, heavy-lidded eyes can deliver a judgmental sidelong stare . Maybe it's the way she frames the dialogue, giving it the tension and back-and-forth snap of a movie editor. Maybe it's the setting, which evokes all the European cityscapes Ono loves so much. Regardless of what the answer may be, ACCA 13 looks good.
ACCA 13 isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but those who are hip to Natsume Ono's brand of slice-of-life meets political drama will be greatly rewarded for their patience.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is complete in Japan with 6 volumes available. 1 volume has been released and is currently in print.
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