Do you ever have the feeling you are being watched? If so, does it affect your behavior?
ACCA: 13 Ward Observation Department is the story of Jean Otus (played by Hiro Shimono), deputy head of the main surveillance division of the titular organization which controls the various regions of the kingdom of Dowa. While Jean appears to be fairly laid-back, perhaps even somewhat laissez-faire, he is actually extremely sharp and thus very good at his job, revealing internal corruption among his subordinates. He is often seen smoking and is much gossiped about as a “cigarette recipient” guy. In a world where cigarettes are seen as a luxurious commodity which only the rich can enjoy, his constant lighting up in plain sight of the general public brings about some contention. Nevertheless, he goes on various business trips to each of the states of the kingdom.
In fact, our introduction to Jean is seeing him rather conspicuously smoking as he is walking down the street, catching the attention of all the passers-by. Eventually this results in some increasing tension, building up to a confrontation. However, while smoking itself is not prohibited, it does cause all those around him to fix their eyes on him, judging him as an arrogant show-off.
As he moves around, Jean feels like he is being watched–and not just by regular people on the street. As a watcher by profession, he senses that he is actively being spied on and is having his movements tracked. The theme of surveillance is very prevalent in ACCA.
The story really takes off when we are introduced to his longtime friend Nino (Kenjiro Tsuda), a former investigator turned freelance writer, whom Jean asks to discover the identity of his own surveillance.
Visually, the show itself looks great and the original manga designs have been adapted well, keeping their sharp, stylish look. Perhaps one of the most intriguing visual motifs for non-Japanese fans may be that the setting, from its architecture to its infrastructure (yellow, rounded vertical traffic lights, etc.) looks a lot like an American city of yesteryear, but all the signage and instances of text (which there were a lot of) were in straight-romanized Japanese. For example, labels on the types of sliced bread at a bakery were written as Ichigo (strawberry), Kabocha (pumpkin), Murasaki Imo (purple sweet potato), etc.
This, along with the non-Japanese names of the characters (though, this is, of course, common in anime) gives it an air of familiarity and yet distinct otherworldliness. This becomes increasingly fleshed out as we learn more about the kingdom and its history and structure.
But in spite of the European motifs such as the idea of a kingdom, as well as the visual cues that remind us of the US, thematically the concept of the ever-watching public perhaps strikes us as quintessentially Japanese, more than anything.
When it comes to Japanese society, there is the theory of (relative) “collectivism,” where keeping harmony is the priority of a shared community. While it is a classic stereotype, it appears to ring true in the minds of the general public. Thus, very rarely will you see regular Japanese people attempting to stand out from the crowd. The public gaze is of utmost importance in regulating one’s behavior. The famous phrase deru kugi wa utareru, (“The nail that sticks out will be hammered down”) is typically telling.
While it is too early yet to say just how much of the central theme of ACCA will be the effects of social surveillance–the idea that we are not (only) being watched by a “Big Brother” type of authority, but by each other–it clearly is a theme within the series’ next season that deserves closer inspection.