Little Witch Academia – 24

Show of (virtual) hands (that I can’t see because they’re virtual):

Who kinda knew going in that Naruto Palpatine Croix would ultimately succeed in activating her “Noir Rod”, only to find the world reconstruction magic she sought so vehemently would still not available to her, and that the technology she had developed would overload from all the bad soccer vibes and turn on her, requiring Chariot—who spent the first part of the episode fighting her—as the only person who can rescue Croix, and does so, because, well, she’s a good guy?

I mean, it all pretty much unfolded how I expected. Did it look great? Well, it’s Trigger on Red Bull: it’s usually gonna look gangbusters. But was it a great episode? I gotta say…no. It was merely good.

And lets start with the good. Obviously, the visuals stood out, as everything got crazy in a hurry. Watching Chariot fighting while keeping her emotions (which Croix can use against her) in check was also fun. Heck, it was also kinda fun to see Croix succeed (if only temporarily).

You really get the sense her unending quest to gain the Triskelion (and her long-standing resentment she wasn’t chosen by the ‘Rod) slowly twisted her until she became the supervillain she is today. And Chariot knows she shares some blame for the creation of the monster Croix has become, for the reasons laid out last week.

But in its quest to put on a big, bad, exciting Trigger Brand Dramatic Climax™, the beats just feel too familiar. “Borrowing” the Star Wars lightsaber, then escalating the battle to near-Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann levels of lunacy, only invites comparison to those better Trigger works—a comparison that doesn’t favor LWA.

I know it sounds ungrateful or even hypocritical to accuse LWA of going too far with the weird, wild special effects, but it’s somewhat disheartening to see characters who felt so big when we heard their stories earlier, scaled down to the size of ants before all the great big crazy stuff going on.

That’s why I appreciated Akko & Co. arriving at the scene where Chariot was desperately trying to save Croix from her self-made mess. After taking out the Noir Rod with a Shiny Arrow, it’s just Chariot and a forgiving Akko excited and elated to finally be meeting her lifelong idol.

Not only that, her dream has come true, she thanks everyone who helped her get here, and she’s hopeful Chariot will continue to teach her how to be a great witch.

With that, the Shiny Rod indicates the Final Word is ready to be unsealed, granting Akko the power to transform the dark and dreary surroundings into gorgeous, colorful scenery – the “world transformation magic” Croix could not access, seems to be available to Akko.

We’ll see the extent to which that magic will be able to stop the ICBM of negative emotional energy that has launched as a result of civil unrest hitting an untenable fever pitch. Andrew finds himself in the halls of power, among people who want to use war to their advantage.

From the look of that alert on Croix’s phone, the menacing missile soaring high in the sky, and a red-hot steaming populace, we’re probably in for a Trigger-brand Finale of Exponential Escalation™.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t totally eclipse all the little witches.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 11

ACCA: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka. I hadn’t really read the words until recently, but they roll right off the tongue in a very satisfying, elegant way, like ACCA the show itself.

I daresay ACCA is a sneaky show. It seems a bit slow and dull at first but the details keep you around. Then it becomes something you must watch at all costs. In this way, it’s like no other show airing this Winter, and its quality has been rewarded on MAL, rising from 6.97 on week one to 7.43 today, the biggest climb of any Winter ’17 show.

By the time Jean arrives in lavish, exotic Furawau for the thirteenth of thirteen district audits, nearly all pretense has fallen over his “job” as inspector, as Furawau is the district spearheading the coup.

Yet true to its name (“flower” in katakana), Furawau’s inhabitants are cheerful and elegant, and discreet in their welcoming of Jean for his true purpose.

But while it’s named for its flowers, the gleaming skyscrapers and lush palaces are paid for with oil. 90% of the entire nation of Dowa’s oil is supplied by Furawau. This makes them Arabia on steroids, which makes resource-poor Pranetta the comparatively oil-less Jordan.

When he leaves for his hotel, Jean does not give the Furawau chiefs a direct answer about whether he’ll rise up with them. But fortunately for Jean, Niino was listening in when the Princess’ assassins were loudly discussing their plan for slaying him.

When they draw their appropriately ornate golden revolver from the shadows, Niino is there not only to warn Jean, but take two bullets for him. He survives, but when he wakes up from surgery, he wonders out loud something I’ve wondered for many weeks now: whether Jean is merely being dragged into things by chance, or if he’s “prying into the whole mess” of his own accord.

Before leaving Furawau, Jean tells the chiefs he’s with them. Upon returning to Badon, he doesn’t stop by Mugimaki where Mauve continues to show up and wait. Instead, he visits Lilium as his brothers instructed, and shows him all thirteen cigarettes he’s collected.

I love how each one is  different in color and length, and how Pranetta’s is one of his own. Details that carry symbolism: Dowa is one big happy cigarette case. When Jean says anyone can ascend as long as it’s not him, Lilium counters that only he can protect both ACCA and the people.

What he isn’t telling Jean…could fill volumes. Like the fact he needs to present at least the air of proper succession, and probably needs the ACCA angle to strengthen their case. Lotta can’t fulfill either of those conditions…nor can Lilium himself.

When Rail first heard of him, he assumed Jean was an upper class snob who thought his own excrement did not emit odor. Turns out he was right about the “upper class” bit, but now that Rail knows who Jean is for sure, he thinks he’d probably be a better King than Schwan.

Rail tells Jean this while they smoke in the city night, after Jean thanks him for watching Lotta while he was away. And Jean appears to take Rail’s subtle endorsement to heart…maybe he will be better.

The next day, people from all thirteen districts start pouring into Badon for the upcoming ACCA centennial ceremony. This means we get all the ACCA agents Jean met on his travels in the same room, and of course they all know each other.

It’s a nice “lower decks” scene, watching subordinates shoot the breeze. The girls badger Eidar about her feelings for Jean, only to learn she’s dating Grus. One agent brings up the coup, and silence fills the room.

Every one of them seems generally on board with the plan…except Warbler, who, being stationed in Suitsu, is naturally the last agent to be informed of the coup. And while it’s easy to get all swept up in the excitement of dumping a harmful king for a better one, Warbler provides a much-needed voice of concern and reason.

He makes very good points about the risk ACCA’s leadership is taking by arranging such a coup. He also questions if the young, inexperienced Schwan would actually follow through on his threat to dissolve ACCA. He believes the royal family is aware that tipping the scales of power too far in their favor could break the whole system, and trusts them to be more pragmatic once Schwan ascends.

But no one can be certain Schwan won’t dissolve ACCA, and in any case, the decision has already been made by the brass, so Warbler’s protests go acknowledged but not acted upon. After Jean leaves a brief, almost curt meeting with Mauve (which has the air of a breakup), Warbler tries to tell him that this coup idea is ludicrous.

Jean responds by saying he’d really like Warbler to take his job, after “one final push”, then calls the prince a “real headache.” Could Jean be starting to get the feel for the power he’s about to attain?

Cut to the prince being a huge headache, acting petulant aboard his ornate royal plane, dismissing Magie’s advice to meet with his cousin (Jean) or get to know the people more. He’s only going to Badon to attend the ACCA ceremony, then leave.

Warbler might think Schwan’s position on ACCA is open to interpretation or subject to review by the rest of the royal family or the privy council. But Schwan probably doesn’t think any of that. When he’s king—and he’s going to be king, he tells himself—he can do as he pleases.

Lilium continues to uncork bottle after bottle of champagne in celebration of a total victory that is still yet to come. In another private one-on-one with Grossular, he lays out the plan I expected him and his district to have: install someone he can control, Jean, in order to control the nation. He hopes to act quickly and elegantly enough that by the time people notice what’s up it will be too late to do anything about it.

Now that he knows Lilium’s true intent, will Grossular continue to stand impotently by and let it happen, or is he intentionally appearing weak to lull Lilium into a false sense of security? Does Grossular have his own plans? And as Mauve asked both him and Jean before him: is he all right?

He responds the same way as Jean: with a simple ‘Yes.’ Here’s hoping that’s true, because some big things are going down next week.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 10

If it wasn’t before, it’s become plain that Lilium’s intentions with ACCA’s coup aren’t simply for the unity and good of the nation of Dowa, but for his district, Furawau, in particular. Things might even turn out to be worse with him than if Prince Schwan ascended; who knows?

Lilium seems like the kind of guy who wants more power, and being one of five head officers isn’t nearly enough. He’s already used Grossular as a pawn in his grander scheme, and installing Jean on the throne seems like more piece-moving. All I know is, the show wants me to think he’s being nefarious.

Jean, for his part, continues his auditing work. After Yakkara throws their lot in with Jean, noting they’ve always been a district of…ahem…gambling. Jean’s next stop is one of the more striking ones: Pranetta district, which is a hot and unforgiving desert on the surface, but whose population lives underground, working in the mines and kept entertained by a vibrant television industry.

This district doesn’t have much, however. They’re mining doesn’t seem to be the most fruitful, but the people seem to be living for their as-yet-unrealized dreams rather than a present rich in material things. Jean definitely seems to like the place.

These aren’t mole people, after all, and when it finally is cool enough to emerge from the caverns, it makes the evening sky seem that much more impressive and awe-inspiring. And like Yakkara and Peshi, Pranetta wants a Dowa in which ACCA is still around, so they’re with him. The chief formalizes his support by bumming a cigarette off of Jean, then giving it right back to him, in a really neat little moment that says a lot about Pranetta.

When he returns home, Jean has a chat with Lotta about her crazy day with Rail and the fact their mother was a princess, but before they can head out to eat, a special report comes in on the news: King Falke has taken a turn for the worse.

Suddenly everyone is scrambling to get their ducks in a row for what’s to come. Grossular manages to convince Mauve that the coup is what’s best for the nation and for ACCA, while the First Princess accelerates her plans to get rid of Jean and Lotta, who are nothing but usurpers in her eyes.

As for Jean, he sticks to his audit schedule, apparently unconcerned whether the king dies while he’s away. We only catch an establishing glimpse of Lilium’s home district of Furawau, but we can already discern many things from it. With gleaming skyscrapers among the sandy dunes, Furawau clearly has money, probably due to to fossil fuels. It looks like Dowa’s Dubai, so perhaps they’re also a big financial power.

In any case, Furawau is big and rich and impressive enough to be an alternate capital of the nation, should, say, the monarchy be done away with altogether or reduced in stature and importance. It also looks like a district that could take on any other district head-to-head and have the resources to come out on top (unlike poor Pranetta).

Will this be Jean’s ‘final audit’? Has he entered another friendly district, or a den of vipers? He may finally know who he truly is and what that means, but he still doesn’t know how he’ll be used…or how he’s already being used. We’re also not quite sure whether he’s actually going to claim the throne. The First Princess succeeding in offing him or Lotta, on the other hand, seems more solidly unlikely.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 09

So far ACCA has proven a success in the school of the classic slow-burn, in which those patient enough to stick around are lushly rewarded, like the high one gets when about to complete a huge, elaborate jigsaw puzzle (don’t judge).

Last week laid out the details of the show’s central mystery of what’s up with Jean and Lotta, and this week deals with the consequences for everyone once the truth is officially out there, and decide on a course of action. It also allows some previous bit players on the margins play significant roles.

Oh yeah, and a shared love of sandwich bread of all things proves absolutely vital in preventing Lotta’s assassination by the First Princess’ goons. The food isn’t just window-dressing.

As soon as Magie hears from the prince that the knives may be out for Lotta, he makes a call to his comrade-in-bread, Rail, who makes Lotta’s protection his top priority. Rail has his suspicions, but doesn’t know the whole picture, but that doesn’t matter, because he’s a decent dude, trusts his fellow bread-lover’s warning.

As for poor Lotta, no one’s told her anything, and with both Jean and Niino away, a part of her already feels vulnerable. So as out-of-the-blue (or blonde) as it seems, she seems happy to have Rail (a sworn ACCA officer) by her side.

Jean is away because he’s on a sprawling three-district trip starting in Peshi (the port district) and moving on to Yakkara (the casino district, and another instance of ACCA imitating Sonic The Hedgehog levels)And Jean is no longer oblivious like Lotta.

He knows what the score is, and even understands what all those cigarettes on his past inspection visits were about. It’s need to see the change in Jean’s overall demeanor. He seems more focused, alert, and suspicious…as he should. Peshi’s chiefs drop the pretense and pledge their support for Jean’s ascension, unaware that Jean himself has no such plans.

I like how ultimately, it’s only a matter of time before Rail, a good kid but not a professional bodyguard, and Lotta finally get surrounded by the ominous goons and shoved into a car. Unfortunately for the goons, the traffic in Badon flares up just when they need to make their getaway.

Also unfortunately for them, pure dumb luck is on Lotta’s side, as Chief Owl (whom Jean asked to keep an eye on her) happens to lean on the open window sill of the goons’ car, sees Lotta, and secures her and Rail’s release.

Like Rail, Owl doesn’t have the whole story, and unlike Rail, he isn’t a sandwich bread fanatic (though we’ve seen him indulge in the office treats du jour) but he does have Jean and Lotta’s bests interests at heart, and it’s gratifying to see how competently (yet without undue violence) Owlmanages to wrest the crazy kids from certain doom.

With Lotta and Rail nicely rescued, Owl suggests they—what else—go to grab a bite with his ACCA staff. Coups and assassination plots be damned—you gotta eat.

With Lotta out of immediate danger and surrounded by friends, we move on, somewhat relieved but still troubled, to the other major storyline of the episode: Grossular coming clean to the other chiefs, which takes such a crazy turn I’d have nearly fell out of my chair, had I not already been sitting on the carpeted floor.

Grossular lays out the plan that’s been in motion since the beginning, with the ultimate goal of instigating an ACCA-led coup d’etat to prevent Schwan from becoming King, thus preserving peace, democracy, an, well, ACCA itself.

Grossular has known about the danger of a King Schwan for some time, but gained a powerful barometer (whom he observed through Crow) for the attitudes (be they pro- or anti-coup) of the districts in Jean, which is why his inspection department was suddenly saved from oblivion.

Once it was clear a majority of districts were in favor of a coup, the time grows near for that coup to commence, but a coup led by ACCA, as an extreme expression of their ‘protect & serve’ credo. The coup will, Grossular promises, “pose no danger” to ordinary people. Allowing Schwan to dissolve ACCA and create an autocracy might.

Grossular asks his four colleagues whether they stand with him or not, and everyone to a man is with him, all thanks to Lilium, who speaks first in response.

Because Lilium and Grossular have never, to the others’ knowledge, ever agreed on anything before, it’s all the proof they need to know the right course (on top of their pride in their roles as leaders of ACCA, along with their existing awareness that, ya know, Schwan is bad news). This is to be an act of patriotism, not treason.

Later, we learn that Lilium and Grossular’s constant disagreements in front of the others masks the fact that Grossular is, in fact, Lilium’s servant. Always a fairly inscrutable guy, we finally see a hint of subservience when Lilium grabs him by the hair and promises him in a threatening tone that “he will manage” in his next objective: do something about Director-General Mauve.

It’s this huge, sudden, surprising, yet still well-supported (by both plot and character) shift in character dynamics, as well as the timely utilization of Rail and Owl, that propelled this episode into the ’10th district.’ It’s also a interesting episode in that many cards have been played, but many choice ones remain in the show’s hand.

It’s that ‘floating potential’, as it were, that makes episode nine feel special. Hopefully it can be properly harnessed in the tenth, which I eagerly await.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 04

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ACCA steps back from the larger national coup plot to let Jean continue his inspection duties, this time to Suitsu, which may be the most isolated district in Dowa, seemingly frozen in time due to a noble class that insists on the preservation of “tradition and formality.” Not only are any outside forms of technology forbidden, those like Jean who come from outside are given a tight leash so as to limit cultural contamination.

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Not surprisingly, there are many in Suitsu who aren’t too happy about that, and have been organizing for some time. Jean happens to get scooped up by a group of them who believe he overheard their talk of a coup. Turns out their coup isn’t the same coup Jean’s mixed up in. These guys simply want to open Suitsu up, allow it the same freedom as the other districts to grow and develop, not simply fester like some dusty diorama.

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But apparently, the coup attempt that occurs when Jean is around isn’t the first of its kind by any means. All such former attempts were squashed and all records of them happening kept secret from the outside districts. Jean, for the record, seems sympathetic to the rebel cause here, even offering potential clients from his home to help Suitsu open up. But he stops short of getting involved, serving more as an observer.

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Unfortunately, all the adventures he witnessed will be subject to a gag order as a condition of his being allowed to leave, and anyone arrested in the coup attempt freed. It’s basically a hard reset, with one important difference: we saw how Jean reacted to being in the middle of a mini-revolution.

Did the cigarette he received in his hotel room and Crow/Niino’s intense surveillance of him indicate he’s involved in the larger coup? Or like his Suitsu excursion, is he merely being moved by forces outside his control, like a leaf in the wind?

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 03

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ACCA’s obsession with things getting done over dinner, drinks, and parties continues apace, as Mauve quietly invites Jean to an intimate dinner that, considering Jean’s blushing, almost feels like a date. In reality, it’s a business engagement.

Mauve has been told to stop investigating, but she wants Jean, with his 13-district-wide gaze, to keep his eyes and ears open for intel on the coup rumors. She’s also concerned that if the heir apparent Prince Schwan (a known puffed-up doofus) ascends, it could threaten the peace of the kingdom.

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As for the Prince’s grandfather the king, he seems like a pretty laid-back, kindly fellow, more concerned with the selection of sweets and fruits at the royal gala than anything else.

Schwan’s a pretty typical idiot prince, and it’s not that comforting to know how close he is to the throne, at which time he vows to disband ACCA, install a puppet privy council president, and do other not-so-cool things. Even his secretary Magi only seems to respect the dude so much.

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As for Jean, he’s one of the many ACCA-affiliated guests who are invited to the event, including Mauve, all five chief officers, and Niino, who brings Lotta along as his assistant (but seemingly really just so she can get a taste of the high life, I’m guessing).

As he floats about the palace, Jean can’t help but feel again like he’s being watched, and it’s because, well, he is. There are rumors all over about an impending coup, and there are enough hotshots in one place to actually make something like that a possibility.

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The thing is, Jean, as far as we know, isn’t an intermediary for the rebels planning the coup. At least, that’s not what Chief Officer Lilium thinks. He trusts his instincts, which tell him he can trust Jean. Groshular, on the other hand, is the one he believes is really behind the coup plot. He’s responsible for the rumors, after all – what better way to deflect attention?

Jean is seen as someone who is a big fan of order and preserving peace, concepts both Lilium and Mauve share, which is why they both come to him seeking an alliance with him. No doubt they’ll work and work quickly to stop a coup from happening, if they can. The question that remains is, is Jean really the person they (and we) think he is?

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 02

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Despite the threat of bad things on the horizon, the still-for-now peaceful world of ACCA is a very comfortable place to jump into and spend time, and the show continues a relaxed pace that draws you in rather than makes you nervous or impatient.

While we start with more frankly unnecessary explanation of Dowa and ACCA (though it’s good to now know what an ‘acca’ is), we suddenly find that the “mushroomhead” rookie officer Rail was never going to be able to frame Jean Otus for anything, because the well-informed Jean was on to him all along. It’s a nice demonstration of Jean’s towering competence that it’s important to establish for later on.

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The show keeps things grounded in reality and humanity by continuing to show Jean and others hanging around food and drink. This week we see Jean have breakfast, lunch and dinner, having lively discussions in each one.

Jean’s also often grabbing food for the house and his sister, which is how he bumps into Mauve, who has been ordered to cease her solo investigations, which had to deal with rumors of a coup d’etat plot.

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We also meet an actual not-work friend of Jean’s in Nino, who is a freelance reporter (and certainly looks the part). He’s on good terms with Jean’s sister Lotta too, so Nino is clearly a guy Jean trusts when he tells him not to worry about the feeling he’s being followed.

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I’m loving watching Jean’s far-flung travels between districts, and the way it isolates him from both home and office. He’s out there on his own, autonomous, soaking everything in, doing his job with what seems to be pride.

And yet…is the Jean Otus we’re seeing just an elaborate, near-perfect cover? Chief Officer Groshular believes Otus has something to do with the coup plot, so he has an elite undercover agent following him…who it’s hinted at earlier with a silhouette, then confirmed to be Nino, whom Groshular calls “Crow.” What a tangled web ACCA weaves.

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Right now, it seems just as plausible (if not more so) Jean is totally innocent, and his unorthodox behavior, combined with an inaccurate tip, has led Groshular to cast his suspicions upon him. But it’s intriguing to wonder if we’re only trusting Jean based on what we’ve seen and not the person Jean Otus truly is, hiding just beneath the surface.

Once he arrives in Jumoku, Jean almost looks like Alice, dealing with people and things far bigger (or smaller, in the case of “Tintin”) than they should be. It adds to the disorienting feeling of who is following whom.

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Nino/Crow is clearly perfectly comfortable observing Jean in plain sight; they go back 15 years to high school (though Nino cryptically says he’s been watching him for 30), after all. So is Jean oblivious to the fact his buddy is his tail, or is he well aware, and on his toes to avoid giving Nino anything to work with? Does Jean only pretend to get really drunk to lull Nino in a false sense of security?

It looks like the makings of a great noirish cat-and-mouse game thus far, presented with stylish art and a gorgeous soundtrack. ACCA exudes confidence without arrogance, telling a good yarn without getting too serious about it. But always present is that subtle background noise of looming dread in a peaceful world.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: From the creator of House of Five Leaves, the director of Space Dandy and One Punch Man, and Madhouse, ACCA follows the vice-chairman and second-in-command of ACCA’s Inspection Department Jean Otus, fulfilling one last audit before the department is shuttered.

However, Otus’ exposing of corruption in a district results in the shuttering being cancelled. Otus starts to feel like he’s being followed and watched, as he wonders if his department was really spared because trouble is on the horizon in otherwise-peaceful Dowa.

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Rejecting the notion that all police dramas must start with a bang and with thrilling action or the capturing of some devious members of the criminal classes, ACCA takes a far more leisurely, introspective, and detailed approach.

While some early scenes where ACCA officers talk to each other about the structure and purpose of their own organization (which is a little clunky), the episode rights itself by diving into the monotonous but not awful day-to-day existence of a glorified functionary who seems to be coasting.

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If this all feels somewhat boring, I think that’s kind of the point. There’s a distinct foreboding feeling lurking on the margins of otherwise mundane world of Dowa. Comments about the increasing number of fires and the fact the King of Dowa has just turned 99 adds to the looming dread.

Nice little details like Otus’ penchant for smoking cigarettes (a rare luxury in Dowa), the birdlike form of the country, and all the various organizations and ranks and their relationships with one another also kept me interested.

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But while trouble may loom (Otus’ discovery of black market corruption indicates there could be larger rot lurking in the depths of ACCA, and one of the org’s “Chief Five” mentions a possible coup d’etat), life nevertheless continues as normal, and that’s where ACCA really shines.

Otus and his colleagues spend a lot of time either in diners, bars and cafes, or opening up tasty treats at work (specifically, at or around 10). The building he lives in is managed by his sister, who wants him to get out of ACCA and join her in the family business.

All those little slice of life moments add up to a rich, lived-in experience, which makes up for the lack of exciting action. The visuals are nothing fancy, but get the job done, while the eclectic soundtrack is superb. If ACCA continues along this offbeat tack, it should secure a firm place on my Winter watchlist.

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 04

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With Kal and Claire lost at sea and a worried Ariel waiting at the air base for his return, there’s not a lot for anyone to do in the present but wait out the storm…and think about the past! We have to credit the show for giving us an unforced, logical vehicle for conveying a good amount of backstory. The episode gave us fresh insights into several characters and built up interest in the events to follow, while being entertaining in its own right.

Ariel’s friends stay by her side as she waits, so she tells them how her dad came home one day with this blond kid and announced she and her older sisters had a stepbrother. Not surprisingly, Ariel is initially unaccepting (especially as he’s exactly one day older than her) but eventually finds a place in her heart for him, as proven by her intense concern for him in the present and rush of emotion when he returns safe and sound.

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Kal certainly couldn’t ask for a better person to be stranded with then the girl he likes. The storm looks pretty precarious, but eventually the seas calm, the two fall in the drink trying to drain the dinghy and have to strip, and even snuggle up for warmth when night comes, with only the occasional bout of embarrassment. For her part, Claire also seems to enjoy having Kal as her fellow castaway-for-a-night, at least until he picks up the story where Ariel left off, revealing more details about himself in hopes of learning more about Claire in return. But the more Claire learns about Kal, the more worried she gets as she connects the dots.

Kal is looking more and more like the crown prince of Balsteros rumored to have snuck aboard Isla for revenge against Nina Viento. When they return to home and Claire quickly conveyed to her manor where maids strip her of her flight suit and transform her into Nina Viento, we’re left unsure whether she’s upset at the prospect of Kal being the prince because of how it will affect their friendship, or if she’ll feel compelled to kill the last “wicked” la Hire in order to complete the revolution. In any case, Kal is right about he and Claire being alike in at least one way: both are hiding their true identities from the other.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

 

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 03

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While he’s still quite young, Kal-el Albus has been through a lot in his life. By cruel fate he happened to be the last Crown Prince of the mighty Balsteros empire when it was overthrown by a populist uprising. His father the emperor was guillotined, and the last he saw of his mother, she was being carted off to her death. Her mother, a strong, fiercely kind woman despite her lofty status, begged her son to forgive those who caused him pain and grief, and not let hatred consume him.

In an act of kindness, the warden allowed a commoner to smuggle Carl out of the prison. Carl La Hire officially died with his parents, while Kal-el Albus was born. But he never forgot the girl whose mythical powers of wind manipulation proved decisive in the coup d’état success: Nina Viento. Ignoring her mother’s dying wish out of outrage she had to die at all, Kal has vowed never to forgive Nina.

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One would think being the youngest member of a royal family when it meets its demise would be enough to endure, but the universe apparently has more in store for Kal. That’s because the girl he fell for the first day he arrived on Isla; the girl he spends most of his days with training in the skies and enjoying meals together; has a secret of her own: she’s Nina Viento. She also seems to be coming around to realizing who Kal really is before he comes around to realizing who she is.

There’s certainly a foreboding quality to the way the adults of Isla are feverishly whipping the students into shape for a still as-yet unknown threat on the horizon. But for the moment, we’re more interested in what will become of Kal and Claire once their secrets are revealed. We’ve seen Kal’s side of the story, but we’re certain there’s far more to Claire’s side than “She’s Evil.” After all, she was just a kid back then, too.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Gatchaman Crowds – 09

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The Gatchamen take Rui in, clean him up and heal him. As hate and doubt pervades GALAX, Katze bestows the power of Crowds on 29,533 users. Umeda quickly uses his new power to stage a coup d’état against the Japanese government. Hajime stages another PR campaign for both Rui and the Gatchamen, in which Rui apologizes vows to make things right, and Hajime urges everyone not to use Crowds. X begins to doubt Katze’s disguise. Sugane tells off JJ.

In his own chaotic, insidious way, Katze is carefully building a fire in which to burn the entire world, using its own human inhabitants are the kindling. Meanwhile Hajime, with the help of her friends (both close and digital), is filling a bucket of water big enough to douse that fire before it becomes unmanageable. She plucked Rui from the abyss and restored his confidence and determination to right the wrongs he is partially responsible for. But neither he nor Hajime and the Gatchamen are enough to keep Katze’s fire at bay, and the god-like JJ isn’t in the direct intervention business.

As Hajime says, it’s everyone’s fault that they’re in this mess, so everyone has a responsibility to fix it, and Crowds aren’t the answer. Umeda would use them as a weapon, but that’s precisely what Katze wants and what will doom mankind, as sure as a brace of nukes in the wrong hands. There’s also the last-resort of OD “spreading his wings”, but that would apparently end “everything.” No, mankind’s salvation hinges on their ability to fight the temptation to use the Crowds for any reason. If the flames don’t catch, maybe Katze will get bored, and even angry, and make a mistake.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We’ve enjoyed Hajime’s intricate strategy of avoiding directly confronting or provoking Katze, choosing instead to “play” with him both through PR and GALAX.
  • Sugane’s decision to confront JJ and essentially tell him to piss off was no doubt inspired by Hajime’s independent spirit.
  • It’s interesting that he and the Gatchamen are choosing not to rely on a “higher power”, while Umeda and the “Neo Hundred” are totally dependent (on and thus beholden to) Katze.

Guilty Crown – 17

As Shu prepares the school for “Exodus”, in which they’ll escape from quarantine, his oppressed subjects are starting to resent his rule. This is exacerbated by Arisa and Nanba spreading the rumor that you’ll die if your void is destroyed. After being attacked by Inori, Arisa is planning a coup d’etat. The operation begins and goes off without a hitch, but when it’s over and the students can escape, Arisa strikes, with many students on her side. A Gai resurrected by GHQ arrives and slices of Shu’s right arm with Inori’s void, taking his power. The UN approves a resolution to “eliminate Japan”.

Wow. Damn. That kingdom didn’t last long. With five whole episodes left, the story is moving alarmingly fast. Shu started the episode with everything and ended with nothing. Well, that first part isn’t quite right. At the start, Shu had become fairly comfortable with his role as reluctant tyrant in order to shape the school into a fighting force. But at great cost: Ayase and Tsugumi are alienated, he impulsively discards Yahiro, and even Arisa, who he once could have counted as a friend, is the leader of the successful revolt against him. Inori stays by his side, but she’s a loose cannon, acting alone when she assaulted Arisa, an act that only made matters worse.

What’s so distressing about all this is that Exodus was a success. Shu did what he set out to do and freed the people. Would they have performed as well had he exercised a gentler hand? Would they have (A)risen up against him regardless? We’ll never know, but that’s the least of Shu’s problems: he’s lost his arm, and with it his King’s power. He’s just a kid again. And just to pile on the peril, the entire country itself is about to be bombed by the UN – apparently to stop the spread of the apocalypse virus. Things are bad – and we can’t see how they’ll get better just now.


Rating: 3.5

Nitpick: Wouldn’t the Tokyo Tower falling create, an enormous shockwave/dust cloud that would envelop/consume Shu’s whole army, considering they’re all gathered around it’s base?