By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan as “ACCA – 13-ku Kansatsuka” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Big Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.
It’s rare that I read a Japanese manga translated into English and think to myself “I think I’d have liked this even better in the original French.” But that’s the sort of mood that ACCA gives off. It’s not something that I’m unused to with the works of Natsume Ono, whose art seems designed to constantly be showing people descending into hole in the wall cafes and small, dingy apartments. But even when the canvas opens up – much of the action in this book takes place in large rooms and wide streets – it feels like I’m reading a manga directed by François Truffaut. The plot of this story is fairly standard – various shady goings-on are happening but are for the most part dealt with by our hero, who seems unassuming but is Very Clever Indeed. But honestly, I don’t read Ono’s stories for the plot, I read them for the evocative mood that she sets. With ACCA, she has another big success.
No, that’s not Sanji on the cover, though he is blond and does smoke throughout the volume – indeed, smoking is why he’s famous, in a country where cigarettes are a luxury item. Jean is instead near the top of a group of inspectors whose job it is to inspect other inspectors. The first chapter sets out precisely what he does and his attention to small details, while also dealing with a plot to close down the agency (I wonder if it was devised as a one-shot?). He and a subordinate (who is seen depressed at the end of the chapter, possible as she realizes she’s not in the rest of the book) root out small-time corruption, then he quickly wraps up and returns to not-Paris, where his department survives to audit another day. For now – he’s also beset by jealous regular police officers, mysterious higher-ups with plans and schemes, and his sister, who wants him to just help her run the expensive apartment building they’re in charge of.
As I said before, the plot is mostly irrelevant. There was an anime of this about a year ago, and I’d be interested to see how the dialogue was handled – much of it cries out to be murmured rather than spoken, perhaps with one of the deadpan smirks that Jean occasionally gives us. I also enjoy it when I notice the scenery as much as I do the plot and characters – Dowa, somewhat ridiculously, is a country shaped like a bird, and is filled with fantastic bakeries and high-ceilinged government buildings for Jean and some of the other characters (particularly his female counterpart, Mauve) to sweep out of dramatically. Well, Mauve sweeps dramatically. Jean sort of shuffles like a French Columbo – sorry, like a Dowan Columbo.
There are hints of an expansion on the plot and a possible betrayal in the cliffhanger for this volume. That said, I still say this is the sort of volume you read while sitting out on the 4th-floor balcony of your city apartment, sipping bitter coffee and eating a croissant from the bakery down the road. I’m happy I picked it up.