I was in a bookstore the other day when this guy next to me picked up the sample copy of Golondrina and started flipping through it. I had to really bite my tongue to keep myself from telling him to just buy it because it is great and he would totally love it. I am not normally such a bookstore busybody, but I really want this series to continue (and to be published in English), so I feel a rather strange compulsion to support it through whatever means possible, even if that means accosting strangers in a bookstore in Japan.
To envision how weird this might be for the person I would be accosting, keep in mind that I am a tall-by-Japanese-standards, white woman speaking Japanese. Casual conversation with me generally raises eyebrows and inspires profuse apologizing from the person speaking with me, like they are deeply inconveniencing me by forcing me to speak Japanese. So it is really less weird and awkward for everyone if I don’t accost strangers in bookstores to recommend weird bullfighting manga.
Fortunately, next to the piles of Golondrina were piles of Natsume Ono works, including her latest, which I didn’t even know she was working on. I thought she was currently only serializing her samurai era manga in IKKI, but I was wrong. She is also working on ACCA for Square Enix’s Big Gangan magazine, which really surprised me. I have a lot of trouble connecting Natusme Ono’s lanky characters with Square Enix. Maybe it is just the residual video games impression I get from the name Square Enix. In any case, special treat! Natsume Ono manga I knew nothing about before I saw the book on the shelf next to Golondrina (a shelf which included an endorsement from Ono herself for est em’s bullfighting)!
From the cover, I was expecting another cop-related drama à la Coppers, and while ACCA is similarly about groups of people in uniform, it is much, much more interesting and much more focussed and coherent; i.e., I liked it way more than Coppers and am looking forward to Book Two. One of my issues with Coppers was the way it tried to tell too many stories at once without really narrowing the focus down on any one particular character to try and tie things together. So while the individual episodes were interesting, I didn’t actually relate to any of the characters in those pages, so ultimately, what happened to them didn’t make any real impact on me. But ACCA manages to combine all the good parts of Coppers (the charming ensemble action, the quirks of daily life in uniform) with what I’ve liked best about my favourites by her (strong characterization, hints of darkness buoyed by optimism).
In the kingdom of Dowa, they are celebrating their ninety-ninth year of peace and the ninety-ninth birthday of their king. For a 99-year-old, he seems pretty active. He is not by any means, the main part of the story; I was just impressed at how lively he seemed at such an advanced age. The focus of the story is Gene, second in command in the ACCA inspection division. He goes round to the thirteen divisions of Dowa to check in on his inspection agents there and make sure that no one is not sending in their data. It is an incredibly boring premise, so much so that I am starting to wonder why I enjoyed the book so much as I type this out.
But there is a real air of intrigue running through the whole thing; betrayal is right around every corner. Gene goes about his job, living with his younger sister and moonlighting as the superintendent of a luxurious high-rise condo. He also receives cigarettes, which are a ridiculously expensive luxury item in this far-flung future, from some mysterious benefactor, earning the wrath of a young policeman in the capital city, who is certain Gene is just another rich brat who doesn’t deserve all the success he’s had. So of course, this young police officer sets out to destroy him.
As if that weren’t enough, Gene is also targeted by the highest of the higher ups in the ACCA organization, but for very different reasons, which I will not spoil for you. He manages to stay cool and smoke the whole time, but does wonder why he has this feeling of being watched and dispatches an old friend to look into it for him. All of which sounds so super spy and serious, but this main plot line is perfectly balanced by every scene in which Gene’s co-workers appear. The team of five or so people who populate Gene’s office seem to do nothing but eat snacks and beg for souvenirs every time Gene leaves on a trip to one of the districts for inspection. And they are amazing and adorable.
I can safely say that this is the first book that made me exclaim, “Man, they really love dessert!”. More panels than are likely necessary are dedicated to discussions of the snack for today’s coffee break. The whole division clap like children at the revelation of doughnuts and the division head only chastises his subordinates to remind them that tea time is ten and not a second before. This is a group of people extremely devoted to snacking, and as a dedicated snacker myself, I can definitely understand where they are coming from.
The art style is a bit finer and a lot more sixties than anything I’ve see from Ono before. Gene’s sister in particular looks like she just walked out of some stylized sixties animation. It all looks like the Natsume Ono we’ve come to expect, but with a refinement and some interesting variation I haven’t seen before, including a *laht* of weird facial hair. I am very much on board with this style and this story. I haven’t enjoyed anything Ono’s done this much since Nigeru Otoko. And while the tone and style of ACCA are fairly different, it’s still recognizably Ono even as it pushes in new and interesting directions. I know the first book just came out, but I seriously can’t wait for Book Two. If I was not returning to Canada, I might even consider reading the magazine just to read the rest of the story sooner rather than later.
UPDATE: This series is being published in English by Yen Press and translated by yours truly! So if you’re stuck in the world of monolingualism, you can still read the books!