Modern political dramas tend to be stressful. Consider how even the most bureaucratic scenes in House of Cards or Game of Thrones are emotionally taut — simply because their writers have establish that any character can be bludgeoned to death at a moment's notice. The model builds tension around the threat of violence or chaos. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department is the opposite. The political drama is less interested in tension than it is in food.
The show, available now on CrunchyRoll, is about Jean Otus, an inspector for the civilian governmental organization ACCA. Ostensibly each episode has him visiting one of ACCA’s branch offices in one of the thirteen different districts that compose the Kingdom of Dowa. However the council that runs ACCA becomes concerned that Jean is possibly involved in a coup to overthrow the King.
The first episode of the show keeps the larger political drama at an arm's length, instead focusing on Jean’s rather mundane life. Slowly the shows hints at a larger picture, suggesting Jean’s life is perhaps less mundane than he puts on. But even as the stakes rise, the political machinations move at a controlled and almost relaxing pace.
Most scenes, tense moments included, are usually about food in some way. And the food isn’t there just for show, despite all of it being gorgeously drawn. It humanizes the characters. How, what, and when they eat is surprisingly telling of who each character is.
The show captures how we used food as a social lubricant. We gift food to friends, family and co-workers to show our appreciation; we dine out in a group to collectively experience something and grow closer, we eat with someone one on one to be a bit more intimate.
It’s these connections through food that ACCA takes advantage of in order to make its characters in an alternate universe feel familiar and relatable. In a world like ACCA’s that is so similar, but clearly very different from our own, the shows meals are an unexpectedly powerful entry point.
While ACCA’s political narrative is well written, what makes it compelling are its characters and the connections between them. The political drama of the show exists as a vehicle for us to learn how these personal connections formed and to see them develop further.
Tense moments happen in the show, but they aren’t artificially heightened by a constant a fear of violence. Ironically, the rarity of tension makes it feel more dangerous. We spend so much time getting to know characters, learning their wants and ambitions, that the threat of losing them is frustrating, unexpected, and emotionally jarring.
Or to describe it like food, high dramatic tension is like a tasty dessert. It’s delicious, but it shouldn’t be the entire meal.