ACCA 13-Territory Inspection Dept. premiere – ACCA is the auditing department keeping the public services of the Dōwa Kingdom honest. In these peaceful and prosperous times, though, there are only mild isolated instances of corruption to be uncovered, and the most exciting thing going on at the central office is the daily snack ritual. ACCA has so little to do that it’s going to be disbanded – until suddenly it isn’t…
Aside from an as-you-know-Bob speech near the beginning to explain the basic situation, ACCA is content to hint at big things moving beneath the surface by the little ripples they cause for main character Jean’s daily life. A series of arsons in the capital is mentioned on the news but barely commented on directly. Jean’s cigarette habit is seen by people on the street as flaunting his status as part of an elite class that few have any chance of gaining entry to. The department’s sudden suspension and equally sudden and mysterious reprieve are taken with equanimity, as though opaque maneuvering at the highest levels of government is business as usual.
The world of ACCA is meticulously designed and rendered, though the ostentatiously idiosyncratic art style can get distracting. And if that’s the biggest complaint I can come up with, this is the best premiere of the season.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); Wakanim (Canada, France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria, Sénégal, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique); VVVVID (Italy); bilibili (Asia); FUNimation (dub starting January 26 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland)
Hand Shakers premiere – Now, this is the real visual champion of the winter season. It starts with hyper-realistic CGI backgrounds, used to allow a much greater range of camera movement than you normally see in anime. Throw in luminously rendered characters and splashes of art for art’s sake, and wow.
The story, though. The story is always the catch, this season. The story of Hand Shakers is yet another retread of the unsuspecting teenage boy who is suddenly given a mysterious infantilized teenage girl to look after. Holding her hand (shaking is apparently not required) pops them into an alternate dimension and unlocks an ability to conjure personalized weapons. If he ever lets go of her hand after that, she will die, a plot crutch that the show promises to make full use of next time by forcing them to take a bath together.
Most of the episode is devoted to establishing protagonist Tazuna’s personal quirks and putting him through his first fight, up against a pair which conjures chains through BDSM, with a few standard anime extras like pauses for dubious breast physics here and there. There’s no room to unpack the backstory for the magic powers and the misappropriated jargon that goes with them, but it probably wasn’t going to make much sense anyway. Skip this, unless you’re willing to put up with a lot for pretty visuals.
Kemono Friends premiere – Japari Park is a gigantic safari park with sections recreating biomes from all over the world. One day in the African savanna, an anthropomorphic serval girl finds a strange new creature. It doesn’t know where it is or what it is, and it doesn’t have any natural talents other than a peculiar ability to make and use tools. Serval determines that the thing to do is get it to the Library, where the names and appearance of all animals are recorded, to find out its identity.
Japari Park has also lately been invaded by “Ceruleans”, mysterious blue blobs that provide a couple brief action scenes, but they are an occasional interruption in a very low-key adventure. Mostly it’s Serval and the lost child having a pleasant hike across the savanna and into the next area, chatting about the different animals found in the park.
This appears intended as an educational adventure show for little kids; older viewers may find it too slowly paced, but kids interested in nature will probably like it.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid premiere – A software developer wakes up one morning to discover that while she was drunk the previous night, she wandered into a forest, rescued a dragon, and invited it to come back to her place and be her servant.
Luckily, Tōru, the dragon, can disguise herself as a human (plus or minus the odd tail). Unluckily, Tōru doesn’t know very much about human customs, plus she’s insanely jealous of anyone who might come between her and her savior.
In a way, this is another edition of the “hapless protagonist is forced to live with barely functional girl” show, except the protagonist is a grown woman with a regular job instead of a teenage boy, and the show is aiming for low-key domestic comedy largely free of boob-centered hijinks. Mostly, it’s there; it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it manages to be what it wants to be.
CHAOS;CHILD premiere – A few years ago, high school student Takumi Nishijō spiraled into a series of delusions that somehow became real, manifesting as gruesome murders and culminating in some massive event that destroyed the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Now, Takuru Miyashiro, who was orphaned in that event, investigates new murders happening on the anniversaries of the previous ones.
When I say “gruesome”, I mean you will need a strong stomach to watch this. We’re talking things like gross mutilation (in both senses of the term) and people forced to eat their own body parts. The visuals aren’t too explicit most of the time, but the descriptions are.
The two-part premiere starts with a recap of its predecessor, Chaos;Head. We are given the highlights of what happened to Takumi but no understanding of the mechanism or the concluding event. To provide context for how people react to the more recent murders, it’s mostly about the details of the original set. In the second half, again a lot of time is given over to detailing the new murders. After that, Takuru and another member of his high school journalism club break into the scene of the latest crime, only to discover that it’s still in progress and they weren’t the first high school students to break in.
Strictly as a mystery, this works. A lot of questions have been raised already, but there’s a solid sense that they have answers. The biggest question, though, is whether it’s going to keep the gore level this high or settle down and devote more time to the mystery aspect.
What a season. ACCA feels like a keeper, and I’m willing to give Chaos;Child a second episode. Next week we’ll also take a second look at Idol Incidents and Saga of Tanya the Evil, rejoin Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and set the lineup for the rest of the season.