One of my favourite shows from the past winter season was the adaptation of Ono Natsume’s ACCA 13 manga. I was greatly impressed by the way the series’ plot develops (or ‘foreshadowing’ as Shimono puts it), as well as the amazing voice acting talent on display. I hadn’t liked any of Shimono Hiro’s roles since RahXephon!
This interview features the lead pairing of Shimono Hiro (Jean Otus) and Tsuda Kenjiro (Nino) talking about ‘smart masculinity’.
[Interview: Ishibashi Yu]
It looks cool but it’s hot – a quietly burning story
Q: First of all, tell us what kind of series ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept is?
Shimono: The conspiratorial tone forms the axis of the story, and you will see a variety of individualistic male characters, from elegant men to young guys, play a role in the show. You can perceive the stylishness of this series from the visuals and the music, but the usage of foreshadowing and the story’s tendency to move in unpredictable directions makes it something that you’ll want to see over and over again.
Tsuda: I think people who’ve watched the earlier episodes might have an impression of the show as being ‘stylish and trendy’. Towards the conclusion however, turmoil begins to rear its head within the plot and the way the story develops is intriguing. Don’t look down on this anime with disdain thinking that it’s only about its ‘atmosphere’!
Q: You’re 100% right! At first glance it seems like a trendy, atmospheric anime but it turns out to be quite different.
Shimono: That’s true. As the show progresses you’ll find yourself increasingly going ‘Hmm?’; by the end you’ll feel the sudden onslaught of truths being uncovered. You’ll look back on certain parts and think, ‘so that was what was going on there!?’
Tsuda: It feels even truer now that we’re moving towards the conclusion of recording as well. Of course it does seem like a cool series with cool characters, but when you lift the lid up you’ll find that there are fiery parts within as well.
Shimono: Yeah yeah. It has a quietly burning kind of feel to it.
Q: How are you viewing your characters as you progress further through recordings?
Shimono: In the early stages I thought Jean was cool and unshakeable, with a mature impression given the fact that it was hard to read his mind. But as the plot progressed I found that Jean was not the type of person who would act of his own accord. That is exactly why he gets caught up in an array of incidents and by the time he’s realized it, he’s already forced into a crazy position. To be honest, as Nino describes in the anime, Jean is the type to ‘get tangled up’ in things and this is something you’ll see more and more of as we move into the second half of the series.
Q: Certainly, it feels like Jean is allowing himself to go with the flow.
Shimono: However, Jean doesn’t allow himself to get swept away by the currents and instead, he has a firm grasp of who he is at his core even as he comes into contact with various different people. On the surface, he seems like he’s being manipulated by different parties but Jean is in truth, choosing his own path and moving forward. Because he does not verbalize [his thoughts], it makes it appear as if he is being washed away. If you watch the show to its conclusion, I believe you will see for yourself how he is thinking about things in order to draw out the answers.
Tsuda: That’s right. You watch those scenes where Jean looks like he’s merely getting tangled up in stuff happening around him, but when he pulls off that final bold action at the end, you’ll be shivering.
Q: And we have Nino who’s buddies with Jean and with whom he shares many meals. Tsuda-san, how do you feel about playing such a role?
Tsuda: From the start I’d been playing Nino and Crow, the two sides of this enigmatic character. There were many things I did not comprehend, from why he remains silent to the motives behind his actions. As the plot progressed, I learned the truth and I could see the depth of his character being expressed ever clearer.
Q: I see. It seems he shares some similarities with Jean…
Tsuda: That’s right. Like Jean, Nino doesn’t say much but you can tell by his actions that he has a sustained, strong will. He’s not just a cool guy though – Nino has this huge swell of emotions lurking inside him. You could say that Jean and Nino both possess coolness and strength, but in totally different ways. And because of these differing strengths, they are able to combine them to balance each other out.
Shimono: I do feel that they complement each other well. I don’t think either of them has completely grown up yet.
Tsuda: They’re pretty clumsy. The two of them can’t really get along well with other people (laughs)
Masculinity – it’s not something that is created; it’s something that is built up
Q: Now then, let us move into the main theme of this interview. Who and where in the series, did you feel were characters and scenes that displayed ‘smart masculinity’?
Shimono: The character who I feel is cooler in the anime than when I was reading the original manga is ACCA Inspection Division head Owl (CV: Ueda Yoji). He’s in many ways, a smart character. He pretends to show his poor managerial skills but is actually subtly displaying his concern for Lotta. I think it’s wonderful that he can show a girl much younger than him how smart, caring & mature he is, added to the fact that he’s actually able to take action. Especially in episode 9*, he was cool!
*avoiding posting spoilers, but it was a passionate discussion about what Owl did. Please look forward to his actions in the episode airing March 7 onwards!
Tsuda: Speaking of adults, how about the 5 Chiefs*. We’ve never actually seen them at work (laughs)
Shimono: Oh yeah! (laughs)
*Grossular (CV: Suwabe Junichi), Lilium (CV: Yusa Koji), Spade (CV: Okawa Toru), Pastis (CV: Midorikawa Hikaru), Payne (CV: Yasumoto Hiroki) voice the 5 Chiefs of ACCA
Tsuda: You only see them relaxing in the common room or café, holding elegant meetings (laughs). But in fact, they are a super elite group selected from each district and I believe they would’ve demonstrated great determination and shown distinction to climb to that level. I don’t actually feel that kind of effort coming from them at all but I’m sure that they’re all doing a great deal of work away from that meeting room. I can feel that coolness and smartness about them.
Q: They may be smart and cool, but as Chiefs they exude a unique aura.
Tsuda: Seeing such people fills you with resolve as well. As the Dowa Kingdom is made up of a group of districts each with their own ways of thinking, as well as different cultures and customs, you get the impression that it is a gathering of people with leadership qualities close to those of the president and prime minister.
Shimono: I feel like these 5 are the type of people who work while watching their people keenly.
Also, the King (Falke II, CV: Nakao Ryusei) is amazing, isn’t he? Most kings wouldn’t bother doing their rounds around town so casually. He keeps a watchful eye on his citizen’s lives, trying to live together with them without building any walls in between.
Tsuda: His aide Qualm (CV: Ishizuka Unsho) is also exceptional!
Shimono: Oh yeah, he’s really cool!
Tsuda: Yeap. Looking at the series as a whole, it’s filled with a never-ending lineup of cool people, isn’t it?
Shimono: Watching the anime, I feel like this sense of masculinity is not something you could create but rather, it’s something that you build up. I realized that it is possible to equip oneself with good character, goodwill and strength.
Tsuda: The adults who appear in the series may be elegant, cool and smart but I do think that the younger ones do possess such potential themselves. If they continue progressing as they are, they too will become cool adults.
Shimono: I think ACCA HQ deputy Pochard (CV: Goto Hiroki)’s a good guy too (laughs).
Tsuda: Ahahaha. Pochard is filled with Ono Natsume-sensei’s love after all. His name is cool!
Shimono: Oh yeah! His name is good (laughs). He may not be the smartest tool in the box, but his enthusiasm for his job is wonderful.
Tsuda: The leaders of each district of ACCA tend to be younger but still have a sense of responsibility, and I find them all quite eccentric yet interesting. Amongst them, I’m quite fond of ACCA’s Rokkusu branch supervisor Sandpiper. He’s a bit flashy but still a solid guy and it’d be great to have someone like that around (laughs)
Shimono: I don’t know if you’d call them smart, but I find myself drawn to the guys from the Hare district.
Tsuda: Each district has its own colour, which is why I think you can enjoy all of them in their own way.
A man should not say too much…?
Q: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept is filled with charming characters, but what exactly do you think engenders the ‘coolness’ that these characters exude?
Tsuda: I feel all of them harbour secrets and are filled with their own gruelling thoughts. That’s why I think that you can look at this series as hardboiled [fiction] at its base. There’s this perception that hardboiled means ‘false swagger’; that there is a toughness that will never be displayed openly. I wonder if there is that kind of aesthetic to this show.
It may be that Ono-sensei was deliberately holding back on this in the manga, preferring to depict the situation with art and silhouettes as opposed to text. For example, scenes with Jean smoking or scenes where Grossular is just standing there – I feel like she was imagining a lot of things as she was drawing them. Combining art and dialogue; integrating other elements, results in something that’s stylish, does it not?
Shimono: I don’t say much, basically. Instead of intensifying one’s gaze and movements to express [oneself], I feel that it’s cooler to exude a mysterious aura that would make the other party look at you and think…well, I do believe that men shouldn’t say too much after all (laughs).
Tsuda: It’s because we talk too much (laughs).
Shimono: Yeah I just feel like talking all the time (laughs).
Tsuda: Both the manga and the anime have scenes that I would think of as being like a ‘game’. If you overlook these scenes, you might end up losing track of the flow of the storyline. Conversely, they don’t actually talk about much that is important but they do say a lot of superfluous things. When Jean and Nino go drinking, they talk about nothing at all.
Shimono: That’s right.
Tsuda: They never talk about the important stuff so to me, it’s a bit like a game, whether or not you can pick up on those things. I think that’s an aspect even the director had to hold back on.
Shimono: Especially in Jean’s case. When I got too animated with my expressions and tried to breathe in between, he’d say to me ‘can you not put [a breath] in there?’. My policy during recording was basically to refrain from breathing in & out, even as my line of sight moves or I notice things. In the manga and my scripts, there is dialogue written as ‘…..’ so I wouldn’t do anything for those parts.
Tsuda: But you really do want to breathe in.
Shimono: Maybe in that sense I’m showing ‘false swagger’ (laughs)
Shimono: We’re not being ‘smart’ now, are we? (laughs)
Nino and Jean – how much of that atmosphere are they creating themselves?
Q: The opening and ending visuals are cool.
Tsuda: In the opening animation Nino’s dad is actually reflected in his sunglasses but I honestly didn’t realize that when I first saw the footage during recordings. It could’ve gone in an easily comprehensible direction but there are parts that are just about barely hidden, through which you can feel the staff’s enthusiasm and fighting spirit.
Shimono: The ending visuals feature Lotta (CV: Yuki Aoi) dancing – who is she thinking about while she’s doing that?
Tsuda: True, we’d have no idea who!
Shimono: It doesn’t explain why she’s dancing either. It seems like she’s dancing with joy, yet there is a somewhat lonely look on her face and it’ll make you wonder ‘What the heck was that all about?’
Q: How do you actually express those ‘barely hidden’ parts?
Tsuda: Actually, the scene where the king is eating the snowball dessert* features dialogue that continues to echo in subsequent scenes. Nino’s ‘…your gracious words’ line too, has a deeper meaning to it, but I was told to say them casually. The restraint we had to show towards such aspects was what made them ‘barely hidden’ part. We’d do the recordings by trial and error, constantly communicating with the staff in the recording booths.
*From episode 7. When Jean visits the district of Dowa, there is a scene where he goes to buy a ‘snow ball’ as a souvenir for his sister Lotta and runs into the King at the shop, and they eat together.
Shimono: There are moments when you want to act something out in a straightforward manner. Especially scenes with Nino, where I am quite conscious about changing the way I express my lines in response to how Tsuda-san delivers his. Jean is someone who gets tangled up in things; a passive guy basically, so the influence of Tsuda-san’s Nino on him is strong.
Up ‘til now I have put a lot of myself into my work as an actor but this time, I strongly feel that I am the one who is being influenced. It’s like in baseball, when you’re going from being a pitcher to playing catcher. Pretty exciting, I think. Which direction is Tsuda-san going to come at me from? (laughs)
Tsuda: (laughs). For me, my dialogue partners are more or less limited to Jean, Lotta and Grossular so I was fairly conscious about ‘creating’ the atmosphere in the scenes between Jean and Nino. Their verbal exchanges did make me nervous, but I also had a lot of fun. It was like doing conversational dramas; they were interesting scenes to do.
I wish to be…a man who does not say much (lol)
Q: Lastly, what comes to mind when the both of you think of the ‘ideal male image’?
Shimono: I think I honestly wish to be…a man who does not say much at all (laughs)
Tsuda: You’re always talking though! (laughs)
Q: In your line of work, there are times when you have to show off – do you ever feel that there are things that you can’t do naturally?
Shimono: Loads (laughs). There are times when I just want to laugh at whatever it is I’m doing.
Tsuda: Yeah yeah. Sometimes you’re trying to put on airs but you end up bursting into laughter (laughs). But you know, as a man, there are times when you just have to act cool.
Shimono: By not talking too much, by being able to accept lots of things.
Tsuda: Isn’t that exactly who Jean is!
Shimono: Nah you’re praising him too much. Jean isn’t that tolerant, I think.
Tsuda: No way, he’s totally tolerant! Nino is a very suspicious guy yet Jean waits for him. Even as he’s waiting, they’ll still go for meals together. It’s a situation where he can choose to put the blame on Nino yet he waits; that makes me admire just how accepting he is. Jean’s amazing.
Q: So your definition of an ‘ideal man’ is someone who doesn’t say much and is accepting.
Shimono: If that was the case, then the King who can laugh and accept anything is amazing. Still, he knows when he needs to show authority, and he does.
Tsuda: The King of course, is who he is because he has his aide Qualm by his side.
Shimono: So that would also mean that there is no Jean without Nino?
Tsuda: Maybe so. Since Jean is a bit oblivious.
Shimono: That’s true. He really is very oblivious.
Tsuda: There may be things that they share in common, these two pairings of the King and his aide, and Jean and Nino.