Anime review – Un-GO – Smart-ass computer programmes make the best partners
January 3, 2012 Leave a comment
Un-Go is a series that I have had issues with; it is one part brilliant detective series with some wonderful deductions and leaving the mystery unsolved until the very end; however it is also dull, formulaic, without any real direction or notion of what it wants to be.
Un-Go did not start very well for me, the first part of the show was rather dull in many ways and quite formulaic with a mystery being presented to our hero, only for him to solve it in a very similar way with the help of his partners by the end, and then of course a post script. The show largely is far too episodic with little continuity between the episodes, although there is some underlying strand to do with the truth and whether or not there can ever be a single truth or multiple truths depending on who is looking. Much like Persona 4, we are introduced to a mystery, the main characters go about their various activities, and it all culminates in Shinjuro asking his partner Inga (Later Kazamori also helps) to ask the suspect a question, one that they have to answer, and voila the case is solved. There were some exceptions of course; episodes 3-4 and the last arc from episode 8-11 were exceptional bits of detective drama with nice mysteries and the ultimate resolution left until the very end.
Un-GO is based on Ango Sakaguchi‘s novel Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō (明治開化安吾捕物帳) and is about the search for truth in a world that does not want truth to exist. Shinjuro is the ‘defeated detective’ who must search for truth, even when there are those who do not wish to see it. Un-Go is an odd story, apparently being set after a world war in which Tokyo and large parts of Japan were destroyed. Japan is starting to rebuild itself, but there are lots of unanswered questions that powerful people wish to remain hidden. Shinjuro appears to walk through this mess as if he were a ghost, apparently only just returning to Japan. There are snatches of back-story about Shinjuro and how he is related to some of the major characters in the series thrown around, but very little is known about him.
I found the series to be far too convoluted at times; there is so much going on, so many mysteries and so little known about Shinjuro that it can be hard to determine what is important and what is just fluff. We are constantly being told about the shady dealings and goings on within the Japanese government, many of which seem to come from the war. There is also Shinjuro’s part in the war, something that is never really made clear; a minor point, and not necessarily essential, but it meant that Shinjuro’s character lacked feeling in important places of the story. I like the idea of having a more complex set of overlapping stories, but in the case of Un-Go it often seemed to be the case of too many clues and not enough explanation. The puzzle itself becomes so big, and so complex that it lost all meaning to me. Perhaps the story itself was trying to be too clever, and being deliberately vague meant adding another layer of mystery to the character. Mystery is all well and good, but there does need to be some explanation in order to make the characters believable, but also seem human.
Ango Sakaguchi was a novelist who wrote many of his works on the 1930s and 1940s, however the novel Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō was written after World War II, and is in a sense a story about the rise and fall of the Japanese empire, the atrocities of war and the pain and suffering that go with it (as far as I can tell). There is one small problem, I don’t think the novel translates properly into an anime, in fact I feel that the political intrigue within the story and the nuances to do with politics, culture and what at the time may have been considered a broken and backwards society do not properly work in Un-Go. There are some story arcs where they do work quite well of course, episodes 3-4 and episodes 8-11 all have interesting story arcs and I feel this is where the show is at its best.
The characters do generally seem to lack progression throughout the series, although again the exceptions are the same 6 episodes that I have already mentioned, although even these aren’t perfect. Shinjuro is a very interesting character, someone with a dark past and clearly a lot of guilty, and no respect for Japan as a country. But I could never really connect with him, he lacks presence in the world of Un-Go, perhaps partly because his past is never really revealed and he appears to come and go as he pleases. I like the idea of a character who is almost otherworldly and is there solely to reveal the truth to everyone, it is a nice concept with a lot of potential, that didn’t quite work for me in the series.
Inga is a whacky character with a strange personality and usually in the form of a boy, however he does transform into a sexy woman, who is able to eat people’s souls. Inga is apparently a spirit and Shinjuro’s boss; she has the ability to ask anyone a single question, one that they have to answer. There is a deep connection between Shinjuro and Inga, although that is never really explained until the very end of the series. From watching UN-Go, Inga seems to be a plot device in Shinjuro’s never ending search for the truth. Through her power questions are answered and truths that people do not want to know are heard.
The final ‘main’ character would probably be Kazamori Sasa, a ‘R.A.I.’ (Real Artificial Intelligence) who first appears in episodes 3 and 4. Kazamori is taken in by Shinjuro and Inga and has the ability to take any form that he wishes, be it a doll, a mobile phone or even a fridge. During the series he is seen either as a small stuffed panda toy or in a robot shaped like a human girl. Kazamori helps to inject a bit of humor into the series with strange off the cuff remarks about why humans do certain things, along with a pretty sarcastic personality, delivering every single line in a pretty deadpan fashion.
There are other side characters that are nevertheless quite important to the series. We have Rinroku Kaishou, another detective who apparently hides the truth and covers up for various groups. He is in many ways central to Shinjuro’s deductions since Shinjuro will always bring the truth that Kaishou wishes to keep hidden to light, although in the end Kaishou wins out. We also have Rie Kaishou, the daughter of Rinroku, a headstrong girl who has the appearance of someone with wealth, often visiting Shinjuro while riding her horse. She often attempts to help Shinjuro in bringing the truth that her father has hidden to light, an interesting character, but very much the token ‘cute girl’ of the series. There are also some less important characters, who become central towards the end of the series, such Seigen Hayami and Izumi Koyami, both of whom work for Kaishou in one way or another.
I like how all the characters have the potential of being interesting, they seem to fit into the story quite well, but there is a lack of proper progression, often leaving it until the final story arc. I do however like the relationship between Shinjuro and Inga, as it appears that Shinjuro has made a Faustian Pact with Inga in order to solve mysteries and in a sense save people for his own selfish reasons. Unfortunately many of the characters feel neglected and lack any real presence, which is a shame since there was a lot of potential in the relationships that these characters had.
The animation style of UN-Go was very nice, quite quirky in places, slipping between dream and reality in a way that made the two meld together in particular senses rather well. The series lacks the flash and extravagance of Last Exile, Guilty Crown and Fate/Zero for example, however it more than makes up for it in the overall old school aesthetic, something that I’m quite fond of. There isn’t much action in the series, and when we do have such scenes, they are well portrayed and nicely animated. I do enjoy the Opening and ending and find them quirky and enjoyable to watch.
I did enjoy this show in part, the last arc in particular was an excellent piece of story telling with a nice mystery, and however the show itself lacked flow and continuity. There were too many breaks, too much repetition and often no real sense that this was getting anywhere. I really liked the concept, especially when we have the Faustian Pact between Shinjuro and Inga, but none of it was ever really explored. This series could have potentially benefitted from being longer with a proper story arc throughout, 11 episodes just seem too little to really explore what was going on.
Some of the mysteries were cleverly done with a nice sense that there were many interweaving threads, and that a successful resolution would potentially open up even more mysteries, but the series itself felt convoluted. There were times when too much was going on, too many hints about Shinjuro’s past, about what Kaishou was doing during the war, about why Kaishou and Shinjuro know each other, just too much. This may in part be because of the story itself, but also I think it was because of the series length; too short and trying to fit too much into each episode.
This was not a disaster of a series, and had a lot going for it, but there are o many little things that either annoyed me, or simply bored me that the show lost my interest in places. It’s saving grace was an exceptional, if completely bonkers final story arc that really showed me what Un-Go could have been like. If only the entire show had been like that I would most certainly have enjoyed it far more than I did.