The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Un-Go

Title: Un-Go
Genre: Drama
Company: Bones
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 14 Oct 2011 – 23 Dec 2011

Synopsis: Yuuki Shinjuurou is the “Defeated Detective” — he searches for truth, but the mysteries he solves are inevitably reported by the media in altered form due to the influence of Kaishou Rinroku, a powerful businessman who wields massive influence in communication and law enforcement. Aiding Shinjuurou in his mystery-solving ventures is Inga, who has the appearance of a young boy but can transform into a beautiful woman with the power to make people answer any one question she asks.

The Highlights:
Mysteries: OK in a single-episode format, but much better when stretched to multiple episodes.
World building: Often subtle and encourages the viewer to think about what has been presented.
Cynicism: The world is gray in an interesting way that reflects modern society. No easy answers about who is “right” and “wrong.”

Mystery series are often a mixed bag in anime. Too often, mysteries are either obvious to the viewer or they are so esoteric that only the “genius” lead detective is capable of solving them. Un-Go does not totally avoid that pitfall, but even when the mysteries stumble, they are used for a purpose that keeps the series fresh and interesting.

Un-Go’s rockiest moments happen in the first two episodes. While not bad, the the mysteries themselves are not particularly gripping either. It’s difficult to introduce a mystery, suspects and a satisfying resolution in the space of 20 minutes and Un-Go does not quite get there; the mysteries feel rushed. However, my interest never waned because the show makes it clear that simply introducing and solving mysteries is not its aim. Rather, the mysteries serve as conduits to explore issues of interest.

The result of the show’s first mystery hints at a cynical worldview expanded upon in subsequent episodes. Un-Go centers on a postwar society stuck between concerns both global and domestic. The haze of the war — the nature of which is hinted at but never elaborated on in full — hangs heavily over this future Japan and is one of the ties that binds each mystery together. Several of the culprits are people who were adversely affected by the war and are not necessarily evil and those wronged are not always of particularly high moral standing.

This is a film noir-type mood, where the heroes are flawed, the villains are rooted in the very things that drive society, and the worlds themselves are rotten, with no clear way to purify them. Un-Go takes place in a future version of Japan, but the problems are concerns that haunt us today. The stories reflect on concerns of the media’s role in world events, the balancing of a country’s role in global and domestic matters, the growth and spread of technology and so on. These issues are weaved into the mysteries in ways that make the stories more interesting and encourage viewers to reflect on these same issues in our society.

Where Un-Go is most impressive is when its mysteries are allowed to breathe with multi-episode arcs. The mysteries themselves become more interesting, and the world-building becomes that much more effective because there’s a stronger emotional attachment to the characters. In fact, the second half of the series is almost one long mystery in how each mystery connects with the others and builds toward a mostly satisfying conclusion that perfectly fits the mood and reality of this society. The longer build also allows the writers and animators to step outside the bounds of the typical mystery structure and mess around with ideas that might not get play in a story where time is at a premium. I still wish Un-Go had a few more episodes to work with, but it uses the time allowed it about as well as any other anime in the noitaminA time slot.

If there’s one flaw with Un-Go, it’s that the supernatural aspect often seems forced and inexplicable next to the relatively “real” feel of the rest of the world. There’s an explanation for it late in the series that is actually clever, but it’s not totally satisfying. It’s not a flaw large enough to cut down what Un-Go does right and in my eyes, this is the best show of the Fall 2011 season.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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