Un-Go 01: Murder At The Ball
The noitaminA time-slot is famous for its slice-of-life and horror series catering to a older and more mature demographic of watchers. This season witnessed an experimental take on the mystery whodunit genre in the form of Un-Go, and first impressions withstanding, the results are pretty mixed.
The overall feel of the OP is reminiscent of the recent high-concept flop No.6 (tasteful yaoi for the fangirls) with its dystopian theme, also produced by the same animation company Bones. And then you have character designs “borrowed” from other anime: I swore that I saw Hei from Darker Than Black and Shou Tucker from FMA at instances during the OP. Hardly inspiring stuff for originality.
How about the meat itself, you ask? Let’s see…
The Good: Un-Go is adapted from the novel Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō, which is penned by postwar literary novelist Ango Sakaguchi. My negligible command of the Japanese language meant that I haven’t read it. However, I have seen the anime adaptation of his short story work “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” and the sheer amount of symbolism and themes portrayed in a deceptively simple tale of woodcutter and demon is overwhelming. To put it simply, the director has some damn good stuff to fall back on.
And it shows in the opening episode. The mystery, revolving around the murder of a president accused of embezzling national funds, is solid. There’s plenty of clever logic behind the deductions offered by ‘The Defeated Detective’ Shinjūrō Yūki, juxtaposed with the clues available at the scene of the crime. The case is also wrapped up in a satisfactory fashion, though not without a tinge of irony. Finally, in the light of loli girls and moe NEETs who serve as Sherlock wannabes, to have a bishounen detective is a refreshing change (And no, I am not gay). No more incessant “I speak for the dead” nonsense.
yada yada yada… and btw, I’m wearing this pair of shades just to look cool. It’s not a secret technological device that enables me to read your mind and realize that tada! you are the mastermind… yada yada yada
Un-Go looks to be a series that is going for episodic stories instead of longer arcs due to its limited air-time of 11 episodes. As such, the pacing of the mystery is incredibly fast, if one factors the introduction of the characters into the equation. This really kills much of the suspense, since the audience is pretty much info-dumped deductions and assumptions from a different cast of characters without being able to play Sherlock. And the big no-no of a mystery story, regardless in whatever medium, is to deny the reader/watcher that instinctive participatory experience. Therefore, A for the material, C for the execution.
The pacing really hurts the characterization. Un-Go’s cast simply falls into a long list of stereotypes: ‘The Defeated Detective’ is that cool guy with a dark past. Izumi is that I-don’t-like-these-shady-people-who-get-in-our-way officious policewoman. And Rinroku Kaishō, goodness, is he a descendant of Alice or something? The detective’s sidekick looks like it wandered off from [C] and crashed into the party (More of that later). Hopefully, the next few episodes would rectify that.
In the context of this episode, the cynical me isn’t sold on the culprit’s rationale behind killing her husband. To make him a hero? Come on, you got to do better than that lady. The postwar dystopian setting also looks like a tired premise that is most definitely going to be the basis of the overarching plot and most definitely going to culminate in an epic finale of explosions and collapsing buildings (Damn you No. 6) which wouldn’t make any sense but anyway…
And there goes the inheritance that I would have received without your meddling.
Who found it a good idea to introduce a character with a supernatural ability that is a hybrid of hypnotism and Geass? Make someone tell the truth with a single question? Forgive me but !@#@!#!@##@$!! This is a cheap gimmick, a cheap plot device that would pretty much ruin subsequent mysteries. Next time a culprit refuses to confess, just go “Inga-chan! Kindly digivolve and come over for a moment please!” Sheesh.
It looks like there’s more of the bad in this episode review, but I still have hopes for Un-Go. More fleshing out of the characters and better pacing in the next few episodes would be a step in a right direction. And lesser use of that trump card please.