Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Un-Go Episodes 1 and 2 – The Truth Will Out

Un-Go Episodes 1 and 2 – The Truth Will Out

Well, having taken a season break after wrapping up their lovely but ultimately flawed Gosick, it looks the animation studio Bones is ready to try their hand at another mystery series, this time set in a near future Japan. And like with Gosick, the mystery trappings of the show are just that: trappings. It’s clear that the heart of the show is elsewhere.

I suppose that’s a good thing, because if Un-Go was meant to be a mystery series, it fails horribly. Thus far the mysteries have been mostly predictable and easily solved (particularly in the second episode). The feeling of a just resolution that comes from seeing the guilty be caught and punished is also absent, for the guilty more or less get away with it. This show is not about crime solving because solving crime is about discovering the truth. This is show concerns itself with a more basic question: whether it is possible for the truth to win out in an age of mass media and government manipulation.

Rinroku Kaishou is ostensibly serves the government only as a consultant, but he's practically the head of their propaganda arm. However pleasant his outside demeanor, he doesn't seem to be above framing people, or having them killed

Un-Go is at least tangentially based in the works of Ango Sakaguchi, a post-WWII Japanese novelist. It’s hard to say exactly how much of the series comes from Sakaguchi and how much from the team at Bones, but I’m guessing the basic setting is remarkably similar. The Japan of Un-Go is still rebuilding from a series of devastating terrorist attacks linked to the country’s more aggressive stance in world affairs. And the government, even post-war, has enacted oppressively rigid levels of information control.

Of course, the military government that ran Japan during WWII and the military government that ran Japan after WWII were different governments with different goals; here they are the same. It means something different to say that wars of the Japanese Empire invited devastating (deserved?) reprisals on the country, and that opposing terrorism abroad did, and this show is really close to intimating the latter. Making the background politics about terrorism makes it more immediately relevant, but it also opens up the show to charges of political naivete, at least from those with my political leanings.

The details of the war are murky, but Japan was so hard hit that destroyed buildings still litter the landscape

Accepting the premise as is, however, leaves us with our protagonist Shinjuurou Yuuki and his rival Rinroku Kaishou. Rinroku is a wealthy communications mogul known for helping out the government with particularly difficult crimes, all solved with Rinroku just observing the scene via remote link. Shinjuurou is known as the “defeated detective” for how often his theories have been proven wrong by Rinroku.

Yet it is Shinjuurou who correctly solves the cases. Each time Rinroku crafts a politically conveniently cover story that the government then puts forth as the facts, with the real truth behind the crime, the truth Shinjuurou found, concealed. The dramatic tension in Un-Go isn’t about discovering who the killer is, but in watching the two of them match wits, one trying to control information and the other trying to free it.

The climax of the second episode is not the unmasking of the killer, but Shinjuurou hiring a bunch of hackers to try to distribute contraband files while government hackers try to counter them. To further highlight the disjunction between this show and a normal crime drama, the killer is arguably made better off by the fact Shinjuurou succeeds

The other metaplot of the series relates to Shinjuurou’s “boss,” a creature named Inga. Normally taking the form of boy but occasionally transforming into a towering and voluptuous woman, Inga travels with Shinjuurou to learn the “truth” about the human condition. Apparently the best way to do that is to figure out why people kill other people.

Inga also has the ability to compel anyone to answer one question truthfully, but as a magical mystery solver it’s not that helpful. Shinjuurou has to provide Inga with the question, by which point he’s already solved the case: Inga just helps coerce a confession. Perhaps those elements will be tied in more concretely in later mysteries, just as I hope Shinjuurou’s partnership with Inga is connected to whatever tragedy is lurking in Shinjuurou’s past.

Yes, of course Shinjuurou has a tragic past. Do you even need me to tell you that?

For the moment though, the supernatural Inga sits uneasily within the realistic near future setting, just as the post-war world of Sakaguchi’s experience and the post-war world of Bones’s imagination don’t always see eye to eye. This show is still fairly rough around the edges, and it only has nine more episodes to make everything fit together. That’s a tall order to fill.

And yet, for some reason, despite the fact I can point out all these concerns about the show, I’m still deeply intrigued by it. I might wind up disagreeing with the overall political outlook of Un-Go when all is said and done, but that doesn’t make the fight between Rinroku and Shinjuurou less engaging. (In the same way, the fact I was fully on board with [C]’s message didn’t mean I thought it was a good show.) Likewise, Inga’s inclusion into the story could wind up being a horrid mistake, but at the moment she (it?) is a far more intriguing mystery than any of the murders we’ve had so far.

Inga's child form is only slightly less creepy than the adult one. Both forms are voiced by an almost unrecognizable Aki Toyosaki; it looks like she's finally getting out of the moe box. More power to her

Most of all, this is a show which is utterly unafraid to different. It’s selling itself on a conflict far more cerebral, far more layered, than your usual murder of the week format. That won’t appeal to everyone even if it works—and again, there’s no guarentee Un-Go will pull everything together by the finale—but I want to credit innovation where it happens in a cliche-ridden industry.

For this entire year, noitaminA has split the two shows of its block between a poignant, psychologically convincing drama and a problematic dystopian political allegory. This season, the relational drama has been eschewed entirely in favor of more politically minded shows—but, at the same time, it looks like they might finally have figured out how to do message-laden entertainment right. At least, I desperate hope this will prove to be the case.

As a side note, the requisite love interest is Rie Kaishou, Rinroku's daughter, who is slowly becoming aware of her father's actions and doesn't seem to like it. We'll see if she winds up tipping the scales later on

You can watch these episodes here and here.

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