Un-Go Ep. 1: Fashionably late

I’m tired of your shtick, Kanou. Spill it or we take you out in the alley and we knock it out of you!

Anime fans have been so inundated lately with boy-tsunderetard sleuthing combos that it’s hard to get up for yet another detective series. It’s actually kind of ironic: Sakaguchi Ango wrote the stories that Un-Go is based on way before the likes of Gosick, Kamisama no Memo-chou and Dantalian no Shoka were even conceived and yet Un-Go might end up carrying the tail end of a saturated genre. Is it really any fault of Un-Go or Bones that mediocre shows like the aforementioned series have crashed the party early and ruined the punch? I can’t really answer that question as I’m not well-versed in anime’s production cycles. All I can say is that it shouldn’t be surprising if the fourth damn shot of tequila doesn’t quite pack the same punch after downing the first three.

After rewatching the first episode, however, I do feel compelled to say I kind of like the series’ potential. Does Un-Go satisfy that mystery itch? Well, I do have a few complaints (as always), and I should remind readers that Kamisama no Memo-chou had a promising start too if only to derail itself by midseason. In any case, let’s get the negatives out of the way, and first and foremost on the list is Inga, the more feminine of the traditional boy-girl pairing. For the moment, Inga is somewhat of a departure from the tsunderetards we’re used to seeing, i.e. Victorique, Alice and Dalian. He’s just as diminutive, but he lacks that shrill, whiny inflection and cadence that his analogous counterparts all seem to share. More importantly, Inga can transform. Yes, he can awaken into a tall, buxomy woman who will stare deep into her witnesses’ souls and pluck the delicate truth from them like a ripe fruit.

But here’s the problem: while I applaud the fact that Inga didn’t turn out to be a cookie-cutter anime female who verbally abuses her partners despite harboring dokidoki feelings for them deep within her heart, I question the need to compartmentalize the female psyche into two distinct entities. In child Inga, we have a waifish, pixie-like character who clings and looks up to Shinjuro as if he is powerless without the larger man’s approval. More importantly, this child-like, id-dominated innocence renders young Inga rather androgynous. Yes, the anime and its creators will insist that Inga is a boy, but even if we want to take this at face value, Inga straddles the line of sexual confusion.

After his transformation, however, adult Inga displays aggressiveness, seductiveness, and sexuality. By the way, these traits can also be seen as dangerous and sinful. Is it any coincidence then that in Inga’s transformation, he sheds his androgyny and becomes distinctively female? In any case, to bifurcate a woman into two such extremes suggests to me that (once again) the anime medium is uneasy with the idea of casting a complex female character — one that exhibits qualities and traits from both sides of the spectrum — as one of the protagonists. It is thus easier to divide Inga into two and exaggerate the dichotomy more than necessary. Why couldn’t Inga just exist as one whole character, both deviously coy and playfully seductive?

I’m also not too impressed with adult Inga’s ability. She can pry the truth from anyone’s heart, but doesn’t this diminish the joy one typically gets from viewing interrogations? Interrogations are like verbal warfare, especially if one of the two parties have something to hide. The interrogator wants to get a confession, but the witness continues to plead his or her innocence. The two sides then dance around each other using deduction, lies, intuition, sleights of hand, etc. until someone emerges victorious. But there’s no game to be played here if Inga can just force people to tell the truth. I don’t even really mind the fact that she has strange mystical powers. At least we know upfront that supernatural elements are going to be involved in Un-Go unlike some previous Bones series (coughNo.6cough). Still, I’m not keen on Inga’s special gift.

Unfortunately, I can’t say much about Shinjuro or any of the other members of the cast. None of them received as much characterization as Inga did. So what did I like? After all, I did claim earlier in the post that I think the series has potential. Well, it’s too early to say whether or not the futuristic setting improves upon Sakaguchi Ango’s stories, but I do like the setup of the first mystery. A respected yet controversial public figure throws a 19th century ball, complete with Napoleon costumes and frumpy gowns. For a murder to occur in such an environment is kind of cheeky, isn’t it? — a nod to the time period when the mystery genre finally did get its legs and take the literary world by storm. If this isn’t a one-off thing by Bones, I await my murder-on-the-train arc. Hey, why not?

Finally, I like that there’s a bit of corruption in the Un-Go universe. Shinjuro is known as the “Defeated Detective” not because he sucks at his job, but because the truth is always being covered up. That’s just straight-up noir and also something I find completely lacking in mystery anime in general.

23 thoughts on “Un-Go Ep. 1: Fashionably late

  1. Mira

    UN-GO’s disadvantage after following a couple of lackluster detective anime is unfortunate. An interesting element to the detective pair is that Inga is effectively creepy and Yuuki’s apathetic nature towards his/her (I’m confused with how this is going because the english site explicitly describes the smaller Inga as a boy) antics is refreshing.

    The mystery itself wasn’t particularly amazing but I like how it was perpetrated.

    As for the setting, I really wonder why Bones decided to change it, but it seems like Kaishou being more like a NEET detective could be a reason. Speaking of a NEET detective, it looks like Kaishou’s a NEET detective done right, but it’s too early to say.

    Finally, I think the bit where the truth needs to be covered up is what makes me so excited about UN-GO. A fallen detective does make for an interesting protagonist to follow around.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m confused with how this is going because the english site explicitly describes the smaller Inga as a boy

      Does it really matter in the long run though? In any case, I tweaked my analysis on Inga slightly to reflect the dual nature of his/her sexuality.

      1. Mira

        I’m not sure if the series intends to focus on that, this is just speculation but Yuuki must’ve made a deal with Inga regarding the woman we see in the first few minutes of the ep and in the ED. Inga’s gender doesn’t bother me as much, but I too had to edit my entry because I was referring to Inga generally as a female. It does make me wonder why have two separate identities for Inga? I hope there’s a deeper reason other than it just being a gimmick.

        1. E Minor Post author

          Well, my edit suggested that the anime medium might be uncomfortable with portraying a complex character you might get as a result of combining the two Ingas. ‘Cause let’s be honest — the tsunderekkos we’ve been getting are paper-thin at best. Plus, I’m a little wary of the fact that the more innocent Inga is androgynous while the more dangerous Inga is distinctively female.

  2. wanderer

    You should probably know that little-Inga is about 99% likely to be male; for example, the capsule bio on the show’s website has Inga down as a bishounen. That could be a fake-out, of course, and it doesn’t take away from your larger point about female characters; as of now Rie seems our best bet for a complex female character, but she’s not all that promising.

    The devil’s advocate in re: Inga’s ability is if she winds up using it to get at emotional truths. If Un-Go winds up having the noir-esque layers-and-layers-and-layers of lies thing going on having someone with a limited ability to get at the real truth is useful narratively, especially if each case needs to get wrapped up in 20 minutes. As long as it’s used for open-ended “What was your husband, to you?” type questions I think it’s tolerable; if it’s used for factual inquiries it’s probably going to ruin the fun.

    Thinking this one over, if it wasn’t for the opening and ending themes I’d have walked away pretty unimpressed. There’s a fair amount of stuff that’s intellectually interesting going on but this was the emotionally-flattest opening episode of any anime I can think of in recent memory. I’m not sure how the other detective shows handled their first episodes but this just didn’t do much for me.

    That said, it definitely seems like this episode laid the groundwork to do something interesting: there’s a lot of rebirth / resurrection / metamorphosis stuff implied already (intro scene, phoenix imagery in ending, butterfly motif for Inga, overall setting), and given the in-show political situation those elements could wind up coming together quite nicely. The dialogue at the end of the episode (specifically: “something beautiful should be allowed to end while it’s still beautiful”) certainly takes on some added nuance vis-a-vis those themes.

    There are nice touches that show the staff aren’t phoning it in, either. What struck me was the bit at the beginning wherein Rinroku moves the windows on his computer to another screen so he can see his daughter’s reflection: he’s trying to keep her — or at least his image of her — from getting mixed up in — or sullied by — whatever it is he’s actually doing; there’s a bit of an echo later on when he asks her to move out of the way of his remote camera. Small touches like that won’t turn a bad work good, but their presence indicates there’s at least some effort going into the details.

    Oh well. The likeliest failure case here seems that Un-Go turns out to be cerebrally interesting but boring and flat to actually watch. I’m also worried about this episode 0 thing mentioned @ the ending credits: it seems like there’s a prequel “episode 0” getting a theatrical release in Japan sometime in november; it’s an interesting monetization strategy but will make it harder to follow along from overseas.

    1. E Minor Post author

      You should probably know that little-Inga is about 99% likely to be male; for example, the capsule bio on the show’s website has Inga down as a bishounen.

      Well, the Dogkeeper dilemma rears its ugly head again. Even if young Inga is technically a boy, I’m not sure what this distinction really makes. I think the fact that young Inga appears androgynous is more meaningful to the grander scheme of things. But like I’ve said to Mira, I’d edited the original post slightly to reflect the fact that young Inga is considered a boy.

      The devil’s advocate in re: Inga’s ability is if she winds up using it to get at emotional truths.

      Trust me, I like “emotional truths,” but I’ll play devil’s advocate too. If this ends up being Inga’s role in the series, it does make you wonder, then, how much does Inga actually contribute? For all intents and purposes, Shinjuro had the case solved and wrapped up. To the pragmatists, who cares why the wife murdered her husband?

      rebirth / resurrection / metamorphosis

      I guess I have a cynical reaction to Inga’s metamorphosis, but I’ll wait and see what the later episodes contain before I read any further into this.

      The likeliest failure case here seems that Un-Go turns out to be cerebrally interesting but boring and flat to actually watch

      Shrug, I’ll take cerebral. It won’t be an A-plus series in this case, but it beats the common anime.

      episode 0

      I’m not too concerned about it. I’ll only judge the series on its own merits. Whatever happens in a movie separate from the series is unimportant to me.

      1. wanderer

        Yeah, Dogkeeper redux. Between the bit at the start, the visual resemblance between big-Inga and the woman at the start (face, hair, clothing colors), and the phoenix imagery in the ED it seems like Inga is going to be some kind of weird perversion of that woman (eg: maybe little-Inga is their kid, and big-Inga is some twisted resurrection of the mother?). Not worth speculating too far, though.

        The counter-argument in re: why, is if this is going the cerebral route, we probably need to know that the wife ostensibly killed the husband to preserve his public image, because that helps tie the first case into the (presumably) ongoing considerations of public lies and private truths, etc. Big-Inga’s magic interrogation just isn’t the best way to draw that connection out, and I’m not sure the real nature of Inga will be a compelling enough mystery to hang a series off of.

        1. E Minor Post author

          we probably need to know that the wife ostensibly killed the husband to preserve his public image, because that helps tie the first case into the (presumably) ongoing considerations of public lies and private truths

          This is why I think the future of storytelling lies in interactive media that is unfortunately being wasted by people who only care about the bottom line, i.e. money. In an interactive media, you could discern the emotional truth through indirect means like, say, newspaper clippings, a search through a person’s home, etc. There’s some potential here in stuff like Heavy Rain or LA Noire but the state of video game narratives is still too much in its infancy (in more ways than one) to really deliver a satisfying story. In any case, I just think it is better for the audience to infer the emotional truths that adult Inga blatantly acquires for us. The audience can then generate debate and discussion over the characters’ motives and designs instead of just having the anime flat out tell us what the wife was thinking and planning. Again, I think adult Inga takes a bit of the fun away. A better executed series might not even need Inga is what I’m trying to get at.

        2. wanderer

          I can get behind that sentiment, particularly for something like mystery stories. On a related point, in general when I see fanbases get into heated argument about the finer points of warp drive, shield modulation, etc., I tend to think that what they really want is some kind of interactive experience with mutually-agreed-upon rules, but don’t have that (and have to fall back upon the vagaries of whatever the source material implies).

  3. Mira

    I don’t know if this is anything relatively useful for anyone but the official website has a couple of animated shorts called ‘Inga Nikki’. In contrast to the tv series, it’s very childlike and humorous here: http://www.un-go.com/10inganikki/index.html

    It’s pretty sad anime is uncomfortable with the idea that a woman can possess both traits. It’d make for more complex female characters as well.

    1. E Minor Post author

      The shorts might be neat. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese so I don’t understand a lick of what’s being said.

      1. Mira

        I hope someone subs them. I can only understand a small portion of the shorts but the way I see it Yuuki’s wary of both Ingas hahaha.

        1. E Minor Post author

          If Un-Go picks up in popularity, but I dunno, it seems like something people would overlook. There seems to be so many “marquee” shows at the moment.

        2. wanderer

          Yeah, I can get the gist of all of them but would be wary of offering full translations. Nothing too serious, and the only real takeaway is that Inga is a apparently bit of an annoying sidekick Shinjurou tolerates; if there’s a tsundere here it’s Shinjurou.

          #3 in the second row was my favorite: basically Shinjurou complains that “Inga Nikki” is a lame title and says he wants something more modern, and suggests the title in hiragana (and trailing off at the end a bit). Inga says that that’s outdated, and these days long titles are in, suggesting (I think): “The girl (Rie) that saw me (Inga) that day *really* doesn’t like detectives, but you (Shinjurou) can read kanji.” Shinjurou relents on the title issue.

          It’s clearly an Ano Hana joke, with the stuff in parentheses my best guesses as to who’s being referred to. The last one (“you”) is literally “friend”/”friends”, which I think from context makes that Shinjurou, but ask someone better if you want to be sure.

    1. Marow

      At least when it comes to pacing. Ending the anime and the light novels at the same time is a bad idea. Rushed ending is rushed.


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