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.