Here’s a passage from the Wikipedia entry on ‘film noir:’
Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The films are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt.
In other words, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Un-Go‘s second episode embodies this eclectic fusion of anime and noir that I actually find quite impressive. One of Kamisama no Memo-chou‘s biggest problems was that its universe was too sanitized. Mysteries aren’t just fun because they’re brain teasers. Otherwise, we’d all be watching Phi Brain instead. Mysteries are also thrillers; they are thrillers because there’s an undercurrent of danger and anger threatening to boil over at any moment. Play your little detective games if you want, but if you pry too hard, don’t cry when things turn around and bite you in the ass. And let’s face it — that’s the spirit of a good mystery. Just how far would you be willing to go for the truth? And when you find it, will the truth be worth all the trouble? Jake sure didn’t like what he found out about Evelyn….
Rinroku Kaisho is the most dangerous character in Un-Go. Sure, he looks like a nerd and he seems quite jovial enough, but you get the sense that if he really wanted to, he could smack Shinjuro down at any moment. Fittingly, Kaisho appears to attack Shinjuro with tentacles in the OP, suggesting that his influence is all-reaching. For now, however, Shinjuro’s antics probably amuses Kaisho. Why? Because no matter what the former digs up or uncovers, the latter can cover the truth up with a single press of a button. This is the undercurrent of danger I was just talking about. Kaisho’s appearance belies his true nature. In his world, truth and justice is nothing more than an aside — a footnote. He will frame an innocent man and let a murderer walk free if he needs to. But of course, what is justice anyway? If staging some cross-dresser’s suicide prevents civil unrest, who’s to say that the greater good of society over the life of one man isn’t true justice? Yes, this might fly against our intuition, but who ever said intuition was infallible?
But the character who really stole the show this week was adult Inga. Her presence was simply arresting as she towered over the submissive Shinjuro. If Kaisho represented the threat of danger, Inga represented the threat of anger boiling over. Case in point, she easily tossed him to the ground when he attempted to defy her. The start of the first episode implied that Shinjuro had once died. In this week’s episode, Inga reminded Shinjuro that he promised to show her “human truth.” Assuming that Shinjuro had bargained for his life at death’s door, what sort of dangerous game is he now playing? For the moment, however, the thing I find most bizarre was how Shinjuro shed tears when Inga cajoled, “What are you searching for? What do you want to protect?” Un-Go doesn’t waste too much time with character development, but when it bothers to do so, I find the anime efficiently compelling.
Like many other mystery series, this week’s case only required a single episode to wrap itself up, but here’s the crucial difference: the anime has chosen to forgo all but the most important bits of character development. Don’t get me wrong — character development’s great; I certainly want to understand how the characters onscreen tick. Too often, however, this comes at the cost of the mystery itself. The common result is that a case feels either rushed and underdeveloped or bogged down by superfluous slice-of-life elements. In Un-Go‘s latest episode, we immediately dove into a intriguing murder mystery. The only time the anime stopped to reveal an extra facet or two about its protagonists was the captivating exchange between adult Inga and Shinjuro. I don’t have a petulant, nasally voice whining about sweet buns or a bland shounen hero giving me a monologue about how his peaceful high school days are over. Un-Go cuts through the fat and gets right to the point.
Thematically, this episode was pretty much a retread of last week’s. Kaisho continued to represent Big Brother but ever more sinister due to his genial facade. Corruption is always afoot, but more importantly, the world of Un-Go is a far cry from the black-and-white morality dispensed elsewhere. Yes, the daughter murdered her mother, but not entirely out of cold blood. Her mother’s manipulation and scheming destroyed the young girl’s dreams of ever becoming a professional singer. Dreams thus take on a large role in Un-Go. If you’ll recall from last week’s episode, the murderer killed her husband because she could no longer bear to see him sully his heroic image with corruption and bribery. Her dreams or her fantasies of her husband were more important than his actual corporeal existence. Whether or not these dreams can be linked to the prominent butterfly imagery, however, remains to be seen.
Of course, Bones has a history of starting strong only to disappoint by season’s end. To be fair, it was fairly obvious right off the bat that the daughter was guilty in some way: she seemed way too cheerful the first time we met her. And if Kaisho constantly foils Shinjuro each and every single time a case is solved, the film noir-ish nature of the anime can quickly become gimmicky. For now, however, I’ve finally found a fall show that I’m quite excited to watch.