Un-Go Ep. 2: Impressively noir

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.

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31 Replies to “Un-Go Ep. 2: Impressively noir”

  1. Excellent post, the interest for this series was fun to read. The main pair themselves have the mystery for viewers to follow. BTW mal says it has a episode 0, and a bit surprised same director from Gundam00

  2. I personally find Un-Go nowhere near as captivating as you seem to. The characters are flat and mostly uninteresting to me, the mysteries are transparent, and the dystopian elements feel hackneyed and forced. Even the artwork and animation are bland. That’s not to say that it’s intolerable. But it definitely isn’t a show I’m going to be looking forward to.

    1. I’ll admit I enjoy the concept of the anime more than its actual execution, but there are intriguing elements here and there.

      1. I’m on the same boat as you are with UN-GO. It’s far from perfect but the concept itself is what I’m really digging. But if Bones rectifies a few problems here and there, I think we could have an excellent show.

        1. I think the next test is to see whether or not the show can pull off a multi-episode mystery. This was a particular problem for recent mystery series.

  3. I am completely the opposite of you. I find this series completely unremarkable. Bland characters (or silly if we count Inga) predictable mysteries, and another dystopian world which is over used in anime .

    If people want film noir than I recommend the real thing (the films from the 40’s-50’s) This doesn’t even come close. But to each their own I guess.

    1. If people want film noir than I recommend the real thing (the films from the 40′s-50′s) This doesn’t even come close.

      I’m not going to argue that you should like the anime, but I don’t understanding the sentiment here. Of course the anime’s noir qualities don’t come close to the genre at its peak, but if we’re going play this sort of game, why watch any anime? Why watch romantic anime when there’s Casablanca? The century-old film industry has done just about every story but mecha ten times better.

      1. Because film noir unlike romance movies are a very specific thing & my point was I personally don’t see it with Un-Go. It has a pessimistic undertones yes but there is more to noir than that.

        1. Sure, film noir consists of more than a couple themes, but I never did say it was 100% noir. I started off the post by calling it a fusion of anime and noir. But oh well, it’s clear we have different standards regarding this matter so there’s no point arguing about it any further.

  4. I have to say: while I watched this episode I really didn’t care for it, but after it wrapped up and I thought about it some more it seemed a lot more interesting. I don’t have a lot to add on the substance of this episode, although I’d point out that the ending seems intended to imply that Shinjuro got a slight “win” against Rinroku this time around, what with Shinjuro’s bootleg recording of the daughter seemingly making its way around the net.

    Aside from the mysteries surrounding the Ingas, we seem to have 2 outstanding mysteries: in ep1, who invited our duo to the ball? In ep2, who hired our duo to stand in line and buy the latest illicit tunes? There’s clearly something going on with that and hopefully the show does something intelligent with it by the end.

    Inga got a lot more interesting quite efficiently, like you said. At first Shinjuro’s monologue at the end seemed a bit too long and not really called for, but it seems appropriate if it’s really for Inga’s benefit. On that note I’m going to stick with my theory that big-Inga has somehow appropriate the body of a woman important to Shinjuro, in which case her questions to him in this episode would be extremely cutting. Also: 2 episodes, 2 Inga questions, both asked to women. Possibly coincidence, possibly not.

    Also: the show seems to make good use of the opening and closing to hint at some details, which is important for 11 episodes. Want to place bets on this being little-Inga: http://i.imgur.com/xDBxx.png ?

    1. I have to say: while I watched this episode I really didn’t care for it, but after it wrapped up and I thought about it some more it seemed a lot more interesting.

      Yeah, I’d agree with this. The show doesn’t jump out and grab me either, but I think you said it before: “The likeliest failure case here seems that Un-Go turns out to be cerebrally interesting but boring and flat to actually watch.” Certainly, Un-Go isn’t shaping up to be a masterpiece, but I’ll take this.

      Shinjuro got a slight “win” against Rinroku this time around, what with Shinjuro’s bootleg recording of the daughter seemingly making its way around the net.

      It seemed like a hollow victory at best for me. In the end, the killer is still walking free, an innocent man died, and all Shinjuro can do was play an enka song for everyone to hear. Still, I like this sort of grey area in Un-Go. So many stories nowadays are just full of pure good vs. pure evil.

      Want to place bets on this being little-Inga: http://i.imgur.com/xDBxx.png ?

      I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to be at face value.

  5. Don’t worry, Bones will not let us down. In the end, Inga will transform into a Panda/Butterfly-hybrid while rampaging around town.

    This episode really showed us some interesting, if small, details, as you’ve mentioned already. I hope it continues to get better.

  6. Of the detective anime that started airing this year, this is definitely the best one, in my opinion, in that it takes its genre seriously, rather than merely as a vehicle through which to do standard otaku-pandering stuff.

    The social commentary in this is pretty good, and I like how we have “red herring” suspects in this, and not just a straight bee-line to the true culprit.

    The main cast is admittedly not terribly charismatic, but they get the job done, and it’s honestly nice to see a plot-driven anime for a change.

    1. Of the detective anime that started airing this year, this is definitely the best one, in my opinion, in that it takes its genre seriously, rather than merely as a vehicle through which to do standard otaku-pandering stuff.

      This is mostly what I was trying to get at when I said that “the anime has chosen to forgo all but the most important bits of character development.” In the ideal world, would I want both an awesome mystery and well developed characters? Sure, but the ideal and anime rarely ever intersect. So I enjoyed the fact that the focus thus far have been on the actual mysteries. Are they transparent? Maybe, but I don’t think every mystery has to stump us in order to be good. If this was the case, you could never rewatch mysteries.

  7. I was ready to give up on UN-GO, or at least throw it onto my list of backburner series, but after I saw just how interesting this setting was, I’m glad I didn’t. The mystery was fun, Inga was damn fun, the idea of a pop group with a dark secret that could unravel everything they’ve worked toward was fun… just overall color me impressed.

  8. I wish I knew how to quit you, but posts like this just keep reeling me back. I hope you end up enjoying and writing about Un-Go as you did the majority of No. 6 (cept that darn ending) and as you do Mawaru Penguindrum.

    I found it quite clever how they brought the idol portion together with the murder. I mean I knew they would have to be connected somehow but I wasn’t sure until they confirmed that the elder Osaka was the manager of the group. Also…idols singing about getting back at terrorists? Suddenly the Japanese pop idol turned into an American country singer.

    1. I wish I knew how to quit you, but posts like this just keep reeling me back.

      Gosh, you make it sound like I’m such a terrible blogger that you want to quit.

      Suddenly the Japanese pop idol turned into an American country singer.

      Actually, I was just thinking about how everything seemed to run parallel with the US. It’s the US, after all, that has been in wars constantly since 9/11. And the first episode’s victim? You could see him as a Bush or Cheney figure. The show’s mystery elements do borrow heavily from the west, and if you buy into the idea that it is somewhat noirish, then it borrows specifically from US cinema. The P2P thing too, I think, is a bigger deal here where everything is litigated.

      1. No your writing is so good that whenever you take the piss out of anime I don’t think is that bad, or maybe even that I think is good, I get way more worked up than I should. Thus at times your blog is not beneficial to my health.

  9. Nah not C^3 it was my first drop I think. Last season there was quite a bit though. This season I enjoyed Last Exile’s first ep for one. For two, Ben-To is probably my 2nd favorite show airing right now behind Fate/Zero. In Ben-To’s case I love shows that start off from an absurd concept and then expand on it or find interesting ways to toy around with it. They end up being the shows I most enjoy in any given season, even if I may not think they are the best.

    1. I’ve barely written anything about Ben-To. I also didn’t really bash Last Exile. I just said it seemed very safe and dull. I’m sure we can have such differences of opinion without coming to blows! Fate/Zero’s first episode was boring as hell though. I don’t care what anyone says.

      1. Who said we are comin to blows? It’s just that if I find myself reading something I vehemently disagree with I’ll probably just close the window. At some point it’s just not worth the energy to reply. I was the same way with blog I currently very frequently write for. Grain of salt and a roll of the eyes and then it’s on to greener pastures of Mawaru Penguindrum posts.

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