by Marlan Moore | staff editor
I really wanted to like Un-Go. I really did. I love detective stories and science fiction, so it seemed like a no-brainer that I’d love Un-Go. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Although the premise really rocks – an underdog detective and his feisty, supernatural assistant crack the cases that no one else can in a futuristic post-war/post-terrorist attacked Japan – the execution is lacking.
Not much is said about how Japan became the way it was in Un-Go, or who’s to blame, or even what the conflict was about. All we know is that something happened, and Japan was hurt bad. To me, this is a really interesting idea. They do a great job of grounding the series in something of a realistic setting, with destroyed buildings and areas of the country sanctioned off, but the fictional history is never fully explored. And that lack of exploration is one of the problems of the series, and spreads throughout every part of the show.
Characters are introduced that clearly have histories, but those histories aren’t really explored either. One of the main characters, Inga, is a kid who can turn into an adult and, when in the adult form, can make a person answer any one question that she desires. This, of course, is used to help the protagonist, the “defeated detective” himself, Shinjurou Yuuki. Where Inga comes from and why he/she can turn into a woman is barely hinted at, but never revealed, which kind of bothers me since her abilities don’t seem to fit in the world, especially since – until the last few episodes – nothing else supernatural is in the story. It’s also interesting that seeing an albino woman tear thoughts out of a man’s head doesn’t faze any of the other characters – regular cast or not – in the series.
One reason I watch detective stories is for the mystery. Unfortunately, the mysteries in Un-Go are pretty run of the mill and easy to crack. If someone seems like the logical choice, it’s probably them. The a-ha! moments don’t deliver the emotional punch you’d hope for, since the mystery doesn’t really weave all that much of a mysterious thread, or take you down a twisted road. And since the detective work is mostly just Inga tearing thoughts out of a guy’s head, there’s no real catharsis in watching Shinjurou figure out the case.
It can be argued that the point of the series isn’t the mysteries, however, but the relationship between Shinjurou and his rival, Rinroku Kaishou. Much of the credit for most of the cases being cracked winds up going to Rinroku, despite all of Shinjurou’s hard work. It doesn’t phase him, however. Their rivalry comes to a head near the end of the series, at which point the barely there through-line created by their relationship is finally addressed.
At the very least, Un-Go has some pretty great art, and introduces and uses some really interesting sci-fi concepts. The second episode, for example, has a brilliant take on the vocaloid phenomenon and uses that as a springboard for a murder case. Again, great set up, but not the best in execution.
If you want to give Un-Go a chance, you can find it streaming on Hulu, and on DVD/Blu-Ray from Section23 on October 30.