An amazing mystery thriller with deep philosophical themes about truths and lies, Un-go is one of the most well-crafted, tight knit and well-paced stories to ever use the medium of anime as an extension to its literary themes. The anime is very reverent of the main themes of the manga, with characters that embody the different perspectives.
Taking place in a post-war Japan, the viewers are immersed in a world with post-apocalyptic rules. The government took many liberties in the war, and the interactions between the war and the citizens of Japan create a heightened reality.
Un-go provides in-depth analysis of humanity when pushed to the farthest extremes of emotional and mental deterioration, yet none of the characters are truly insane. Nothing that transpires is explained away with the conjecture of insanity. Instead, everything is explained by the complexities of human nature and the cursed psychology that enables humans to create and destroy in equal magnitudes.
All the characters are fully realized people. The viewers see this world through the eyes of Rie, Chairman Kaishou’s daughter. She has believed whatever the media has said about the happenings of the war and world because she holds on to the childish belief that her father, the CEO of the leading information distribution company, always distributes the truth. She learns through a series of murder cases and hunting mysteries that her father’s main job is to cover up the truth after he has found it, or rather after Yuki Shinjuro, the defeated detective, has found it.
The secondary or dual protagonist, Yuki Shinjuro, is a man with the ambition to create a world without lies. He struggles seeing the fabricated public knowledge and false peace ensure the safety of the victims of war, the people associated with the victims and the sanity of the general society and the world he wants, a world that does not need lies to sustain it.
His rival in detective work, Chairman Rinroku Kaishou, revels in the falsehoods he creates, seeing them as cushions between the public and the destructive tendencies of humans. Chairman Kaishou is a master manipulator, as it is his job as the top information analyst employed by the government, but he does so to a disturbing degree. He manipulates his daughter Rei, and it can be argued that he manipulates Yuki as well.
These characters embody sides of an argument. The argument being:” is it ever moral to lie?” As this is left ambiguous, it is up to the viewer as to who wins.
Un-go utilizes multiple tracks to enhance the atmosphere of its heightened reality. The music borders on iconic as the beautiful instrumentals accentuate the emotions and characterization. Un-go handles the action and themes differently; when deductions about the case and the human condition are being made two different songs are played.
Editing played a big role in the pacing of the story and the suspense presented by the situational culmination of all the emotions and clues. The way the panels are presented adds to the narrative, and the shots are taken purposefully to present a clue or misdirection. Body language and facial expressions are highlighted by camera angles or rather the artistic perspective of the panel composition.
The supernatural element is slowly introduced from the first episode,climaxing in the final episodes and reflecting in the prequel. Inga and Bettenou are mysterious beings often referred to as gods, demons and monsters, but the true nature of their existence is left to the viewer’s interpretation. The mythos that surrounds their existence plays a vital part in the story and its themes.
Due to the heightened reality and the implied rules that these beings follow, the viewer’s belief is properly suspended, the only exception being the viewer who watches the prequel, instead of the first episode. Episode 0, or the prequel episode, is meant to be watched last in appreciation to all the future events the events in this episode contribute to.
By giving the specific events in context, it further explains the references given throughout the series and the key role that they play at critical points of the overarching story. The overarching mystery becomes a strand of supernatural occurrences and layered subtext. As a viewer watches the last mystery unfold, all the past episodes are brought to the forefront, giving the careful viewer the best pay-off.
Sentai Filmworks dubbed the series in its entirety, including the prequel episode. This transition between subbed and dubbed versions is more of a translation than an adaptation. As there is not a lot of deviations from the subbed script and the flaps seem to match all the words, there is really no difference between the version; although, one inconsistency of the dubbed prequel episode is that Yuki’s old high school friend calls him by his false identity that he is given later in the episode. Even with the slightest inconsistencies, the mystery is still preserved and all the clues and evidence are still there in the words as much as in the visual.
With 11 episodes, one prequel episode, one theme song and one ending song, Un-go has one of the shortest runs, but it has the thickly-plotted mysteries and exemplifies the modern conventions of writing. This is very refreshing, since theyseem to be forgotten to most in the medium, at least to this extent.
Twelve episodes cover what some cannot do in over a hundred. The moral platitudes were well integrated in the story, but when they are strung together sound like a thesis paper.
Un-go covers many complex topics, but not without necessary gore and a few choice cuss words. The only truly appalling scene was when a character must remove a wooden spike from the center of his neck. There are many instances of visual corpses but the gore is handled so skillfully that it does not draw attention to itself and serves the story.
Thrillingly pacing and wonderfully thought-provoking, Un-go is an amazing anime. As I watched it the seventh time, I still caught things that I have not noticed before and I find myself entranced by the story every time.
By Kimberly Joy Ward