At a glance it can be hard to tell whether an unknown anime series will be a true conclusion or another red herring. “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” is here to drop a clue or two. Each week we provide additional information and cultural context to help fans decide whether they’ll find an untested series to be a revelation, or whether they’ll just find it perplexing.
Un-Go is a 2011 TV anime with direction by Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist) and animation by Bones (Bungo Stray Dogs). Un-Go is loosely based on the Meiji-era Ango Detective Stories series by Ango Sakaguchi (1906 – 1955), an author who rose to prominence in Japan after the conclusion of World War II. Crunchyroll describes Un-Go as follows:
“UN-GO” is a full-fledged detective story about a detective and handsome boy combo who tackle the world’s most difficult crimes together for reasons of their own.
This description doesn’t paint a complete picture. Set in the near future in which Japan has survived a terrible war and repeated terrorists attacks only to become a total surveillance police state, Un-Go is a crime / detective series that combines occult and science fiction elements such as artificial intelligence and soul-devouring demons.
Truth and Post-Modernism.
Although most of the stories in Un-Go center around a serious crime such as murder, the central conflict of the series is actually between two men with very different ideas of what “truth” means. The protagonist, Shinjuuro Yuuki, aka the “Defeated Detective”, is a private investigator who strives to uncover the facts of his cases, no matter the consequences.
His rival, Rinroku Kaishou, is a powerful information broker who uses his private media empire as well as his government contacts to shape the narrative surrounding criminal acts, lulling the public into complacency with propaganda that plays to their biases and reaffirms their preconceptions. For Kaishou, “truth” is merely a means of social control.
Shinjuuro seeks objective truth through rigorous investigation, while Kaishou tries to create “truth” through subjective, social consensus. As a result, Un-Go demonstrates a deeply post-modern thematic sensibility, questioning what value the truth holds in an age where misinformation spreads rapidly through TV programming, social media, and the Internet.
In addition to its exploration of the meaning of truth, Un-Go also plays with the narrative structure of both novels and films in a hallucinatory story arc that sees Shinjuuro Yuuki trapped within both a literal prison and a mental construct of someone else’s making. The “next episode” previews also playfully break the fourth wall as Inga complains about all of the differences and discrepancies in the Un-Go anime compared to Sakaguchi’s original stories.
Playing it Straight.
For all of its heady themes and grim subject matter, Un-Go is a thoroughly goofy show with a tone that seesaws between self-serious and patently absurd. It’s tough for a mystery series to maintain thematic consistency when one of the detective’s assistants is a soul-sucking demon that can magically compel testimony from hostile witnesses and another is a super-hacker A.I. disguised as a teddy bear. Un-Go walks a fine line between genre and parody.
Crunchyroll currently streams Un-Go in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the Faroe Islands, American Samoa, and the United States Minor Outlying Islands. The series is available in the original Japanese language with English subtitles.
Un-Go is also available on DVD and Bluray in North America from Sentai Filmworks. This home video release also includes Un-Go Episode 0: Inga Chapter, a 50 minute prequel movie which explores the origins of Shinjuuro Yuuki and Inga. Un-Go Episode 0: Inga Chapter received a limited theatrical release in Japan in November of 2011.
Like Bungo Stray Dogs or Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, Un-Go shoots for conveying the spirit of the original author’s writing rather than directly adapting the source material. Stylish to a fault, Un-Go is less about solving mysteries and more about depicting cool characters in a dystopian setting. If such an experience appeals to you, please consider giving Un-Go a try.
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Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.