UN-GO was probably one of my two or three most anticipated series going into the fall season. What a pedigree – NoitaminA, Mizushima Seiji (FMA, Oh! Edo Rocket) as director – much of the staff from FMA/OER, in fact – and based on the works of early 20th-Century novelist Sakaguchi Ango. On paper, this should have been at the top of the heap this season. Based on one episode, it has some work to do to get there.
OP: 「オープニングテーマ」”How to go” by School Food Punishment
While the premiere wasn’t bad by any means, it didn’t have a lot of success in drawing me into the premise. First episodes of mystery series are often tricky affairs, trying to balance the need to introduce the characters and setting with offering a compelling mystery to solve. While Mizushima-sensei certainly tried to do both, what resulted was an an introduction that felt rushed and a mystery that failed to pop.
While dressed in a modern and anime-friendly setting, at its core the premise is a classic mystery setup from the period. You have rival detectives – the “Defeated Detective” Shinjuro Yuki (Katsuji Ryo), seemingly so-called because though he uncovers the truth, the truth is always covered up and he’s made to look incorrect. His rival is the reclusive Professor Kaishou Rinroku (Miki Shin’ichiro), who doesn’t get out much and seems to like to make his big reveals from behind a desk. Kaishou has a teenaged daughter, Rie (Yamamoto Nozomi) who acts as his proxy in the premiere. There’s also a cast of assorted police and government busybodies who interfere with the casework, among them Police Securiy Chief Hayami Seigen (Irinu Miyu, in what appears to be a minor role) and Koyama Izumi (Honda Takako), the public prosecutor.
Where things get to get surreal is when Yuki’s sidekick Inga (Toyosaki Aki) comes in. Most of the time Inga appears as a young boy (I think) with one pant leg missing and panda paws on his hands, but he sometimes turns into a rather slutty-looking adult woman who has the strange ability to ask any person one question, which they must answer truthfully – understandably a useful tool for an investigative team. None of the whys and hows behind this are explained yet – they may never be, I don’t know – but it’s quite jarring in its contrast with the rather conventional (and non-supernatural) mystery aspects that seem to be the norm for the series.
I won’t waste much time on the initial mystery, which involved a President under investigation for embezzlement. The structure was a bit iffy and the motive of the killer even more so. It seems to have been used mainly as a way to introduce all the characters and to give us the lay of the land in terms of setting – sometime in the near-future when Japan has been at war with terrorists who’ve laid waste to much of the country. That’s fine, but so far it just feels like a lot of information that hasn’t been tied together. Characters were appearing, announcing themselves and disappearing like crazy and then, whoops! Something inexplicable just happened. Hopefully, this will all start to meld together next week now that the heavy lifting is out of the way.
I’m not panicking yet – it’s worth remembering that the initial mystery in BONES’ Gosick was pretty lame too, and that ended up being a good series. The difference for me is that the characters in that premiere made much more of an impact, where here they’re still one-dimensional. The show looked good in that slightly retro-modern BONES way, with the set pieces reminding me a bit of an older superhero comic but the character designs – angular, tall and a bit gothic – very Japanese indeed. Given the staff involved I have no doubt that this will be a competently produced and directed series. The key question is whether the story and characters will come alive in future episodes, and make the series engaging as well as competent.
ED: 「エンディングテーマ」 “Fantasy” by LAMA