I sort of suspected that, absent the constraints of trying to adapt Ango’s unusual source material to the 22-minute format, the highly talented creative team might come up with something pretty special. And that’s exactly what happened. Not only did we get our first one-part episode that really felt properly paced, but it was full of everything I’ve come to like about UN-GO. No series currently airing makes me think as much as this one – it’s chock full of interesting ideas, and doesn’t hit you ever the head with plot exposition. You have to work a little bit to figure out what’s happening, which is a refreshing change, and even then there’s a lot of subtext that’s left very much open to interpretation. We also got arguably the most well-constructed mystery of the series, and I’m really starting to feel connected to the characters.
That mystery surrounds Yajima (Fujiwara Keiji) yet another victim of the New Information Privacy and Protection Act. He’s a literary critic who’s just been released from prison after finishing a stint for “unpatriotic” writings. Just before his release he was given a book by a mysterious fellow prisoner later self-referred to as The Novelist (Kaji Yuuki, doing the rare NoitaminaA double-header). The book used to belong to Yajima’s old friend Kaishou, and contained a strange note on Yajima’s own manuscript paper. He’s come to Shinjuro for help because he can’t go to Kaishou directly – for reasons that will become obvious later – and because of Shinjuro’s reputation as Kaishou’s rival.
If I were to use a singe word to describe the construction of the plot in this episode, it would be “artful”. All the pieces fit together beautifully, it’s internally consistent, generates real suspense and manages to shed insight on the recurring characters. There’s misdirection, of course – that’s close to a given with this series – but it’s so convincing and logical that the twist comes as a real surprise. It also raises some interesting questions it declines to answer for us. Was Kaishou perhaps in the right this time, having removed the children from their disturbed mother (after rescuing them) – was this a case where the lie was justified? Why did Yajima not want Shinjuro to search for his children – was he concerned about exposing them to a grown man whose “partners” appear to be a young boy and girl (he as much as accuses Shinjuro of sleeping with Kazamori)? And what does Inga mean when he calls Kazamori human? There are so many possible answers to that question, many of them dependent on just what “human” means to whatever sort of creature Inga is.
For the first time this week, Inga’s female form didn’t make an appearance, and her question wasn’t needed. Even more strikingly, we might have gotten our first glimpse of the man behind the curtain, and with it a clue as to the mystery of Shinjuro and Inga. The seemingly minor character of The Novelist was not all he seemed to be, and he knows far more about Shinjuro than Shinjuro does about him. He has a strange companion of his own, who takes the form of a young girl. It seems clear that Yajima was about to play out the final act of The Novelist’s drama if Shinjuro hadn’t arrived just in time to stop him. He refers to Shinjuro as the world’s “last great detective” and it seems clear that in his vision, Shinjuro’s work will always be inseparable from tragedy.
I can’t praise the work of Mizushima and Aikawa highly enough here – they’ve managed to create a story that feels totally consistent with Ando’s world yet thoroughly improves on it in terms of this medium. These two gentlemen are very, very good at creating self-contained 22-minute stories, and it feels as if they were liberated at not having to try and shoehorn Ando’s material into the format. They’ve already proved themselves adept at translating unusual source material to anime by the brilliant job they did with Oh! Edo Rocket, which was adapted from a stage play by Nakashima Kazuki (who also wrote Gurren Lagann) so if anyone can make this sort of adaptation fly, they seem like good candidates. But there’s no denying that pacing issues have effected the single-episode stories of UN-GO, and I’d argue that this was the most well-paced episode of the series so far. It should be very interesting to see what sort of mix between adaptation and creation we see for the final five episodes.