Detective anime Un-Go is more interesting for its literary roots than anything actually onscreen. Recently released on DVD and Blu-ray from Section23 Films and Sentai Filmworks, the 11-episode series follows troubled detective Shinjuurou Yuuki as he investigates a series of high-profile mysteries years after a string of terrorist attacks in near future Japan. Each case deals in some way with the nexus of corruption and collusion among the ruling elite and media, with a jarring supernatural twist that keeps Un-Go from ever really working.
Un-Go is based on the works of novelist Ango Sakaguchi, whose Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō laid bare the excesses and corruption in the wake of World War II. This series gives its detective a sinister, magical assistant, named Inga, a soul-hungry creature who switches forms between a young boy and a buxom woman and is allowed to force a person to answer any one of her questions honestly.
Shinjuurou has a nemesis of sorts in famed tech magnate and genius Rinroku Kaishou, himself something of a detective who aids the state prosecutor in solving hard-to-crack cases. While Kaishou is usually able to crack the surface solution of a case, Shinjurrou's investigations typically delve deeper, revealing uncomfortable, life-destroying truths that remain secret to the public at large. As a result, our hero has a pretty poor clearance rate when he gets attached to a case, earning him the nickname "The Defeated Detective."
The push and pull of the series is typically between Kaishou's findings, which satisfy the public need for a culprit and swift justice, and Shinjuurou's need to uncover a deeper truth, rooting out corruption (no matter what the cost). Unfortunately, the format of the series doesn't allow much in the way of an emotional connection for most of the cases, spending maybe a third in drawing room-style interrogations/speeches where our detectives lay out the evidence (don't worry about trying to guess the solution to most of these mysteries--the viewers are kept far away from the full set of facts), and Inga is finally brought in to extract a confession from the culprit.
While there's definitely some mileage to be earned from a story examining the unchecked decadence of the powerful in the wake of a national catastrophe, the heavy emphasis on plot and neglect of character (it takes maybe two-thirds of the series before Shinjurou's personality comes into focus), Un-Go never really finds its center. Plus, Inga often "breaks" the plot, showing up like some kind of demonic deus ex machina to close things out (and her origins are only explored in a 12th episode outside of the main series).
From a production standpoint, Un-Go suffers a steep drop off in quality after the first episode, mostly owing to stiff animation, but the inexpressive, simple character designs don't do the series in any favors either.
Despite some real promise in concept, Un-Go unfortunately just doesn't work as either a mystery series or supernatural drama, a mash of too many disparate elements and no real throughline.
Special features and presentation
The 1080p picture is crisp and clear for the 16x9 presentation, featuring predictably rich colors for the 2011 series. Slightly disappointing are the 2.0 DTS HD English and Japanese audio tracks which get the job done, but seem to cram the sound together with no real sense of contrast or leveling.
Besides the series' 11 episodes, the two-disc Blu-ray set also includes "Episode 00: Chapter of Inga" (50:03, HD), a prequel entry narrated by Shinjuurou detailing his life and chance meeting with the strange creature known as Inga. it also serves as a meaty bonus mystery on top of the rest of the series involving the other supernatural illusionist Bettou from the main storyline while revealing elaborating on why our hero is so tortured.
Two other lengthy features are "UN-GO: 'All Night' Event," (28:09, SD) and "A Conversation With Ango Sakaguchi" (22:23, HD), which is a walking tour of some of the late author's stomping grounds by series scriptwriter Shou Aikawa. Aikwawa takes time out for a sitdown discussion about Sakaguchi's work and legacy in the context of the second World War.
Meanwhile, "'All Night'" features Aikawa and director Seiji Mizushima talking about the series at a 2011 fan event in front of a live studio audience. It's a slightly technical chat about the construction of the series, with the two men discussing some of the cues and clues laid out throughout the series.
The remaining features are morsel-sized: "Inga Nikki" (03:43, HD, AKA "Inga Diary") is a series of chibi-style shorts featuring Inga and Shinjuurou which I think served as the original bumpers between episodes; "Retake" (03:21, SD) features stills from "Episode 00" set to a sickly sweet ballad; plus there's the usual Japanese spots and clean opening and closing sequences.
And while it's a small thing, I should give a special shout out to Sentai Filmworks' menu design, which are often clean, navigable, and feature widescreen optimized images that would make great wallpapers. Again, it's a small thing, but when fussing with the busy menus for some major studio releases, it's nice to see a company putting in the work to make navigation coherent and no-fuss. One gripe: no pop-up menu, but everything else is presented nicely.
Un-Go Complete Collection is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks.