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「幻の像」 (Maboroshi no Zō)
“The Phantom Statue”

UN-GO certainly isn’t the best new series of the Fall season, but it just might be the most interesting.

Make no mistake, this episode was not as strong as the stellar fourth episode. The pacing felt very rushed, almost comically so, as the episode raced at blinding speed through a storyline packed with new characters and layers of detail. The mystery itself was not as interesting as the one involving the Sasa family and the RAI, and wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out. As a result of the frenzied pacing I thought the actions of the main cast were a bit too broad and extreme at times, especially Shinjuro.

In spite of that, it was an awfully interesting 22 minutes. UN-GO is proving itself quite adept in the creation of a complex and interesting world for its characters to inhabit, a place where they struggle with the same moral and ethical dilemmas we do. But these are disguised just enough not to make us feel too uncomfortable watching them. It’s as if seeing yourself in a funhouse mirror – the image is grotesque, but alien enough that our minds can convince us we’re not really looking at ourselves. And Shimada Hakurou (Tanaka Masahiko) is just such an image. He’s a demagogic politician of the “Rising Sun Party” (heh) who glorifies war as a noble enterprise where humanity is ennobled by the sacrifices of brave young men who die for a cause. A fitting – if no doubt coincidental – episode to air on the eve of U.S. Veterans Day.

The actual mystery attached to Shimada is far less interesting than the issues he and his ideology raise, and the feelings – by far the strongest we’ve seen so far – they illicit in Shinjuro. When two men are found dead inside the sculpture Shimada has commissioned to honor three boys who died driving a truck full of explosives away from a crowd, Shinjuro immediately – and wrongly – blames Shimada. In fact the murderer is the sculptress, Youko, which is pretty easy to deduce from the clues in the episode. There’s also the matter of the splinter group the murdered men belonged to, formed by Shimada’s former bodyguard Yamamoto (Miyake Kenta). He was incensed that Shimada would use the deaths of the boys to his own financial gain. As well, there’s the question of how all this ties in with the government and it’s propagandist, Kaishou.

As it did last week, UN-GO gives us a truly fascinating and difficult conversation full of complex moral questions – this time between Shinjuro and Shimada, on the subject of war and sacrifice. Those two conversations featured perhaps the best dialogue of any series this season, and here Shinjuro reveals himself to be somewhere between an idealist and a pacifist. Yet when Shimada – who was in fact innocent of the crime Shinjuro had accused him of – argues for the nobility of the boys who died (why does no one ask why all three had to be in the truck, if their sacrifice was noble and not a PR stunt ordered by Shimada?) , Shinjuro is tongue-tied and unable to refute him. The wild card in the episode that pushes Shinjuro to self-understanding is Kazamori, who has remained in the sim of the young girl and taken to tagging along with Shinjuro and Inga (hopefully for good). Kazamori provides an interesting addition to the dynamic – a logical and detached view of human nature, Kazamori’s perspective is also subtly sentimental, suggesting a level of sentience higher than one might have thought.

In clarifying the situation for Shinjuro, Kazamori also clarifies Shinjuro’s backstory for us. Shinjuro has contracted with Inga (Kazamori knows how they met, too, but only teases us with that) in order to feed Inga souls without Inga having to murder people. The price, it seems, is that Shinjuro consents to be haunted by Inga – an act of self-sacrifice, Kazamori points out, that’s analogous to the young men who died so that others might live (it’s also worth noting that Shinjuro quite explicitly states “I’m alive” in the episode). After revealing the identity of the killer, almost as an afterthought Shinjuro has Inga use yet another of his superpowers to reveal the true nature of the crime Shimada actually did commit.

What a fascinating mess of an episode. The devil is in the details for this series – so far the mysteries have been inconsistent and the pacing even more so, but the overall world continues to grow in interest. I’m enjoying seeing the relationship of Shinjuro and Kaishou evolve. Both are geniuses of a sort – Shinjuro can look at a mystery and see the solution, whereas Kaishou’s genius is a sort of dark shadow of this. He can look at a mystery and instinctively see how it might best be used for propaganda.

Next week sees our first completely anime-original story, so it should be interesting to see how it compares with the first five.

 

Preview

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November 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm
42 comments »
  • November 10, 2011 at 4:11 pmSuzushina Yuriko

    Loved the episode. It’s nice to see that Shinjuro isn’t perfect, even if his deductions are right most of the time. The dialogue really gets you thinking.

  • November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pmPtolemaios00

    Pretty obvious that the truck bomb was a setup by Shimada himself. Any sensible terrorist wouldn’t set such a long timer. A truck also does not require 3 people to drive it.

  • November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pmLitho

    “UN-GO certainly isn’t the best new series of the Fall season, but it just might be the most interesting.”
    It’s the most interesting simply because nearly everything out this season is utter crap. Only exceptions I can think of are Working, Chihayafuru and maybe (that’s a BIG maybe) Last Exile: Fam and the Strike Witches.

    But credit where it’s due. The presentation is good, the BGM is the best of any this season, and most importantly, it has characters I actually enjoy watching (for the most part). I’ve not read the original source material (novels or whatever), but I believe this anime version is probably highly watered down. I mainly watch this for the characters, not the “mysteries”.

    Anyways, another decent review, Genzo.

    • November 10, 2011 at 5:56 pmtenshinohone

      Not a Fate/Zero, Mirai Nikki or Ben-to fan then? For me this is the best season for a long time!

      • November 10, 2011 at 6:26 pmLitho

        I’ve never been into the whole “TypeMoon” thing. Not saying Fate/Zero is bad, but it sure ain’t as good as Kara no Kyoukai. Mirai Nikki I dropped after a couple of manga volumes. Ben-to I lost interest in after the first episode.

        Don’t mean to insult anyone’s tastes, though. I should have preceded my previous post with a “IMHO”, since it’s just my opinion. Watch whatever entertains you.

    • November 10, 2011 at 7:11 pmPride

      Lol you said “Not saying Fate/Zero is bad” yet you said in the post before “nearly everything out this season is utter crap. Only exceptions I can think of are Working, Chihayafuru…”

      Utter crap does not equal bad? I know what you mean and don’t mean to make a big deal out of this. Just wanted to point that out to you.

      • November 10, 2011 at 7:18 pmLitho

        Alright fine!! Screw the formalities. … What I like is good and what I don’t like is utter crap.
        Happy now? =P

      • November 10, 2011 at 7:41 pmPride

        Hai hai

  • November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pmBass.EXE

    I still really like the choice of flamenco for the bgm. You wouldn’t think it’d match, but it works. Boy, does it work

  • November 10, 2011 at 6:17 pmHrmmmm

    All aboard the Rie x Shinjuro Ship!

    It really is too bad that Episode 0 – the episode that explains Shinjuro’s relation with Inga – won’t be available to non-japan viewers for a while at least. I’m more interested in the back-story than the mysteries.

    • November 10, 2011 at 6:30 pmLitho

      Same here. Shinjurou and Inga’s back story is partly the reason I’m watching this. There’s also the current “world” and how all the agencies work, how information is conveyed, how truths are hidden, etc thing.

  • November 10, 2011 at 7:09 pmPride

    One of the most interesting things are the big questions and different answers raised in the anime. Reminds me of [C]. However I feel they could do a better job with the big moral questions and whatnot. Perhaps make it more clear, maybe less rushed.

  • November 10, 2011 at 9:34 pmTheAllseeingeye

    kazamori is 1 fine loli

  • November 10, 2011 at 10:37 pmUnFear

    Wished they had given this more than a cour to broadcast. It’s not just that the pacing really could stand to slow down per story but I’d really like to see a lot more of the series. I wonder if they can pull out a second season if the sales are good.

    • November 10, 2011 at 11:49 pmGuardian Enzo

      I’m quite liking UN-GO, but this is a series that has “crap sales” written all over it. Who’s the audience?

      • November 11, 2011 at 5:20 amGuest

        Does noitamina pay upfront (at least partial production costs)? If so it’d explain a lot.

        I can’t see the audience for this either but I’m glad it got made.

  • November 10, 2011 at 11:01 pmTez

    No screen cap of Shinjurou doing the “Objection” point at Shimada?

  • November 10, 2011 at 11:36 pmAlec

    I thought the first half was weak but unique (in its own way). Then we see the scenes where almost all the main casts were being in emo mode — It was a bit weird to me though, but it was important nonetheless, for it gave more detail to our main cast. Then we saw the second half, which really blew me away.

  • November 10, 2011 at 11:39 pmAlec

    I agree it isn’t the best anime this season — The award goes to Chihayafuru — But, ‘imho’, it is the 2nd best anime this season

  • November 10, 2011 at 11:57 pmx

    Pretty decent episode. I like that they didn’t drag out the emo part too much. It’s getting better than the first couple of episodes.

  • November 11, 2011 at 2:15 amZen

    There’s a real “uncanny” feel to most of UN-GO’s mysteries thus far- and, no, I’m not talking about the robot. What I’m referring to is how all the mysteries thus far (even the good AI mini-arc, to a small degree) feel like incoherent collages of ideas. The reason behind this is that the creators seem to be trying to cram too many ideas (Here I am referring to political intrigue and philosophical points) into short, singular mysteries- and every week they presumably just go with whatever the best story they can come up with happens to be that somehow, albeit usually poorly, incorporates all of the themes that they’re trying to portray for the week. And the result is short, incoherent mysteries which throw themes at your face like pies at a clown.

    I don’t think the problem is that the creators don’t have the requisite ability to craft UN-GO into something amazing, rather the quality of their work is impeded by their own vision, and by the show’s dismally short length.

    Their “vision” is most probably to incorporate as many of the political points and ideals from Sakagushi Ango’s works as possible into UN-GO’s world, creating a rich, deep and meaningful political commentary. And it seems like they’re trying to do it using one of two (inevitably) sloppy techniques, or a combination of the two. (I can’t be sure which because I’m not familiar with the man’s works):

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    One: Portray as many of the same themes (political and philosophical) that Ango portrayed in any his sizable collection of works into singular 20 minute anime episodes as possible- where it probably took Ango entire novels, or a series of short stories to portray all these things.

    Two: Portray all the things that Ango tried to portray in any singular story in singular, 20 minute anime episodes- things which more often than not, probably took Ango a whole novel, or an entire collection of short stories to depict in full.

    Combination: Applying either one of the above for a single episode, or slipping some of one into two, or two into one- there’s an innumerable number of combinations depending on magnitude- you get my point…

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    So how do you compress all these themes into singular, 20 minute episodes; how do you somehow (try) to craft a seamless yet ridiculously short story around numerous themes which probably took other people entire novels, or numerous short stories to cover? The answer is that you do so at the expense of the story. Stories are built around themes, which are portrayed as elements of, or as the final culmination of plot progression. Each time a writer wants to portray a certain theme, he/she will drive the story in that direction incrementally- and reveal the theme at the appropriate time, in order to give the theme proper development so that the audience is more able to understand it, and equally importantly, so that the story feels natural. And inevitably, this process demands a certain minimum narrative length depending on the number of themes being portrayed in any one story- otherwise the story simply becomes confusing and unnatural; i.e. “uncanny.”

    And this is exactly UN-GO’s problem. The creators are trying to portray far too many themes (Political questions, philosophical issues) in singular, 20 minute episodes, resulting in what for the most part are disappointingly unnatural stories/mysteries attempting to portray what are often confusing combinations of political and philosophical themes. The sheer amount of themes that these guys are trying to cram into every singular episode of this show is a testament to how ambitious they are- no doubt their intention is to create a deep, thoughtful political commentary, however the results are turning out to be anything but deep, with numerous scarcely developed matters of politics and philosophy thrown at us like baseballs from pitching machine.

    I think we’ve all seen the quality this team is capable of through the AI arc- which was only as good as it was because of its two-episode length, which gave the writers just enough breathing room to piece together a story that actually develops its themes adequately- and even then, things still felt pretty rushed. So it isn’t that they’re incapable of making UN-GO shine, in fact I attribute any level of competency at all to the superior abilities of this team. Rather the problem lies with the show’s short length and the staff’s unwillingness to compromise on their vision by settling for something simpler, which would probably have turned out to be far more coherent. Even so, I don’t blame them for not wanting to settle for mediocrity- I myself am a perfectionist- there’s never any satisfaction in inferiority or mere competency. They’re simply unfortunate soldiers faced with a war they can’t win.

    As Enzo stated above, this show practically screams low sales, no wait, utterly abysmal sales. Look no further than its weekly comment count here at RandomC. So it comes as no surprise to me that its financial backers weren’t willing to invest in anything more than the typical, dismally short Noitamina format of 11 episodes- and I can’t blame them for that; that they even decided to invest any money at all in a surefire sales flop is commendable.

    In short, UN-GO is disappointing because there’s basically no demand in the anime market for these sorts of political commentaries. Woe unto the Japanese otakus, who wallow contentedly in the quicksand of ignorance in illusory bliss…

    Ah well, the consolation, I suppose is that this show has some of the most intelligent dialogue that I’ve ever seen in any anime- and that alone is enough to keep me watching, if only it were longer, I don’t have a doubt that it would’ve been amazing- oh, what I’d give to have UN-GO switch places with Guilty Crown…XP

    • November 11, 2011 at 3:31 amLitho

      ^ I don’t take anime as seriously as you do these days, but what I will say is that I enjoyed reading your post, and agree with it for the most part …..Especially your final sentence. I don’t even get why Guilty Crap is in the Noitamina slot, since it’s not really what Noitamina viewers would go for, imho.

      I can see where you’re coming from, and agree that this isn’t the type of show that will sell, hence the short 11/12 ep format. Sad, but true.

    • November 11, 2011 at 10:05 amGuardian Enzo

      Nice post. It does beg the question – why would the anime choose to go with original material when they can’t do justice to the source material as is? That’s why I look forward to next week with a good deal of curiosity – there are some very talented people involved in this adaptation, and quite adept at writing 22-minute self-contained stories. It may be that next week’s ep is the strongest of the series from a narrative standpoint. But will it have the same astonishing quality of dialogue and depth of ideas?

      • November 11, 2011 at 4:39 pmZen

        @Litho and Enzo: I am honored.

        @ Enzo:
        “Why would the anime choose to go with original material when they can’t do justice to the source material as is?”

        I think you just answered your own question; its likely that they’re choosing to go with some anime original stuff exactly because they haven’t been doing too great with the source material. Opting to do their own thing instead of going with the source material allows them to do several things, which arguably make their job much easier.

        Prime, and the most obvious among them is that it allows the writers to go with themes of their own choosing, in numbers of their own choosing, enabling them to weave these themes together within the story in smaller, more manageable webs- contrasted against using an over-sized, prefabricated web of themes taken out of some 500-page novel, or a year-long magazine short story serial by Sakaguchi Ango as a template.

        Going with their own material also allows the writers to select themes that they may be more familiar with. And it should be obvious why this would prove to be beneficial. People are only able to competently articulate issues as themes in stories only as far as their understanding of the issues extend (Most of the time, anyways). Given the pedigree of this team, and their good performance in the precious arc, I don’t doubt that their understanding of the themes in Ango’s works is adequate, but this doesn’t change the fact that they would almost certainly be able to deal far more competently with things that they are personally more familiar with, which they would undoubtedly have a better understanding of- maybe a political issue that’s particularly close to the heart of the director, or perhaps something concerning the platform that the head writer’s brother-in-law is running for Diet on? (Just examples)

        There’s also the elimination of the (variable) degree of cognitive dissonance is (usually) automatically present whenever you’re adapting someone else’s works. When you read the works of another, it is all to easy to fall into the trap of interpreting the themes involved as they are presented to you. Your line of logic, the way you perceive the interaction between the story and the themes, the interactions between the themes themselves, the order and manner in which the themes are presented; all these things (And many more) can be, and tend to be significantly influenced by the source material. First impressions have a strong psychological influence; that’s simply how the human mind works. Even the best and brightest among us are rarely able avoid this cognitive dissonance in its entirety, and end up being ever so slightly influenced by it.

        And the problem is that where this cognitive dissonance is present, it inevitably impedes creativity- we are compelled by it to examine the themes using the same, or similar lines of logic employed by the progenitor. And when you are trying to craft a fundamentally different kind of narrative around these very same themes, you can see why employing the progenitor’s original logical and thematic flow would be a problem- very often, it simply isn’t going to work very well because it was specifically tailored for another kind of narrative. Therefore in order to competently produce such an adaptation, you’ll have to somehow disconnect yourself from whatever impressions you got from the original works, interpreting the themes within your own logical framework which is more suitable for the specific format that you’re working with. But this can be very difficult to do because our brains tend to be wired like that, and one effective workaround is to simply go with your own material, through which you will obviously be able to avoid this kind of cognitive dissonance entirely. (And I would contend that this cognitive dissonance is responsible for many terrible box-office adaptations of classic TV serials…XP)

        I do agree with you, however that straying from the beaten path can be dangerous, especially when you’re lost to begin with- unless, of course, you happen to be a skilled trailblazer yourself. “I sure as hell don’t know the roads, but I do know how to navigate with stars pretty darn well- so screw the road- I’ll probably find my way far more easily by blazing my own trail.” Suicide for inexperienced folks, certainly- but given the pedigree of this team, and seeing how well they performed in the AI arc, I can see why they chose to take this risk, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they’re somehow able to pull it off. In a nutshell, what I’m trying to get at is that this could very well be a case of some skilled animators having “their style cramped” by having to adhere to someone else’s works- and they’re trying to break free of this by going with their own material next week- which will give them a greater degree of creative freedom through the means stated above. Of course, it’s a trade-off; more creative freedom for the daunting task of having to create your own narrative and thematic framework from scratch- but given the talent of this team, it just might work- or I hope so anyways…

    • November 13, 2011 at 2:18 pmjreding

      Does anyone now if the source material for the episodes so far (it seems to be the novel “Meiji Kaika Ango Torimonocho”) is available in English somewhere?

    • November 13, 2011 at 2:25 pmjreding

      Sorry for the spelling mistake in my previous comment. It should read “know” instead of “now”.

  • November 11, 2011 at 4:17 amSlushiZ

    Shinjurou: *grabs crotch* “I have to pee!” That’s some classy infiltration tactic right there LOL

  • November 11, 2011 at 5:33 amJenanime4eva

    Who do you suppose sewed the Kazamori plushie back together again? XD

    • November 11, 2011 at 5:45 amMira

      I read the Japanese raws of the manga and judging from chapter 2, it was probably Inga. The kid has sewing skills. He/She even went to sew on the panda emblem on Shinjuro’s jacket.

  • November 11, 2011 at 9:22 amshinkirou

    well i found it quite nice since kazamori come in , now is like fiction (kazamori) team up with fiction (inga). i just hope they will elaborate more on inga and shinjirou past as it should in early episode 1, and some few introduction of character; one middle age guy, brown hair girl Show Spoiler ▼

    and some mystery white hair girl in opShow Spoiler ▼

    • November 11, 2011 at 9:23 amshinkirou

      correction : science (kazamori) team up with fiction (inga)

  • November 11, 2011 at 3:44 pmDivine

    It’s nice to see Shinjuurou wrong for a chance and have that lead to some more backstory about his relationship with Inga. The same goes for Kazamori joining the regular cast and wearing a revealing outfit just to mess with Shinjuurou. I agree that the dialogue between Shinjuurou and Hakurou was a pretty interesting debate, especially when Shinjuurou was at a loss on how to refute Hakurou’s views.

    A seiyuu highlight was Tooru Furuya, the voice of Amuro Ray in the original Gundam and Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, playing Shimada Jirou.

  • November 11, 2011 at 4:43 pmZen

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation???”

    I’ve never seen that before? New site function???

    • November 11, 2011 at 5:36 pmmac65

      you tickled a “special” word in your post – I did that once and got
      the notice too – or the moderator really likes you… :)

      • November 11, 2011 at 5:49 pmZen

        Oh, must be spamblock…

  • November 11, 2011 at 5:57 pmSeishun Otoko

    Interesting episode, it might have been better if it was split into two episodes though. I’m really liking Kazamori’s addition to the main cast.

  • November 11, 2011 at 8:16 pmomeganx

    I like how she ripped off a tanke head and no one seeme shocked at all by it.
    “oh its just a supernatrual being…didnt know you had one…”

    • November 11, 2011 at 8:53 pmSoiyeruda

      I figured Shimada was more shocked that his hiding place for the gold was found so easily, tbh.

  • November 12, 2011 at 11:55 pmaiueo123

    This week episode’s pacing is all over the place. The first and 2nd episode was bad pacing wise, but it’s even worse on this episode. I, as the viewer, didn’t even get the chance to recall any story detail while watching the episode and that detract the enjoyment from watching detective story like this a lot.

    • November 13, 2011 at 1:18 pmhoh

      Yes, the pacing was really rushed. And I for one didn’t quite understand why the artist killed the two guys in the sculpture.

      She’s not after the money (or was she? I am really confused). All she wanted was to expose the corruption of the politician. The episode gives the impression that she put the corpses in there and get them discovered during the ceremony, so that she can catch the nature reflection of the politician and hence learn where the gold bricks are.

      If this is the case, her goal really is the same with the two she murdered. So why kill them? wasn’t there other ways to induce the same nature reflection? eg. buy two corpses, dress them in clothes suggesting robbery for example. Also if she killed the two young man to expose the politician, wasn’t she the same as the man she tried to expose then: killing in the name of a higher cause.

  • November 14, 2011 at 6:22 amsearchingforclouds

    This is the episode that made me keep watching this anime. I am super excited to watch the next one!

  • November 14, 2011 at 8:01 pmZhiroc

    Un-go is probably the most interesting anime I’ve watched in a while that for some reason just fails entertainment-wise for me. The premise seems like I should like it, but I get absolutely no vibe, no connection to the story (if you can call it that) or the characters. I’ve decided to drop it from my watch list.