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「ハクチユウム」 (Hakuchiyuumu)
“Daydream”

There’s no Fall anime that guards its secrets as closely as UN-GO, and none that makes you think so hard almost every week. Whether you consider that a positive or a negative probably determines how much of a fan of this series you are.

I’ve actually had to think quite a lot about just how I wanted to review this episode (and its successors) in fact. UN-GO “Episode 0” was released in Japanese theatres this week, and while I haven’t seen it I have reviewed the summaries. Fact is, it contains some exposition that would be hugely helpful in understanding the events of this episode, and it’s easy to see why the release was timed as it was. But while it’s very tempting to use that information to explain away much of what happens here, I’ve decided against it, which means I’m going to review the series as if the theatrical episode didn’t exist unless and until it’s released and subbed. Those of you who wish to be spoiled can find plot details easily enough, and I’d request that any comments that make reference to those details please use spoiler tags.

So what we’re left with is an extremely cryptic and even confusing episode which picks up right where the last one ended. After Shinjuro’s encounter with Kaji Yuuki’s Novelist – and the mysterious silent girl in his cell – he tries to walk away but is overcome by a dizzy spell and passes out. All he was able to get out of The Novelist was that he’d been “chosen” as the world’s last great detective, and that the entire Yajima case has been set up by The Novelist. When Shinjuro wakes up, the world has changed – he appears to be a cameraman on a film, which stars three young actresses in lingerie and tells the story of a war that seems very familiar to Shinjuro but is in fact entirely fictional. The director Mitaka Kichitarou is an abusive tyrant who appears to be having an affair with one of the girls. And Inga is nowhere to be found.

As so often with this series, the tone is much more old Hollywood than typical anime. There’s a Hitchcock-like, paranoid feel to the scenes on the movie set, in which Shinjuro inhabits a world that appears to be very real but that he somehow realizes isn’t quite right. There are brief visions of characters who aren’t really there, bizarre apparitions of people he doesn’t know but seem oddly familiar, a mysterious bar code on his neck. There’s a voice in his headphones telling him to “solve the mystery”, and strangely familiar faces on the internet. But there’s also Shinjuro going through the mundane aspects of his job and lots of casual conversations with the actresses. This show continues to feature some of the best dialogue anywhere in anime this year, and the scene where the three girls discuss their various interpretations of a line from the movie script is the best of these.

UN-GO has been a roll in terms of giving us one conversation every episode that’s jaw-droppingly smart and provocative, and this scene is the winner here. The script dialogue – “We should’ve sucked off war more. We should’ve wrapped our legs around war and rode it until it was worn out. Sucked it more, gotten more tangled up with it…” is incredibly potent in itself, and I’m guessing directly taken from Ando’s story. But it’s truly fascinating to see the three actresses debate its meaning. One feels that it’s an expression of how tired everyone is of war, how ready to get back to their normal lives. Another feels that it gives voice to the notion that some people secret enjoy war, people whose greatest enemy is boredom and who’ll do anything to bring excitement to their lives. And the last – perhaps most interestingly – feels that it means everyone is going to be put on trial for the war, which senselessly killed people both good and bad. “We all die the same.”

The whole episode is obviously a matter of twisting reality, and there are layers upon layers of illusion and fantasy at work here. While it seems clear that the movie set Shinjuro inhabits isn’t “real” – probably a fantasy somehow generated by The Novelist – it seems that everything that happens there is symbolic of events in his world, including the war film, and there’s no indication that the people inhabiting the fantasy aren’t actual people. The director refers to the actresses as “prisoners”, interesting in light of the fact that The Novelist is in prison when Shinjuro meets him. And when the director of the movie is brutally murdered, it’s Rie – proclaiming herself to be a Metropolitan Police detective – who arrives at the set along with Izumi to arrest Shinjuro (who believes himself to be guilty) for the crime. Finally, we see Inga arrive at the “real” prison looking for Shinjuro, and being refused permission to see him. He can, however, “smell her” – with “her” presumably being The Novelist’s sidekick.

For me, one of the telling signs that UN-GO is special is that unlike most series, my opinion of the episode I’ve just watched is always higher after I’ve had some time to consider it. The show not only holds up well to analysis, but in fact continues to reveal small and subtle elements whose significance only becomes clear after reflecting on them. It’s certainly far from the easiest series to watch, and it’s not the most exciting during the process of viewing it, but there’s no other series quite like it. I think that it’s only when we see an anime adapted from a thoroughly atypical source material, as UN-GO is, that we realize just how limited our expectations are when we watch so many derived from the obvious sources.

 

Preview

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November 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm
16 comments »
  • November 24, 2011 at 10:22 pmnobo13

    First! Enjoying the series very much, can’t wait to see the film!

  • November 24, 2011 at 10:32 pmSeli

    Can’t quite see it clearly, but on the clipboard Izawa Sayo isn’t present?

    • November 25, 2011 at 1:47 amScruffy

      Yeah you’re right .. one of the girls is missing on that display .. whatever it is

  • November 24, 2011 at 10:47 pmJif

    War has been in the background for the story so far, but the role in morphing peoples’ behaviors to create criminal actions was a bit too tenuous to actually make it a driving part of the plot – until now. It seems that part of this series is meant to be an allegory about war – especially the very strong connection to prostitution. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue really pulls together the corruption, vice, and “falling” that Shinjuro repeatedly brings up. However, the way it was presented was a bit strange, since the double-(triple?) entendre was a bit too obvious. Like a lot of thematic connections, I simply think it lacks teeth and instead meanders about until we arrive at that “a-ha!” moment the next week.

  • November 24, 2011 at 10:48 pmTSouL

    It’s nice to see 3 different views of a ‘potential’ war from the 3 girls. I’ve been wondering from the start if each girl represents one of the normal cast, but still cannot determine if it does, especially after Rie shows up…

  • November 24, 2011 at 11:42 pmlilu

    I only know that this whole episode Shinjuro spends in the real prison as a prisoner and the scene with the computer is Kazamori’s trick and the preview shows that Rie in the outfit of her maid and Izumi in Rie’s clothes are visiting Novelist.

  • November 25, 2011 at 12:18 amewok40k

    one thing I find interesting is the approach to the long-term side effects of war, even one that has ended, we have found in many animes, off the top of my hat: Pumpkin scissors, Sora no woto…

    • November 25, 2011 at 11:20 amAmerican

      That’s because Japan was forced to understand the horrors of war.

  • November 25, 2011 at 11:32 amAlec

    Not many animes can pull something like this and make it look awesome!

  • November 25, 2011 at 5:57 pmReaper

    When I saw the snapshot of the camera I thought it was Shinjuro with a sniper :)

  • November 25, 2011 at 6:04 pmokitakarin

    I love this series, it surprises me more and more. I’m glad I decided to watch it!!

    Ah, I have a question. Wasn’t Inga referring to Kazamori when he said “I can smell her”? ‘Cause before that he talked to the Panda toy Kazamori and she didn’t answer (meaning she was in her “human” form). So wasn’t Inga referring to Kazamori?

    • November 25, 2011 at 6:44 pmZwei

      Kazamori actually called to Shinjuro(w/ -sama) when he’s using the pc w/ the headset on
      so who Inga is referring to is unclear, whether the other oddity or Kazamori

      • November 25, 2011 at 8:26 pmokitakarin

        yeah but I’m not talking about when he was calling out for Shinjirou but when he talked to the Panda Toy (Kazamori) and she didn’t answer. Then he said: “I can smell here in there”. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see xD

      • November 26, 2011 at 12:16 pmZwei

        what i meant is Kazamori has already been inside the facility’s cyberspace before even Inga talk to the Panda Toy, well anyway, can’t wait for next week

        and its such a shame this amazing show is bluntly underrated and shitty shows like for example GC and Mirai Nikki get that much attention, audiences’ taste nowadays are so twisted its actually uncomfortable to linger w/ them nowadays, anime became a place for their aspiration and fetish rather than what Studio Ghibli established for what anime can be great about

        Japan is sick, and its otakus are epidemic

  • November 26, 2011 at 12:04 pmMatthias Levi

    I think that the ” Novelist’s” “sidekick” is another Youkai like Inga… Or, possibly a deity.

  • November 27, 2011 at 6:07 amDivine

    It’s probably worth noting that three of the four Sphere girls voiced the actresses, including Toyosaki Aki who stars as Inga. Kotobuki Minako and Takagaki Ayahi voiced the other two.