「あまりにも簡単な暗号」 (Amarini Mo Kantan na Angō)
“The Code Too Simple”

I ended last week’s post by wondering what the results of the first anime-original episode of UN-GO would be like. We have our answer – absolutely bloody brilliant.

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.

 

Preview

40 Comments

    1. Yeah that is exactly what the movie is about. Sucks that we’ll only see it probably end of next year, but at least it’s somewhat better than wasting 3 episodes of this already shortened 11 ep anime on their backstory.

      Spinarakk
  1. Kazamori is already my favorite character. She’s nuts and I love her for it. Maybe not as nuts as Inga, but who is? Glad Rie got more screentime, plus it was cute when it was hinted she was jealous of Adult Inga and Shinjuro XD

    Given Shinjuro’s reaction, I really want to know who that girl with the Novelist was! I smell history!

    Aex
  2. Awesome anime. Didn’t really have much expectations from this anime since it was done by Bones, who have botched 2-3 consecutive series. I kinda got tired watching detectives-with-sidekicks for not being awesome, But Un-Go really changes what I think about Bones and all the upcoming detective series

    Alec
  3. And their gamble paid off, as I fully expected it to. Freed from the thematic and cognitive constraints of adapting someone else’s works, UN-GO’s team was able to piece together a quality, seamless mystery incorporating both a strong dramatic component, and the show’s staple element of political intrigue. In fact, I think I liked this episode significantly more than the AI arc.

    For the first time thus far, they believably demonstrated the moral ambiguity behind Kaishou’s constant attempts to bend the “truth.” For the first time ever, I think they really managed to successfully bring out the sense of moral relativism that is a central, overarching theme in UN-GO. They’ve attempted to portray this theme time and again in previous episodes, but none of them did so nearly as naturally and seamlessly as this one did, easing us into the revelation rather than shoving it forcibly down our throats, along with, and as a summary construct of a (messy) plethora of other themes (Which all other episodes thus far are guilty of to varying degrees).

    Two other things in this episode that I thought were great:

    One: The use of the coded notes in the books as a simultaneous medium of misdirection and direction. Yajima, having only initially seen a single portion of the entire coded message from his kids was deceived by the Novelist into making a false assumption that almost cost him everything. Yet when taken as a whole, the shroud deception of became the lantern of truth. I like to say, the best lie is a half-truth…XP

    Two: How they somehow managed to make Kaishou’s deception feel heartwarming. It appears that he covered up the whole child neglect fiasco for the sake of keeping his university buddy’s family together. It seems like he understood what they were going through, and thought that this would be best for them as a family, even if it meant covering up a blatant crime. By definition, a lie of love, or charity…a white lie…

    A man who has thus far been portrayed as someone who is willing to, at times ruthlessly, bend the truth to achieve what he believes is best/the government agenda suddenly grows a heart, and obstructs justice out of what seems to be compassion; simply because he thought it would be best for his friend’s family- completely disregarding the fact that Yajima is a political dissident. It adds a significant amount of depth to Kaishou’s character by proving that he has a heart, and cements the fact that there is a certain morality behind his ruthlessness. Sure, he’s willing to go to any lengths to bend the truth, but only does so because he truly believes that it’s for the greater good. (Whether his way of thinking is right or wrong is up for debate, of course, which is the whole point of the thing…)
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    @Enzo Why did Yajima not want Shinjuro to search for his children?

    Wasn’t it was because the poor man came to the rash conclusion that his children were dead due to his wife’s (non-existent) affair with Kaishou after Shinjuro’s examination of the initial piece of the coded message? He then must have decided that finding them wouldn’t bring them back from the dead, and there’s no way in hell that Kaishou would allow his lover to be pinned with murder- so the only way to do justice was to kill Takako…

    Zen
      1. Yeah, I watched the episode again and as much as I like your interpretation, the continued visits after the kids vanished don’t fit Rinroku’s narrative. (Note: in real life this wouldn’t be nearly as suspicious — he’s just checking up on the wife — but we’re talking about a mystery show here so different rules apply.)

        So there’s a fly in the ointment. The scenario seems likelier to be something like:
        – (!) Rinroku started having an affair with the wife for whatever reason
        – Rinroku notices the kids are severely neglected
        – Rinroku and Izumi, etc., arrange for the kids to “disappear” and go into protective custody
        – wife thinks she lost the kids, blinds herself, sells off the library
        – as part of the cover-up Rinroku buys the guys’ books from the bookstore (perhaps the kids told him about the messages…)
        – (!) Rinroku continues the affair off and on, presumably stopping once Yajima is close to release (or it just didn’t work out…)
        – when Shinjuro solves the case enough to get Yajima looking through the rubble Rinroku brings the kids back to cut off the investigation (before it digs something else up)
        – the novelist somehow knows all of this, and constructs fictitious evidence that will lead Yajima to discover the underlying affair (which, in turn, will lead him to murder his wife thinking she murdered the kids…)

        The stuff flagged as (!) is “optional”. If it wasn’t for the repeated visits to the house I’d assume the (!) didn’t happen, but with the repeated visits after the disappearance something like (!) seems likely. (It doesn’t have to be an affair, per se, it could be some other weird/strange political thing, like some arrangement to get better treatment for Yajima in prison).

        So most of what you said still seems to hold: Rinroku was in fact looking out for his buddy’s kids, etc., but there’s enough that doesn’t quite fit with the “pretty”; we just don’t know what the rest of the story is, and may never know.

        Guest
      2. The “affair” and “taking care of neglected children” thing could co-exist and the former shouldn’t discredit the latter.

        I actually get the affair bit from Rinroku’s comment on love. He kind of said once you’ve fell in love for a few times you know how meaningless they are yet that does not make you any wiser. For me, that’s him confirming the affair in an discrete way.

        hoh
  4. Wow, totally did not pick up on the novelist being voiced by the same guy whose doing Shuu, gonna have to re-watch that part of the episode since I didn’t notice that at all, wowza.
    Anyway, a strong episode with even more of the disturbing, totalitarian undertones that the other episodes had (letting the mother believe for a year that her children were dead and let her blind herself in the process? Woooooowweeeee) and I’m quite excited for the flashback episode next week, Shinjuro seems to have mellowed out since then and the preview seems to confirm that he was in some kind of military before.

  5. My guess is that Kazamori has a soul. Souls mean something to Inga. At some point, I’ll have to re-view this series. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were clues that I missed in earlier episodes.

    I hope we see more of Rie soon. I wonder if there is a mystery yet to be found in her mother’s death. Rie is on the verge of developing into a very interesting character. Finally, I liked how Inga and Kazamori acted this episode. While quite mad, their actions felt consistent with the mood and progress of the show — normal even.

    Mockman
  6. What I would like to know is why a note saying the kids will be at that junkyard on that day was amongst the books. Those books have been out of the kids hands for a year. Were they really playing in a junk yard for a year?

    Moocowgoesmoo
  7. Well, this episode sure got me interested. Initially, I expected Guilty Crown to be the smash hit of the season. But in true noitaminA style, it’s the sleeper hit that does better. Looks like I’m gonna drop GC for this, since I only have time for 1-2 series. (The other seems likely to be Mawaru Penguindrum.)

    AAAND. What’s this!?

    bjweric
  8. epic episode, definitely the best of the series so far. it was very entertaining to watch. i am currently very happy that i did not drop this series like my sister wanted to. she liked guilty crown, and now she’s unsatisfied. :))

    1. That’s very true. Guilty Crown seems to be losing it, only 6 episodes in 24 (right?) – it seems to be veering sharply away from Gundam-00 level successes and towards GSD-flop status… it’s not looking good.

      I think I’m defecting away from GC – until UN-GO ends, at least. Sigh. D:

      bjweric
    1. UN-GO’s gonna be one of those critical successes which end up as box office flops nonetheless. I personally adore UN-GO, and find it to be the most interesting show this season, but I thought you really hit the nail on the head last week when you said that this show screams poor sales. There simply isn’t a significant audience for things like this in the current anime community.

      Whereas something like Guilty Crown has the mass-appeal factor and can afford to ignore critics like us because with that tried and true conventional formula they know it’ll sell at least decently well regardless…which, incidentally, is why they were willing to take the 2-cour financial risk with Guilty Crown compared to UN-GO’s mere 11 episodes…Can’t blame them for being risk-averse…

      I honestly feel like I’m talking about the same thing ad nauseam here, but I guess I’m just still kinda upset about how UN-GO would more likely than not have been able to avoid the inconsistent quality that’s been plaguing it and be amazing with just a few more episodes…

      Zen
  9. This episode is the first case solved without Inga’s special ability. And it’s perfect this way though I kind of missed her grown up version teasing Shinjuro ^_^

    I wonder what stops Shinjuro from using Inga on Kaishou? He obviously suspect him of something..
    This series is totally awesome, can’t wait for next week.

    fenrirka

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