「私はただ探している」 (Watashi wa Tada Sagashiteiru)
“I’m Just Searching”
The little show almost nobody watched certainly went out with a bang, delivering up a classic finale to one of the most satisfying mysteries anime has seen in many a season.
There was certainly a lot to cover in the final episode, as BONES and (to whatever extent all this was original) Ango-sensei had spun a very complex mystery over the past two weeks. Some speculations turned out to be accurate, some not so much – but for me, the most satisfying moments of the episode were those contained in that final confrontation between Shinjuro and Kaishou – a short conversation with encapsulated so much of what UN-GO has been about for the last eleven weeks.
I was certainly not surprised to discover that Kaishou was indeed alive, as I think that was the direction the series had been pulling us towards for most of this mystery. Equally, it was unsurprising to discover that Hayami was intimately involved in the creation of the fake Kaishou, and indeed it turned out to be the most base of all motivations – love and lust –that apparently drove him. For Kuramitsu, there again was not much hidden depth to her motivations – she was simply a naïve idealist and a bit of a fool, chasing conspiracy theories and telling herself she was manipulating the truth for the benefit of the country. For Mizuno, it was simply a matter of being a double-agent – he being a member of Full Circle as well and driven by his urge to expose the truth of Kaishou’s corruption to the world.
I loved the way all these threads were woven together, and the fact that what mattered in the end was that Kaishou and Shinjuro were the two smartest guys in the room. Hayami, Mizuno and Kuramitsu were simply in over their heads, because Kaishou is the master manipulator. As he so often did, he used Shinjuro as his stalking horse – while Kaishou played dead to prevent the imposter he knew was out there from usurping his power, he left clues – the conflicting train/car stories, the song – knowing that Shinjuro would do the leg work and eventually reveal the truth. For Inga, he was simply beaten down by the belief that Bettenou was a God, and not someone he could defeat. It was only when Shinjuro punctured the Kami’s aura of invincibility that Inga realized he could indeed triumph – Bettenou was just another soul to be devoured. That’s fitting, because more than any other show this season UN-GO has been about the power of words, and especially in Bettenou’s case, perception is reality.
It really seemed that all would be peaches and cream between Shinjuro and Kaishou in the end – it was certainly the dream conclusion for Rie – but I never quite believed it. For while Kuramitsu’s wild fantasies might not have been the truth, that doesn’t mean Kaishou’s hands are clean. In fact, it seems impossible not to assume he killed Mizuno to shut him up about several abuses of power that Shinjuro was about to elaborate on before he was interrupted, their exact nature unclear – though we know they involved collaboration during the war in exchange for profit afterwards. Never was the difference between these two powerhouses more clear than here. Kaishou is the ultimate relativist – disabused of any notion of absolute right or wrong, never mind justice, everything in life is viewed in the form of an equation. Shinjuro, by contrast, does believe in justice and absolute right and wrong – though he’s no naïve idealist after having seen what he has. He simply believes that for every evil there is a righteous justice to be found, and that there is an essential beauty to human nature that can be admired and aspired to. It’s for this ideal that he exposes people’s souls, for the truth to Shinjuro is a Platonic ideal of beauty. For Kaishou, the truth is merely a tool – an extremely powerful tool to be manipulated in the service of what he sees as a larger goal.
Like Mashiro-iro Symphony, UN-GO was a series that failed to captivate me out of the box and turned into one of the better shows of the Fall season. With it’s odd source material, strange character designs and washed-out visual style the initial impression was more off-putting than striking. And it didn’t help that the first mystery was somewhat obvious and poorly constructed. But from there, the quality train was a one-way express – the series continued to improve, slowly at first and then picking up steam. The mysteries got better and better, with the RAI story that introduced Kazamori really the first indication that the mystery side of the show could be something really special.
As this was happening, the show was burrowing its way into my consciousness through other channels as well. The characters, who at first seemed somewhat stiff and flat, became more and more interesting and I began to care about what happened to them. And the series was revealing itself as incredibly smart, creating its own fascinating alternative-present mythology that playfully twisted the realities of Japanese history and current global politics into a funhouse-mirror version of today’s world that often seemed a little too close to reality for comfort. The politics was the cornerstone of this show more than the mysteries themselves, which is why it was so fitting that the final mystery was fused so completely with the political intrigue underpinning the series. No show this year – and maybe for a few years – examined political issues with as much insight and wit as UN-GO. In a year where we’ve seen several anime seemingly adopt a xenophpbic and somewhat nationalistic tone, UN-GO attacked those ideals head-on in the person of its protagonist, who in the final episode specifically decried the false ideology that took Japan to its near-destruction in the second world war.
The series managed to tie in the “Episode 0” mythology at the very end, as Shinjuro took Rie to the scene where it all happened and explained his story – and Inga’s – to her. That he would do so under the circumstances says something about Shinjuro as a character. Despite having just exposed her father’s corruption and accused him of murder, he recognizes that Rie is a different person, and puts his faith in the power of the truth to guide events. Rie is more aligned with Shinjuro ideologically than with her father, though unlike Shinjuro she still seems to do so from a position of eager idealism. Shinjuro went from being a cipher to looking like something of a tragic figure, before revealing himself in the end to be a rather proud and defiant man. He’s a soldier for the truth, and as such he will always be Kaishou’s enemy – though a grudging respect certainly exists between them. I suspect Shinjuro might not even be opposed to Kaishou’s stated goal of a world without borders, though he would never walk the path Kaishou walks to try and get there.
As for what sort of relationship ultimately exists between Shinjuro and Inga, that seems to be a matter left to speculation. I think some sort of affection has grown between them, and I don’t think Shinjuro’s concern for Inga after his disappearance was solely a practical one. Inga is certainly an odd duck, one of the weirdest characters of the year – a boy, a woman, a youkai, a kami. In its own way Inga is a soldier for the truth, too, as Inga literally consumes the truth in order to live. Theirs is a marriage of convenience I suppose, but a marriage just the same. With the utterly fascinating Kazamori added to the mix they make an appealing trio that I’d love to see more of. Kazamori added so much to the series with her offbeat RAI perspective, a wry and cutting view of humanity cut through with a great deal of curiosity and just a hint of longing to be a part if it.
Of course I think it’s highly unlikely we will see any more of these characters, at least in anime form. This series is one of the least commercial I can recall – it’s not pretty, it has no moe (maybe a bit with Kazamori), it’s dense and difficult and requires a lot of hard work to yield up its delights, though they’re well worth the effort. Sentai has licensed Episode 0 so we’ll likely see that released on Blu-ray, at least, but the “other” NoitaminA show this fall seems destined to go down as a barely-known curiosity, which is a real shame as it’s one of the smartest and oddest shows I’ve seen in a while. And though I’d never have believed I’d say it a couple of months ago, I think UN-GO managed to give this NoitaminA block one “heart show” after all, though one of a much more caustic and remote nature than the ones that preceded it in 2011.