Friday, October 14, 2011

First Impressions - UN-GO

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UN-GO was probably one of my two or three most anticipated series going into the fall season. What a pedigree – NoitaminA, Mizushima Seiji (FMA, Oh! Edo Rocket) as director – much of the staff from FMA/OER, in fact – and based on the works of early 20th-Century novelist Sakaguchi Ango. On paper, this should have been at the top of the heap this season. Based on one episode, it has some work to do to get there.

OP: 「オープニングテーマ」”How to go” by School Food Punishment
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While the premiere wasn’t bad by any means, it didn’t have a lot of success in drawing me into the premise. First episodes of mystery series are often tricky affairs, trying to balance the need to introduce the characters and setting with offering a compelling mystery to solve. While Mizushima-sensei certainly tried to do both, what resulted was an an introduction that felt rushed and a mystery that failed to pop.

While dressed in a modern and anime-friendly setting, at its core the premise is a classic mystery setup from the period. You have rival detectives – the “Defeated Detective” Shinjuro Yuki (Katsuji Ryo), seemingly so-called because though he uncovers the truth, the truth is always covered up and he’s made to look incorrect. His rival is the reclusive Professor Kaishou Rinroku (Miki Shin’ichiro), who doesn’t get out much and seems to like to make his big reveals from behind a desk. Kaishou has a teenaged daughter, Rie (Yamamoto Nozomi) who acts as his proxy in the premiere. There’s also a cast of assorted police and government busybodies who interfere with the casework, among them Police Securiy Chief Hayami Seigen (Irinu Miyu, in what appears to be a minor role) and Koyama Izumi (Honda Takako), the public prosecutor.

Where things get to get surreal is when Yuki’s sidekick Inga (Toyosaki Aki) comes in. Most of the time Inga appears as a young boy (I think) with one pant leg missing and panda paws on his hands, but he sometimes turns into a rather slutty-looking adult woman who has the strange ability to ask any person one question, which they must answer truthfully – understandably a useful tool for an investigative team. None of the whys and hows behind this are explained yet – they may never be, I don’t know – but it’s quite jarring in its contrast with the rather conventional (and non-supernatural) mystery aspects that seem to be the norm for the series.

I won’t waste much time on the initial mystery, which involved a President under investigation for embezzlement. The structure was a bit iffy and the motive of the killer even more so. It seems to have been used mainly as a way to introduce all the characters and to give us the lay of the land in terms of setting – sometime in the near-future when Japan has been at war with terrorists who’ve laid waste to much of the country. That’s fine, but so far it just feels like a lot of information that hasn’t been tied together. Characters were appearing, announcing themselves and disappearing like crazy and then, whoops! Something inexplicable just happened. Hopefully, this will all start to meld together next week now that the heavy lifting is out of the way.

I’m not panicking yet – it’s worth remembering that the initial mystery in BONES’ Gosick was pretty lame too, and that ended up being a good series. The difference for me is that the characters in that premiere made much more of an impact, where here they’re still one-dimensional. The show looked good in that slightly retro-modern BONES way, with the set pieces reminding me a bit of an older superhero comic but the character designs – angular, tall and a bit gothic – very Japanese indeed. Given the staff involved I have no doubt that this will be a competently produced and directed series. The key question is whether the story and characters will come alive in future episodes, and make the series engaging as well as competent.

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ED: 「エンディングテーマ」 “Fantasy” by LAMA
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11 comments:

  1. It actually had a decent mystery solving part, with focus on the small details presented on earlier scenes.

    The problem was that, like many other mystery stories, it did the thinking part all by itself, not bothering to provoke our thoughts in the process.

    Inga and Kaishou seemed like interesting characters. I hope the others get their chance to shine. The premise was uninteresting the way it was presented, but the character interactions so far are solid and show potential.

    For the next episode, i expect UN-GO to settle down and give us a slower, more organized explanation about the plot.

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  2. I hope so. It certainly has the talent behind the scenes to give us better than we got this week.

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  3. I think this show should have been aired against one of the more slice-of-life noitaminA offerings, having two near-future post-war-Japan shows at the same time isn't a good scheduling move.

    While Un-Go is certainly much more...unusual than Guilty Crown, I enjoyed GC, in all its shameless derivativeness far more than this.

    Also the squished heads of the character designs really bugs me.

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  4. Was Clamp involved in Un-Go's character designs? It has a very noodle feel but somehow not quite "fabulous" enough.
    Very catchy ending theme. LAMA has been coming up with some very interesting tunes ;D

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  5. @Seishun Otoko: The character design work is a collaboration between Yun Koga (Loveless, Gundam 00) and Pako (who also did the character design for a sentai themed otome game called Zechs Rider). Judging from the art, I'd say Rie and Hayami and probably Inga are designed by Koga while Shijuro and Kaisho are by Pako.

    So far I like the technical aspect of the show but the beginning was certainly confusing. The mystery was pretty basic but the motive was certainly interesting, so wondering if the key attraction will be about the criminal's post-war warped psychology rather than the tricks. Also wondering if Inga is a bit like Neuro and gets his/her kicks from mystery and the darkness of human hearts or something lol.

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  6. I do not understand why noitaminA, a time slot, is given so much credit for the quality of its shows. Is noitaminA worthy of credit given equal to that of the director or animation studio? Which talented people do noitaminA shows share from season to season besides producers? Please answer these questions. I have been interested in noitaminA's popularity for over a year now and I still do not quite get the reaction it has caused.

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  7. Mystery bad.
    Characters good.
    Plot promising.
    Graphics okay.
    Ingo dislike.
    overall feel smooth.
    This first ep seemed more like a get to know your characters more than an actual mystery. Even if this series focuses on how this poor under rated detective try to survive in this post war world with little mystery, i will still watch it.

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  8. Right at the beginning, there was a brown-haired girl also called Inga (if I heard it right). I'm intrigued as to what that could possibly mean.

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  9. Anon, while BONES and GC have been common players on NoitaminA there's no set talent lineup. NoitaminA gets credit, IMO, because they've had at least one show every season for that last couplf of years that's among the best on the air. Recent shows just off the top of my head:

    Usagi Drop
    AnoHana
    Hourou Musuko
    Shiki
    Sarai ya Goyou
    Kuragehime

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  10. Had high hopes for this one and I'm gonna force myself to watch Ep.2 next week, simply because I refuse to believe the rest of the show can be as painfully boring and poorly executed as Ep.1

    I've got no complaints about the overall look, character designs are a little iffy, I like panda-paws tho, not really a fan of his creepy lady alter ego. While it served its purpose as a character introductory, the only one I really care to remember from this Ep is the "defeated detective" and not for his deduction skill, but simply because that two second flash of his past was the most interesting thing in the entire episode. That and the ED song were just about the only two redeemers for me ... BUT I think it deserves another week before it gets the almighty drop from my watch list. I guess I've got to keep in mind that not every great show comes out the gate with a home-run.

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  11. Indeed, ELX - I was disappointed in both NoitaminA premières, but 1st eps aren't always telling.

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