Yuji Shinjuro is the Defeated Detective – a private eye who has a reputation for failing to solve the cases he tackles (makes you wonder why anyone would bother to hire him.) In his defence though, Yuji isn’t actually bad at uncovering the truth, but his revelations are often covered up to maintain the peace in a post war Japan that would rather keep its dirty secrets under wraps.
When it comes to solving mysteries Yuji has a trump card he can play in the form of his partner in crime Inga. Ordinarily the mischievous Inga resembles a purple haired boy, but when the situation demands it he can adopt the form of a buxom beauty that can nibble on someone’s soul to compel them to truthfully answer one question. A useful skill for extorting confessions… plus the gender bending must come in handy for using the ladies restroom whenever the gent’s public loos are full.
Yuji’s quest to expose Japan’s secrets often put him at loggerheads with Rinroku Kaishou, the world famous information broker who uses surveillance cameras to solve cases, from the comfort of his own home, at the behest of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The rivalry between the two is complicated by Rinroku’s daughter Rie, a spoiled rich girl who gets a kick out of seeing her father’s flawless logic get proven wrong. If I was daddy dearest I’d cut her allowance, I’m sure that would put an end to her rebellious streak.
Prior to watching Un-Go my expectations were high as Studio Bones, who have previously graced anime fans with great shows like Rahxephon and Wolf’s Rain, produced the series. Sadly Un-Go fails to match the quality of either of those cartoons despite having Full Metal Alchemist director Seiji Mizushima overseeing the project. That’s not to say that Un-Go is a bad series, but a mediocre first half did mar my enjoyment, with things only picking up from episode seven onwards.
The first half dozen episodes are one off cases that invite viewers to join Yuji in playing detective as he goes about trying to solve a series of murders. Alas with the average duration of an episode being around twenty minutes there is insufficient time to craft a clever mystery. Despite not being blessed with the deductive skills of a pipe smoking Brit or slug moustached Belgian I was able to suss out the twist ending to a couple of the episodes. The outcome of the other cases depended on evidence that was hidden from the viewer until the finale, which felt rather cheap.
Once the main characters had all been introduced things thankfully began to pick up. The latter part of the series improves thanks to the arrival of Bettenou, a supernatural entity who has the power to turn her master’s words into reality. Via some crafty brainwashing Bettenou is able to lock away Yuji in a high security prison before turning her attention towards orchestrating the downfall of Rinroku. Bettenou is a good antagonist as her abilities nullify the edge Inga normally gives Yuji during investigations. This leads to a fascinating conclusion were Yuji’s crime solving skills are tested to their fullest. Will he be able to work out who is pulling Bettnou’s strings and emerge victorious or will he live up to the nickname Defeated Detective?
Overall I would class Un-Go as a decent anime. By the end I was invested in the series, but a disappointing start means that it’s not the type of show anyone would rank amongst their favourite animes of all time. The idea of solving crimes with a character that forces suspects to answer a question against their will is neat, but it sadly wasn’t executed as well as I would have hoped. The series would have benefitted from a higher episode count as I am sure the writers could have come up with cleverer Death Note like storylines had they not been restricted to twenty minute time slots.
Having some more memorable characters would also have helped. The star of the show is undoubtedly Inga who sporadically morphs from a playful rascal to a more sinister seductress. Unfortunately she is relegated to the role of sidekick. As a leading man Yuji doesn’t carry the weight of the series well as he isn’t much of a talker and his angsty demeanour will put off some viewers. Over the course of the eleven episodes he doesn’t develop much as a character so I was thankful that the two DVD collection from Kaze also includes a prequel OVA. The forty-minute extra chronicles how Yuji first met Inga and succeeds in explaining how he grew from an idealistic teen to the present day jaded investigator.
So what’s the verdict? If Inga forced me to truthfully answer I would say Un-Go is worth watching, but it’s hard to recommend buying at full price. I would wait for it to go on sale or see if it’s available to stream from an online anime provider.