Detective anime have problems getting a good following nowadays. The format is too far done, and it's difficult coming up with interesting twists on the formula, as the formula is already reliant on clever twists in each case in order to keep the audience guessing and hooked. Bones decided to try going backwards to create something fresh, creating a series loosely based on famous works by a Japanese mystery writer from around the thirties. The end result was the bizarre Un-Go, easily the strangest detective anthology series I've ever come across.

Japan has since degraded due to horrific terrorist attacks and a large scale war, and the country shows no signs of returning to how things used to be. It's a tightly controlled state that uses information as its greatest assist, and also practicing major cultural control. However, the real focus here is with war survivor Shinjurou Yuki, also known as "The Defeated Detective." He's a private investigator who's constantly outsmarted by Rinruko Kaishou, a major industry leader who helps controls and monitors the Japanese government's information trade. Or, this is how it appears on the surface. Kaishou makes the outcome look like how he wants it to look like, while Yuki is always right in his final deductions. The key to his success is also partly owned by his partner Inga, an obnoxious kid who is far more than he seems. Inga is a demon that can transform into an older woman, one Yuki may have had connections with in the past, that can force someone to answer a single question though her horrific magic, gaining a piece of their soul in the process to sate her appetite.  The two work together revealing truths for some unknown purpose, only a vague promise that Yuki would show Inga a real truth.

Un-Go's setting is always present, but never emphasized heavily. It's strange, but I respect that the show avoids any exposition dumps and allows the viewer to piece together everything from bits of information they've absorbed over time. The corruption of the world becomes more and more apparent as the series continues, and I like that it's not the major focused. Un-Go is ultimately less interested in politics and more in human nature. It wants to explore the type of people that create a world like this, all while shining a light on various real world people and events, along with hypocritical attitudes. Nobody in this world is an absolute saint or an absolute sinner, and everybody is hiding something in the closet. It keeps the mysteries interesting, as the beliefs these perpetrators follow similar ideologies that are popular today. You could see actual people committing murder with the reasoning displayed here. The tricks are more simple than in other detective series, but only because the real question is always motive and reasoning. I also like how Yuki always has a comment on these events, revealing more about himself and his past life in the process. We get almost no hard details on Yuki's past in the war, but what little he says speaks volumes.

The supporting cast is varied and complex. The closest we get to a full main antagonist is Kaishou, but is not exactly evil or villainous. He does have good motives, as we discover in the end, but the means are complicated and manipulative. He uses others how he sees fit and manipulates what the public believes to be truth, and it has a habit of causing problems at times, while making things neat and tidy the rest. Yuki is more of a firebrand to Kaishou's information dictatorship, while everyone else helps both parties as they see fit for their own motives. Kaishou's daughter, Rie, helps Yuki often on his cases because she holds great respect for his abilities and his belief in the truth, while police prosecutor Koyama only puts up with Yuki whenever he proves useful for her own ends of keeping peace and order. There's even a living AI that becomes Yuki's second partner later in the series that's detached view of humanity creates for some interesting observations and reactions, especially in relation to how her creator saw her.

This is definitely a show that respects the audience, presenting mature tales with complex characters and interesting observations on modern society. How we view others and how we act on those differing views makes the show's core, dissecting morality, honor, respect, prestige and everything else related with brutal efficiency and honesty. It gives us a world of manipulative hypocrites, but many of them still relatable and likable. There's a tragic, sad truth to each of their actions, and in a refreshing turn, our main character of Yuki is no exception. His deductions get clouded by his own biases, needing Inga to push him into making difficult choices or getting him back on track. The last arc removes Inga from the equation for a long while, and it shows just how lost Yuki really is without him/her. The general atmosphere is calm and relatable, but somehow not right. It's not threatening, but there's an eerie emptiness to it, fitting for how many things are constantly being hidden. Secrets really make the show's major theme, and it plays with that theme perfectly.

The show is well animated and has a jagged design to it that gives every character a lot of life and visual flair. There's very little round designs to be found outside eyes or patterns. It gives the show a look all its own and makes the environments much more interesting in contrast with the people populating them. The score is also a cool mix of smooth pieces and electronic bits, very thought provoking styles of sound. It all fits the mature and introspective tone the series is going for, matched by a good use of muted but contrasting colors. It's a weird mixture of mundane and lively, a perfect reflection of the world at large.

All that said, the show could have used more episodes to play around with more cases. I felt that the ending, while satisfactory, was just ending a newly introduced conflict and not really dealing with any of the larger issues going on in the series. Then again, that seems to be the point, as the show makes a point that no one person can massively change the world (even Kaishou requires using heavy manipulation of others to get anywhere). Still, there just wasn't enough cases to keep me satisfied. Several are multipart, and the series is already limited to eleven episodes. I wonder how this would have turned out with a second cour or season. I'm also not sure Yuki managed to get an actual character arc; it seems the series is occurring after he's already had his major one. There's just this lack of greater resolution from the plot, characters and themes that bugs me and left me feeling a tad unsatisfied, despite the otherwise enjoyment I had with it.

Still, I suppose being left with the desire for more is more of a compliment than a criticism, but I really do think this series could have benefited from more time and a more defined ending in some capacity. Un-Go is very close to being in masterwork territory, but just misses the mark. However, for what it is, I strongly recommend you check it out. As far as mysteries go, this is one of the more interesting I've come across.


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