Based on the works of novelist Ango Sakaguchi this anime detective series boasts a somewhat unique premise in that it follows an amateur sleuth who is known by the public as 'The Defeated Detective' for he is always beaten to the punch by a rival, more famous legendary detective. However, it turns out 'The Defeated Detective' gets to the truth, while the other detective's deductions are used by the government to spin the story they want the public to hear. The basic setup of each episode is a case presents itself, the legendary detective delivers his swift and believable deductions without ever attending the crime scene, and the defeated detective unravels the truth before it's swept under the rug by government agents often leaving the culprit to go free.
The defeated detective - Shinjurou Yuuki - works with an assistant, Inga, a mysterious supernatural presence who takes the guise of an excited young boy for the most part. We come to learn it has some form of pact with the defeated detective whereby it foregoes killing its victims for the souls it devours in favour of simply extracting the souls of the criminals the defeated detective uncovers. Inga possesses a special ability which sees it transform into a provocative scantily clad busty woman whereupon it asks the suspect a single question. A question they are compelled to answer truthfully and a question that digs deep to the heart of the mystery. Ultimately the question is provided to Inga by the detective it accompanies, but asked by any other person it could easily be avoided. Beyond Inga's natural talents and its input to the cases its presence also provides another running subplot. What exactly happened to the defeated detective that paired him with this entity he quite openly resists at times, and what is its true nature?
Another character often central to proceedings is Rie, daughter of Chairman Kaishou aka the legendary detective. Introduced in the first episode, the proud image she possesses of her father is shattered when she learns his deductions are convenient concoctions, so she gradually inserts herself into each mystery in an effort to better understand and even undo her father's work. Other recurring characters include Izumi Koyama - a Public Prosecutor who works with Chairman Kaishou to deliver his version of justice and often butts heads with Shinjurou and Inga - and Kazamori Sasa - a Real Artificial Intelligence program or R.A.I.. Able to port its code to almost any electronic device, Kazamori mostly inhabits a robot body in the shape of a human girl or a small stuffed toy. This R.A.I. works with Shinjurou after he rescues it and provides him with a technological edge and us the audience with some comic relief as it tries to fit into the open world it's now presented the opportunity to be a part of.
A central theme to each of the cases Shinjurou and Inga face is the alternative reality setting in which Japan is still recovering from a recent war and numerous terrorist attacks. Details are thin but the overriding result of this war is a ruling state that has limited freedoms and enforces its ideal public perception through rampant information control and when necessary, more hands on cloak and dagger actions. Case in point are the deductions of Chairman Kaishou which, even when proved wrong, become public record. The mysteries the defeated detective finds himself involved in vary from investigating high ranking officials, private sector family affairs and more personal stories, but they're always linked into this running theme. The last five episodes continue this state of affairs whilst introducing another supernatural character, a rival to Inga who is capable of turning its master's words into reality. When Shinjurou comes under this spell it is the first of several encounters with this new entity that puts a twist on the multiple episode-spanning stories that round out the series, bringing with them a deeper look at what drives both Shinjurou and Chairman Kaishou to do what they do on opposite sides of the same path.
Being a detective drama series the quality of the mysteries is of course paramount. The stories told in each episode are kept to a high standard, delivering logical solutions at the end of a twisted puzzle told over a short period of time. Despite the presence of supernatural characters there are no unexplained phenomena to get in the viewer's way and any out-of-this-world elements come with clear rules we are privy to. These are factors I personally find very important along with the fact that the cases Shinjurou finds himself involved in are rarely completely out of reach to the viewer. In fact, quite often you'll most likely have a very good idea of who the culprit is around the same time as the defeated detective, and even better you can have some fun trying to figure out the question Inga will pose that ultimately cracks the case wide open.
All of this allows us to deduce that Un-Go is an entertaining anime detective mystery series, one you can play along with but still find yourself surprised by from time to time. One that has characters and relationships which develop over the course of the series, answering the majority of our questions but leaving just enough unexplained. And one that is set in a visually interesting post-war modern-day Japan, a setting that not only appeals to the eyes but seeps into the storytelling and motivation for many of the cases being investigated. If there are any drawbacks to be mentioned - and there are - I would focus on the same areas as the positives. I would have liked to have seen more of both the characters and the world they inhabit, to have learned more about Shinjurou's past and his agreement with Inga, and to have seen Rie given a more central role. Mostly these are problems due in large part to this being an episodic show restricted to just 11 episodes. What they achieve in this short space of time is very positive but I can't help being left wanting more...though that's hardly a bad thing.
Going a considerable way towards answering one of these drawbacks is the inclusion of 'Chapter 0', a 49-minute OVA which was produced after the 11-episode TV series but is actually a prequel. Effectively a double-episode with a slightly higher animation budget, the OVA sees Shinjurou narrate his early life, his encounter and subsequent agreement with Inga and the first case they worked which introduced them to Izumi and Chairman Kaishou. In essence it sets up the TV series perfectly, though I would suggest watching it after-the-fact as it ties in heavily with the final story arc of the TV series and more importantly, its ultimate goal is to dispel the mystery of Shinjurou and Inga's relationship, something which is always bubbling away in the series. Saving it to last by watching the series and OVA in production order will preserve that intended effect, and makes for a really welcome payoff. Beyond all that, the OVA is an excellent companion piece that maintains the style of the series but injects a darker, even somewhat horrific aspect to the story. Shinjurou's meeting with Inga is a dark affair tinged with sadness, while the first case they work sees them introduced to some familiar characters in a slightly more action-packed scenario.
Manga Entertainment are releasing Un-Go as a Blu-ray and DVD Double Play set mastered by their European partners at Kaze. A single dual-layer Blu-ray holds all 11 episodes plus the OVA while the same content is repeated over two dual-layer DVD discs. All discs are region locked.
The Blu-ray is authored in such a way that resume is not supported, and the static menu system is a little clunky for my tastes. As are the user restrictions meaning you have to use the menu to switch languages and subtitle options. Fortunately chaptering is excellent with pre and post credit sequences, opening and closing credits and the main episode content all easily available.
The DVDs feature the same basic menu layout and user restrictions on audio and subtitle options. Also present are the same chapter stops. Disc 1 includes some trailers for other releases on start-up but you can skip these by pressing the Menu button on your remote. Disc 2 heads straight to the menu once you get past the standard copyright messages.
On Blu-ray the episodes are presented in 1080/24 and thanks to the modern production and healthy bitrate the video quality here is superb. Studio Bones' animation isn't the most extravagant but every detail can be picked out and the presentation holds up in darker scenes where banding is kept to a minimum. There is no edge enhancement or any other digital tinkering leaving us with a clean, crisp viewing experience.
Both Japanese and English dubs are provided in uncompressed crystal clear PCM stereo sound while English subtitles use an easy to read white font. As is fast becoming the norm the English dub quality is very high with almost spot on casting which, for such a dialogue heavy show, gives you the welcome option of sitting back and not having to be quite so alert while enjoying the mystery before you.
On DVD the episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen and have undergone a proper PAL conversion. The result is very impressive and - short of watching side-by-side or immediately after the Blu-ray - you're unlikely to feel as though you're missing out. If you do compare them however you'll notice the Blu-ray presentation is crisper with a richer colour palette and less banding in darker sequences. Likewise the audio and subtitle options are the same, albeit compressed DD2.0 stereo, but the overall effect is much the same.
Extras are either great or very poor depending on how you look at it. Strictly speaking Manga are listing the included OVA as an extra but beyond that all you get are clean versions of the opening and closing credits (and they're only available in standard definition on DVD Disc 1).
Side NoteAll screen captures on this review are taken from the Blu-ray presentation and saved in JPG format at 95% quality. In addition to those here are full resolution screen captures followed by two direct comparisons between the Blu-ray and DVD presentations...
1920x1080 Screen Captures: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
Comparison #1: Blu-ray | DVD (Upscaled) | DVD (Original)
Comparison #2: Blu-ray | DVD (Upscaled) | DVD (Original)
Please also note that due to a quality control error, Manga UK have confirmed the Blu-ray disc portion of this release is not compatible with Panasonic devices. More on that including who to contact if you are affected here: http://ow.ly/m21bV
A fun detective series is given an excellent Double Play release. My only concern from a consumer perspective is the somewhat inflated price and lack of a DVD only option.