Un-Go episode 0 – Questions and Answers
The line between fan and creator is thinner now than ever before. Idiots like myself can pick apart episodes of TV series and movies to no end, and if creators are so inclined they can essentially receive a running critique on their works in real time. One of the eternal struggles that seems to be stronger with the Internet amassing thousands (if not millions) of angry nerd voice is what questions to explicitly answer in the story, and what to leave to speculation.
It’s a tough task for any writer. The storyteller is undoubtedly biased; he or she knows the story inside and out and has a definite idea of what is important and what is not. Fans . . . see it differently, to say the least. There are some who aren’t happy unless everything is tied up in a neat bow and every question is answered, which leads to writers pandering to them with awful stuff like the “Stranger in a Strange Land” episode of Lost, where the whole point was to see where Jack got his dumb tattoos. However, there are also legitimate gripes; what’s apparent to writers is not always apparent to fans, and there’s a constant tug of war between making what the writer wants to say obvious enough and too obvious.
Un-Go is a series that, for the most part, errs enough on the side of letting viewers figure things out for themselves. For instance, the show never elaborates on the war that leads to the state of society as it exists in Un-Go, but there are enough subjects broached (such as 9/11) and enough concerns directly dealt with (the role the media plays in world events, a country’s domestic and global responsibilities, globalization, the growth and spread of technology, etc.) that the viewer can basically see Un-Go‘s world as an extension of our own, just developed in a much more cynical direction. The particulars of the war don’t matter so much as the society that rises from the ashes.
However, Un-Go is definitely not perfect. The supernatural element in particular divided fans, at least over here. It seems like an odd fit for a series that otherwise has nothing to do with the supernatural (until later on). Inga’s power — the ability to make a person answer any one question she asks — is more like a blatant plot device to expedite solutions to mysteries than something that clicks naturally into the story. Bettenou, the other major spirit of the series, has a power that is cleverly used as a metaphor for people swallowing what the media and those in power tell them, and fitting the world into their own illusions.
But, again, while it’s used in an interesting way, the supernatural element sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s understandable given the limits of the noitaminA time slot: a full two-to-three minutes less time for story than most other anime get (it adds up to a full episode of lost time for most shows in this time slot), and a short 11-episode run for nearly every series. The audience can infer the particulars of Inga’s relationship with Shinjuurou (the very nature of their ongoing deal probably means Shinjuurou owes Inga a debt, etc.), and there’s the hope that the audience won’t focus too much on how odd a fit the supernatural element is even though there’s little attempt to explain why Inga exists in this show. (Especially given that the supernatural stuff isn’t absolutely necessary for what the show wants to do.)
That finally brings me to Un-Go episode 0. The whole point is that it’s an origin story of sorts and maybe answers some questions that are on people’s minds, and it also reinforces some themes of the series. However, I don’t think it answers questions that absolutely need to be answered. We see how Inga and Shinjuurou hook up, and I think it’s something many people can infer from the original series: Inga saves Shinjuurou’s life, and in return he helps her gather tasty souls (with the caveat that she does so in a way that doesn’t kill the person she targets) and retains his autonomy. The specific nature of Inga’s power is also explained: it’s basically a powered-down version of what she normally does. She gets to the root of the soul and plucks a person’s innermost secret.
Does it increase the viewer’s understanding of Un-Go to know this? I don’t think so. It’s nice to have explicit context for Inga and Shinjuurou’s relationship, but by and large their interactions throughout the series tell us all we need to know about them. Knowing the mechanics of Inga’s power doesn’t change anything, either. The one piece of context Un-Go episode 00 provides that is helpful is the introduction to Bettenou. The series itself makes it obvious that Shinjuurou has seen Bettenou before, but because the audience has never been exposed to this spirit, it comes off like an ass pull. With that said, having that context would ruin the surprise of Bettenou, so that comes down to whether one values that context over the twist.
As an attempt to fill in pertinent blanks of Un-Go‘s story, episode 0 isn’t entirely successful; hell, I don’t think calling it unnecessary would be unfair. As a standalone story, however, it totally stands up to the best of the TV series. The dual cutting between the story of Shinjuurou meeting Inga and the first clash with Bettenou works well, and the flashback has a great, eerie mood that matches the greatest moments of the TV anime. Maybe the mystery isn’t much of a mystery, but Un-Go‘s mysteries aren’t particularly great, anyway. It’s more about the mood and the story being used to explore some interesting spaces, and episode 0 definitely does that.