“Yuugo” is a hero anime about Yugo, the self-trained globetrotting wordsmith. With his iron will, cultural savvy, and bevy of friends to supply him with gadgets and support, he proceeds to meddle in world politics while ostensibly rescuing hostages from dire situations. Split into two separate arcs, the series focuses first on Pakistan and then Russia. However, due to each half being produced by a separate studio, there is a notable shift in style and tone between the two. While this does not create any inconvenience for the viewer, it does result in a bipolar split in my rating and review.
The sterling effort that went into portraying the locale, giving it a gratifying foundation of realism, cannot be overstated. The vehicles, geography, dress, factions, architecture…a general awareness is displayed on all fronts. While there are errors, they felt minor, of the sort that experts and locals would notice. It is only fair to forgive them in light of the implicit respect shown through the high degree of research.
Nowhere is this more striking than its incorporation and depiction of Islam. As befits the setting, the entire atmosphere is imbued with its essence. The calls for prayer, the litanies and rituals, and the terms form the fabric of Pakistani culture. “Yuugo” manages to walk the fine line between recognizing its unifying power as well as the faults and extremes it produces. It also demonstrates great discernment between the religion and the people. While the devout could be laughably quaint, violently deranged, or deeply holy, it was the men who were that way, not necessarily the beliefs. It was assiduously anthropological, seeking to portray the culture, not to assess it.
…at least until Yugo gets to the village. This is the one part of the series that I was
confused by. When tied to the rock he
chants passages of the Koran and is miraculously able to withstand the
heat. I presume the idea is that Yugo
was attempting to swindle the onlookers, passing off his superhuman
perseverance as divine intervention to buy their trust. But the presentation at the time gave the
impression of a false conversion, a subtle demeaning of their beliefs by the
patently-superior outsider, especially as this was the first demonstration of
Yugo’s “powers” in the anime. I was
never able to shake that sense of trivialization afterward.
|Colonel Warcrimes reporting|
Moving down from the culture to the people themselves, the general intelligence of the characters involved deserves mention. The Colonel is able to sniff out the oddity of Yugo’s ploy, interprets the signs of the money transfer, and pursues doggedly but competently. Despite his hackneyed depiction, complete with a maniacal disregard for life and paroxysms of rage, he was a worthy foil to Yugo's schemes. Ali, for his part, may have been a zealot but he didn't fall for obvious tricks. He had to exhibit some degree of cunning in order to lead his men. It made the unfolding of the plot more enjoyable, as it truly is a competition between people rather than our hero sailing to an easy victory.
All of this is dusted off with a subdued, almost faded, color pallet. It was superbly effective at portraying the sun-bleached desert climate, where everything seems to swelter in the unbearable heat.
Russia is where it all goes wrong. While it still maintains the semblance of what made the first half enjoyable, it simply lacks the same execution. The research into the country is still solid, with the plot centering around real locales and events, but its presentation is less vibrant. Similarly, Russian “motherland” patriotism is substituted for Islam as a cultural ethos, and yet again doesn’t seem to quite bear the weight as convincingly. However, the worst changes are to Yugo and the nature of the plot.
Yugo morphs from dickering champion and part-time masochist to a self-employed James Bond. No longer is he limited to his radio-operator buddy for a single HAM radio. He can now command a GPS that hacks spy satellites, a radiometrically perfect reproduction of an antique, snugly-fitted professional winter gear, and even a hidden lock pick in his belt. And not to be outdone by his exploits in Pakistan, he suffers two torture sessions with no aftereffects, walks 30km in a -40ºC Siberian storm at night, and premeditates his own ignorance so as to avoid confession. I half expected him to storm the Kremlin at the end to resolve the problem.
|"And please bless папа, and мама, and all the little plot holes."|
I’m not sure I can even blame the studio change, for unless they entirely rewrote the script this entire segment felt as though it was just trying to push harder. The hostage more pitiable, the stakes much greater, the brutality more refined. It pushed suspension of disbelief in Pakistan, but by the end of the Russia arc it takes a leave of absence from reality.
Yuugo is a curious series. It is convincingly cosmopolitan, with a sincere and accurate portrayal of the cultures its primary objective. Trickling down, the people involved are also appreciable for their multifaceted nature; passed off for who they are and what they want, they can transition from foe to friend on circumstance. But its reliance on Yugo’s outlandish abilities failed to persuade me, and in scoring I am forced to come to a compromise between its two halves.