I don’t know where this bus is going
Even though I should be the driver.
There was going to be a picture on this post, but my connection simply would not oblige.
UN GO UN GO UN GO. This show enthralled me. Even when the details of the foreground seemed a bit lacking, the background details that leeched in were enough to entrance me. A society controlled by terror, in that unique manner in which acts of terror so often simply lead to greater grips of the government upon a populace. Rampant censorship. A Tokyo half in ruin – which, yes, isn’t terribly uncommon in anime, but was executed much more effectively and interestingly here. And a society divided, the haves and have nots! The police more than willing to change the narrative to keep the haves out of prison…
Its difficult for me to write this post and not end up having it completely messy, because for it to not be messy would require more effort than I am willing to put into a blog post! I don’t use notes. I don’t want to use notes. Its a blog, not a term paper. And, even with those I often went without notes anyway. I am a firm believer in the ‘jam everything in your head and then puke it all out on paper’ school of writing/thought/presenting. So, maybe not always paper, sometimes its ‘jam everything in your head and then present it rapid-fire and with an eye on your audience at all times’ school of existence.
But, I digress.
Aside: in episode two, the girl and Blue Yokohama. She spoke of her grandmother singing it, being in anoher country where they weren’t allowed to speak Japanese, something about a war. I think it was a reference to the practice of interning Japanese-Americans during WWII. Something we generally choose to ignore…
Speaking of America! UN GO frequently felt very American to me, even as it simultaneously at points felt extremely Japanese (most obviously, in the manner in which the mysteries were generally solved, i.e. Inga forcing the truth out through MAGIC). For those of you who aren’t American, I don’t know if I can convey precisely the mood of America for the past ten years. America has a monomania with terrorism, despite the fact that is is a relatively rare occurrence in America, and the additional fact that there is a refusal by most of the populace and large swaths of the government to acknowledge some acts as terroristic in nature (basically, if a Caucasian did it, certain segments shake their heads and say the person was crazy, but if a Muslim did it, its automatically terrorism, regardless of any additional facts; it even extends to acts of terror in other countries, such as with Anders Behring Breivik’s white supremacist-motivated slaughter of seventy-seven people in Norway – massacre by a crazy man! not “white supremacist terrorism”).
But you don’t really need to hear my politics, do you? Although it isn’t really politics, so much as an assessment of some rather basic truths about present-day America, race, religion, politics, and news in a television age.
Yes, so, America, loves thinking about terrorism all the time, politicians love the bogeyman since it is so effective at getting the votes out. But it isn’t just the politicians, it has saturated our entire culture, particularly popular culture. To go by broadcast television shows, one would think that people are basically getting blown up all the time by terrorists, and that one could only ensure their own safety by hiding in their cellar all the live long day. Mass paperback thrillers are full of evil guys murdering innocent and pretty Americans (other way to ensure terrorism won’t hurt you: be ugly) on massive scale. There’s no escape!
So, UN GO’s terrorism material felt very American to me, although the way in which it addressed it did not. Or, rather, the way it was addressed was not the way I could reasonably expect it to be addressed in American popular culture. Because we were shown that acts of terror were actively manipulated by the government to garner support for repressive measures. The entire thing with the idol group was utterly brilliant. Manufacture stories, alter stories, so that you captivate the population, use their sympathy to further political gains. And they don’t even realize they’re all being played like fiddles.
I was surprised to hear Shinjuuro say that it was 2011 in one of the last few episodes. 2011? I figured this was further into the future than that, perhaps because of the advanced technology present. Not only is it 2011, its a world in which September 11th happened, so at some point soon after that, UN GO’s world split off from our own, with Japan catching the terror bug as well. While I wouldn’t say that American society is quite as repressive as the Japanese society depicted in UN GO, there are some similarities and familiarities, particularly legislation with innocuous-sounding titles that is actually fairly draconian (USA PATRIOT Act is probably the most infamous). The parliament and politicians of UN GO’s Japan insist their legislation is necessary for the people, even as the people find themselves less and less free.
Maybe some of this sentiment was a reflection of real world Japan and Bill 156 as well – while not about terrorism at all, it does allege to be about keeping children and teenagers safe, and about protecting their “development”. Actually, really, we know it is – “The New Information Privacy and Protection Act” of UN GO is a pretty obvious stand-in, what with its whole conceit of protecting the “wholesome upbringing” of children. This was more or less torn right from the pages of legislation in real world Japan.
But, regressing somewhat, UN GO’s world splitting from our own. There is almost a direct statement of fear here, as it is noted that things went sideways after Japan sent its self defense forces overseas. If I’m remembering correctly, Japan actually did end up pulling its troops from Iraq after a couple of their journalists/photographers were kidnapped and held by terrorists, who threatened to kill them if Japan did not exit the theater entirely (and this despite the fact that Japanese troops in Iraq were assigned humanitarian aid roles; the people holding the guns for them were primarily Australians, although there were some Japanese special forces troops playing protector as well). Public opinion of the deployment was pretty starkly divided in Japan – lot of folks were very, very angry that the defense forces were being sent abroad, since that seems a pretty clear violation of their purpose, i.e. defending Japan and only defending Japan. Some were also concerned that by involving themselves explicitly in Iraq, Japan would become a target of Islamist terrorism’s ire as well.
In UN GO, its never entirely clear as to whom was responsible for the terrorism and why. We have one woman who is in prison for terrorism, who took action out of anger at the government’s lack of aid rendered to people like her, i.e. impoverished and starving. But she speaks vaguely of a group that got her to do it, and we never know if the group had the same motivations as she did, or simply exploited her anger for their own ends. And it all began somewhere – with terrorism. The woman’s unfortunate position, was it prior to the beginning of terror, or did her circumstances come about because of said terror? So we don’t know if the terror originally was largely from foreign elements (al-Qaeda types, if we’re going to assume that the Japanese troops went to Iraq in UN GO’s Japan), domestic groups angry about the perceived misuse of the Self Defense Force, or domestic groups angry that the government is inviting terrorist groups to target Japanese people by its foreign interventions. Or if its someone else entirely.
We can also see fears about foreign involvement in an official fashion in Japan, although they get less pronounced as the show goes on. Phrased as such to distinguish from foreign elements like terrorists who are mucking about. Its noted early on that a foreign military basically bailed Japan out from spiraling terrorist attacks. I must confess that I can’t quite recall if it was said that they were American, or there was just the implication that they were. While I am sure UN GO had a bit of planning done on it prior to the tsunami last March, it is worth noting that there was nervousness in Japanese society over relying so heavily on foreign aid in the wake of that disaster (I actually know some fellow soldiers who were assigned to help with rescue efforts in the affected provinces).
Now, of course, Japan has historically been fairly xenophobic (related: you know what I’ve always thought would be interesting? doing a historical compare and contrast of Japan and Great Britain; they have similar arcs of history and have had/still have similar relationships to their mainlands, with WWII as an obvious exception, and similar attitudes about foreign elements… is this what happens with islands?). But, even considering so, xenophobia has found a rather comfortable audience in present-day Japan in a more obvious way; just take a moment to examine Governor Ishihara of Tokyo and his policies and beliefs. He doesn’t like dem furreners (or women [they should just go die once they’re no longer fertile!]. or LGBT people [their DNA is warped!].). And, not only that, dem furreners are basically responsible for everything wrong with Japan (you know, total aside, when in Ireland once, I heard a person on the radio angrily insisting that everything wrong with Ireland currently is because the Irish drink wine in the evenings instead of tea nowadays). Just another thing to consider with UN GO’s foreign armies saving/ruining Japan – most of the troops running around throughout the show are implied to be foreign in origin in the first couple of episodes, with the foreigners not departing after their act of salvation. And the wife/culprit in the first episode angrily talks about her husband being slandered for alleged involvement with foreign elements.
I think I’ve managed to exhaust the points I wanted to make in this post. Hope that wasn’t too much like reading something written by a drunk, concussed person. And, damn, I didn’t even talk about RAI’s at all… oh well. Another time. I’m going to re-watch the whole thing anyway. Wish Sentai would hurry up and give the damn thing a street date.
Great post, and one that this series really deserves. Un-Go says a lot not just about human nature in general, but the nature of politics and the possible paths society can take.
But the 2011 thing was a fansubber mistake: Rinroku actually speaks of the 2011 earthquake conspiracy theories in the past tense. (The use of ‘imanao’/’still’ earlier in the sentence must have thrown the fansubbers off; RInroku speaks of “those disasters whose effects still remain today”, but says there *were* people who believed said conspiracy theories.) It’s unfortunate that the fansubber mistake has been taken as fact by pretty much everyone.