Reviewby Theron Martin,
Yugo the Negotiator
DVD 1: Pakistan: Departure
The time is 1994. When a Japanese company official is kidnapped by dacoits (rebels, basically) in Pakistan and military-based negotiations fail, his distraught daughter calls upon Yugo Beppi, a negotiator renowned for his high success rate, to rescue her father. As is his style, Yugo thoroughly researches the nature of the rebel leader and the psychology behind his motivations as he travels through Pakistan, seeking to make a connection with the notorious rebel and start negotiations. That is easier said than done, however, since he must dodge the Pakistani military to do so and come up with a way to prove worthy of negotiating with the egotistical, fervently religious dacoit leader, who will only have dealings with those he considers heroes of Islam.
Classifying Yugo the Negotiator based on its first three episodes alone is difficult. Though it has the feel of an action series, there isn't enough proper action in this volume to merit calling it that, and it's a little too bold and active to be just a drama. Perhaps calling it an “adventure” series might be most accurate, albeit a rather unusual one. But how interesting could a series be that's about someone who negotiates hostage releases for his job? Well, okay, Big O proved that possible, so let's revise that to “how interesting could a series be that's about someone who negotiates hostage releases and doesn't pilot a giant mecha in his spare time?”
Three factors speak in the title's favor. One is that, while Yugo is fictional, his job is not; there really are people who do this kind of thing for a living. The second is the exploration into the psychology behind constructing a successful negotiation. To be able to successfully negotiate, the series tells us, a negotiator must understand both the culture and the motivations of the one with which he will be dealing and be sure to approach the target in a manner which the target can appreciate. In the case of this block of episodes, Yugo delves into the nature of one inspired by holy fervor, examining what kind of circumstances and mindset one must have to endure in the face of painful adversity. The third factor is the diligence shown in accurately representing Pakistani culture. This is a land very foreign to Japan (and to the United States, for that matter), but the use of detail is extensive. Both the original writer and the director of this story arc visited Pakistan themselves, and a cultural consultant was employed by the English production team to make sure that the English translation would be even more accurate.
Although the “next volume” previews suggest that more action is upcoming, this volume has only minor doses of it. The entire first episode is spent setting up the job, while the next two are spent describing how Yugo goes about his business and picks up a hot-looking mute dancer as a tagalong. Though the woman's costume is somewhat revealing, it is the only thing in the first three episodes which could be remotely considered fan service. These episodes do pack a fair amount of violence, and some if it is pretty graphic, so this would not be a series appropriate for younger audiences even if the age of the cast and subject matter didn't already mark is as being targeted at adults.
Character designs for this volume are all done in a realistic-looking style completely devoid of any caricatures, with great attention being paid to accurately representing appropriate cultural costuming. Background art, while still quite detailed, is rougher-looking enough that characters often stand out significantly against the backgrounds. The overall color scheme is very drab and muted, but then Pakistan isn't a place known for bright costuming, either. The artistry for the Pakistan parts commonly has a very washed-out look, with bright white daytime skies being the norm, an effect which may have been intended to suggest the heat of the environment and the haze it can generate. Animation quality in this volume is pretty good, with only one scene where shortcut gimmicks are used to simulate movement and some scenes having multiple characters animated and/or background animation. On the downside, the series does make substantial use of scenes where characters can be heard talking but can't be seen.
The background music for the first volume is unremarkable, while the opener and closer are nice light jazz numbers. The dubbing is much more noteworthy. Debate all you want about the quality of the accents used by the English VAs performing Pakistani roles, but at least they tried. Although the Japanese producers clearly put a lot of effort into making the parts of this volume set in Pakistan look and feel authentic, they didn't put as much effort into making it sound authentic. The Japanese dub also fails miserably to capture the tone and cadence of the Muslim prayers, something which is done right in ADV's English dub. Oh, the dub isn't perfect; it does suffer from stiff delivery in a couple of places and the merits of the casting for one of the key roles are debatable. On the whole, though, the English dub is an improvement on the original because it makes the Pakistan segments sound like Pakistan rather than Japan. The English script invariably stays in the ballpark and actually corrects one error in the original Japanese: the subtitles refer at one point to a Pakistani newspaper being written in Arabic, when Urdu would be the proper language.
The extras on the first volume look to be expansive but are less substantial than they appear. In addition to company previews, clean opener and closer, and a preview of volume 2, the DVD includes Personnel Dossiers (i.e. character bios), a short promotional video called “What is Yugo the Negotiator,” and three interviews: one with the original manga creators, one with the director, and one with seiyuu for Yugo. These are only two minutes long each and have more the feel of additional promo videos than true interviews, however. The meatiest extra is “The Japanese Depiction of Pakistan,” an occasionally inane 28-minute audio commentary which features the English ADR Director and cultural consultant discussing various matters about the portrayal of Pakistani life and culture against clips taken from all three episodes. The liner notes include translator notes, a Glossary of Terms, a brief print interview with the original writer, and a (somewhat hard to read) map of Pakistan, which is a nice feature but probably would have been better-used as a blow-up of the area relevant to this volume than a map of the whole country.
Clips and comments from the promos and interviews imply that the series is going to be split into two arcs: a Pakistan arc and a Russian arc. This volume is merely the first half of the Pakistan arc, and I get the sense that a proper evaluation of the title cannot be done without seeing at least one full arc. Given that, I can say that the first volume of Yugo the Negotiator offers up mature, detailed, and reasonably good-looking entertainment about the intricacies of an especially dangerous job. It represents a distinct change of pace from those use to energetic adventure series centered on teenaged characters.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Excellent attention to detail on Pakistani culture and styles of dress, hefty set of extras.
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