Warrior of the Spoken Word
Yugo is 'The Negotiator' fighting battles where words are wielded as weapons!
Based on the manga first published in 1994, Yugo (or in the case of the domestic animated series, Yugo the Negotiator) is based on fictional character Yugo Beppu's work as a professional negotiator. His adventures attain a level of noteworthy realism, thanks to the detailed artwork of Shu Akana, and Shinji Makari's years of experience as a nonfiction writer covering a wide range of geopolitical topics.
The closest subject-matter competitor to Yugo would have to be the intelligently written Master Keaton, published by Geneon. The title hero of that particular show is a former SAS instructor working as an insurance investigator for the prestigious firm, Lloyd's of London. Keaton, however, is more of a jack of all trades. He handles mysteries, hostage situations, archeological controversies, bomb threats and long-running family feuds. Each episode of Master Keaton features a different incident for the title character to unravel.
Yugo the Negotiator takes a different approach. Only two main story arcs have been divulged so far, "Scorching Bonds: Yugo in Pakistan" and another arc featuring Yugo in Russia. Each subplot spans multiple episodes, allowing the show to introduce a much wider range of characters than a typical one plot per show series. Another interesting detail of the show's production is that Seiji Kishi directed the first arc, whereas the Russian arc was helmed by Shinya Hanai. Hanai previously directed the Initial D TV series and Hunter X Hunter, although Yugo is aimed more at an adult audience than his earlier works.
As the arc's subtitle suggests, "Scorching Bonds" is set mostly in Pakistan during a period of intense heat -- both physical and political. Some areas of the nation are experiencing temperatures up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), inhibiting air travel within the country because the oppressive weather has a tendency to melt airplane tires when they touch the runway.
Yugo travels to Pakistan in the employ of an attractive young woman named Mayuko Iwase. Her father is being held hostage by an organized government resistance group, and thanks to the political climate of the nation, Mr. Iwase's release does not seem likely. The dacoits (a Pakistani term for armed bandits) are led by the charismatic and brutally violent Yusuf Ali Mesa. Ali is bound strongly by his religious convictions, leading Yugo to believe that there may be room for negotiations with the wandering warlord.
However, the stakes are high; Ali's gang murdered the first negotiator sent in to rescue Mr. Iwase. This does not deter Yugo at all. While Mayuko is a comely lass, her beauty isn't the most significant motivational factor in Yugo's decision to take the case. As viewers will discover, the situation is very similar to Yugo's first case -- a case that ended tragically. He's determined to ensure that Mayuko's father returns to Japan safely, and he's putting his own life at risk to make it possible.
Although he enters Pakistan alone, Yugo manages to find some allies on his journey to rescue Iwase-san. Haji Rahmani, an imam (an Islamic religious leader) who survived his last encounter with Ali only because he had completed his "hajj," or pilgrimage to Mecca, points him to Ali's camp. Haji's son, Ahmed helps to supply Yugo for his trip, and he helps Yugo to gain the devotion of a slave woman. Yugo and Ahmed are appalled at the incredibly beautiful girl's harsh treatment by her master, who bought her in order to sell her body as a prostitute. Yugo buys her off of the man with his watch, and she ends up following him around like a lost puppy. She's unable to speak, for her tongue was cut out of her mouth, but her feelings for Yugo are obvious, even if he doesn't feel the same way.
A good portion of the series is dedicated to establishing the setting, which is rendered in exquisite detail by the series' producers. While the events may be fictional, this series is firmly grounded in the real world, and I'm not sure if I've seen a creative work show Pakistan any more faithfully than it is represented here. Realism is of key importance in Yugo, and it pays off by lending more credence to the show than any other anime series that I've watched.
Pakistan is rendered for the most part in muted yellows, browns and other earth tones. Watching this series in the heat of the St. Louis summer, where the humidity has been locked solid at a hundred percent and the temperature has topped a hundred degrees Fahrenheit a few days in a row, makes me feel as if I'm actually in Pakistan. Thank goodness for air conditioning! The show was produced in 2004, but even though it's fairly new, it has an aged look that further enhances the realism of the visuals.
I have to wonder if a show like this will do well in America. After all, I can see some people taking offense at the depiction (however accurate) of the Pakistani government. Other people might not want to have anything to do with anime that doesn't involve panty shots or giant robots. Some people might not know what to expect from Yugo when they see it on the shelves of their local video store. There are no magical girls in this show. No time traveling. No schoolgirls. No love triangles, or alien invasions, or beach scenes, or kimono episodes, or robotic maidens, or cat girls, or any other anime stereotype.
This is a mature story for mature viewers, but by that, I don't mean they flash boobies and curse a lot. It is a complex, intelligent, realistic story told by an expert on the subject matter. I'm not sure how successful that the series will be over here, but I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the show, and I'd like to see more of its kind to eventually make their way over to my house. Not that I'm tired of cat girls and panty shots, mind you.