Yugo the Negotiator Complete Collection (Thinpak) (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Ben Leary
Review Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2007



What They Say
Synopsis Pakistan: Episodes 1-6

A hostage has been taken in Pakistan; the chances of his survival are slim to none. Yugo Beppu, the world‚€™s leading private negotiator, is called to the scene by the hostage‚€™s daughter to deal with a fierce anti-government faction. Walking a dangerous line between the powerful military and ruthless guerrillas, it will take more than words for Yugo to survive in the blazing desert.



Synopsis Russia: Episodes 7-13

When the Soviet Union collapsed, a $200 billion legacy was left buried in its ruins. The key to uncovering it lies in the hands a young girl who possesses a mysterious Khristos ring. When Yugo is hired to bring her to Japan he finds himself trapped in a deadly web of greed and treachery. Traveling to the frigid land of Siberia, Yugo discovers that his contractor has a sinister ulterior motive for hiring him. Yugo must unlock the mystery of the Romanovski rings or be sentenced to death.

The Review!
Two adventures of a man both calculating and compassionate, whose greatest enemy is greed, and whose greatest friend is a knowledge of the human heart. That's something you don't see every day.

Audio:
For my main viewing session I chose the English language track, partly to see how the accents used in the dub made out, partly to take advantage of the 5.1 mix. This is a show driven by dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue - and I hasten to assure you I'm not complaining - so it's not the most active mix you'll hear. But where it does come into play it's excellent. Not only are the rear channels used expertly for crowd scenes and background voices, the ambient sounds of the weather get some really terrific moments here and there. The music benefits as well from the wider spread it gets. I also checked one episode in Japanese and found it to have a standard stereo mix. So standard I can't really think of anything good or bad to say about it.

Video:
Okay, here's where I have to start talking about this release as if it were two separate shows, which is exactly what it is in essence. ADV has packed the first show, the Pakistan story, all onto the first disc. And it looks just awful. There's breakup all over the place, even on character's faces pretty often, and that's unacceptable. Some of the problems vary by scene, so there are shots that look decent, but the bad-looking bits outweigh the good ones pretty consistently. The colours don't seem to have been affected, but those were pretty muted to begin with. We've also got some jagged lines popping up more often than they should. So most of the time this disc has a part fuzzy, part blocky look with very little sharpness. ADV didn't do themselves any favours by dropping a disc this time.

But beginning with the second disc it was like I was looking at a different show - I mean, apart from it actually being a different show. The clarity is almost startling after the messy look of the first disc. Colours start to look colourful again and almost all the problems disappear apart from some usual minor breakup on a night sky and a bit of line shimmering. The numerous sequences with snow that take place in the Russian story all look fantastic. I eventually arrived at the above grade by averaging the scores of the two different stories. The Pakistan disc rated a C, the Russian discs snagged a solid A-.

Packaging:
The front cover features the Russian negotiation, which was a good move for reasons I'll get to later. Negotiation not really lending itself to gripping images, a fairly good choice has been made here in Yugo braving the elements with two of the prominent female characters; though it could be misleading as there are hints of a love triangle that doesn't exist. The back shows a bit of the grittier side of the show in some panels with art from the series, while a couple of favourable quotes keep them company. The episodes are broken down by story and capable write-ups given for each. At the bottom is a row of technical information laid out in a convenient grid. The case itself is a standard-sized keepcase with a flippy hinge to hold the first two discs. Opening up the case reveals that there's no insert, but there is a disc of ADV trailers stuck where the insert would be, if you care for that sort of thing. The hubs are a bit less than satisfactory. I had trouble getting all three discs out, and on the third one I actually had to turn the case upside down and let the disc fall into my hand - not something I care to do.

Menu:
"Less is more" is the order of the day here as we've got static menus that vary a bit between discs but all feature Yugo's passport on a desk with assorted desk-type paraphernalia. Music for the main menu is low-key and on one disc is replaced with ambient voices. A touch I like quite a lot is the language menus, which have foreign background voices rather than music. There's no chapter selection menu, but the episodes have chapter stops in the usual places in case you need to navigate around. Neither is there a "play all" option but selecting one episode will play all subsequent episodes unless you intervene. Selection is a snap, as you'd expect with so few choices and access times are very fast. Simple and effective.

Extras:
None, unless you consider the previews on the last disc as extras. (I don't.)

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I did a bit of reading on this series to prepare writing this review - in the sense of putting it off for a little while - I wasn't surprised to discover that the two different plots were actually handled by two separate creative teams, even to the point of having different directors and character designers. This isn't surprising because the series really does play out as two separate shows. There's not even a sense that the second follows the first; the only recurring character besides Yugo is his electronics expert, and even that guy appears briefly enough in the second story to be considered a cameo. Since the stories are for all practical purposes independent, I'm going to approach this set as if it were two different but vaguely related movies bundled together, because any other way of looking at it would make discussion impossible, at least to me. But before I go into that a word on the intended audience is in order. Yugo is a very violent show. It involves a great many scenes of torture, physical and psychological, and quite a few fatalities, mostly during the Pakistan plot. There are scenes of execution, murder, attempted rape, and even one of a man being doused in gasoline and set ablaze (though this last isn't too explicit). The dub is also quite coarse in the Pakistan section but cleans up considerably for Russia. There isn't any nudity, but one scene comes about as close as it possibly can. This is a serious show, and it mostly (but not always) treats the subject matter in a responsible way. But all the same you should know what you're in for. A 16 and up rating would be more appropriate. Now one more piece of advice and I promise I'll get to the actual review. When you watch this collection, watch each story in a single sitting if you possibly can, skipping over the irrelevant opening and ending songs which are just there to distract you. You really need to keep the mood going for maximum effect.

First, Pakistan. We start of with a glimpse of the situation in the form of a negotiation going awry because the Pakistani army try to put one over on the guerillas who have the hostage and fail completely. Now that we know what Yugo's going to be up against, we see him start to prepare for his mission. Unfortunately that turns out to be a little on the dull side. The story gets off to a monotonous start in its script and, to a lesser extent, its acting. It takes a while before anything really happens. By the time it does, we're already in Pakistan.

As Yugo feels out the situation and makes his contacts, he comes across a slave girl whose tongue has been cut out. You know, if I hear a guy say that somebody's tongue has been cut out, I can take his word for it. I don't need to see a closup of her open mouth. That scene is the first example of one of the major flaws of the approach to the Pakistan story: the tendency to confuse mere unpleasantness with realism. Although what we see here is nothing to what we get later on.

Yugo frees the slave girl but of course she doesn't have anywhere to go so she ends up following him into the desert. This is where credibility begins to be strained. The girl walks who knows how far in a scorching desert in bare feet wearing a dancing-girl costume. Then as the two are resting in the shade of a rock, a helicopter appears. Immediately overhead. You might be able to get away with this in a manga, where the audience can't actually hear anything, but in an animation it's pretty silly to ask us to believe that a man of Yugo's perception coudn't hear an approaching chopper - these things are just too much to swallow. If you're going to be realistic, you have to pay attention to stuff like that.

After a brutal and sordid scene that I don't really want to go into detail about Yugo and the girl find themselves taken captive by the chief of the guerillas that are holding the hostage. It seems like the story is just about to get really interesting, but first we've got to go through a lot more brutality. And this time it's literally torture. Yugo gets chained to a rock that heats up in the desert sun until his flesh sticks to it the way meat sticks to a hot frying pan. As if this isn't enough, it's followed up with bugs that can crawl in your ears and eat your brains. Then after Yugo drives a knife through his arm we can finally get to the negotiation part of the story and see his true talents begin to work.

The really fascinating thing about Yugo is his ability to get inside people's heads, think the way they think about a situation, and then put his plans into motion knowing exactly how they will react. While he sometimes manipulates his opponents, he more often relies on his ability to win their trust and work towards a mutally satisfactory conclusion. Watching him analyze, act, react and orchestrate the movements necessary to make the exchange, all while keeping the concerned parties out of the way of the army, is something that's really compelling to watch and kicks the show up several notches from what is has been. Unfortunately, it only lasts about two episodes. So overall this first story has a lot of missteps early on, some pretty gut-wrenching scenes in the middle, but recovers for a mostly good ending that only falters briefly. I'd say it rates about a B-.

Next we get to Russia and everything changes.The video problems are gone; the story problems are gone as well. We're left with a tight, compelling, sure-footed plot that covers a lot of ground with breathtaking speed and gives Yugo a chance to show off everything he's good at. Unlike the fairly simple outlines of the Pakistan plot, the Russian negotiation is too complex to summarize and too good to spoil. The review will necessarily be lop-sided: I had to spend a lot of time in the Pakistan section, not because it was the more important of the two, but because there far more problems with it that I needed to discuss. There are a couple of scenes of torture that are a bit much, and dwell unpleasantly on the gruesome details - but everything else is excellent. To have a feeling of suspense sustained over multiple episodes is something very few shows can achieve. But this story pulls it off, apparently with ease. We see Yugo pursuing his objectives, gathering clues, running, hiding, giving himself up, escaping - always master of the situation, always reading his enemies' movements and motives and staying a step ahead. The action isn't so much cat and mouse as hound and fox. And best of all, we see Yugo's gift for turning his enemies into allies. There's no monolithic unity among Yugo's pursuers. Each character has his own goals and desires apart from the official agenda, and Yugo takes the opportunity to read those goals and desires and turn them in favour of the little girl who needs help that no one else can give. The complexity of it all is astonishing. You never get the sense that the Russians who are after Yugo are just "the bad guys" - some of them love their country knowing full well that it's in really bad shape, and they just want to do what they think will make it better. The writing here is as good as anything I've seen in a long, long while. And the production doesn't slouch either. The snowstorms are so convincing that I got up and made myself a cup of tea when it was time to change discs.

Yet somehow the ending manages to transcend everything that has gone before it.

It's no surprise to us that Yugo solves the secret of the rings. What is a surprise is that there's a much better secret he solves. Churchill once said that Russia was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Yugo's greatest achievement is discovering the secret of Russia itself. This story impressed me down to my toes. It earns a strong A.

In Summary:
Yugo is a kind of show that I can't really compare to anything else. The closest I can come is Master Keaton. Both shows feature men of extraordinary genius in crisis situations. But the resemblance is superficial. Keaton is a man who is a master of many skills and many areas of knowledge. And while Yugo knows quite a few things himself, his real strength is his intuitive understanding of people at their very core. Keaton knows the secrets of the natural world; but Yugo knows the secrets of the inner world of the heart. So it's very easy for me to recommend it to anyone who can stomach the scenes of torture, particularly if you're looking for something different. And I honestly can't leave off without mentioning how good the dub is, particularly in the Russian section. The attention to all the accents wasn't something that was particularly necessary, but I certainly applaud ADV for making the extra effort. And a bouquet to Jason Douglas for carrying the whole thing on his shoulders. Even if you're not much of a dub fan, I'd strongly recommend giving this one a look.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Sony 35" KvV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component video and coaxial audio cables), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: TV 14
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Yugo the Negotiator