AKA: Yugo, Yugo ~Koushounin~
Year Released: 2004
Distributor: Unlicensed (DVD formally available by ADV Films)
Running Time: TV Series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV 14 VL
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Master Keaton, National Treasure, Homeland, Monster (Naoki Urasawa anime)
-Both the English and Japanese tracks were used in the original ADV DVDs, but the English dub will be emphasized for reasons that will be mentioned in the review.
-Yugo the Negotiator is based on a manga by Shinji Makari and Shu Akana that ran from 1994-2015 where it was serialized in two different magazines (Morning and Afternoon, respectively).
-Hilarious in Hindsight: This wasn’t the first time where voice actress Marcie Rae played a Russian villainess. Before voicing Major General Garrachova, she played Radinov from Gunsmith Cats.
-This anime series is the directorial debut from Seiji Kishi who was in charge of the Pakistan arc (episodes 1-6). Some of his later work as a director involves Angel Beats, Danganronpa, Persona 4: The Animation, and Assassination Classroom. Who ever thought that someone involved in an obscure anime would work on much bigger series?
-Yugo’s dub voice actor Jason Douglas was a regular at several different ADV productions and has been in several anime series, but he’s been in non-anime roles. Did you know he plays Tobin from The Walking Dead, Dashell Brinks from Nashville, and Detective Munn from Breaking Bad? Now you do!
I started to re-watch various anime series that I saw back when I was in high school. I used to be a hardcore otaku during my teenage years. Later during my high school life, I wanted to check out more “serious” and “artistic” works out there. Back then, ADV Films licensed Yugo the Negotiator which is a series I read about in Newtype USA magazine (anyone old enough to remember that magazine?) when it first aired in Japan before being released in America a few years later. I bought all the DVDs online at clearance prices (I sold my old copies years ago) and decided to give it another chance.
Does it still hold up?
Yugo the Negotiator is a period piece taking place in the early 90s that deals with the title character Yugo Beppu. He’s a Tokyo-based negotiator who travels the world to help rescue hostages being armed with nothing but his knowledge of several cultures, his wits, willpower, and his words. That is whenever he’s not sleeping on his pool table while being surrounded by books. This anime adaptation deals with the first two major arcs in the original manga where he goes to Pakistan to rescue a Japanese businessman held captive by dacoits while in the second arc, he goes to Russia to ensure the safety of a girl who’s related to Russian nobility while also finding out a code inscribed in a pair of rings that’s linked to a vast fortune.
I will say that Yugo is one of my favorite anime protagonists. His character is quite original since you don’t see that many hostage negotiators as lead heroes. Yugo’s intelligence is shown as a primary character trait while still being masculine which is a VERY RARE thing to see in male protagonists since they always have to be hardcore action heroes. The thing is that he rarely uses violence and the one time he does use it was for self-defense and not to kill anyone. He’s like the anti-Jack Bauer. Instead of being some jingoistic prop to justify hurting and/or killing others, he has to come up with creative ways to make sure the hostages are safe, but also convincing their captors to realize the big picture in whatever situation he’s in. Yugo may not be built like Goku or Rambo, but he’s incredibly tough. He gets tortured in some of the craziest ways that will make anyone cringe. It would also be easy to make a character like him a Marty Stu, but it’s not the case. His first negotiation (as seen in a flashback) ended in the hostage being murdered and there are also situations where he is temporarily broken (mentally or physically) in some of the torture scenes he’s in. However, I do enjoy his crazy awesome willpower, strategic mind, and his selfless nature to help others.
The storylines in both the Pakistan and Russian arcs were quite intriguing. There were some great twists and turns. Some people change sides in ways that make sense with their characters. There’s even a sense of danger that is quite unpredictable. Even little things like the code in the Christos rings during the Russia arc are something that you’ll never see coming. There could’ve been some major controversy with the Pakistan arc given the situation with Yusef Ali Mesa and his dacoit comrades, but I appreciate how they have both heroic and villainous characters in that country during Yugo’s mission there. I’d even argue that Lieutenant Colonel Shadle was a much bigger villain than Ali Mesa since he’s willing to kill Yugo at all costs and at one point he blows up the dacoit village. Had they not have escaped, Shadle would’ve slaughtered dozens of men, women, and children. These are mature storylines that just happen to be in an animated format. If you think all anime is just fan service, energy blasting action, or the latest collectible monster fad, then please do us all a favor and just slap yourself. This is a story you can take seriously, and Yugo would be closer to sharing airtime with shows like The Blacklist or Scandal compared to South Park or Pokemon.
I will say that one of the biggest strengths of Yugo the Negotiator would be the English dub. Much like Shinesman, I’d say this is one of the few anime series where the English version is better than the Japanese version. Jason Douglas’s voice is exactly how I pictured Yugo to sound with his calm, yet intense baritone. I feel that he doesn’t get enough credit as a dub voice actor compared to people like Crispin Freeman or Steven Blum. He really shines in this role and has more range compared to his Japanese counterpart in playing Yugo Beppu. The other actors put way more effort in doing different accents for the different locals. They even got some people of Pakistani descent to play some of the supporting characters in the dub. The biggest plus in the English version was that ADV’s team did something that is quite rare in anime voice acting and scripting: they corrected a MAJOR mistake that the Japanese version made. There’s a scene in the Pakistan arc where Yugo is trying to find a clue in a newspaper as he’s searching for Yusef Ali Mesa. In the Japanese version, he asks one of the locals to read the paper for him because he has trouble reading Arabic.
[Lex Luthor voice] WRONG!
The national language of Pakistan is Urdu, and the dub mentions that instead. Also, that language is closer to Hindi compared to Arabic or Persian. As a geography nerd, I thought it was wonderful that ADV did their research and looked at the cultural aspects more than the Japanese side of production did.
The villains were quite threatening in this series. In addition to Shadle, there were some other antagonists who are worth noting. Yusef Ali Mesa is a giant of a man who can kill people by snapping their necks with his bare hands. He could’ve easily been some steroid-injected propaganda piece, but that’s not the case. Ali Mesa sees himself as a hero, but he doesn’t take cowardice lightly. He never runs away or begs for his life and would rather fight to the death. [Spoiler warning albeit ambiguous] I also liked how he’s able to see the error of his ways and finding out what real heroes are like when he’s forced to work with Yugo to release the hostage while also trying to defend themselves against the Pakistani army under Shadle’s iron fist. He’s done bad things, but he will never let anyone of his comrades or the families stationed with him die. Ali Mesa won’t even kill people who he considers to be brave which gives him a moral edge compared to Shadle. The other noteworthy villain is Major General Garrachova from the Russian arc. The rest of the Russian army respects her and fears her tremendously. You know she has their fealty when everyone in the military addresses her as “Your/Her Excellency” whenever they mention her name. However, I know people who see her will lump her as another addition to the fat villainess portfolio. Okay, she’s not quite Ursula-sized in terms of girth, but she’s still large. Unlike other female antagonists of similar or greater levels of obesity, she’s a no-nonsense character who’s not afraid of killing or torturing people and her weight never becomes an issue with her or anyone else. Garrachova wants Russia to be restored through iron discipline while also trying to increase the country’s arms and military personnel. She even tortures a defector by pouring gasoline over him in the frigid Siberian weather which causes his skin to necrotize in seconds before giving him something in his hand while saying “I’m not that merciless. You can use this to keep yourself warm.” Want to know what she gives the gasoline-doused traitor? A lighter. Do the math. That’s how tough she is. Besides her draconian attitude, she does look up to her father who was a WWII hero who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad and idolizes his selflessness while wanting to be like him.
If there’s any major flaw in Yugo the Negotiator, it would be the animation. Much like my concerns with Queen Emeraldas and Legend of the Last Labyritnth, this was made with two different animation studios. G&G Direction animated the Pakistan arc while Artland animated the Russia arc. The animation isn’t all that impressive, but with the Pakistan arc, at least the coloration and aesthetics fit the environment. There are a lot of browns, sepias, and grays which really work with the earth tones, desert scenes, and the gritty nature of that arc. Artland didn’t get the memo on their part of the series. The animation is more CGI-reliant, glossier, and much brighter in the Russia arc. They should have used more grays, dark blues, and whites. Most of the time, I didn’t feel like I was watching a blizzard infested Siberia. The saturation felt happier than the story should’ve been much like Artland’s errors in Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino (Shout out to Jon Spencer for his insight on that series!). This is the same company that would animate Mushishi, so there’s no excuse why they couldn’t animate this better and to have better coloration for the aesthetics of the story.
Yugo the Negotiator is a criminally underrated and overlooked anime series that you should watch. The storytelling and characterization are quite impressive. Yugo is such an original and atypical hero in and out of context of the anime medium. I wish more protagonists would use their brains more compared to only relying on action. The dub is impressive with higher quality voice acting and better attention to geographical details. The animation is a weak point with the different animation studios and the music can be generic though. However, Yugo the Negotiator is totally worth watching if you’re into mature anime series that don’t rely on stupid cliches or moe aesthetics. Definitely recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like seinen anime/manga
Subtract 2 points if you don’t like anime to be so serious
-Yugo as a lead hero
-High quality storytelling and mystery elements
-The English dub
-Mediocre animation and jarring differences in both studios
-Incongruous theme songs and some generic background music
-Some Pakistan arc elements can be questionable
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Older teens and up. There’s violent scenes with people dying, but the torture scenes really take the cake. Characters get physically and psychologically assaulted in ways you never thought were possible, but the sad part is that these scenes are realistic though. There are a couple of secondary protagonists in both arcs who are prostitutes, so some of that fan service has disturbing implications instead of being titillating. There’s an attempted sexual assault in the Pakistani arc before said assailant gets murked. The English dub has some strong language with Shadle’s potty mouth and some of his subordinates cuss a lot.
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