Duke Togo, going under his code name Golgo 13, is an assassin for hire. The best in the business, he takes 3 million (yen? Dollars?) for a job, and he always, ALWAYS gets the job done, regardless of how ludicrously impossible it might look at first glance.
And yes, the show is 50 episodes of that. Golgo takes job. Golgo finishes his job. The end. Move on to the next episode. It sounds simple enough, and it most certainly is.
What brings the variety to the table -- the little there is -- is in the nature of the challenges he's been given, and the roundabout or somewhat unexpected ways he goes about solving his problems, sometimes to a ridiculous degree. But the Duke is a ridiculous man, and so one must have a ridiculous problem for him to overcome.
I've often watched many a ridiculous show. The one that comes to mind the easiest would be Fist of the North Star, another icon in the manly man genre, but Golgo 13 writes a whole damn rulebook on its own. Mostly because Duke Togo is the most stone-faced, emotionless character I've ever seen in any shows bar none. His face and the expression it constantly carries is so iconic that it's been lampooned or used as gags, perhaps most famously in Excel Saga and its Puchuu race. He's so taciturn that one moment late in the show that had him be slack-jawed, however mildly, for a second threw me off completely, because it was such an alien thing to see. The show is so consistent with his portrayal that I can't really tell whether it's meant to be parodical or not. I'm guessing not, but I can't really say for sure, because...
See, the thing is; the show is certainly aware that they've got an icon on their hands, because the verbal tongue baths will fly in low and often. It's more than a bit funny that the guy can work as an assassin and still expect to remain inconspicious -- which is a very good ability to have when your line of work is killing people -- but Duke Togo has such a striking appearance that everyone looking directly at him is taken aback by the sight, even to the point that they immediately remember him despite not having seen him for several years, and only briefly to begin with. "Who is that man?!", they say, as if the word "man" was italicised, underlined AND bolded at the same time while fighting the urge to end the question with a minimum of five additional exclamation marks. I sort of expected him to have sex with at least one woman per episode, but Golgo 13 actually showed some admirable restraint here, keeping his conquests in the single digits despite there being 50 episodes in all, maybe in the early tens -- I didn't really keep count, and I suspect; neither did the Duke.
It's a sinister thing, because when you really think about it, you are watching a series that has a murderer as a main lead, and the show makes it quite clear that he is to be rooted for. The show does try to lessen this effect by basically having his targets be terrible people, or not people at all. While the government does hire a few of his hits, Togo's customers also often make up mobsters or corrupt politicians who often hire him to take care of even worse people. If there are any exceptions, his targets either counter-hire him or they have a past where they did something terrible, and as such resigns themselves to their fate. Or they try to take down Golgo before he undertakes his hit, with predictably tragic results. I'm not entirely sure whether I'm grateful for the show taking this road, but I'm fully aware that this is the route it takes to prevent us from having to endure 50 episodes starring a complete sociopath shooting people. There is also the fact that, even if Golgo 13 shows up to hear you out, there's no guarantee that he'll accept your hit. Of course, we never see him turning a job down, so there is that too.
Weirdly enough, I don't really think you can accuse the show of being misogynistic. Sure enough, Golgo 13 is all hard-boiled and gritty, so you'll meet your fare share of prostitutes and girlfriends of mobsters, but I never really get the impression that the show looks down on women in any way, and in many cases where some of them are working as assassins or agents themselves, they are both efficient and talented. Just not as much as Duke Togo, because.... well, you know; he da man and all. Sure, all the ladies in the show are sexy as hell, but that kind of goes with the territory. The last of the ending animations also teased us with a sexy biker chick type that had the appearance of someone who would turn out to be Golgo's equal, but she ended up never really showing up in the show itself. So, no, I don't think the show is being outright sexist as much as hilariously optimistic and clueless about women in general, much in the same way as James Bond movies are.
Due to Duke Togo's status as an invincible person, Golgo 13 had the potential to become somewhat of a bore. I wrote "suspense" in the genre field, but don't mistake that for any kind of suspense over whether our main "hero" would get out of any of his situations with his life, or even fail at his job (which would mean his career would pretty much be over.) Instead, the show does a slow-burn that makes us wonder how the Duke is going to solve the problem of getting his hit, and thankfully, it succeeds there more often than not. There is also a wide variety of side issues a man who needs to remain anonymous has to take measures against, and this adds some longievety to what would otherwise be a very routine show. It does, sadly, not prevent the show from getting a bit boring at times, but that's to be expected when you run a show for 50 episodes. The frightening thing is that the manga this TV series is based on -- as well as the incredibly goofy movie and that other OAV I haven't watched -- is still ongoing as we speak, so this certainly is a popular franchise, and it's not like I can't understand why. Despite the occasional bouts of boredom, it's still a show that demands your attention.
The animation is another conundrum. It's basically... not very good. Even beyond the joke of Duke Togo's never-changing expression, the whole thing plays out as if it was one of those animated manga pieces. Well... the ending animation certainly does this, but the main show does at least come across as better than that. But it's like the animation crew are fully aware of the original's iconic status as a comic, and tried to portray that through its animation. The main difference here is with the vehicle scenes, and there are a lot of those -- Duke Togo is, needless to say, a well-travelled man -- they're all done in CG. Said CG does occasionally come off as a bit stiff in execution, particularly during flight scenes, but they're still a massive improvement from the hilariously terrible CG used in the Golgo 13 movie. It's like the show constantly borders on the "acceptable" range of animation quality. It's not going to hurt looking at it, but it's not the strongest aspect of the show to be sure.
I just had to watch this show after having to endure the blazingly insane The Professional: Golgo 13 movie a long, long time ago -- partially because I had to see why the manga proved to be so popular as to still be running after all these years -- and having now seen this entire show, I can say this with certainty: Golgo 13 is a show that needs to be watched. Maybe not a full 50 episode's worth, but the show is still an interesting study in the hardboiled murderer scene. It's a show that wavers between pragmatism and cynicism, but while it might ask a bit too much in wanting to make us cheer for its main lead, it's still a fascinating look at a darker world, the one that hides in the shadows.
Or you could gather up your drinking buddies and have a lark MSTing the hell out of this one. That works too.
Worth watching for the sometimes bizarre ideas and representations of honor and work ethic. Dock a star or two if you're the kind who take your shows very, very seriously -- honestly, I had a hard time deciding whether to give this show three or four myself. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: A ton of people are shot in this movie, often in the head. It's not that the show is particularly gory or torture porn-y -- Hostel this is not -- but it goes without saying that you should probably be a legal adult if you plan on watching this. In addition to that, the show does occasionally get topical on the subject of drugs, both narcotics and the performance-enhancing kind.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual.
Review Status: Full (50/50)
Golgo 13 © 2008 The Answer Studio Co., Ltd.
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