Yugo the Negotiator has a pretty simple premise, hell it's right there in the title. Yugo takes on various dangerous jobs where he need to mediate conflicts using all of his negotiation skills. However, the way the two arcs unfold are anything but simple as Yugo has to navigate through the tangled web of motivations of the parties involved in the negotiation which makes each arc more complex and interesting to watch as they unfold.
The story of the anime is split up into two arcs which follow roughly the same structure. Yugo gets the job, Yugo does some preliminary research into the parties involved as well as the countries involved, then he goes to undertake the negotiation using what he's learned. However, nothing ever goes smooth for Yugo, nothing ever goes according to plan because people are unpredictable. However, this is also where Yugo's research comes into play, he uses what he learned to navigate these sticky situations even if he has to put his very life on the line.
The first arc of the anime takes place in Pakistan and plays out a bit like a more intelligent action action movie. Yugo has to go through a war zone even to get to a place where he can negotiate and even after getting there he is forced to go through some hellish experiences. The arc is set up beautifully in the first episode with some really interesting research into the nature of faith as the group he's dealing with are religious fanatics which makes for some of the most interesting parts of the arc. As Yugo has to try to their very faith to manipulate them. However, no matter how prepared Yugo is he's not infallible or invulnerable so there's always the feeling that things can go wrong at any second which adds a lot of tension to the episodes.
The second arc while following the same pattern of the first, plays out more like espionage thriller rather than an action movie. The second arc takes place in Russia during winter which I thought was a rather brilliant change of pace after the first arc took place in a burning desert. When doing research Yugo takes the environment into consideration as well which becomes a big part of this arc as the sub zero temperatures of Russia can be quite brutal and deadly. The second arc even includes a bit of mystery for Yugo to solve as it's revealed early on that his client most likely has ulterior motives. What plays out is a very good espionage plot with lots of intrigue as Yugo has to match wits with the remnants of the KGB.
The only real criticism I can make of the two plots is that they do tend to fall back on both action movie and spy movie cliches which can make them a bit predictable at times. It doesn't really hurt the enjoyment factor of the anime because it's less about the twists and more about how Yugo uses what he knows to get himself out of various jams anyway. The cliches are much more obvious in the first arc and mostly revolve around the leader of the religious fanatics, but they are also present in the second arc if slightly less obvious.
The cast for this anime is made up of the many memorable characters that Yugo has to deal with. Despite the cast completely changing between the first and second arc there is still room for development in the characters that Yugo has to deal with the most in his negotiations. The anime is good giving these characters quick clear characterization and then fleshing them out as the arc progresses. Once again this is something the second arc does even better than the first arc, but that's because the negotiation in the second arc really forces Yugo to understand everyone's motivations.
Of course the central character of this anime is Yugo himself. At first I was worried he was going to be a Mary Sue that knew it all, but the anime did away with this perception very early on. Yugo has to rely on others for help quite often and his plans rarely pan out perfectly. Instead he has use every ounce of his wits to get out of jams and sometimes even that isn't enough. It's apparent that Yugo is a smart, determined guy, but the anime always gives the feeling that he could fail and in most situations that would mean his death. Yugo doesn't really develop much over the course of the series, however, the anime does add to his characterization to flesh him out over the course of the series. The series could have gotten away with making Yugo a boring typical lead, because of how interesting the plot is, but the anime goes the extra mile to give an interesting protagonist which makes the series that much more enjoyable. Due to the fact that the viewer can start to empathize with Yugo a bit it makes it even harder to watch the brutal torture he has to go through at times. The series isn't gentle with it's lead and he really does go through the wringer in both arcs.
The art style of the anime is pretty fitting and even switches a bit to match the tone of the two arcs. The color palate used as well as the designs of the characters are a bit gritty and add to the realistic setting and tone of the series. However, the animation isn't particularly good, it's not terrible, but it's obvious this anime wasn't working with a big budget, but it's not so bad that it takes away from the enjoyment of the series. The soundtrack for the anime is decent if not particularly memorable with the opening and ending being the most interesting tracks. The opening is a very nice jazzy sounding track which is appropriate as Yugo himself in forced to improvise all the time as well. The voice acting was pretty spot on in the Japanese dub with the voices fitting the characters and providing the appropriate emotional beats. Just make sure to avoid the English dub because the horrible but hilariously bad accents will ruin the anime.
Overall, I want more anime like this, goddamn it. This was an awesome ride from start to finish and even it's little flaws didn't detract from my enjoyment. This anime does share a lot in common with Master Keaton, another anime I'd like to see more of, but I enjoyed it more overall because I felt the longer arcs gave the anime time to flesh out characters more and make the plot more complex. I highly recommend this anime to anyone looking for something a different from the usual anime fare, but even if you're not tired of the same old same I still highly recommend giving this one a shot.