A continuation of Ajin on Netflix, the story picks up with Sato essentially declaring war on Japan through acts of terrorism and Nagai is still on the run. I have previously reviewed season 1 here.
If you haven’t watched the first season of this, it might be time to check it out. While there are certainly issues with the story, Ajin makes for some reasonably compelling viewing and at the very least isn’t really trying to justify the villains actions. At times the series attempts to look at the decisions made by governments and corporations where saving face and profits outweigh moral decisions. It may be a little in-your-face about it, but there is certainly a cautionary tale underlying the carnage, though it isn’t a central point in the narrative at any stage.
We’ll address the biggest issue straight up. The animation and visuals. While they may appeal to some I personally find the character designs quite hideous and the way the characters move in their day to day interactions is actually quite creepy and unnerving. They look fantastic when they are in action or combat but the hand gestures, head tilts, facial expressions and everything else just feels wrong. It isn’t quite unwatchable but it definitely takes a few episodes to get used to and even then every now and then a character will move in a certain way or they’ll do a close up on a facial expression and I found myself pulled from the world they were trying to create. Essentially, if you can get over this, or if you are one of the people who thinks it looks good or at the least interesting, the rest of the show is very good. Not best ever, but certainly quite an enjoyable watch.
There is absolutely no point in watching this second season without the first. Given season 1 spent a lot of time explaining what little is known about Ajin, season 2 does not bother. Occasionally new bits of information come to light but it won’t make any sense without the context provided in season 1. Also, all of the character relationships have been established in season 1 so while these are built on you kind of need the prior knowledge to really care.
So, let’s look at Ajin season 2 in more detail.
Nagai as a main character continues to attempt to be logical but there are definitely moments where his emotions break through the shell he’s built around himself. Most notably he starts to actually connect with others even as he insists he’s using them and that leads to some issues for him later on in the season. We also see him briefly reunited with Kai. After the early stage of season 1, Kai just kind of disappeared, but now we learn he was put in detention for helping Nagai and his return is quite welcome even as it is brief.
Perhaps the biggest change in Nagai’s character is that instead of running and avoiding he makes the decision to take the fight to Sato but knows he can’t do that alone. Enter a deal with Tosaki (who is in hot water all on his own due to his various failures and the murder he committed back in season 1). I’m guessing they were working on the principle of the enemy of my enemy might be my friend long enough to succeed. While I didn’t really believe Tosaki would make a deal with Nagai (and certainly wouldn’t honour it) the way the two interact after that is pretty realistic so if we just accept that they did make a deal and move on everything after that is fairly interesting. The two dislike each other on principle but both are cold and calculating enough to put that aside, but not enough to actually bother trying to play nice. It makes some of the down time between action sequences a lot more entertaining.
Due to the increase in the terrorist attacks we see the playing field widen this season and we have various special forces and then the US become actively involved. Things just keep escalating which is exactly what Sato wants and it makes for entertaining if fairly senselessly violent entertainment. There are social issues addressed and there is certainly some blatant criticism of corporate culture (as I said earlier) but this isn’t the main focus.
Ultimately this season comes down to the show down between Sato and Nagai. Nagai doesn’t want to fight and Sato’s goals are bigger than dealing with Nagai but Nagai keeps getting in his way. It’s an interesting way to put to characters against each other when neither one really wants anything to do with the other but personal circumstances keep getting in the way.
The other criticism I will make though is the music. While it is actually pretty well chosen and nice and dramatic, the show has this weird tendency to swap scenes almost mid-note and the music just kind of cuts out. It’s a little bit disconcerting (which may be what they were going for) but it also makes the transitions between scenes a little jarring.
Basically, season 1 was fun though had some exposition and character issues as well as predictable narrative structure. Season 2 drops the exposition dumping because we already know enough but substitutes in character dialogue that at times seems to exist only to fill in space. We still have some excellent action and a narrative that inherently works. Plus, season 2 resolves (but of course leaves just enough of a loose end for a season 3).
I’d recommend trying Ajin if you are into action or just like shows with a reasonable pace and violence. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are squeamish though. It isn’t the most graphic thing ever and season 2 isn’t as bad as season 1 (no direct torture) but it is still pretty bloody at times.
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