Last month I read a number of reviews about Ajin on Netflix and so I decided to check it out. I’m really glad I did.
The story initially focusses on Kei Nagai who is a studious and fairly detached student. We see his fractured relationships with friends and his family and then we see him get hit by a truck and not die. Kei has found out that he is an Ajin, someone who cannot die and are not treated as humans. The rest of the story involves Kei trying to evade capture and we meet other Ajin and various agents trying to track down Ajin.
I’m going to try to do this without spoilers so I won’t get into what Ajin are (what little we’re told) or their specific powers other than not dying. I also won’t talk about characters and their motivations that are introduced in the second half of the series. Wow, that’s going to make it hard to review.
While the exposition at the start of this anime is at best clunky, once the story gets moving this is quite the fascinating ride. Despite an opening sequence showing us a conflict in Africa where an Ajin is overpowering an a small armed force and is then taken down with tranquilizers, the anime still felt the need to add a lesson at school where students were told about Ajin as if it were the first time they had ever discussed it and asking questions that they should have already had the answers to if Ajin had been known about for as long as they had. It’s not an impressive way to segue from battlefield to Kei’s everyday life about to be interrupted by this war between human and Ajin.
The story also doesn’t offer anything particularly new in terms of Kei’s narrative arc. He finds out he’s Ajin. He runs. An old friend that he’d broken off contact with helps him and then Kei leaves him behind because Kei believes that he can’t help him any further (Kei is incredibly logical – some might say cold, his sister calls him a jerk). Kei finds other Ajin. They betray him. He’s captured by the government. Oh, they do horrible medical experiments. He escapes. Etc, etc. You could more or less predict the next step in the sequence but that didn’t make it any less engaging to watch.
Ajin works because of the cast of characters and its pacing. The action sequences are spaced out far enough that you don’t feel like you are getting whiplash but the quiet moments in between don’t feel like they are dragging. And while you may not like the characters, they all come across as real people who have issues of their own to deal with even while they are thrown into this situation.
And yes, this anime does go for shocks in a few places. You have main characters who can’t actually die but they don’t regenerate until they are fully dead. Cue scenes of dismemberment and excessive pain, as well as Ajin facing a need to kill themselves in order to overcome some damage. If you’re squeamish, this probably won’t work for you.
I do need to discuss the animation and character design. Much like the previous anime I watched on Netflix, Knights of Sidonia, I really dislike this particular style. At least in Knights the characters were supposed to have undergone adaptation to live in space so the fact that their facial expressions and the way they moved was creepily smooth and unnatural didn’t really interfere with immersion. Ajin doesn’t have that luxury and so the appearance of the characters is at time jarring.
Another gripe, though this one is entirely petty, is Izumi Shimomura’s appearance. Mostly because from the first scene she was in I just kept seeing Ennis from Baccano. And I know that isn’t really a legitimate criticism of Ajin but it was distracting for me.
Like long lost sisters.
My other distraction, toward the end of the series, came when I felt that events were kind of similar to events in Terror in Resonance. Not exactly the same or copied, just felt similar and then I started thinking I should watch Terror in Resonance again, so I probably will and review it at some point in the not too distant future.
Anyway, in case it doesn’t seem like it, I actually really loved Ajin and I really hope the story continues because even though the immediate threats to the characters were resolved the over all conflict is still raging hot and it really feels like there is plenty more that this story could give us.
If you’ve watched Ajin, let me know what you thought. If you haven’t and you have Netflix you should definitely check it out.