Anime that have come out on Netflix have been very hit and miss for me. So when I first saw reviews for Ajin while I was curious, I didn’t rush into viewing it. When I finally did watch it, I very much enjoyed it, after I got over the visual style. I’m going to be honest, the character animation is creepy and while that works for the Ajin and villainous characters, even the human characters are just kind of creepy to watch.
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, at the same time as the witnesses, that he is an Ajin, someone who cannot die. That would be kind of cool except that the Ajin are more or less treated as monsters and hunted down where we see them being experimented upon. The rest of the story involves Kei trying to evade capture and we meet other Ajin and various agents trying to track down Ajin.
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 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.
This is something the story will suffer from a number of times throughout the first season. They tell us information multiple times and many characters feel the need to spell out or explain things that you would think should be obvious to the person they are explaining it to and the dialogue at times exists only to fill things in for an audience who probably already put it together and is now wondering just why the show is bothering to tell us something so obvious.
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. It would be nice if they were fleshed out a little more but they each offer something to the story and they don’t out stay their welcome.
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. The medical experiments performed upon various characters, even when just alluded to are on the disturbing side and are supposed to be. The way human’s treat Ajin as monsters, and so many Ajin behave monstrously, is a pivotal point in the story and while it isn’t a new idea it is well used by this story.
I do need to come back to the animation and character design. Much like other anime I watched on Netflix, such as 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. See below we have Ennis and then Izumi. Spot the differences because there’s creepy similarity.
Like long lost sisters.
Anyway, in case it doesn’t seem like it, I actually really enjoyed watching Ajin and I happily dove into season 2. Because, let’s be honest, there really were a lot of loose ends left at the end of season one. 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.
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