Ajin Review

Once in a while, an anime comes along where it tries to do something different. It tries to prove to the world that something is possible. For Ajin, that something was to try and prove that emotions can be conveyed through a show that is fully done in CG. I applaud Polygon Pictures for giving it a shot, but the question is, did it really succeed in doing so? Well, we’re about to find out!

Let’s go!

The Story

The story of Ajin was, for all intents and purposes, very interesting. There are people in the world who cannot die. These people are known as Ajin or Demi Humans. The problem is that nobody knows that they are Ajin until they die. If they do die, their body will be surrounded by black particles before they come back to life. Ajins also have a special ability to call forth a “black ghost” known as an IBM.  They are beings that they can control and use for different deeds. The IBMs can only be seen by other Ajins unless the Ajin itself decides to manifest it in such a way where normal people can see it. They can also let out a piercing yell that can paralyze humans, making them very dangerous.

The world teaches people to be afraid of those who are Ajin. Because as a such, a special investigation group is put together to track down and capture them. Once captured they will conduct horrendous experiments on them… you know.. FOR SCIENCE! No really, they are actually doing it for science. The government is seeking answers as to what Ajin actually are and how they can be stopped.

Enter Kei Nagai. He’s a boy who just wants to grow up to be a normal person. He’s invested in his studies and wants to lead a normal life. That is until the day where he doesn’t pay attention and strolls out into the middle of the street where he gets smacked by a truck and dies.

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That’s going to leave a mark.

However, for Kei, his life is only beginning at that point as he discovers that he is an Ajin. Since this happened in broad daylight in front of his classmates, Kei has no choice but to make a run for it. This brings us to another Ajin named Satoru. Satoru gets word of Kei and wants to stand by his side since he is offers a safe harbor for Ajins, but are Satoru’s intentions really pure?

Of course not! In the end, Ajin is about two people… Kei and Satoru. Kei just wants to isolate himself from humanity and live his life while Satoru wishes to gather all like-minded Ajin and start a revolutionary war against the humans. It’s a definite yin/yang story attempting to be told here, but what really bothers me is that the story is not complete. The final episode of Ajin ends with no conclusion or resolution whatsoever. That’s all due in part to the fact that Ajin also has three movies being produced. The first two movies recap the anime while the third movie will serve as the sequel to the anime and finish off the story.

This isn’t the first time an anime has done this. Puella Magi Madoka Magica did the same thing with one big difference. Madoka Magica had a logical conclusion point at the end of the anime. Yes, while there was enough left unanswered to make a movie to finish off the series, one could watch the whole tv anime by itself and feel fulfilled at the end because they are given an actual ending that can be perceived as a stopping point. Ajin, on the other hand, makes ZERO attempts at doing this, thus forcing you to watch the third movie in order to see the true conclusion to the series. What’s worse is that the first two movies are considered to be a recap of the anime, but the anime itself takes place after the first movie aired, but before the second movie airs.

So… the first Ajin movie aired on November 27, 2015, but the second Ajin movie won’t air until May 6, 2016. However, the first Ajin movie covers episodes 1-6 of the anime and the second Ajin movie is set to covers episodes 7-12 of the anime. The third Ajin movie won’t air until September 23, 2016 and will conclude the series. So unless these movies are going to add in scenes that are missing from the anime, what was the entire point of having the anime if the movies are going to take care of the material?

Broken Blade is a good example. There were six Broken Blade movies and then AFTER those movies aired, they did a television anime series that covered all of the movies and then added extra material in it to help flesh out the story a bit better. Here, you have a movie… then you have an anime which is the first movie then gives away the second movie for free… THEN you’re airing the second movie which people already saw if they watched the anime and then are forcing us to wait until the beginning of autumn just to see the third movie which concludes both the movies and the anime? That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. That’s one weird way to tell a story.

The Characters

The characters in Ajin were kind of hit or miss to me. Some seemed like cannon fodder while some just completely disappear off the face of the Earth, making me wonder why they were even introduced in the first place. Let’s take a look at them.

Kei Nagai

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Our main character, who undergoes quite a bit of development. He goes from someone who wants to be an ordinary person into an Ajin scared out of his mind. Slowly, but surely, Kei begins to transform into someone who understands that this is the life he must live now and he wants to do so where he can live it out alone and in peace. He doesn’t want anyone to bother him and inversely, he doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone. Sadly, the latter kind of makes Kei come off like a jerk, but you actually understand why he is doing that. I’ll get more into that when I talk about another character that helped highlight this emotional transformation.

Kaito

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Kaito is a childhood friend of Kei’s who had a bit of a falling out. Despite not talking to Kei in quite a long time, Kaito agrees to help Kei escape when it is known that he is an Ajin. Kaito doesn’t consider Kei an Ajin; he still considers him a human and a friend. Then all of that gets thrown out the window when Kei decides he’s better off on his own and disappears, leaving Kaito behind. After that Kaito is never seen nor heard from again in this anime. Yes… this character just ups and disappears COMPLETELY. Kaito was only around to help Kei escape and once Kei escaped, he dropped him like a bad habit.

Seriously… after everything Kaito did? He risked his life to help Kei escape. He still believed in him and considered him a friend. The heartbreak on Kaito’s face when Kei killed himself to heal his wounds after an encounter during their escape… all of it just sold the fact that Kaito is the best damn friend Kei could have had on this planet. Then Kei walks out on him and Kaito just gets written off the show. Yep. That’s it… goodbye… so long… you’re gone. The way they treated this character is absolutely atrocious. What a way to introduce us to a meaningful character only to pull the rug out from underneath us and tell us that he was nothing more than a plot device.

Eriko Nagai

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Here is Kei’s sister. Eriko dislikes her brother because of an event that happened when they were kids involving the two of them and Kaito. Eriko is then kidnapped by Satou and then released once they get the information they need out of her and treat her as a lure for Kei. After that… Eriko, like Kai disappears. This show is now two for two with introducing characters and then turning them into plot devices.

Tosaki Yuu

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He is a high-ranking member of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. In other words, he sounds like he should be in Servant x Service, but instead he’s heading up an investigation team that’s hunting down and capturing Ajins. Tosaki’s demeanor is a mixed bag and I wasn’t sure what kind of character they were trying to portray. At one point he seemed stern, yet fair as he is just trying to do his job, then the next minute he comes off as a controlling asshole when it comes to his partner and then the next minute, he seems like a spiteful and resentful human being that wants to disobey authority, but just when he’s about to make that turn down character development boulevard, he reverts to one of the two aforementioned personas. All I know is he wants to capture Ajins and protect his own reputation in the process… even though at times it seems like he doesn’t care about his reputation in the slightest. I have a hard time trying to read Tosaki and can’t really tell if he’s supposed to be a protagonist or an antagonist since he plays both sides. Just an overall sloppy character.

Izumi Shimomura

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She’s Tosaki’s partner and she’s just being brought along for the ride. No really… that’s how they decide to treat this character. Other than the fact that she, herself, is an Ajin (Yeah, spoiler, whatever), she doesn’t really say much unless she has to. She gives reports, does some poking around and that’s about it. She spends most of her time in the show standing there giving Tosaki different looks, gritting her teeth, swallowing her pride and just taking it up the proverbial ass. It’s not until the very end of the show where she actually makes herself useful, but by then it’s too little too late. The fact that she is an Ajin was the biggest development she had. After that, Tosaki keeps reminding her that he can do away with her any time he chooses to, but yet she continues to obey. Tosaki can badmouth Ajins right in front of her and she gives off this look that she will take her revenge, but then she does nothing. Again, I don’t even know why Izumi is even here. She’s just Tosaki’s verbal whipping post and nothing more.

Satou

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Ah… the old man in the hat who always keeps eyes closed and a smile on his face. Seen this character a million times. They’re knowledgeable, caring, full of common sense and will typically be pretty good at getting you out of tough situations. Satou is none of that as he wants to destroy the world! Well, maybe not destroy the world, but he does want the government to stop treating the Ajins like human experiments. Satou is an Ajin himself who is looking to gather other Ajins for the purpose of leading a revolutionary war against the humans so that they can receive equal treatment. Satou is actually very cold, callous, and ruthless. He will stop at nothing until his goal is met. I actually enjoyed the Satou character. He was one of those characters that you loved to hate. He got some great time to shine at the end of the series and it really showed just how far he was willing to go for his cause. Even the Ajins that sided with him noted that he was a monster. Very well done!

Kouji Tanaka

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I don’t know how to describe him except he’s the angry Ajin that sides with Satou and just wants to kill everything and everyone in sight. Yeah.. that’s Tanaka in a nutshell. Guy can’t even aim a gun correctly, though so good look with just standing there and looking pissed off 24/7.

Kou Nakano

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We have Kei.. we have Kai.. now we have Kou! Kou is an Ajin that disagreed with Satou’s views and escaped. He finds Kei out in the woods training his IBM. Kou reaches out to Kei and asks him to stand by his side as he plans to fight Satou. Kei responds by drowning Kou in water and then locking him in an overturned transport container in the middle of the woods! Remember how I said there was one character that accented Kei’s character development? Well here he is! Kei isn’t completely heartless, however. He does bring Kou food, magazines, and a television! At least he’s thoughtful, right? Outside of being locked up and made into Kei’s bitch, there’s nothing about Kou that makes him an interesting character. He’s just there and I’m sure that once Kei has made use of him, he’ll drop Kou like a bad habit and Kou won’t be heard from ever again.. just like Kai!

Overall… there was some pretty terrible character development here. The characters themselves were all over the place and the only two that seemed consistent were Kei and Satou.

Art, Animation, and Sound

The artwork itself looked very good. Backgrounds were extremely detailed, the characters themselves were designed pretty well and yes, they did achieve the emotions they were looking for in the facial animations on their CG models, but that is where the praise ends.

The animation was extremely inconsistent. For a show completely done in CG there was no excuse for what we were given. Some scenes were very smooth and fluid, but those scenes were few and far between. Instead, we were treated to typical anime-style animation, but worse. If you thought anime looked rough with its frame by frame style then Ajin would cause you to pull your hair out because there seems to be more frames missing than usual. Characters looked completely jittery when doing simple things such as walking. Forget about complex actions like moving arms or popping pills into a mouth… those animations just looked so stiff and unnatural that it was painful to look at in some spots.

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This looked pretty nice, though.

The studio clearly wanted to show emotion… not budget in this show. I’ve seen some really low budget shows… Rockman.EXE, I’m looking at you… and even shows like that with their simplistic and flat designs were better animated than Ajin.

I will give props to the show’s soundtrack though. It did bring forth an pretty engaging OST that sucked you into the world. The opening and ending themes were simply amazing as well. “Yoru wa Nemureru kai?” by flumpool served as the opening and is a dark and gritty rock song which an amazing high energy chorus. It was easily one of my favorite openings of the Winter anime season. Then we get the ending “HOW CLOSE YOU ARE” by Mamoru Miyano. Yes…. The voice actor behind Kei as well as such other notable lead roles like Okarin from Steins;Gate and Takuto from Star Driver, sang the ending song. The song itself was a soft and somber acoustic treat that was very pleasant to listen to and if you like those sort of songs, then I highly recommend you pick this one up.

Overall Thoughts

Ajin had a lot of potential, but it fell flat on its face. An interesting story kept me coming back for more, but the really shoddy animation and even shoddier character development for the supporting cast really put a dampen on this show. My suggestion is to stream a couple of episodes and see if it’s to your liking because this seems like a show where it’s going to please some people and turn some people off. If you can get past the weird CG animation and just pay attention to the story itself, you could find enjoyment in this show, but you would be overlooking a lot in order to do so.

The show really did start off strong and I did enjoy it in the beginning, but once it got past that half way point, I felt that’s when the quality of the show really started to go downhill. If it had started off the way the second half presented itself, I probably would have ended up dropping the show, but since it was good in the beginning I kept watching in hopes that it would have gotten better. Then by the time you realize it’s not going to get better, you simply make the decision to finish it just to see it through to the end… and then the end doesn’t have an ending and forces you to go watch the third movie that won’t be out for another five months in Japan.

Ugh…

Just Ugh…

Ajin

CG Emotion? Yes. Character Development and Good Animation? No

While the story was interesting, the characters were not for the most part. Had they done better, it would have overshadowed the hit or miss animation.

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About The Author

Josh Piedra

Josh (or J.J. as some have come to call him), is a long-time geek culture enthusiast with a deep passion for anime, manga and Japanese culture. Josh also has a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design and is a creative writer who has created original content for over 20 years! He is also the author of the original English light novel Final Hope.