Ajin was a show that had me most intrigued going into the winter 2016 season. Any anime with the horror genre on its card is going to get my attention, and Ajin not only has that, but Mystery and Supernatural as well. Combine that with some of the marketing material I had seen, and I figured this show would be right up my alley. Thanks to Netflix and their streaming delay however, here I am reviewing it practically halfway into Spring. I like a good binge watch though, and Netflix provides top quality streaming so you won’t hear me complain too much.
As with all my reviews, I have to give a minor spoiler warning to those of you who like knowing nothing. I personally went into Ajin with absolutely zero knowledge of the plot and that worked out well for me, but I assume since you are here that’s not what you’re going for. Scroll down for the damage report and a summary if you are so inclined.
Ajin (toss “Demi Human” on to the title if you are a dub watcher) takes place in an alternate modern day Japan, where a new life form called “Ajin” have been discovered and live among the population. Ajin are impossible to distinguish from any other human, with the main distinction being that they cannot die. Very few have been discovered worldwide, since as you can imagine it’s not exactly easy to identify one. It doesn’t help that they also don’t want to be discovered, as that condemns them to a life as a brutally treated test subject. The Ajin are so rarely discovered in fact, that they are essentially an urban legend at the start of the show.
The story follows Kei Nagai, a painfully boring kid who’s odd and mysterious nature certainly raises a lot of questions right off the bat. His little sister hates him (not like Kirino, the real kind), his mother is cold, and his friends are lacking. We have all seen the character hopelessly devoted to their studies to the detriment of their social lives, but it’s apparent that there’s something not quite right with this kid. He want’s to be normal and live a life without dysfunction, and that’s of course very unfortunate for him. Getting run over by a truck is one of those things that has a way of changing your life, normally in a very conclusive way, but typically doesn’t involve black dusty stuff, and strange noises. So, when this is what happens in Kei’s case, people pretty much know what he is, and thus begins his life on the run.
Ajin’s story was a bit of a disappointment for me. First of all, it hardly deserves to be labeled as a horror, as I can’t think of a single scary moment in the entire 13 episodes. Suspense? Sure, but not horror. The show is gritty though, and does a pretty solid job of bringing up the question of humanity’s, and specifically Japan’s, tendency toward societal discrimination and xenophobia. The Ajin are treated brutally, and while indistinguishable from human beings, are viewed as no more than slabs of meat in the name of science (the idea carries a little more weight when you consider some of the real world parallels that took place in Japan not all that long ago). With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some Ajin who want to fight back to earn equal treatment, and that’s where one of the more interesting characters in the show comes in. Satou “The Hat” is an older man and an Ajin, who on the surface is kind and charismatic, but ruthless in the name of realizing his ideals. While Kei may be the main character, Satou’s misanthropic nature is the major driving force behind the story’s progression.
The story’s progression is where my main issue is however. I found myself quite bored with Ajin and it took me a long time to finish it in large part because it literally kept putting me to sleep. The pacing is far too slow, and I found that very little actually happened between the first and the final episodes. Aside from Kei and Satou, a majority of the cast was rather undeveloped. We are introduced to a variety of seemingly interesting characters, but many of them are literally forgotten about or fade quietly into the background. I don’t want to hold this against the show because I’m aware that the story isn’t finished, but it would have been nice to have a little more to chew on with some of the stories behind the supporting cast. Without knowing many of their true motivations it was difficult to sympathize, which resulted in an overall disconnect with any emotional impact the story may have had. The show did go out with a very satisfying bang, but left a ton of unanswered questions, clearly anticipating a second season (which it looks like we will be getting in Fall 2016 thankfully). I can’t say I’m eager for the continuation, but I’m definitely curious to see where they will take things.
Some of you may be wondering how I have talked about the show for this long without mentioning the burning topic of its visual style. Being created by Polygon Pictures means Ajin sports full CG and all of its glory, or lack thereof. I know some of you out there are unadulterated CG haters, but Polygon has proven themselves competent with Knights of Sidonia so it really shouldn’t scare you away. You will hardly find me willing to take the flag as a champion of CG, but Ajin did a solid job working within its limitations. While obviously you will never find the detail and charm of some traditionally animated shows, my biggest problem with CG is the unrealistic movement of its characters, and Ajin managed to avoid this pitfall. Visually, I actually really liked the dark, gritty, filter that bathed the show, since it was a very nice compliment to the suspense and foreboding of the story. While the CG style will continue to be a strike against all shows in my opinion, Ajin handled the it better than most and even managed to be pretty decent looking.
Ajin’s soundtrack was solid, and even brilliant at times. As usual, I have a pretty hard time finding adjectives to compliment a shows soundtrack, but this one did a fantastic job of setting the suspenseful tone that the show was going for. The opening is a fine song, “Yoru wa Nemureru kai” by Flumpool, but the ending theme, “How Close You Are” by the lead character’s seiyuu Mamoru Miyano, is simply beautiful. The voice actors do a good job overall. I watched the show through with the Japanese audio, and the only complaint I have is that some of the side characters seem to have very similar voices which had me confused from time to time when they were speaking off screen. I watched the first episode with the English audio which seemed strong, and you even have the option on Netflix of French and German dubs, which I may have tried if I had known beforehand.
TL;DR: Ajin is a fine show that takes place in a world with immortal beings called Ajin. The pacing is slow, and a bit methodical, with very little story progression over the course of its 13 episodes. The animation is fully CG, but you shouldn’t let that scare you away as it does a better job than most and even manages to be pretty good looking overall. The soundtrack is solid, and even has sparks of brilliance. I would have a hard time recommending this show based solely on its first season, but it does an alright job as a supernatural thriller, and has a lot of potential if the second season doesn’t disappoint.
Recommended audience: Tons of violence, and some pretty graphic depictions of human torture, with a dash of profanity. I would keep it away from the kids, but Teens and adults who are looking for some action and suspense will probably have fun with Ajin.
Ajin is shot multiple times in the face, but regenerates with 3/5 HP.