Ajin – 04/05

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Ajin - 04-05 -1Let there be no two ways about it – whatever you might think of the other aspects of its production, Ajin is a superbly written series as far as I’m concerned.  The first three eps were excellent, but this week’s double-episode (which, as I understand it, takes the series through almost all of the material covered in the first movie) was a standout – some of the best anime this season, and some of the best action-thriller anime I’ve seen in a long time.

Ajin - 04-05 -2A thriller (be it horror, sci-fi or otherwise) has multiple goals it needs to accomplish, but at the very least it has to be a little thrilling.  Ajin has that covered and then some – like last week these episodes flew by.  There’s always something happening on-screen but not just that (which isn’t really all that hard), it’s always something interesting.  You always feel like you should be paying attention because something important is happening, and in an entertaining way.  Pacing is important in an genre but never more than this one, and Ajin is nailing it.

Ajin - 04-05 -3There’s a lot more than that to appreciate, though.  The plot here is really well put-together, and it manages to guard its secrets without seeming to cheat.  We’re finding out stuff more or less at the same rate Kei is, and by no means do we have anything like a complete picture yet.  Who is this Ajin Nakamura Shinya who was responsible for the “incident” everyone (especially Tosaki) keeps referring to?  Who is this mad scientist Ogura Ikuya (Kinoshita Hiroyuki) who seems to have defected to the American side?  And where did Ajin come from in the first place?

Ajin - 04-05 -4Most importantly, though, Ajin keeps us guessing about the people involved even as we grow to know them.  Shmomura is obviously an Ajin (the preview spoiled that) and Tosaki seems effectively to be blackmailing her into helping him.  Satou, though, is the most opaque and probably important unknown element.  Obviously he’s a badass of the first order, as his rescue raid late in the episode showed (cutting off his own arm after he was hit by a dart was pretty cool) – and he pulled it off without even revealing his special ability (it seems some Ajin have them, others don’t).  But is he a bad man?

Ajin - 04-05 -5At this point it seems so, though the series does expertly yank us back and forth on that question.  After kidnapping Eriko he seems to be genuinely concerned for Kei’s welfare – he introduces himself as head of the “Ajin Protection Committee“.  But then it seems as if he might have killed Eriko once she was no longer useful, but this turns out to be a feint – and again, after his meeting with Kei in the woods he once again seems like a decent soul.  The issue here – which Ajin plays on so expertly – is that we desperately want Satou to be a good guy, because there are so few of them in this cast, the world is so cruel, and Kei so obviously needs someone like Satou to help him.

Ajin - 04-05 -6In the end, though, the game Satou is playing seems quite clear – he wants to win Kei over to his side by any means necessary, but that means Kei has to come to hate all humans and want to seek revenge against them.  The rest of it is all an act, and when that doesn’t take he allows Kei to be captured and tortured assuming that will turn Kei into the vicious monster Tanaka seems to have become.  I don’t like torture porn much – not here, not in Tokyo Ghoul (which this series broadly resembles in some ways), nor elsewhere.  I can see why it’s being used, at least, because Kei’s humanity is really the central question of this entire seres, and it has to be tested firmly – and at least (for now) the torture arc was relatively short.

Ajin - 04-05 -7We learned an awful lot about a lot of people and events in these episodes.  Eriko resents Kei because she feels he betrayed Kai (and I think he does, too) by agreeing to stop seeing him because Kai’s father was a criminal.  Yet Eriko still loves Kei enough to want to help him (and I suspect Kai even more).  The nature of the black ghosts (“Invisible Black Matter” as Ogura calls them) is that of a “second life” – an extension of one’s self that can be controlled with enough practice.  It seems the amount of pain an Ajin feels is inversely proportional to the number of times they’ve died – which while rather grisly, does offer a bleak kind of comfort for Kei.  And we learned that Kei is strong enough to withstand 10 days worth of torture without becoming the killer Satou wants him to be – a “failure”, as the latter calls him.

Ajin - 04-05 -8The crucial question now is what Satou will do about Kei now that he’s failed to turn him.  Will he rescue him anyway, rather than leave any Ajin in the hands of humans?  Just what Kei’s options are if he doesn’t isn’t exactly clear – he’s certainly decided he doesn’t want to put Kai in any further danger, even assuming Kai were in any position to help him.  There’s something especially tragic about a gentle soul who wants nothing more than to live a quiet life without hurting anybody, and has that taken away from him by fate – and while Kei isn’t especially heroic in the conventional sense, there’s something heroic about simple decency.  Especially when the world is as indecent as the one he’s been forced to adapt to.

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14 comments

  1. Next episode will be the final episode that covers the first film. On the topic of human decency, Ajin will only sparingly hand over more of those moments you ask for, but they’re there. It’s feels nice I can finally watch original material from this series come episode 7, since the second movie isn’t until April. That leads me to believe only the first two movies will be the TV series though and the third film will have to be the medium for us all to experience that portion of Ajin animated.

  2. b

    I didn’t get the feeling that eriko loves him. She appears to despise him and she only felt concern kai’s safely

  3. I do disagree with that. She’s pissed and sulking, but I think she knows he’s ultimately a good person that loves her. But I agree that’s not yet obvious or indisputable.

  4. s

    eh i wouldnt necessarily say that; sure eriko doesnt want her bro to suffer in the hands of people who would do nothing but experiment on him but i was definitely under the impression that it was not her brother she was primarily concerned with. She’s angry with her brother, but she also thinks there’s something off about him indicated by the way she says he’s scum. That whole time she was being questioned by satou, she only kept asking about kai’s safety, not kei’s. Yea she may not want harm to come to her brother, but she’s too spiteful about him to think of him as her main concern. Perhaps that’s a character arc we will see come full circle: Eriko rekindling her bond and affection for her brother

  5. You can be angry at someone and still love them (I would argue it’s pretty easy, in fact). And while I do agree she’s most worried about Kai, that’s driven by the fact that she’s in-love with him and 13 (or whatever she is).

  6. s

    haha, yea she seems to be smitten with the guy. but yea that’s what im getting at: eriko loves her brother but as of this moment in the plot, she’s definitely more open about hating him than the former. That’s why i believer there’s going to be a point where she gets over hating him and starts being more open about the fact that she still cares for him. Or i could be wrong and she sells him out at one point (people are little shits in the anime world)

  7. f

    This seems interesting, but I dropped this series a few weeks ago because of the terrible google translate sub and no legal stream. Has that been fixed yet?

  8. Yes, there are decent subs out there now.

  9. H

    While I am not a fan of full CG animation, I think a lot of people miss out on some really fantastic series by refusing to watch something just because of how it looks. I have been impressed with POLYGON PICTURES for a while now because of how well they tell a story. I loved Knights of Sidonia and Sanzoku no Musume Ronja, and now Ajin is one of my three must watch shows this season. Each episode goes by so quickly and leaves me wanting more. I thought the rescue operation in episode 5 in particular was awesome and while I also don’t care for “torture porn” I feel like in some instances it is necessary to advance a character’s development. Here it showed that Kei is strong enough to hold true to his convictions. (Another time I felt it was vital to the story was Griffith’s torture in Berserk since it helped lead him down the path to becoming Guts’ nemesis)

  10. R

    I’m impressed by Kei — he is a stark contrast to the world surrounding him. He’s just a high-school boy, but he is the only one who demonstrates human values and kindness that this world seems to lack, except perhaps Kai and Eriko. And those tears…my heart went out to him when those tears rolled down his cheeks, and I wished that someone kind could be there to give him a hug… I wonder if Shimomura will turn out to be a kind human/Ajin…she did say that she wanted to protect Eriko…guess that we will have to find out.

    I have a question. Why does POLYGON make this anime? Unless I’m wrong, but this doesn’t seem to make money for them at all. Are they seeing this as an investment to raise their profile and train their staff? Anyway, I’m just curious…

  11. This is pre-sold to Netflix, as Sidonia was. I assume that’s more or less a guarantor of at least break-even given their obviously minimal production costs.

  12. R
  13. p

    “and while Kei isn’t especially heroic in the conventional sense, there’s something heroic about simple decency”, well said, I couldn’t agree more! I really like ajin so far although I am not a big fan of CG as well.

  14. G

    Definitely seeing some resemblance between Kei and Kaneki (but Kei is proving more interesting thus far). And on the topic of Tokyo Ghoul, I lament that this series could have had the same popularity as Tokyo Ghoul if it had beautiful 2D animation. The pacing for the last 3 episodes were near impeccable and the minutes just fly by for me.

    One part I was especially impressed with was the fight between Satou and the guards. The directing was so good from the angles, timing to the motion effects. That was pretty much the only scene where I forgot about the 3D for once, and if we are getting this kind of quality in important episodes, this should end up being a really good adaptation.

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