Ajin – 09

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For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to worry about Ajin.

Ajin - 09 -1Looking back at my history with this series, the only real hangup has been the usual Polygon CGI assault on human decency when it comes to character animation.  It took a couple episodes to work through that, and while you never totally forget that’s there, it’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since.  But there were a couple of canaries in the coal mine that were starting to cough last week, and with this episode they seem to be on life support.  Fonzie isn’t warming up the bike or anything, but it does concern me when I see potential problems become actual problems in a predictable way.

Ajin - 09 -2There are two separate issues bothering me about Ajin, though they’re very closely related.  The first is that we’re getting to the point where there’s really nobody in the cast that deserves our empathy, and the occasional act of decency is always met with catastrophe.  That’s the author’s choice, of course – he’s under no obligation to make Kei or anyone else sympathetic – but for me at least there’s a limit to how much viewing enjoyment I get when I don’t really care what happens to anyone.  Despair and depravity are fascinating dramatic subjects, but I find they wear a little better when cut with a bit of contrast and texture.

Ajin - 09 -3The other problem is the potentially even more troubling, I think.  That’s what I see as the inconsistency in Kei’s character.  Now, I know that the original writer of Ajin was Miura Tsuina, but he mysteriously dropped off the project after the first volume, leaving Gamon Sakurai as the sole author as well as artist.  I don’t know if that’s the reason Kei’s current personality seems so different from the first few episodes as to stretch credulity, but if not it would be a whopper of a coincidence.  I get that the kid has been through hell, the kind of stuff that can change someone – but I’m just not buying it.  This isn’t the same character, plain and simple – his actions now are simply inconsistent with the boy we were introduced to.  And for me, that’s a problem on multiple levels.

Ajin - 09 -4I’ll give Sakurai and director Seshita Hiroyuki credit, because there was an unsettling feeling in the air as soon as Kei met Nakano Kou.  Even if it was hard to say exactly why, I knew Kei was going to screw Kou (keh!) even as he seemed to be making nice with him.  I get that Kei was happy to have found a place where he thinks he can be safe (though that’s a mirage if you ask me), but really – first poison Kou with Ibotenbutake mushrooms, then drown him, then imprison him inside the carcass of an old truck?  And let’s be clear, the plan has to be to keep him in there forever otherwise there’s no point.  I’m sorry, Kei’s tortured reasoning and talk of “value” sounds like a writer trying too hard to explain away a rank inconsistency of character.  It just plain doesn’t work – and while pretty much every series has stuff that doesn’t work, considering what’s involved here this is the sort of thing that could take down the whole ship.

Ajin - 09 -5So, as Kei starts off his campaign to be the most unlikable member of the cast, his chief competition – Satou and Tosaki – are hard at work trying to secure the title.  Satou’s plans for “war” are in full-swing with the help of the Yakuza.  And Tosaki (who for me is still in first place) is in a whole heap of trouble, with his handlers running out of patience and his old subordinate Sokabe now being assigned to shadow him and wait for the first slip-up to destroy him.  Tosaki takes out his rage on Ogura, who doesn’t seem to care about starring in this week’s torture porn segment but is bummed about not having his favorite brand of cigarettes (is there something special about those, I wonder?).

Ajin - 09 -6In short, it’s all a bit of a nihilistic clusterfuck at the moment.  Ajin is still beautifully paced and engaging as hell, but it does feel as if we’re reaching a bit of a crisis point.  If indeed the problem is the incompatibility between Gamon and what came before, well – there’s really no fix for that.  And if Gamon’s vision is to tell a story where decency has no role or reward and no one in the cast is worth rooting for, the shelf life of Ajin isn’t going to be extended anytime soon.  But there’s so much good stuff here that I’m going to remain hopeful until given incontrovertible proof that hope is wasted.

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10 comments

  1. I feel relieved I’m not the only one who felt similar in my reaction to this episode. Kei, after this episode, has just gone from interesting to an asshole and I don’t really want to follow him anymore. At the same time though, Ajin’s quality has me hoping something good will come of this in the back of my mind.

  2. T

    I kind of feel pathetic saying this, but I wish Kai would reappear. I really like him as a character, and while I understand why Kei left him, given the current cast of characters, I find myself really missing him now.

  3. I feel that way too, largely because I kind of irrationally hope Kai reappearing would reawaken something of the old Kei.

  4. T

    Yeah. Same here.

  5. s

    i completely understand why some people would think kei’s character is inconsistent (i watched this ep half-expecting some people to be like “this aint the kid from the beginning of the series) but for me, it kind of works. Ive been under the impression since this series started that besides kai (as he has yet to give me a reason to think otherwise; ironic since he’s associated with his criminal father), everyone is pretty much a shitty person. I can buy that kei would be like this because it has been alluded to since the beginning of the series that something is off with this kid. We see small signs of sociopathy and psychopathy and it is in this ep that he truly embraces those qualities. Im also of the theory that one’s IBM is a reflection of who there are and this is why kei’s ghost is so erratic. It’s because he himself is erratic and for a while, his impulses and suppressed cognition was being channeled into his IBM. Now that kei is coming into his own, he’s beginning to act more like “himself”. Eriko said something was off about her brother and that he is selfish; essentially human garbage. Satou realized that even tho he didnt make kei some human-hating ajin, there was still something off about this boy. I think the show has dropped enough hints and spread enough crumbs to lead us to this type of development. Kei only does things because he feels like doing it. Kei said to Satou he just wants to live peacefully; and for a guy who is not interested in anyone’s self gain but his own, what’s to stop him from being pushed to the edge? In all honesty, i think that’s the intrigue of this character. Seeing a guy who once risked a lot to save someone because he felt like it, be pushed to commit acts that are morally indecent because he wants to preserve his safety. How far is he willing to go to protect his false sanctuary? From the preview, it looks like he is will to do anything. In conclusion, I think the kid is a sociopath with some psychopathic tendencies and ive sort of thought that since the series began, starting from just the way he interacts with his mom, his classmates, his sister, etc.

  6. s

    Removed for safety’s sake

  7. That’s a little more specific with the manga info than I’m comfortable with…

  8. I find that a lot of seinen fall into this trap of trying to be too hard to be gritty the narrative falls apart, I tend to be hooked at the start but lose interest after a certain point, eg Tokyo Ghoul, Oyasumi Punpun, Gantz.

    Ajin hasn’t fallen into that trap yet for me, but agree with your take on Nagai Kei’s actions. Kai needs to step back into this story fast.

  9. s

    I’ll try again. Kei said in this ep: “I could have crippled you for life” so it’s safe to assume that he doesn’t think this measure of the trunk as definitive. Self-preservation is his priority but he doesn’t persue crudelity for itself. The previous comment didn’t sound spoilerish to me: editing could have helped me understanding what was off…the only time I referred to the manga was in that context, I doubt you’ll receive further explanations about that line. The anime drops some of Kei’s thoughts or words here and there and I hate how the cuts make Kei’s troblesome personality look even worse.

  10. A

    You complain about Kei’s “tortured reasoning” in this episode, but I think this is a deliberate choice of the author. When Kei talks about how he didn’t know why he saved the doctor, but came to a conclusion about it later, it sounds like a post-hoc rationalisation. And when Kei says he did it only because the doctor might be useful in the future, I think you are meant to remember how determined Kei was, and how he was risking decapitation, which he considers a permanent death.

    Many people would be happy to learn that they are capable of risking their life for a stranger, but I don’t think Kei is one of them. It goes against his view of himself as a self-interested, logical individual.

    I think that Kei began trying to save the doctors because he thought it was “the right thing to do”, but ended up saving the nicer doctor as the risks rose because he was similar to Kaito. Both were willing to risk “their one and only life” for him, and he couldn’t help but respond.

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