Ajin – 13 (End) and Series Review

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Ajin is a perfect illustration of both the joys and frustrations of being an anime fan.

I don’t think it can be denied that we’ve entered a brave new world in anime production, for better or worse.  Streaming was a big step, and now we’ve seen it move to the next level with exclusive rights deals like the one Paragon signed with Netflix and Fuji TV signed with Amazon (for the NoitaminA block).  I’m in favor of anything that prods anime to market itself to a broader audience (and the international audience is obviously broader than the 20,000 otaku studios traditionally market to), not to mention brings enough money into the industry so that animators hopefully don’t have to live like slaves.  But there are downsides to all this, and Ajin is a prime example.

Would Ajin’s production schedule have been different if it had been created under the traditional system?  I don’t think there’s any question about it.  The contrarian argument is that it might not have been produced at all, and that’s certainly possible.  Nevertheless, I find the notion of a series stopping in the middle of a story by effectively saying “Wait for the movies” no less frustrating than one that tells you to go read the manga.  This is a common syndrome with seinen – very rarely do we ever see them adapted fully.  And while having more movies coming is nice, it should be noted that the manga itself is still ongoing so even there, you’re not likely to see an ending.

If you can get past that – and the grotesque character animation in all of Polygon’s series – Ajin is easy to recommend.  It’s a hell of a great thrill ride, in fact – in terms of writing, I think this is one of the better action thrillers in recent anime history.  It’s coherent, beautifully paced and genuinely involving.  I don’t recall an extended stretch in 13 episodes where what was happening on-screen seemed anything but essential to telling the story.  I wouldn’t call Ajin lean or spare because there’s a ton of story here, but it’s all muscle and no fat.

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While I won’t call what we got this week an ending, I would say it worked very well as a placeholder – and gave us a hell of a cliffhanger to boot.  As expected Kita-san sells Kei out for the reward money (and also as expected, he gets screwed out of it – how much does a police certificate of appreciation go for on eBay?).  While I think Kei’s idea that he could hide wth Obaa-san was a fantasy all along, at least he was preparing an escape plan – that shopping trip he sent her on an essential part of it.  It’s tempting to chalk up Kei’s using Obaa-san as a human shield to his newfound amoral nature, but in truth it was the sensible thing to do in the moment and even she knew it.

One big question as all this plays out is what’s going to happen with Kou – will Kei abandon him to an eternity of darkness and isolation, dying of dehydration over and over and reviving?  No, but Ajin does a pretty good job of convincing us that he’s going to lure the pursuers to Kou using his phone while Kei makes his own escape.  So why, then, does Kei – the ultimate pragmatist – decide to rescue Kou and escape together with him?  Maybe it’s purely for practical reasons, because it seems Kei has finally decided he has to take Satou on and he needs all the allies he can get.  Or maybe – just maybe – there’s still a trace of the Kei we saw in the first couple of episodes alive in this version.

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Another question that crosses my mind is why Shimomura-kun uses her IBM (Kuro-chan? Kawaii!) to save Tosaki, over and over.  She’s being held against her will through blackmail as far as we know, and Tosaki is the only one who knows the truth.  If she’d just let Kei’s IBM kill Tosaki (or was it Kou’s?) wouldn’t she be a free ajin?  I’d hate to think it’s something cliched like she’s in love wth him or something, but I do believe it’s a question that begs to be asked.  As for Tosaki, while he’s marginally sharper than most of the humans on his team, one wonders how many more times he’s going to get away with letting ajin slip through his fingers before he runs out of rope.

The ending (such as we get one) is a two-pronged affair.  Satou issues another terrorist video, laying out phase 2 of his plan: he’ll assassinate 15 people complicit in the mistreatment of ajins, and if Japan doesn’t capitulate to him before he finishes he’ll enter the “final” phase (and he opens his eyes so you know he’s serious).  And Kei and Kou make their escape thanks to some mysterious powers from Kei, and a seeming resistance to Tosaki’s tranquilizers.  Whether this is another manifestation of the legendary Nakamura Shin’ya incident I don’t know, but it’s clear Kei is very anxious not to go back on that dissecting table.  The final moments with he and Kou are a sort of peachfuzz Thelma and Louise, the two of them jumping off a cliff together (the look Kei gives Kou when he asks what “worship” means is priceless).

And now, we wait.  I’ll certainly continue to follow Ajin in movie form, because it’s a damn good story and it has me thoroughly hooked.  One might agonize over what might have been – a multi-cour traditionally animated series from Production I.G. or Madhouse, say – but that didn’t happen.  And what we’re getting, in fact, is a darn sight better than the bulk of what we get from anime – one of the tighter and move gripping thrillers of the past few years.  That’s something to be grateful for, and I am – Polygon may not know how to make characters look realistic, but they absolutely know how to choose a story and adapt it splendidly.

 

 

 

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7 comments

  1. H

    I believe that this show will eventually get another season or two depending on how much material they have to work with. With Netflix streaming the show it seems like it will only be a matter of time before they announce more is on the way. I too will be checking out the next movie since I am dying for more. I was really pleased with the pacing of this season. I had worried they might begin rushing the material along to reach some kind of ending that wasn’t a cliffhanger and am glad they didn’t.
    I’m really curious to see what direction the story will go with Kei’s character. I’m hoping there is more than meets the eye with him. His actions contradict his thoughts enough that he became an enigma as the story progressed. This might have something to do with the fact that the story was originally in another writer’s hands for the first volume, but who really knows. As far as the tranquilizers go, it really seemed to me that Kei’s black ghost was the one with resistance. Tosaki killed both Kei and Kou in trying to stop the monster which enabled them to get free of the drug’s affects and make their escape.

  2. Yeah, that makes perfect sense – it was killing them that saved them. Another question, though – how did Kei overcome the wounds to his shoulder and leg – they didn’t kill him, did they? It seemed he was feeling no pain even before Tosaki shot him in the head.

  3. s

    there’s a cut before kei goes to release kou and in between those cuts is when kei seems to be in less pain. More than likely, kei killed himself and then revived before he went to fetch kou to make sure he was in tip-top shape for his escape

  4. I feel that Shimomura stays with Tosaki because she thinks that there’s no other way for her to avoid capture. Its a harsh world for Ajin but I like how she’s been portrayed as quite a nice person so far. Looks like we’ll have the movies as an epilogue for this series, I wonder if it’ll end with Satou’s defeat?

  5. s

    Just a quick shout out to shimomura being a badass; Kei released like 4 IBM’s and she took them all down. Makes you wonder what she’s been through to be able to use her IBM as well as she does. Ajin, in my opinion was one of the best anime of winter 2016 and i think a big part of that came from the fact that it lacked a lot of the “generic anime-isms” that annoy me nowadays (sigh…getting older is making me more cynical). It was tightly paced, tightly written for the most part, and well-directed. As enzo said, some of the best thriller in anime in years.

    In terms of how it may do on netflix, i think it may get a following because of how ajin actually doesnt feel like an anime. It’s got all the elements of an episodic western thriller on starz or amc; it’s that tightly executed and i think those traits can help it reach out to a wider audience and gain more profit as a result.

    In regards to the animation, once again im not fan of polygon pictures craft, but i can see the good spots of cgi in anime. There is something about how cgi is able to keep everything moving within a scene rather than having still backgrounds that bring more life into a show (this seems more attributed to polygon pictures and their work with cgi in general because there are some cgi based shows both anime and western cartoons that still screw this up). The characters are always moving rather than being relegated to lip flaps; heck even when they arent involved in the conversation, they still have slight movements as a human would; it’s that attention to detail that i appreciate and the more you pay attention to it, the more you realize “hey, this actually makes me more immersed in the character interactions; exposition no longer feels like still frames of a character flapping their lips. Now i know some of this is attributed to motion capture but still, it really makes some scenes come alive. It feels as if they are filming actors at times. It’s times like this that i wish cgi could look better in anime because if it wasnt for how uncanny it looked, it would actually be top-notch. Ill always prefer handdrawn animation because i believe that there is so much more dynamism to it, but i definitely see the prospects of cgi.

  6. C

    For me, Ajin and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu are neck-and-neck for best anime of the Winter season. They are so utterly different that it is impossible to choose between them, and I’m grateful that we got both. Yeah, Ajin’s “look” is a little crude, but the writing is on a different level than most anime, which tends toward auteurism and self-indulgence. Instead, Ajin feels much more like good Hollywood-created television (for example the latest season of “Bosch” on Amazon Prime), where story editors trimmed the fat and self-indulgence from a first draft script, leaving it far more taut and exciting.

    Ajin’s premise could easily support a second season. and I’d love to see one.

  7. A

    Pretty gripping show, with nonstop suspense and a very deep and complex scenario.

    Though I’ll have to go against the popular opinion, and say that the CGI didn’t bother me that much. Sure, the animation was often rather weird (the stiffness typical of CGI), but it’s also often rather good (Satou in particular suffers rather little of said stiffness, and faces are often expressive enough) and at least, due to being CGI, it’s always smooth and isn’t subject to deformations and bizarre proportions.
    I noticed the “uncanny valley” appearance often, but it never bothered me, by FAR, as much as the ugliness which can come from low budget and rushed deadlines like in many episodes of Gangsta or Arslan Senki – in which often the drawing and animations became so terrible they were actually painful to watch. At least the flaw of the strange animation was always on the same level and stayed consistant for all the serie.

    So yeah, sign me in for the movie (if it’s animated, even through CGI).

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