With episodes like that one, you sure as hell don’t need me.
One thing I’ve certainly noticed over the years is that shows that aren’t especially “anime” generate very little discussion, even if they’re really good (as Ajin certainly is). It seems as if what people want to talk about is tropes, and how what’s happening on the screen fits inside them. If a series doesn’t give you many tropes, it doesn’t get much attention. And Ajin – even compared to something relatively mainstream like Sidonia no Kishi – doesn’t give you many tropes.
Fact is, Ajin is about as straightforward as you can get. It’s universal sci-fi – the fact that it happens to touch the third rail of Japanese domestic politics a bit is great, but that context is not really essential to the series or to understanding and appreciating it. Take an episode like this one – this was just great, perfectly staged Hollywood thriller 101. All the elements were there, and Ajin deployed them expertly. Not a thing before its time, but not too much time between things happening. It’s about as simple a formula as you can get, but not many shows are smart enough to figure that out.
If there is an anime cliche at work in Ajin, maybe it’s the overpowered character – and Satou-san is pretty OP by any standard. So why is it that we (or at least me and the few others I see commenting on Ajin) don’t seem to mind? I don’t think after this episode that we can deny the charges – Satou is seemingly indestructible. He’s a first-rate close-range fighter, a marksman, a strategic genius, and unfettered by any hint of conscience. But I think he’s just too damn much fun to watch to really get upset at his seeming infallibility. We fans of sci-fi and fantasy love magnificent bastards, and Satou is one hell of a magnificent bastard.
I love the way this episode played the showdown between Satou and Nagai-kun (which has been brewing for over a season) as a slow build, teasing it but never denying us our fun. Nagai is the only one who’s ever really come close to figuring Satou out, and of course he’s right – Satou is playing a game here, because everything is a game to him. That’s why Nagai’s ruse to hold the Musashi CEO hostage is a good one – the last thing Satou wants is to be deprived of the winning blow. But as Satou says, any game can be hacked – and at this point, as smart as Kei is I don’t trust anybody to be thinking farther ahead than Satou.
Ultimately, Kei has a weakness that Satou doesn’t – as much as he’s tried to hide it, he does have a regard for others. And that includes guys like Manabe (I think Kou was even more bonded with him) and Hirasawa, which is why it’s so painful for him to see Satou’s IBM take them out after Satou reveals his hack. That is to say, his IBM can act under pre-set orders even if Satou is unconscious. As smart as Kei is it would’ve been nice if he hadn’t been so completely taken by surprise by that, but he is still a kid, after all.
In the end, Satou gets what he wants – the Anti-A’s are wiped out and he’s got the CEO, which means he has access to his electronic key. That seems to be the linchpin of Satou’s next stage, which presumably involves going nuclear in some capacity. But I think Satou, for all his OP stature, does have a weakness – and it’s one Kei is well aware of. Ultimately Satou doesn’t really care about the Ajin working for him, he’s just getting his rocks off. And they’re starting to figure that out. Maybe Satou is so OP he can take over the country even if his army turns on him, but I suspect that might be beyond even him. And if Kei and somehow foster dissension in the Ajin ranks, that may be the key to Satou’s eventual downfall.
There’s one other crucial moment here, and that’s what happens in the aftermath of Satou’s escape (the cavalry arrives just before he can take Kei’s head off). Presented with the opportunity to save face and his place on the committee by throwing the boys to the wolves, Tosaki does something we’ve yet to see him do – show some personal loyalty to someone other than himself. This is by far his best moment of the series, genuinely GAR – but it means that he, along with the boys and Izumi, are now outlaws, all hope of working from within the system seemingly shot. And having just seen friends die as a result of his failure, it seems very possible Kei is going to turn away from the fight altogether, at least for a while…