So here we are with my very last series review post of the season and of 2016 itself, which turned out to be quite a good year for anime (especially in terms of depth). I had sincerely hoped I might be able to write “Season Finale” in the title bar, but sadly that was not to be – for now at least, Ajin rides off into the sunset much as it lived its TV life, with a very loud “bang”. That doesn’t mean we won’t see more of it down the line of course – with a Polygon-Netflix show that’s always a possibility. But if this is indeed how Ajin concludes, I’m quite happy with the way it did so.
I’m aware that there was a writer change quite early on in the Ajin manga, and I’d certainly acknowledge that it was apparent in the way Kei’s character changed over the course of the first season. But on balance, I think Ajin has been one of most consistent and self-assured anime series we’ve seen in 2015-16 (and Kei himself has settled into a happy medium). There was never any deceit or misdirection about what sort of story this was, even if there were plenty of surprises within that story itself. This series has forward momentum to burn and always has, an appointment to keep every week that it never misses. It’s easy to take that kind of consistency for granted – far easier than it is to deliver it.
I felt pretty confident that one way or another, we weren’t going to see a “definitive” ending – in the sense that either Nagai-kun or Satou-san would be permanently eliminated in it. These two are the twin poles of the story in Ajin and I think they both need to exist to justify the narrative existence of the other. That left open the question of just how the anime would choose to leave things. What was never in doubt was that there was going to be another epic battle beneath the streets of Tokyo, and that only one of the two main combatants would walk away from it under their own power.
With Tosaki’s decision to “free” Izumi, it seems his character redemptionhas pretty much been completed. I have some issues with that – I think he still has a lot to answer for, personally – but it’s been just organic enough as to be believable. As for her devotion to him I’d say that also falls under the just believable category – there’s an element of Stockholm Syndrome in it for sure. She’s no match for Satou of course, and her IBM no match for his, but her willingness to face Satou anyway instead of run certainly speaks highly of her courage, if not her common sense.
Satou’s obsession with beheading those Ajin he finds especially irksome is a fascinating part of the equation here. Ajin is no question a thriller first, but it does get pretty philosophical when it comes to the question of the self. For a guy like Samuel who sees the world in absolutes there’s no question about it – whoever it is that exists after that head grows back is not the same person. To Satou, this is the ultimate torture he can exact on a fellow Ajin – to force it to die and see itself being replaced before expiring. There are echoes of the cloning debate in this, no doubt, but this is a question great thinkers have been debating since the Ancients – if someone is walking around with your exact memories and emotions, are they you or someone else?
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, if the person in question is Satou it doesn’t matter – he’s as much of a problem either way. We find this out because as has been hinted at, Kei finally proves himself capable of generating the “Flood Effect” – the mass production of IBMs displayed by Nakamura Shinya in the first Ajin OVA – just before Satou is about to behead him. A hell of a beatdown ensues, and if there’s any change in Satou after his haircut it’s not evident in his behavior. In fact he’s seemingly none the worse for wear once the flood has subsided, but the U.S. Special Forces arrive just in the nick of time – both to snatch O’Brien away and to stop the mass murder of 10,000 Edoites.
So then, Satou doesn’t walk away – he flies away in a space suit of a strait jacket, back-to-back with Tanaka. And then falls rather quickly into the ocean after playing yet one more cheat code, ready for his second playthrough (though how the two of them are going to make it to dry land from there I’m not sure). As for Kei, with the boys and Tosaki having officially been pardoned (and cleansed) in exchange for helping stop Satou and Ajin having been granted human status legally (it seem) he appears to have gotten his quiet life after all. He does reconnect with his sister (she’s as tsundere as ever) but sadly, there’s no mention of a renewal of his friendship with Kai. But one phone call changes all that, and the never-ending story lurches back into motion the only way Ajin knows how to move – forward…
There are obvious similarities between Ajin and its Polygon stable-mate Sidonia no Kishi – both are very well-written series with which I initially struggled with the 100% CGI animation. The stories are good enough (Ajin the better, IMHO) that one eventually almost forgets how bad the character animations are, but in the end Ajin puts me more in mind of Kingdom than anything else because it became compelling enough to make the visuals almost a non-factor. Is this the model for the future of TV anime? We could do worse – Polygon’s track-record in terms of storytelling is excellent, and if this is the only way to get the cost of non-otaku series cheap enough to get them produced, maybe it’s an acceptable compromise. I can’t help hoping that there’s still a place for studios like Bones, though – and wondering how shows like Ajin would soar if they were hand-drawn by top-quality artists and animators at a studio like that.
Whatever the future holds for anime, the future of the Ajin franchise is the more pertinent question here. For now the only stuff we know for sure is still outstanding is one more OVA and the live-action film, both in 2017. And while that’s encouraging as to the popularity of the franchise as a whole, I definitely hope we see a continuation of Kei and Satou’s eternal dance in anime form – there’s a ton of story left to be told here. Satou is one of anime’s greatest antagonists, a true magnificent bastard, and the moral ambiguity and social commentary is engaging both intellectually and emotionally. Ajin always delivers, plain and simple, and I hope it gets more chances to do so on television.