Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: Ajin, Season 1 (anime TV series, CGI animation)

Ajin is a mix of action, mystery, and fantasy (sci-fi?). This first season is 13 episodes long.


It's been almost a year since I last watched and reviewed anime. I figured it was finally time to watch something new, so I checked my Netflix queue and picked Ajin.

Ajin stars Kei, a high school student who is completely and utterly focused on the bright future his mother has outlined for him, to the point that he even ditched his best friend Kai when his mother said Kai would be a bad influence on him. Kei never toes the line and never does anything wrong...but then he's hit by a truck and his whole world changes. Instead of dying or waking up in a hospital, Kei gets back up again like nothing happened, proving to everyone that he's an Ajin, an immortal being. Ajin are considered nonhuman, and it is Kei's fate, from that point forward, to be hunted down like an animal, captured by the government, and put through horrific tests. However, with a bit of help Kei manages to evade capture and soon learns that there are more Ajin out there than has been made public.

I had an instant, knee-jerk “ick” reaction to this show when I first started watching it, not because of the content but rather because of the animation. Like Arpeggio of Blue Steel, this was another series that relied solely on CGI animation, and it...wasn't good. Facial expressions were a bit too stiff, the way shadows moved over people's faces and bodies sometimes looked odd, characters' hair looked like something you could cut yourself on, walking motions were occasionally jerky, and some characters, like one of the cops, were almost painful to look at. His wrinkles looked drawn on, rather than like a feature of his face. I was afraid that Sato would be just as bad, but thankfully they spent a bit more time on his design.

Either the visuals improved or I just got used to it. I did like how the CGI looked when it came to the shadowy beings that Ajin could call up to fight each other and others with. The shadows were deep enough to hide any issues, and the CGI “floating ashes” effect was pretty nice.

As far as the story went, I have to stress that this is only the first season, and no effort was made to truly wrap things up. It didn't end at too bad of a spot, thank goodness, but I'm still impatient for a second season to be created, or for Netflix to stream the related movies.

Anyway, this first season was interesting. I was a bit disappointed that Kai was abandoned so quickly, but perhaps he'll show up again at a later date. I really hope that his sole purpose wasn't just to give Kei the next best thing to a conscience. I should explain: in the series, it's gradually made clear that Kei has antisocial personality disorder. He lacks empathy for others and refrains from killing only because he believes it would upset Kai if he ever found out. His goal is to live a quiet life, and if that means he has to stand by and watch as Sato kills many others, so be it, as long as Sato's actions don't directly affect him.

While it was surprising that the super-powered main character wasn't the slightest bit interested in saving people, it did mean that Kei wasn't exactly likeable. It also meant that he spent a good chunk of this first season doing nothing much. Instead, it was Sato doing things, Sato taking part in seemingly impossible-to-win battles and coming out on top. And, as a result, there wasn't really a side to cheer for. Sato and his accomplice went on killing sprees without caring who died. Tosaki, the agent trying to take him down, was part of a group that coldly captured and tortured Ajin for profit. Kei would have calmly let the whole world die around him, as long as he was allowed to live in his peaceful little bubble. The characters I felt for were the ones caught in between the various groups, like Shimomura (I really want to know more about her history) and Ko.

I'm intrigued enough to hope for a second season, and to want to read the manga. The animation wasn't to my taste, but I did enjoy the battle scenes (a warning: Ajin battles often involve suicide). Kei wasn't the most likeable of characters, but by the end of the season he finally got the motivation he needed to go against Sato, and I'd love to see how that works out. There's still plenty of room for this series to fall flat on its face, but so far I'm hopeful.

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