Ajin 43-45 – Manga Review
Ajin Synopsis: Seventeen years ago, an utterly immortal human was discovered on an African battlefield. Since then, more of these new and unknown life forms began to appear among mankind. These undying beings start to be known as “demi-humans.” One day, just before summer break, a Japanese boy leaving his high school is involved in a traffic accident that kills him on the spot. Then, he comes back to life. A huge bounty is placed on his capture. Now the boy’s attempt to evade all of mankind begins. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)
Since Kei discovered he was an Ajin he’s found himself in an increasing deadly situation. Sato, an Ajin bent on terrorism, continues to hound the Japanese government, seeking to rally the Ajin’s hidden across society and ultimately take over Japan. Kei, coerced into fighting back by Ko, another young Ajin, finds himself working alongside one of his former pursuers, Tosaki, a government agent tasked with finding and controlling the Ajin. Things come to a head as Sato sets his sights on Forge Security’s president, one of his many targets that he’s sworn to kill no matter who tries to get in his way. Unfortunately Kei, Ko and Tosaki are unable to stop Sato and now, in the aftermath of their greatest defeat, things seem darker than ever before.
It’s been almost a year since I last discussed Ajin, and I’ve been dying to dive into the manga ever since offering up the Ajin Anime to Manga comparisons. I’m starting with Chapter 43, because even with all the subtle and not so subtle changes, 43 is the first chapter to truly move off on its own from where the anime chose to craft its anime-only ending.
Chapter 43 starts very shortly after Satou has ultimately won his battle against Kei, Ko, and Tosaki at Forge Security. He’s killed his ultimate target, the head of Forge Security, and they’ve failed to capture him. It culminated with Kei jumping off the roof of the building to escape Satou as he battled it out with Mr. Hirosawa, one of Tosaki’s mercenaries and a budding father figure for Kei. The chapter begins with him reviving in a sea of reporters, shocked to find an Ajin having plummeted from the building above them. Chapters 43-46 are all about the aftermath, catapulting our characters away from the scene and giving them a chance to really suffer the affects of their defeat, especially for Kei the death of Mr. Hirosawa.
Kei, much like in the anime, loses the will to fight and Ko loses his shit at Kei for even talking about giving up. During this the manga brings up some great moral issues, particularly in the way the media frames ‘Demi-Humans’ as the problem. It’s a solid allegory for minorities, Muslims or what have you, any group suffering the ill-affects when someone from a minority demographic commits atrocities. One does something bad, suddenly the entire populace is evil. What I love about Ajin is the ways in which aspects of its characters and setting talk about problems we suffer from in the U.S., or really any country across the world, when it comes to dealing with terrorism and the way that paints demographics. It’s not a problem Japan suffers from specifically, as far as I’m aware, which gives Ajin this weird worldly sense, as if it’s not really written for the people of the Japan, but the people of other countries suffering from these ailments. I guess you could say, at its heart, it feels like a cautionary tale for Japan.
Not only that, but Ajin gets a little more philosophical here too, having Kei berate Ko for his naivety when it comes to weighing the importance of life. Ko is a true and blue classic hero, spouting talk about saving lives, but Kei points out his hypocrisy, in the way Ko reacts to the death of people who mean little to him. It’s heavy stuff and that’s what I honestly prefer about seinen, like Ajin, a real focus on deeper issues either political or focused on the human condition.
Kei starts to walk away, having brow-beaten Ko with his moral qualms, but Ko manages to snap back with a personal story about how he first died and revived. It’s nothing terribly dramatic or grand, he just fell one day, paralyzed himself, and died because no one bothered to check in on him. It’s just a weird little incident that revealed how little his parents cared for him, that no one noticed he was even gone. I love this backstory, and the way it ties into his “I have to fight” mentality, this earnest drive to be useful, to have meaning in life. But Ko’s touching story isn’t enough, for now anyway, and Kei continues on his way.
We get a couple shots of Tanaka, who’s also escaped from the tower and is having real concerns over Sato’s motivations, before snapping back to Kei and ending on a rather weak note, as he decides to call his mother. As endings go, Ajin sometimes stumbles for a monthly manga, offering little to entice you forward to the next chapter with a solid four weeks waiting time inbetween.
Chapter 44 isn’t terribly strong either. It’s a big chunk of pages basically retconning/re-contextualizing Kei’s mother. Up to this point the anime and the manga had kept her depiction quiet vague. She seemed the kind of mother who was classist, over protective, and heartless. It’s no surprise that the manga chooses to redefine her here as the first volume was co-written by another author, helping the current author and artist, Gamon Sakurai, get things off the ground. Tsuina Miura, the ‘original author’ clearly had different ideas from where Gamon ends up taking the story and the mother is the greatest example of that.
With this chapter we learn she’s not so much heartless, cruel, or classist, but rather just a cold, analytical person, who puts the needs of her family before others in the most unfeeling and logical way. Due to Kei’s cold and analytical nature, an early retcon after Miura left, this fits in perfectly with the kind of character our hero is. Of course his mother would be the same way!
Nothing much really comes of the call however, as Kei’s mother mainly just tells him to do what he already decided to do, leave the battle, and chastises him for even getting involved in the first place! The real movement forward for the story comes from the mother explaining Kei’s mindset to his sister, Eriko. This goes back to when Kei abandoned Kaito, at his mother’s suggestion, as kids. She didn’t suggest he stop being friends with Kaito so much because she felt Kaito was a bad kid, but because it would’ve harmed Kei’s efforts to become a doctor, hanging out with someone who skirted the morals of society. If he was going to become a doctor, to help cure Eriko’s condition, he couldn’t afford someone like that. It’s about putting the people closest to you first. It’s great character insight, but really bogs down the flow of the story, especially when focus really needs to be on showcasing Kei’s heel-turn back towards heroism.
But the ultimate point of the conversation, capping off the chapter, is that while Kei’s mother is just that cold, to cut people off in order to help/save those she cares about most, she asserts that Kei is a little too much like his father still, a very passionate and caring man (we’ll have to take her word for it since this is, I think, the first time he’s been mentioned since the first or second volume.) We get a couple shots of Kei turning around and heading back to the city, returning to the fight. The only real motivation we get for his turn back towards the fight is him remembering that Mr. Hirasawa died to save him. This chapter is pretty ‘worthless’ in the grand scheme of sending the story forward, but otherwise acts as a fun examination of the kind of character Kei is. So if you’re into Ajin for the characters, it’s not at all a boring chapter, it just does very little for the grander story.
The chapter caps off with Sato getting a request to meet from the Health Ministry, seemingly caving to Sato’s increased terrorism. Meanwhile Tanaka begins to have serious doubts about Sato, and flashes back to what the fireman Ajin had said to him before they locked him away (poor guy still stuck in a barrel somewhere), that Sato’s actions would reveal the IBM powers of the Ajin, something the government was keeping secret. If revealed, the people would panic, and hatred for the Ajin would only grow stronger and more violent. The final page has Okuyama asking Sato how long he plans on doing this: to which Sato suggests until the day he dies. So yeah. I guess that means never. Yikes. It’s a great ending for an otherwise ho-hum, if not a little weak storywise, chapter.
Rounding out this review, let’s finish up with Chapter 45. This begins with a flashback finally showcasing the woman behind Tosaki’s motivations: Ai. She’s a girl he fell in love with, but refused to marry him until she could stand on her own, without other’s help. She’s the same girl that’s been in the hospital this whole manga and apparently, during the big showdown with Sato, took a bad turn and passed away. It really helps to humanize Tosaki, a character who’s tended to straddle the line between good guy and bad guy. Afterwords, while Tosaki is clearly still hurting, he’s confronted by Sokabe, a character utterly defanged for the ending of the anime, as there was no room to accommodate his gradually expanding plans. Here he’s a clear threat to Tosaki, and seems absolutely villainous in his insistence that one day he shall oust Tosaki and take his place. What I love about this is that it offers up a secondary, gradually building villain, outside of Sato. We’ve got another person to worry about should he ever obtain power and that’s one more obstacle our heroes will have to deal with going forward. It makes the story more complex and offers up a few more layers.
As Tosaki leaves Sokabe and prepares to rejoin the fight along with his partner/assistant, Izumi, we cap the chapter off with the reveal that one of Tosaki’s security/mercenary team, who were all seemingly killed in the battle against Sato, is alive in the hospital. He escapes the hospital and presumably will be rejoining the others in their efforts to stop Sato.
It takes three chapters to basically wrap up the Forge Security storyline, but there was tons of great character work here for Kei, Tosaki, and Ko. The only frustrating thing about these chapters is the release schedule, making us wait months and months for the story to move forward, compounded by its hard charater focus and little plot development. But once compiled, as they are now, one can truly appreciate all the work that’s gone into really fleshing out the characters and making them feel deeper than the 2D nature of the manga’s artwork.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on Ajin in the comments section below!