Ajin 69-74 – 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 Ajins 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. With Sato now poised to initiate his final campaign against the Japanese government, its up to Kei and Co. to put a stop to him once and for all.
Chapters 69-74 of Ajin exemplify everything that makes Ajin, well, Ajin. At times intensely clever, taking the unique Ajin powers and combining them in fascinating ways, and in other cases offering ideas meant to keep Ajin feeling original and unpredictable, but that end up muddied and unfocused in execution. Still, no matter what, I can’t help but appreciate how sincerely our author, Gamon Sakurai, attempts to subvert tropes and expectations, even if those attempts don’t always come out fully baked. Let’s Vertical In! (This catch phrase really doesn’t work outside of Jump manga….)
Starting with 69, things are pretty messy. With Chapter 68 we left off just as Sato was subverting expectations and foiling Nagai’s plans simply by being his unpredictable self. 69 sees us step away from all that for what I’d call an ‘ill-timed flashback.’ We snap back to before Kaito broke out of prison, where we find him recalling past events from his childhood. Kaito goes back through his youth remembering everyone time he stuck up for a friend, only to see them let him down when it’s their turn to return the favor. I’d argue the message presented here is actually pretty confusing, particularly as the chapter ends and Kaito reveals he actually finds all his efforts a massive pain in the ass. It gets more confusing as we learn that Nagai left Kaito a note about going it alone, with Kaito commenting that he didn’t know Nagai had it in him. It almost presents Kaito as having this weird sort of martyr/savior complex, but one where he gets nothing from it emotionally. Chapter 71 eventually takes what’s presented here and defines it in a more straight forward manner; Kaito merely sees having to do the right thing as a given, regardless if you actually like people or not. That might’ve come across better in this chapter if Kaito wasn’t always reaching out to friends who burned him to hang, or accepting their invitations after they’d done him dirty. It’s one thing to always step up when people need help, it’s another to continue to let them walk all over you. It’s this chapter that’s the most messy of this set, feeling like an interesting, even altruistic, message that didn’t quite have the time in the oven to really feel poignant and purposeful. Part of the trouble is that we already sort of knew this about Kaito. He’s always been the martyr, and we didn’t need 69 to try and hammer that idea home.
Chapter 70 is also a bit uneven. We open by returning right back to where we left Nagai and Sato. Sato crashes his fighter jet and chaos ensues as fuel ignites across the base, underground, and all across the area. It’s a shocking, visually impactful finale to Sato’s latest bout of insanity. Sato again evades Nagai’s best laid plans, and confronts the young man to say goodbye. This is where I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I like Sato’s formal goodbye to Nagai, feeling like he’s had his fill of all Japan can offer. He’s bested them time and again, and seeks a playground filled with greater prizes and higher risks. But at the same time Sato describes this by going heavy in on his gaming persona, which almost reduces his portrayal here to a kind of caricature of himself. He’s felt more complex as a kind of “Joker-esque” character in the past, and while his origins involved his intense fascination with video games, comparing Japan to video game development feels like it reduces his character to merely those elements. Even when things get chaotic later on, with the Flood turning Sato’s goodbye instead into one last hurray, he seems more like a child than anything else. Maybe that’s the point, but I think in doing so it damages Sato’s appeal as an antagonist, making him feel a bit too manic, if not even silly, wounding the terror he’s offered up so well in previous chapters.
Chapter 71 does something interesting though. Throughout Chapter 70 Nagai has little reaction to Sato, and his face, increasingly contorts throughout Sato’s speech, looking to be a reaction of increasing incredulity to Sato’s drawn out goodbye. In actuality it’s poor Nagai struggling to come up with one last plan that’ll let everything fall back into place. It’s a fun way to re-approach the scene before finally throwing Kaito into the mix with a surprise mad dash at Sato himself. Kaito’s sudden return is great, and his subsequent and abrupt death is equally surprising. Kaito’s reappearance might almost feel pointless, but our author builds upon Kaito’s seemingly meaningless sacrifice in a couple great ways. First it spurs Nagai into the infrequently teased “Flood,” allowing for us to finally see the manga’s version of what the anime offered back when Season 2 aired in 2016. Kaito’s passing also acts as a final push for Nagai to embrace heroism, sending him to confront Sato yet again, even when he’s run out of drive for it from failure after failure. The manga’s willingness to deliver Nagai loss after loss is something to be lauded, as few manga these days truly put their heroes through the ringer.
Not content to sit as equal to the anime adaptation in terms of sheer spectacle, Gamon ups the game further, merging the concept of the Flood mechanic with other Ajin traits touched on prior. The whole brain/memories/mental state merging that happens when IBMs collide, seen waaaay earlier in the series, is brought into the mix, with Sato slamming his IBM’s head into one of Nagai’s, allowing Sato to attain that same endless power for releasing multitudes of IBMs. It’s as if Gamon saw the anime’s ending and decided he wanted to try and go further. The result is a climax that feels absolutely insane, but totally in line with Ajin’s intense push to constantly subvert the audiences’ expectations by really playing with its supernatural concepts.
While at times flawed, these chapters highlight how original Ajin can be, as well as how clever it is, always finding new ways to play with the Ajin mechanics and not merely let them sit as unique, one use ideas that other series might leave them as. It’s been months since I last reviewed Ajin, only just now finding the time to go back and see what the series has been up to. But these chapters renewed my love for Ajin and continue to keep it in my mind as one of the top Manga, and perhaps one of the medium’s most overlooked titles. It feels like we’re getting ever closer to finally wrapping this up, with several key players still not on the battlefield. I can’t wait to see what new wrinkles are in store before Nagai finally brings Sato’s campaign of madness to a close.
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