Ajin 74.5-79 – 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 Nagai 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.

Review:

Ajin 74.5-79 see the series push closer to settling on a concrete ending. Nagai gives a relentless chase after Sato, Nakano struggles to protect civillians alongside the Ajin Special Forces, Izumi and Tanaka both come face to face with Sato themselves, and Ogura offers the series closet explanation we’re going to get as to what Demi-Humans are exactly. Unfortunately not every step forward is a success, and sometimes the series actively stumbles in these seeming final moments.

One thing Ajin is great at doing is balancing all the characters, making it easy for the reader to jump between what each set is up to and not become totally confused. It’s very easy to follow events and understand where everyone is at any given time thanks to some expertly framed panels, detailed art, and an ability to make each locale feel distinct. That’s important as escalation sees us flipping between ordinary citizens on the run from the Flood, Nakano’s and the Special Forces battle to protect them, Izumi and Tanaka’s brief encounter with a fleeing Sato, Nagai’s own chase of Sato, and Ogura’s run in with fans he then offers to his musings on Demi-humans.

Unfortunately for as easy it is to follow, Ajin seems perhaps stuck in a rut as it tries to pull everything back together for a cohesive ending. Ajin remains one of my favorite manga in part due to how experimental it is. You can feel that our author, Gamon Sakurai, desperately wants to tell a new story, to subvert greater expectations and impress. He’s made incredible use of the Ajin’s core revival mechanic to routinely surprise us as readers. That said, Gamon’s storytelling is still rough, and while his attempts are admirable to try and throw things in a new, unexpected direction, that comes with a lot of flaws.

I mainly want to discuss two plot lines today: Ogura’s musings on what Demi-Humans are, and Nagai’s relentless pursuit of Sato. Nakano’s own story kinda fizzles out here, with Nakano’s narrative never really amounting to much and him ultimately lucking out as the flood ends just before things can take a completely grim turn. The same can be said for Izumi and Tanaka, who both fail to stop Sato either from inability, or emotional weight. Unless there’s significantly more to the story, it’s here I start to feel like Nakano, for instance, is better serviced in the Anime’s ending, with him at least helping to save Izumi in her fight against Tanaka.

But going back to the main point, Dr. Ogura ends up making his way to the flood via the arrival of some curious onlookers, one of which happens to be a big fan of his. Ogura is asked to explain what Demi-Humans are. Gamon’s answer, via Ogura’s monologue, isn’t bad per se. In fact, I’d argue every sci-fi story has but two options when dealing with explaining the inner workings of their world: Either it remains beyond scientific explanation or we ‘redefine’ the question.

If we go with ‘beyond explanation’ stories, they tend to either waft on providing an answer through never actively addressing it, or make the attempt only then for a non-answer to be the conclusion waiting for us. The other option, redefine the question, is to say that the human heart/emotion or the general promise of humanity explains it away. There are Sci-fi stories that don’t answer their mechanics like this, but in those instance that’s because they’re typically based in scientific fact, rather than pure fantasy, which is really what most Sci-fi typically ends up amounting to. Since Gamon himself isn’t some ground-breaking scientist, capable of revealing that he’s discovered the way in which people can relive and cheat the cycle of life, it’s going to have to be one or the other.

Here we see Gamon chose human promise. This sets about a long explanation that pushes the idea of predetermine outcomes, in a sense science’s version of destiny/fate, and then bucks against that with the idea that Ajin break that, due to the human heart being a form of energy unknown to the universe. While it does provide an answer for how Demi-Humans come to exist, I don’t think it manages to truly satisfy. For a series that’s managed to sometimes actively escape the box of predictability, and surprise readers with subversive storytelling, it’s a shame that it’s ultimate answer to what Demi-Humans are boils down to the predictable. I will say though that Ogura’s speech, coupled with Nagai’s continued defiance against Sato, makes for a powerful message.

It’s also in these chapters that we see Gamon has figured out his ultimate message to readers: Failure is part of life. Man only succeeds by failing and then trying again. In some ways Gamon beats us over the head with this, seeing Nagai now having failed and tried and failed and tried, over and over in this ultimate Arc. While a noble message, Gamon’s approach to relating this message to his readers unfortunately also starts to border on comical.

This is where my second issue comes in; Nagai’s continued failure and pursuit of Sato. Sato is a fantastic villain, and while I’ve never been absolutely thrilled as we doubled down on his video game obsession, he’s still managed to feel absolutely terrifying as an antagonist. Nagai failing against him is the heart of the story, and I can see how Nagai failing over and over again in this final arc makes sense, but I also feel like it’s becoming silly when we start to see developments like Nagai suffering a bout of amnesia from a bump on the head. It starts to feel like we’re looking for anything and everything to go wrong, just to impede Nagai with more obstacles, no matter how silly it starts to feel.

Part of me wonders if this is a result of Gamon’s own potential dissatisfaction with his ending. I’ve begun to wonder if Nagai’s cat and mouse game with Sato, which has hit its climax already, is continuing because Gamon still hasn’t settled on exactly what he feels is a proper and true ending to Ajin. That he is still actively seeking a moment of “Aha! This is how it ends” That will not only impress readers, but his inner critic as well.

Ultimately I still love Ajin. It’s one of the few manga that feels like it is truly trying so damn hard to be its own, original thing. Gamon has impressed with his ingenuity, but sometimes that doesn’t always pan out. And I think chapters 74.5-79 are more so an example of where that hasn’t really come together as well as would have been ideal. Still, Gamon gets a lot of props for trying, most other series start to fall into predictability at this point, relying on tired tropes and cliches to provide a satisfying ending. Those often work, but hardly feel original and I really appreciate Gamon for still giving it his all to try and find the ending that fits Ajin, rather than offering one that would more assuredly satisfy but lack ingenuity.

Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on Ajin in the comments section below!

Ajin is uploaded monthly on Crunchyroll. Volume 15 releases on August 11th, 2020.

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