Ajin – Review
Ajin was awarded as a Runner-Up for Best of Winter 2016 in our Anime Awards.
This is our review for Ajin’s first season. Our review for the 2nd season is here.
Original Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Synopsis: After an incident in Africa, the world became aware of Ajins, beings that appear human, but cannot be killed. Seventeen years later, Japan has two of the forty-six known Ajin across the globe. Nagai Kei was living a normal life until he was struck down by a bus while crossing the road. His life forever changed as this was the day he was outed as an Ajin. Now, on the run from the authorities who seek to capture and experiment on him, Nagai Kei finds himself involved in the schemes of one Sato, known as The Hat, who aims to strike back against humanity.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Ajin is animated by Polygon Pictures, most recently known for their adaptation for Knights of Sidonia, another anime acquired and released by Netflix. For people familiar with Sidonia, Ajin looks remarkably similar, utilizing the same simplistic CGI artstyle that manages to shine through even when the animation’s frame rate takes a dive.
Linny: The CGI really blends well with the dark theme of the series and sadly for those who dislike CGI wholeheartedly, there’s going to be no avoiding it if you want to watch it (unless you go the manga route). The quality of the CGI itself definitely fluctuates a lot with some scenes looking very well done, especially when simulating video feed sequences, yet others appear choppy or suffer from a low frame rate.
Tom: When it comes to characters, Ajin only has a few central cast members who get any significant development. Most of the side cast is used merely to further story, acting as pawns for other characters, or vessels for the plot to progress through. Nagai Kei himself, our main character, starts like most protagonists forced into brutal, life-altering situations. He’s meek, afraid, and unable to do a thing by himself. But as he grows, Nagai ultimately becomes more interesting, developing his own scale of morality that is centered primarily around him and his desire to live a semi-normal life. Disappointingly, Nagai’s best friend, Kaito, who helps him escape from the police in episode 1, is dropped midway through the series, and doesn’t show up again even by the final episode. It’s disappointing, but understandable, as he was one of the more interesting side characters before he disappeared. It’s also too bad we never get to see his reactions to various national level events as the series expands in scope.
Linny: Nagai is most definitely one of the more interesting protagonist in recent anime, especially considering how he doesn’t necessarily have the straightest moral compass or even the desire to act as the hero. He’s not your awkward loser, nor your outgoing charmer. All the side characters introduced in the show do play their part well, always adding to the mystery and the action, and are genuinely complex and interesting, or just plain entertaining.
Tom: Our government villain, Tosaki, and his right hand woman, Izumi, are both interesting as they attempt to hunt down both Nagai and Sato. But I can’t help but feel like Izumi is underused, spending much of her time on the sidelines, or in the background. Also, as the only woman of the main cast, it’s disappointing she’s relegated to no more than a tool for Tosaki. Tosaki himself, while interesting, comes with a cliched backstory that, ultimately works due to the emotional heartstrings, but is the least inventive component to Ajin’s overall quality. Now Sato, on the other hand, is wholly interesting, making for one of the most intriguing and captivating villains in recent seasons. He’s clearly a mad man bent on generating chaos not for revenge, but more because he’s developed a taste for mayhem and death.
Linny: Credit where credit is due in that, every major player in the story has well defined motivations and their own personality. The show takes its time setting up and exploring the characters, revealing just enough about them to keep them engaging. Yes, there is most definitely a lack of well defined female characters, but I was extremely pleased with introduction of an old lady introduced mid-series. If you watch the show, you’ll know who I’m talking about. I’d elaborate but I worry about going too far into spoiler territory. Let’s just say she’s a spunky and adorable old lady that’s a ton of fun to watch in the finale.
Tom: Ajin introduces its story in a simple manner and execution that makes it easy for the audience to immediately understand the state of world presented here. We’ve treated to seeing the power of an Ajin, and their resurrection abilities from the get go, and then Nagai’s school life seventeen years later as the world has become fully aware of the Ajin’s existence. I did initially have trouble believing Ajin would be treated as they are, experimented on, etc, until the series eventually made it more obvious that the general public is, for the most part, unaware of how the companies treat Ajin like reusable guinea pigs. Then it all made much more sense. This information, which I wish was a little more obvious early on, eliminated the few doubts I had concerning Ajin’s internal logic and believability.
Linny: The show is undoubtedly dark and gritty, especially with the sadistic and inhumane approach meted out to the Ajins at the hands of companies who are profiting off them. It manages to cover universal themes of humanity, even while presenting an idea that is supernatural and handles it all so creatively. It never feels preachy or pretentious, neither is it a glorified gore fest. It has just the right balance of actions, morals and even humour to make for a worthwhile watch.
Tom: Ajin was an extremely hyped anime when it first began airing in Japan, fans of the manga frothing at the mouth for people to give it a try, even before Netflix launched it officially in the west on April 12th. It initially took me some time to see where all the hype was coming from, as I wasn’t hooked from episode 1. It actually wasn’t until episode four when I really felt myself anticipating new episodes, eagerly set to see exactly what would happen between Nagai and Sato. This is in part due to how close many of the concepts surrounding Ajins remain secret for so long. It’s in episode four that we actually start to get answers surrounding their abilities, how they work, etc. And by episode 6 I was completely enthralled by the world of Ajin. But throughout all the dark, gritty, and brooding story there’s a handful of lighter moments, comedic relief, to give the viewers a much needed break. What’s so great about these moments are how perfectly they fit into the world of Ajin without completely pulling the viewer out of the show. They give the audience a much needed chuckle, all while keeping the story feeling tonally sound.
Linny: Ajin really is gritty and gory but balances itself out, without losing the emotional and mental impact of the more disturbing parts. The physical torture being engaged in is not only visually disturbing, but has emotionally wrecking implications. Adding to that is a cast filled with intelligent characters. Unlike some shows which have their characters repeatedly making dumb mistakes, the characters here react in believable and smart ways. They take calculated risks and decisions, resulting in some impressive mental and physical maneuvers. It’s such a relief to not have to be constantly yelling at the screen as the characters do something incomprehensibly dumb, and it also makes it a gripping experience as both sides engage in a battle of wits, each trying to outdo the other in innovative ways.
Tom: This review is based primarily off the Japanese audio track. We initially watched the entire series through in this way, but then went back and sampled a few episodes of the English dub. Unlike Netflix’s excellent job with the Sidonia dub, we both have issues with Ajin’s English language track. First off Nagai’s VA doesn’t quite portray the apathy present with Nagai’s Japanese VA. There’s also some very odd directorial choices in how Nagai’s scream sounds, and how characters pronounce his name, as well as the pronunciation of the word Ajin, which does not match the pronunciation from the Japanese track. Finally, perhaps our biggest complaint, is that Sato’s voice has been entirely miscast for the English dub, going for a deeper, gruffer voice that in no ways matches the character’s design, or the superb quality of Sato’s Japanese voice actor: Ootsuka, Houchuu, who does an amazing job of selling Sato’s older, wise, cruel and confident nature. Many of these aspects are lost in the English dub.
Linny: While I was super excited about the dub’s release so I could recommend this show to my friends who prefer dubs, this is one of those times where I really must insist people stick to the sub in order to really experience the true nuance and personalities of the two major leads. Everyone else sounds more or less believable and suited to their characters so kudos on that part of the casting.
Tom: Ajin is based on the manga of the same name, and has also been adapted into two feature length films using the same animation style and much of the same footage. Currently there’s no way to watch the film versions, but thankfully the manga is available on Crunchyroll should you wish to continue the story as we still don’t know yet when we’ll be getting a follow up to this strong adaptation. If you’re willing to give CGI a chance, and it doesn’t drive you up a wall, Ajin is an excellent, dark series that deserves your attention.
Linny: Ajin is another stellar offering from the anime industry, especially for those who crave intelligent and darker stories. There is a good amount of gore and violence, but it isn’t excessively bloody, thanks to the washed out colour palette. All in all, it’s a thrilling supernatural action packed show that will have its viewers on the edge of their seats.
Ajin is available for streaming via Netflix.