OP: 「夜は眠れるかい？」 (Yoru wa Nemureru kai) by (flumpool)
「僕らには関係ない話」 (Bokura ni wa Kankeinai Hanashi)
“The Story Doesn’t Matter to Us”
Ajin presents a dilemma that’s becoming increasingly familiar for the anime fan.
Where do you want to start with Ajin? There’s no way you can broach the subject of a post about this series without answering that question, because there’s just no much of the positive and the negative here. We live in an era when full CGI shows are part of the anime landscape whether we like it or not (generally, I don’t) and they change the experience of watching a series in a quite profound way.
There’s quite a story with Ajin before you even get to the animation. This is a highly decorated manga, having been nominated for both the Kodansha and Tezuka prizes, and it sells very well. Polygon Pictures has already released the first of theatrical trilogy acting as a sort of alternative version of the TV series (which strikes me as rather an odd thing to do). And because the series was licensed to Netflix before it ever aired (as was the second season of Polyon’s Sidonia no Kishi, with which Ajin shares a director) it’s that rare anime that isn’t being streamed – which explains the delay before a good English version hit the streets, streaming having led to the demise of most true subbing groups.
Well, Ajin is here, and it is what it is. And that’s a good many things, many of them outstanding. I’m an avowed believer that seinen adaptations make some of the best anime out there, and Ajin is a damn good seinen manga. The premise – 46 known super-human Ajin knows as “Soldiers of God” exist in the world, but there could be more, hiding among us – is a great one. The dialogue is smart and respects the audience, and the writing is pretty ruthless.
But for me at least, the animation is an element that can’t simply be ignored. CGI is becoming more common in anime, though full-on CGI series are relatively rare still. Polygon’s efforts all look the same to me – the same under-formed character designs, the same creepy artificial movements, the same robotic facial expressions. It was at its best with Sanzoku no Musume Ronja (a Ghibli-padded budget and art didn’t hurt) but even there the character animation was the weakest element of the series. I’ve seen conflicting opinion on whether Bubuki Burnanki is full CG (I think it’s a hybrid), but it’s striking how much more natural and detailed the look of that series is as compared to what Polygon does.
It’s frustrating to see really good manga get subpar visual treatment, and especially puzzling when the manga are very popular (like this one, or Kingdom). But once again a much-loved seinen manga has been turned over to Polygon, and I guess we should be thankful that they’re much better at narrative than character animation – and that we’re getting an anime at all. For my money Ajin is actually a better series than Sidonia because in addition to having a very strong sci-fi premise like that series, Ajin also has well-drawn and complex characters who interact in believable ways.
Chief among them is the protagonist Nagai Kei (Miyano Mamoru, who also sings the ED) a studious and serious high-schooler with a hospitalized little sister. His childhood friend is Kaito (the omnipresent Hosoya Yoshimasa), a “bad seed” Kei’s mother has forbidden him to fraternize with. Everything Kei does seems geared towards being good – a good boy, a good son, a good student. A good human, in other words. But ever since the day he saw a strange shadowy creature hovering over him when death was in the air, it seems that Kei has always suspected that he wasn’t human at all.
We’ve seen this broad premise in many forms, but it’s very well executed here. I like the fact that it was Kai that Kei immediately thought to turn to when his secret was exposed by a grisly truck incident, and that Kai was already preparing to come to his friend’s aid. The action scenes are tense and nicely staged, and the premiere manages to convey both a sense of compassion for Kei and of consequence with the events happening to and around him. In short, it’s a good episode – really good, if you like smart and disturbing seinen anime. The only question, really, is just how much of an obstacle those visuals are – and that’s a question every viewer is going to have to answer for themselves.
ED: “HOW CLOSE YOU ARE” by (Mamoru Miyano)