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Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 5

June 22, 2015

There’s been a major development for this series in the time since my last review.  It was announced that “Ajin” will become an anime film trilogy in Japan sometime soon.  While this is good news for creator Gamon Sakurai, I can only hope that whoever is making these films uses this as an opportunity to clean up the messy narrative of the series so far.  Things haven’t gone off the rails yet.  However, Sakurai is closing the gap between the story he wants to tell, and the story he’s actually been telling through means of brute force rather than organic elegance.

In theory, “Ajin” is supposed to be about a group of immortal demi-humans, some of whom can unleash powerful beings known as “variants,” who are ruthlessly hunted by the Japanese government.  Most of them are trying to live normal lives, but one of them, Sato, is standing up to fight for their rights.  Problem is that he’s got his own scheme in play that will benefit him more than anyone else.  Between these two forces, is our reluctant protagonist Kei Nagai who is clearly meant to present a third option for demi-humans and put the other two in their place.

What we’ve got is your shady governmental organization that is as ruthless as it is Eeeeeeevil, and a protagonist who is about as likeable as a dead fish.  That’s unfair to the fish, as it has no personality to be retconned into a self-serving jerk at the exact same time that he’s being portrayed as someone who starts to care for others.  Meanwhile, even if Sato does have a sinister plan that will only benefit himself, he’s still the most fun character in the series.  He clearly enjoys the perks of immortality, gets a kick out of comparing himself to Hannibal Lecter, and keeps sticking it to the bastards in the government.  That said, he did commit a 9/11-style terrorist act by crashing a plane into a pharmaceutical building at the end of the previous volume.  Such an act makes it clear that he’s meant to be the villain of the piece, except he’s still the most interesting character in this series.

That feeling is only reinforced in the first two chapters of this volume as we see his actions in the aftermath of the plane crash.  In case anyone was wondering why “Ajin” is being made into three movies instead of a TV series, chapters like these are your answer.  They are a bloody onslaught of gun and variant violence which would never fly on TV without massive censorship.  I’ll also admit that they’re one of the high points of the series so far.  For all of the issues I have with his storytelling, I have to admit that Sakurai is good with the action.  Sato’s fight against the MPD’s “Special Forces” division is a fast-moving spectacle that draws you in with its clarity and many twists and turns to the action.  There’s also some creative uses of variant abilities and Sato shows us some real “don’t try this at all” stuff with a shotgun.  It’s a fantastic sequence and a real example of where the mangaka’s strengths lie.

Regrettably, he backs away from them for most of what follows.  While Sato enacts the next phase of his plan -- killing off key figures in the government and industry -- the focus shifts back to Kei and Ko.  Still out in the boonies, with the latter still a prisoner of the former.  It doesn’t remain that way for long and the two are back on the run without anyone they can rely on.  Or so they think, as Kei figures he can make a deal with Tosaki, who is still in charge of tracking down demi-humans, since they both want to stop Sato.

The Kei/Ko scenes ramble along pretty awkwardly.  It’s clear that Sakurai is shooting for a book smarts vs. street smarts vibe in the interaction between the two, but it doesn’t really work.  Even though they have only themselves to rely on, they’ve got no chemistry as friends and Kei is still an insufferable prick.  I’m glad that Ko seems to be sticking around for a while, because even if he is the dumber of the two he’s still the more likeable one.  As for Tosaki, he’s starting to feel the squeeze from being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Not only do his bosses have it in for him, but he’s also on Sato’s kill list.  His only hope?  Two demi-human screw-ups who decided the best way to get his attention was to break into the hospital where his girlfriend is being kept on life support and then threaten to kill her if he didn’t help.  ...Yeah, I’m hoping he’ll find a way to smack some sense into them now that they’re all working together.

Then again, their newly-formed alliance makes them a really big target for Sato and his allies.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing a massive clash between demi-human factions in the next volume, but there will certainly be plenty of build-up to that main event.  Given how the character-driven parts of this volume came off, that’s not really a proposition which interests me.  Still, I can at least hope it will be awful in interesting ways and the action will likely be worth witnessing when it arrives.  Yes, “Ajin” is still kind of a mess, but it at least has a kind of crazy momentum keeping my interest for now.

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