Anime Review: Ajin: Demi-Human Season 1

By Drew Hurley 17.12.2017

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Ajin: Demi-Human Season 1 (UK Rating: 15)

Netflix has, for some time, been a platform that embraces the best content from all over the world, not to mention producing some of the very best original series out there. In a deal that was the first of its kind, Netflix partnered with Polygon Pictures to produce an anime adaptation of the 2012 manga, Ajin: Demi-Human. Polygon already created a movie trilogy based on this story of immortal demi-humans and now it's being fleshed out to a multi-season anime series. Now, for those without the global streaming service, or those fans that like a physical copy, the full first season is out now courtesy of Anime Limited.

Set in modern-day Japan, Ajin: Demi-Human sees a world where certain human beings have found they are actually immortal upon the moment of their death. The series opens on a war-torn area of Africa, where child soldiers are being forced to battle against an immortal "Soldier of God." This is the first Ajin, and the show jumps to 17 years later where series' protagonist, Kei Nagai, is living the life of the atypical stressed out and overworked Japanese high school student. Ajin just happens to be the latest topic in his homeroom and he sees how his friends feel about them, thinking they are not really human and seeing them as a payday, a possible big reward awaiting anyone who could turn the Ajin in. A horrible fate awaits any caught Ajin, too. There are apparently 46 known Ajin in the world, with only two in Japan, and the governments around the world are capturing any they can in a race to understand just what Ajin are. When they get their hands on one, the Ajin is subjected to horrific experiments, being killed over and over or cut to pieces, testing the limits of its regeneration and immortality.

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While Kei is walking home, he makes a misstep and is hit head-on by a truck. As his friends watch on, Kei is reborn as an Ajin. Sure enough, everyone around him, the government and police, even his friends and family, see him as something less than human, and Kei becomes a fugitive, fleeing across Japan with a former friend. This simple premise leads into a much larger story with multiple interesting facets. The experiments on Ajin are secret, and a group of other Ajin begins to fight back against the government, leaking information to the Press. This group is hardly innocent itself, though, and has shadier ambitions than it seems.

There are lots of little unexpected elements that elevate the show. Firstly, there's the "hero," Kei. Kei is clearly a sociopath, unable to feel empathy for people and completely unattached from others. It's hard to like Kei, as even after everything he goes through, he still does things for his own twisted reasons. Then there are the extremist Ajin plotting to make a new world for themselves. Their leader, an enigmatic "Mr. Sato," is fantastic and gets plenty of chances to show off over the course of the show. There's even a little bit of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure in Ajin, as each of the Ajin aren't just immortal, they also have the ability to summon IBM or Invisible Black Matter (no, not old school desktop PCs). These are reminiscent of Stands from Jojo's, invisible humanoid beings that follow their Ajin around and can to some extent be controlled. These black ghosts have a series of rules around their usage, which adds yet another layer to the already complex story.

Polygon Pictures is a 3D animation studio and its original animated movies of Ajin and the previous work with Netflix, Knights of Sidonia, are entirely 3D CGI. It's a style that takes some getting used to, and one that has been disastrous in the past - look at the hideous Berserk series of recent years. Here, though, it's not too bad. The cel-shading work on the models does wonders for its appeal, and when the characters are still, or moving slowly, it's almost possible to mistake this for regular 2D anime series. When characters are moving around a lot, though, the flaws of the system are evident. It's the animation of the 3D models that is still a problem; the characters look robotic, with the movements off somehow.

This release comes with both the English and the Japanese dubs, along with a Spanish dub, as well. There are also the usual clean opening and closings, plus trailers for other series. There is also a nine-minute bonus feature, entitled Animatic Process Scenes, which shows the multiple steps of the creation of this anime, from the simple 3D models with their motion, then adding facial expressions, and smoothing out the models, and then finally adding the dynamic lighting and cel-shading for the end product. The best bonus here, though, is Ajin: Compel. This is the first of the original animated movie trilogy from Polygon and it compacts the entire first season into just under two hours. This is a superb extra addition.

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Many will find it hard to get on with the art style of Ajin: Demi-Human Season 1, but, for those that persevere, there's something rather special here. The story has many moving parts and keeps the audience constantly guessing instead of falling into the usual anime storyline, and it ends with an absolutely killer finale that will have the audience desperate to get hold of the second season.

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