Polygon Pictures’ AJIN: DEMI-HUMAN
Review by Dennis D. McDonald
The theme of “special" or "evolved" humans being feared and hunted by society has been done many times before. A. E. van Vogt’s novel SLAN comes to mind, as does Marvel’s X-Men.
AJIN is a fresh take on the subject. It blends the standard "everybody is against us special humans" theme with terrorism, violence, spectral beings, torture, and Japanese anime’s almost standard negativity about Americans.
The basis for the fear of the Ajin is that they cannot be killed and have the ability to summon dark wraith-like spectral beings to do their bidding.
We follow one young man through his self-discovery as an Ajin, his pursuit by the authorities bent on cruel scientific research on his body, and his attempts to separate himself from Ajin that have decided to employ terrorism in their battle against the state’s repression.
By now it should be obvious that AJIN is nothing like anime series that focus on adolescent high school pranks, supernatural hijinks, and fan service. AJIN is more like an urban war story and morality tale that, for the most part, succeeds. Emotions are raw, characters are very well developed with excellent (Japanese) voice acting, and the story takes some fascinating and at times amazing twists and turns.
Where AJIN falls down is in the animation which mixes realistic settings, vehicles, and weapons with twitchy character animation and an annoying mix of characters with natural facial features with those that possess anime’s stereotypical oversized round eyes.
The twitchy character movement may be related to an over-reliance on character movement control software that doesn't allow for the randomness of normal body movement. When not running, the main characters seem to walk and move around at the same speed with the frame to frame differences in the drawings just barely visible. Key characters like Sato are very naturally drawn, have realistic facial features, yet move unrealistically. It's distracting given how realistically everything else is done.
The other annoying feature I found to be the mix of characters with realistic eye shapes with the exaggerated round large eyes common to so much anime. The mixture of the two styles was confusing for me at first and I was wondering in this particular anime if one of the characteristics of the Ajin is that some have evolved larger and rounder eyes than "normal" humans. I’ve watched a lot of anime over the years and this was actually the first time I was put off by the large round eyes. I attribute that reaction to the fact that so much of the animation here is realistic and sometimes disconcertingly so in some of the amazing action scenes.
That said, I highly recommend this series if you can get past the violence and some of the animation features. Overall it's quite impressive and an excellent example of how good animated science fiction can be.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald