Ajin- What Tokyo Ghoul Wanted to Be... and failed miserably at!
Ajin- also the most unfairly ignored series of Winter 2016. There, it's been said. If you were one of the few people who can see past a childish, baseless, and unwarranted dislike of 3D CGI based anime on principle- good for you, because Ajin delivers a quality sci-fi/superpower tale, regardless of the form it's rendered in.
Because it's first on everyone's mind- the first thing to address here is the animation. Yes, 3D CGI can be scary. We've all seen monstrosities of bad animation like the ASS dragon from Fate Stay Night, the original Ghost in the Shell SAC, Absolute Duo, and many others. Yes, we're all fully aware of how ugly that plastic shader looks. To that end, Ajin can be ugly- and the worst part is the framerate, which is very sluggish at times and drags the visual experience down. However, for a show that was rendered entirely in 3D, this is not the end of the world. The majority of it is very easy to watch and flows well- and given the dark subject material, how it's cast in a washed out, at some points almost grayscale color scheme, but the few bright moments seem brighter by comparison in an otherwise pretty dreary show.
The next thing I feel led to discuss are the comparisons to Tokyo Ghoul that I alluded to in the title. The subject matter here is quite similar, only with Ajin taking a step toward realism and making good on its threats, minus the terrible teen angst and melodrama. See, the Ajin are a small group of humans who have the ability to regenerate their bodies upon dying. No matter how gruesome their injuries, they always come back to life in a few seconds- making them almost entirely invincible. Because they're also human, they have similar fallibility to crippling, choking, or otherwise being incapacitated. To further complicate matters, they're also able to summon an invisible, (to everyone who is not an Ajin) but humanoid black specter which can be used as a proxy and controlled remotely- to do combat, spy, whatever. The catch is that they can only use this once or twice per day, before needing to regenerate.
The Ajin are, because of the actions of one man named Satou, hunted by the government- resulting in a sort of class warfare, the nearly invincible Ajin VS the police and special agents whose job it is to control knowledge of and movements of the Ajin- all deemed a national threat from the terroristic operations of the murderous Satou- a broken psychopath with para-military training who exists for no purpose other than to incite fear and shock into the populace of Japan through killing- which he thoroughly enjoys.
However much this story may be about Satou though, the main character he is not.
Kei Nagai, a student who reminds me a lot of Light Yagami, albeit with a much more human mind and cold streak, is involved in a bus accident walking home from school. Smeared on the ground along with his life blood and organs, and dead- this black smoke appears from his body and a crackling sound is heard. Kei sits up, clothes torn from grinding along the road underneath the bus- very alive. Kei recognizes immediately that he's an Ajin, and that his life has just changed dramatically- most likely for the worst. His friends freak out, and then there's a knock at the door. Kei recognizes that it's time to go, and he, who just wants to live quietly and away from the Ajin madness, takes off on the run. Kei is, and shows that he's different from many superpower shonen main characters in that he's a very calculating, cold person. He's not afraid to use anyone or anything in his path if he sees it as a means to get ahead, and through this, he manages to slip under the radar, even if it costs him his friends and family, his force of will and intellect are what keep him alive after the government gets on his scent.
See, the world of Ajin is built up very well from the beginning, featuring students in school gossiping about this viral video, supposedly featuring an Ajin being murdered over and over by shady government officials. We later see news broadcasts with the names of suspected Ajin and recognize that there's a very large gap of information missing to the public about what they really are. This introduction (in a realistic way) of the public intrigue is very natural feeling, and sets the stage for a socio-political facet to the show later on, with government coverups and information war.
On this note, it should be noted that this show really pushed the envelop of gritty content, at least in recent memory, especially in how it presents some of the violent acts. It's never my place to spoil anything, but suffice to say that Satou takes some very drastic and destructive measures (all within the realm of reality, mind you) to make Japan very aware of his presence and the threat he poses as both an Ajin and terrorist. Likewise, the story does a great job of making everything very morally gray, with abuses of power by the government and shrewd manipulations by Satou to shift the public opinion of the ignorant masses towards the plight of the Ajin.
As a dark, engaging, and interesting shonen, Ajin is definitely one of the more memorable of the genre in recent memory. It took many of the themes that Tokyo Ghoul had breadth in, and then gave them depth. Where Tokyo Ghoul was afraid to take steps, or just completely missed steps, especially with its characters, we have much stronger motivation and reaction from the characters here. The plot advances in a way that can be followed, but not in the most predictable fashion, with a couple of genuinely shocking scenes to boot. Though this 13 episode series doesn't completely wrap up the story (that will be left to a sequel movie sometime later this year, a la Madoka Magica), it ends on a satisfying enough note that I wasn't perturbed by its somewhat abrupt ending. I'm willing to give this my stamp of approval, and even go so far as to say that it's the unsung anime of the season for staying true to what it began, not pulling any punches, and remaining consistently good throughout its run- something no other show from this past season can claim.