Monday, December 15, 2014

Revew: AJIN

More manga titles today are building an audience through digital channels before getting a print edition.  Today's review is just such a book, having built up an audience through Crunchyroll's manga reader before getting licensed by Vertical.

AJIN, written by Tsuina Miura & art by Gamon Sakurai.  First published in 2012, and first published in North America in 2014.

Kei's world isn't all that far removed from ours, save for the existence of 'demi-humans.'  They look like ordinary people, but they can heal themselves from even the most extreme damage and are even said to possess psychic powers.  This fact didn't have much relevance in Kei's life until the day he was hit by a truck.  He picks himself up afterwards, revealing himself as a demi-human.  Now it seems that everyone is looking for him.  Some want to profit from his body or lock him up for torture in the name of science, but others have powers like his and are willing to kill to bring him into their fold.  As for Kei, he's simply determined to survive.

Ajin is a fascinating and well-crafted bit of sci-fi, taking some familiar ideas and mixing them up with a bit of moody horror to create something with great potential.

Kei's not all that compelling as a protagonist, but then he's not meant to be some complex character.  He's an ordinary guy who finds himself wrapped up in the middle of an extraordinary conflict.  Still, he proves himself to be capable and scrappy, able to think fast and adjust his plans on the fly.  Of course, he's aided by a pretty convenient plot device.  When literally everyone else in the world wants to capture him, Kei is just so lucky to have an estranged childhood friend who still lives in the area, has no other family or friends to stop him from helping Kei, and yet still retains enough affection for his friend to not once consider turning him in for maximum profit.  Still, it's clear that Kei is at the start of a very standard journey, one that will not only transform him from human to demi-human, but also from scared, complacent boy to capable, brave man.

The forces that oppose him are a little more vague, although to some degree it's done on purpose. The government agents that are searching for him are your standard issue sort - shadowy figures working at some equally shadowy, evil goal, even going so far as to employ a demi-human as an investigator.  Of course, the rest of humanity as seen here doesn't come off much better, as most of them turn into greedy thugs at the thought of capturing Kei for big money.  Even Kei's family finds themselves turned into pariahs as the press and the government pressures them to give out more information on Kei.  Even the rogue demi-humans are painted as...well, less than scrupulous.  While they don't seek to harm Kei, they also use this opportunity to exercise their powers and attack others as revenge against their captors.  These fights are easily the most fantastical parts of the story, as demi-humans possess the ability to project skeletal beings called ajin, and their fights are frightening in their ferocity.  Still, they're just a little too far removed from Kei's plot to be much more than a distraction at this point.

While the characters and conflicts that make up Ajin are fairly well-trod and a little shallow, they add up to a moody little manga that's clearly gearing up to something ominous yet thrilling.

The artwork here really helps elevate Ajin beyond its familiar roots.  The faces tend to be rather plainly drawn, but the bodies and backgrounds are well-detailed and all are inked in thick, flowing lines.  The ajin themselves are spooky and iconic, looking like a cross between a skeleton and a mummy, but able to move in fluid, powerful ways.  The fights are visceral, and the art helps gives each punch and stab impact.  The same goes for Kei's horrific injuries, especially the car crash that reveals his powers.  When his body stitches itself together one bone and muscle at a time, the reader can almost feel the pain and hear the hideous cracks.  The presentation for both panel and page are otherwise simple and conventional, but the artwork possesses rich linework and a powerful approach to the violence which helps gives the story some well-needed oomph.

I'm glad to see that this series did well enough to give a physical print run.  It's moody and full of action, and if it's a little predictable at this point, it promises to go in some interesting directions.

This series is published by Vertical.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 4 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published and are currently in print.  This series is also available through Crunchyroll's manga service.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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