“For high schooler Kei – and for at least forty-six others – immortality comes as the nastiest surprise ever.
Sadly for Kei, but refreshingly for the reader, such a feat doesn’t make him a superhero. In the eyes of both the general public and governments, he’s a rare specimen who needs to be hunted down and handed over to scientists to be experimented on for life – a demi-human who must die a thousand deaths for the benefit of humanity.”
The action thriller, Ajin, is only the second manga that Tsuina Miura has had published so far but judging by the reception it wouldn’t be surprising to see his writing picked up by other publishing companies in the future. That being said this love of Ajin baffles me.
The setting of the world that Miura creates just doesn’t make sense. I can forgive the run, get caught, run, get caught plot of the main character. The art is good and the design of the “black ghosts” is genuinely creepy. The character who I will affectionately call Japanese-physicist-Dr.-House steals the show the instant he shows up in volume 2. He also drops some very fun plot-bait about the true nature of a demi-humans’ abilities.
In the first 13 pages of volume 1 we are made aware of several key facts about the common knowledge the general public across the globe shares regarding demi-humans. 1) They don’t die, but it’s not certain if they never die. 2)The discovery of demi-humans is considered the biggest find in human history. 3) Initial reaction was panic over the possibility that demi-humans were aliens or zombies, but that has died down by the time our story begins. 4) No one knows who is a demi-human until they die. 5) Demi-humans are very rare and not an everyday concern for the general populace since they are considered harmless. Later on we find out that most people know that demi-humans have a “peculiar voice”. Now, before I explain why this is by far the lamest context for a horror monster I’ve ever heard of outside of the killer elevator in the movie The Shaft, let’s just set a few more essential things up.
“Well, apparently you can make bank by hunting and catching one.”
“Wait… hunting and catching one? These people just sound like they have an incredibly rare and amazing genetic mutation!”
“Exactly! This ability makes them different so they aren’t people. They’re just animals.”
And that’s were the rub is: in Ajin these immortals are believed by the vast majority of the human population to just be harmless, normal looking humans who happen to have the magical ability to un-break their necks after diving head first into a snow bank. There’s no war going on, no great external threat, people seem to be well off, and no one we see seems to be desperate. There’s no reason at the time of the story that would explain why anyone would have any real concern about the existence of demi-humans aside from general curiosity. So really, in the end, the only reason that demi-humans would be considered anything other than humans is that there’s a bounty of a few million dollars on the capture of these “rare specimens”.
This is the weakest, laziest, most poorly conceived reason why a community would do a complete 180 on their loved ones, drop them off at a government facility to never be heard from again so that Joseph Mengele’s across the world can get their science jollies performing publicly acknowledged torture experiments. Torture experiments which, as far as the reader can see within either volume 1 or 2, have not provided any evident benefit to the world’s population. What?!
Whatever you think about dystopian fiction like Battle Royal, Parasyte, 1984 or The Hunger Games, they all gave their fictional cultures a back story that would contextualize the protagonists’ suffering through extreme violence and blatant violations of human rights. These justifications make the reader sympathize with the characters as they struggle against clearly unfair and desperate circumstances. It’s simply impossible to like or care about Kei’s struggle in Ajin because the reader has no idea why they he has to struggle in the first place. There’s no compelling reason offered why the whole world of Ajin would not consider a demi-human to be human.
Title: Ajin: Demi-Human Volume 1 & 2
Artist: Gamon Sakurai
Writer: Tsuina Miura
USA original publication: Vertical 2014