AJIN: Demi-human vol. 16 – Gamon Sakurai

4 out of 5

The new volume of AJIN arrives – I drop everything to read it.

Volume 15 left us on seat’s edge – as, like, every chapter of AJIN does – with the appearance(s) of Nagai’s flood. Almost the entirety of volume 16 is given over to that, with Sakurai’s typical masterful decompression – making each beat worthwhile as action narration, but also including telling character moments – but there’s a key section featuring Ogura, going into detail on AJIN origins.

This is tricky stuff. Sakurai has smartly kept the focus of his story on momentum, and has grounded things with pseudo-science regarding the demi-humans, giving the story a bristle of hard sci-fi. He’s never really waved any need to assess ‘how it all began’ at us, so it’s brave to venture down that road. …And it’s admittedly a little disappointing, at first. Ogura, the dude who’s delivered some cold, hard facts to us, prattles on about IBMs being, like, soul-stuff. The speech starts out eye-opening – this all started billions of years ago! – but then becomes very hand-waggling and floofy; Sakurai maybe having bit off more than he could handle. And then: someone listening to the story blows it up by pointing out that Ogura never has any proof for any of the stuff he talks about; it’s all conjecture. You could view this as lampshading, but I loved it; it’s perfect. Maybe we’ll return to the origins, maybe we won’t, but this is exactly the kind of subtle character stuff Gamon has gobsmacked me with throughout: this emotionally-fueled fairytale makes sense as being delivered by Ogura, who’s like a frustrated romantic, and it fits together with what we know of his tragic persona.

Later, there’s some bullshit where Nagai has amnesia, so-calling it b.s. because amnesia is always b.s. as a plot device. Sakurai discards this as soon as he can, and, sure, it gives the Kei / Sato interaction some breathing room, but there would’ve been other ways to achieve that. I am hoping that, just as with the origin story, Sakurai circles back around to recontextualize this misstep, but we’re at the end of volume 16 before that can happen.

Not that that will prevent me from dropping everything to read volume 17, when it arrives.