5 out of 5
Spoiler for this review: I literally had to stop myself from zooming through all of AJIN volume 2 in one sitting so that I could slow down and better enjoy it. I went back and reread volume 1; I tried to take my time. Another spoiler: I have just ordered all of the available AJIN books after reading through volume 2.
I’m guessing the rating acts as its own spoiler as well.
A fair amount of manga and anime will have a really intriguing premise… and then you realize that the book or show is just another spin on some type of subgenre (say… isekai), which means there really will be no explanation for the Why or Hows of the premise. This is a feature and not a bug: it’s a wrinkle of the scene, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of the creations that have exploited it, once I was used to it. Still, when something proves to be a rather sneaky version of whichever subgenre, it can be a bit frustrating, that there’s something worth digging in, and knowing it won’t happen. The American parallel to this, I’d say, is the over-mystifying of everything; hang your book on an elevator-pitched hook, and then trail out eye-rolling mysteries that will drag on until some disappointing reveal. In both cases, a lil’ bit of balance can be great: give a little, leave a little. Manga / anime is even more promising in that regard because readers / viewers are already “trained” to just accept some out there concepts, and then if it turns that there WILL be some rhyme and reason behind it all – hooboy, it can be exciting.
AJIN’s first volume was interesting enough as-is, while also playing in to what I’m describing: “Demi-humans” are humans that cannot die, with “variants” seemingly having ultra-sensory, er, manifestation powers and weird extra affectations (like a voice that can freeze attackers). They were “discovered” only a few decades ago, with a relative very few cases known. Demi-humans, being something other than human, are treated with hostility and fear, even though, to the majority of the population, the only difference they display is being unable to die. Our POV character – Kei Naga – is in a car crash, discovers his demi-human status, and then immediately realizes how much of an outcast he is. …But also finds that demi-humans are quite the “prize” for evil scientist-y researchy types. He goes on the run with a human friend, and the reader is also introduced to some other demi-humans…
And we pick up there. Writer Tsuina Miura (or their “story” work – volume 1 artist Gamon Sakurai gets sole writer / artist credit for the majority of the chapters in volume 2) didn’t pause to explain much about the demis, keeping Kei in motion the whole while, but there was the lingering sense that there was an explanation, and while it’s not like the next entry in the series explains everything, it fulfills that desire for balance I was expressing: we’re given a little more, and what we’re given is damned tantalizing. On top of this, there are at least one or two twists that I just would not have guessed, and they are the type of twists that don’t lose impact after they’ve occurred: they make perfect sense from what we know of the characters and story thus far. Saying much more about the plot would be the kind of spoiler one actually cares about, but let it suffice to say that Kei finds out more about these other demi-humans, and then finds out more out those dang evil scientist-y researchy types.
If there was / is an exchange between Miura and Sakurai over writing, no beats are missed, and Sakurai’s art is simply to be slavered over here: now that we get the gist of what demi-humans can do (in part), the way it’s arted is so clear – and badass – that you’ll find yourself reading back over sections just to wallow in the excitement of it all. Bear in mind that the dialogue sections aren’t a slouch, either – the characterizations are very expressive but grounded as well, imbuing the various players with real identities.
Cripes, I cannot wait for the rest of these books…