Who doesn’t want to live forever? I mean, yeah, there is that problem that everyone around you dies. But you don’t have to. Think of all the video games you could play with all that time. Well, here’s a manga that offers a different perspective on the issue.
The manga is titled “亜人” or Ajin (pronounced, “ah-jihn”), which means “demi-human”, and it paints a much bleaker picture on what it would be like if suddenly, there were people who discovered they couldn’t die.
What It’s About
In the story of Ajin, the world has been shaken by the discovery of a new type of human, called “Ajin”. What makes an Ajin different from a normal human are two specific features: 1. An Ajin is capable of emitting a sound that will temporarily paralyse a normal human, and 2. An Ajin cannot die. When an Ajin sustains enough physical damage that would kill a normal human, the Ajin “dies”, but then immediately regenerates to a healthy state.
Seventeen years after their initial discovery, 46 Ajin have been confirmed throughout the world. While research on Ajin and why/how they regenerate is pretty much at a standstill, they are still sought after by government agencies for research purposes. Unfortunately, the only way to know if someone is an Ajin is for them to “die”, which means that there are people living normal lives who don’t know they are Ajin. Initially seen as the greatest discovery in human history, Ajin are no longer regarded as “human”, they have no rights and are hunted like reusable lab rats.
The main character of the story, Kei Nagai, discovers that he is an Ajin after a traffic accident. He is forced to run for his “life” as the darker secrets of the Ajin are slowly uncovered.
On its surface, the story of Ajin is an action-packed, supernatural thriller — and there are some scenes of some seriously bad-arse action — while underneath, it tackles issues of society, discrimination, and of course, mortality.
The story is well-paced with a very convincing sense of perpetual threat hanging over Kei, from the very instant he is hurled from the everyday life of your average high school student to being the most sought-after potential research material in Japan.
The story also does a good job of exploring the potential of the world and the rules it has set up, from how to fight against and capture a creature that has a built-in reset button, to how such a creature can exploit its abilities. And then, there are the secrets of the Ajin that have not been revealed…
The manga is not without its flaws, the biggest being the main character himself. Kei starts out as a seemingly innocent bystander, mixed up in something much bigger than himself; the perfect vessel through which the reader can view this strange world where immortality is the worst thing that could happen to someone. However, as the story progresses and more about Kei is revealed, he becomes less and less relatable, and consequently, less likable.
Another weakness of the story is Kei’s antagonist, the man in charge of his capture, Agent Tosaki. While Kei slowly becomes unrelatable through the story, Tosaki is just uninteresting. From the start, he is depicted as your standard “intelligent, capable and unyielding field agent hunting his mark” and doesn’t really progress from there. Even his motivation, when it’s revealed, seems rather bland.
His assistant, on the other hand, seems to have much more potential as a character, much like the other Ajin that eventually show up. In the end, it’s the surrounding characters who wind up being far more interesting than the main characters.
While it isn’t perfect, Ajin does a good job of making up for its weaknesses with its mysteries and suspense. While it does explore the psyche and personalities of its characters, ultimately, it feels more of a plot-driven story than a character-driven one.
The manga is still ongoing, so it could just as easily turn into a pulpy mess as it could become a story for the ages. As it stands, I find it an incredibly enjoyable and entertaining experience that shows that, in a world where immortality exists, there are fates truly worse than death.
Manga Title:亜人 (Ajin)
Author(s): Gamon Sakurai and Tsuina Miura*
*Only volume one is by both authors. Volumes two and three are credited to Gamon Sakurai alone.
Ajin is currently being published in the semi-monthly magazine, good! Afternoon from Koudansha. The first volume can be read here. (Japanese only)