Ajin Season 1 Complete Collection DVD Review

Originally published on The Fandom Post.

An entertaining, if overly cynical, supernatural thriller.

Ajin Season 1 DVD Front Cover

What They Say:
Kei Nagai is just an ordinary high school student until he’s run over by a truck and doesn’t die. Kei discovers he’s an Ajin-a demi-human with the power to come back to life whenever he dies. Ajin are hunted down and experimented on by the Japanese government, and there’s little public support for them due to rumors of a large bounty on them. Now Kei is running from the police, led by a government agent named Tosaki, with only his friend Kai to help him. Meanwhile, another Ajin named Sato has plans of his own, plans that will shake Japan to its core…

The Review:
Audio:
Ajin’s audio fares pretty well across the board. The soundtrack is primarily synth-rock that complements the anime’s thriller aspects well. Most tracks don’t particularly stand out, but the main theme’s ominous keyboard and synthesized screeches add a lot of intensity whenever it’s used. The opening is a hard rock song that’s also a solid lead-in to each episode. Ajin’s dub is primarily made up of experienced dubbing veterans who turn in good performances across the board. Johnny Yong Bosch and Bryce Papenbrook both do a respectable job as Kei and Kai, respectively, while Todd Haberkorn completely owns his role as Tosaki. The real standout, however, is relative newcomer Pete Sepenuk’s Sato. Sepenuk imbues Sato with a perfect balance of smooth charisma and menace that completely fits Sato’s personality. It’s unusual to see a new actor in such a prominent role, but I can’t think of a better fit than Sepenuk. On the whole, Ajin’s dub is good enough to give you about the same experience as the original Japanese, even if it won’t change anyone’s mind about dubs. The movie that’s included is sub-only, so it’s a good way for dub watchers to compare experiences. There’s also a Spanish dub and Spanish subtitles, for those who are so inclined. There were no noticeable encoding issues with the audio.

Video:
There’s no getting around it: Ajin is not a good looking show. With the exception of one or two brief flashbacks, it’s animated entirely in CGI. It’s above average compared to most CG anime, but that still puts it well below average by any other standard. CGI anime has an irritating habit of using the same limited animation style as 2D, even though it doesn’t work well in 3D. Character animation is jerky and unnatural almost across the board, which gives everything a slightly uncanny valley effect while also severely limiting any kind of character acting. It’s also pretty clear that the character designs from the manga were originally meant for 2D and the anime’s character designer didn’t do a lot to modify them for 3D, leaving them looking slightly off. Even if it’s generally not great, there are a few times where the CG is able to shine. The slightly off-putting movements work great whenever the Black Ghosts, invisible creatures that some Ajin can control, are on screen. While off-putting movements don’t work for character animation, the Black Ghosts are supposed to be creepy looking and otherworldly, so the CG enhances their presence. The action scenes also benefit from the CG, which allows for a dynamic camera that’s extremely difficult to pull off in 2D. There were no noticeable encoding errors, although there was one moment where the subtitles used the term “IBM,” even though the term hadn’t been introduced and that’s not what was being said. It’s a minor issue, though, and not a particularly impactful one. On the whole, Sentai’s discs are fine, even if the animation is sub-par.

Packaging:
Ajin comes in a standard plastic case with a somewhat minimalistic design on the cover. The design, combined with the Black Ghost, gives a solid idea of what the show is like. While nothing particularly distinctive, the case is perfectly adequate for storing all the discs without worrying about them getting scratched.

Menu:
There’s not a whole lot to say about the menu design. It’s an easy to navigate standard layout with a static image in the background that varies from disc to disc and the full version of the opening playing in the background. It doesn’t do anything special, but it serves its purpose.

Extras:
Most of Ajin’s on-disc extras are fairly par for the course. It comes with the usual trailers, clean openings, and clean endings. The one distinctive part is the short demonstrating the different steps of creating the CG animation for a few different scenes. While it’s cool to see how the CGI was produced, it becomes somewhat repetitive since it’s basically the same process for the three scenes it highlights and there’s no narration to explain what’s going on or subtitles for the scenes’ dialogue. It’s not a bad extra, but it could have been much better.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ajin’s initial setup is similar to other works like Tokyo Ghoul and X-Men. We have an ordinary main character who suddenly discovers he has some sort of supernatural power and is ostracized and hunted by ordinary people as he tries to find safety and remain a good person. The first half of this season sticks to that setup, which is just fine. It’s not a particularly original setup, but it doesn’t need to be. This kind of setup is perfect for thrillers because it allows for consistent momentum and tension as Kei tries to escape from the government forces pursuing him. A big part of why this works here is Kei and Kai’s relationship. Even though Kei had been cold to him for years, Kai doesn’t hesitate to help Kei escape when he discovers he’s an Ajin. Kai’s positive and outgoing attitude complements Kei’s more restrained and intellectual nature, making them a solid pair to focus on. Of course, this is only the first half.

Around the halfway point, the series takes a turn for the cynical. Kai is quickly written out of the story and doesn’t appear for the rest of the season. Kei, meanwhile, starts to show a different side of himself. He’d always been kind of cold, but halfway through he reveals that he’s practically a sociopath. He comments that he’s never been able to empathize with people, and we learn that the initial reason he cut contact with Kai was because he learned Kai’s father was a criminal and didn’t want that to interfere with his life. The only reason he sought out Kai when he was on the run was because he needed help. The only reason he tried to be a good person before was because he wanted to live an ordinary life. It reaches the point where Kei doesn’t seem to care about anyone, with the possible exception of Kai. This would be fine if the show framed his attitude in a negative light or as a response to the trauma Kei had gone through, but it’s implied that he was always like that and his attitude reflects a larger theme of the show.

Ajin doesn’t really have any “good guys.” Kei is a borderline sociopath who goes as far as to sabotage someone trying to stop Sato because it could interfere with his ordinary life. The Japanese government uses Ajin in monstrous experiments to test weapons and clearly doesn’t care in the slightest about Ajin. The general public is completely indifferent to the Ajin’s plight, even when evidence of the government’s actions comes out. Sato claims to care about Ajin rights, but his actions are those of a terrorist and he only seems to care about his own amusement, even when that involves killing people. Tosaki is the only central character whose motives aren’t completely self-interested, and even that doesn’t excuse him. He’s completely aware of the torture the government puts Ajin through, and doesn’t care at all. That’s not to say there aren’t good people in Ajin, like Kai, but they’re never given much agency. Their only involvement in the story is how it effects Kei, Sato, and Tosaki. As soon as they’re not relevant to those three, they’re written out of the story just like Kai.

Being cynical is fine if there’s a point to it, but all Ajin’s cynicism does is make it hard to root for anyone. It reaches the point where it borders on straight up misanthropy, without making a larger point beyond “everyone is in it for themselves and good people never accomplish anything on their own.” This kind of attitude is both incorrect and immature. It paints humanity with a broad brush that’s obviously false if you just look at empirical evidence. In Ajin, it accomplishes nothing except making the central characters unlikeable. That said, it’s not as big of an issue here as it would be in a different show.

Rather than character investment, a lot of the entertainment in Ajin comes from the three sides plotting against each other. Having three central factions-Kei, Sato, and Tosaki-means Ajin never has any downtime. Even if one story slows down, the other two are still going strong. Ajin’s pacing perfectly complements this. There’s always something happening to keep things interesting, but it never moves so fast that it becomes confusing. There’s a lot of fun to be had just watching Kei, Sato, and Tosaki plot and try to outsmart each other. They’re all smart people who don’t just rely on brute force to accomplish their goals, instead trying to outsmart their opponents. The show takes full advantage of this kind of conflict by holding back the exact details of some plans until the opportune moment, without feeling like it’s keeping the audience in the dark. The way Ajin is paced and told creates a consistent sense of tension, which is the exact feeling a thriller should evoke. With so much enjoyment there, the characters’ unlikeableness doesn’t matter as much as it would in a more character-oriented show. It also helps that Sato steals the show every time he’s onscreen.

Sato is the kind of person where you never know exactly where he stands. He initially seems like a nice guy who cares about Ajin rights and wants to help Kei, but he’s quickly revealed to be cruel and merciless. In spite of his age, he has a constant sense of menace about him, while also exuding a kind of charisma that explains why he’s able to gather followers so quickly. His cocky attitude, combined with the feeling that he’s always enjoying himself, makes him a lot of fun whenever he’s on screen.

Ajin’s fights are another strength. It’s normally difficult to create any kind of tension when your characters are essentially immortal, but Ajin uses its mechanics in a clever way. Ajin can’t die, but they aren’t invincible. Their physical abilities are no different than an ordinary human’s, and they only regenerate when they die. In other words, non-lethal wounds remain until something kills them, after which they regenerate everything. This makes Ajin very vulnerable to tranquilizers, which is why there’s still tension in the fights. Sato’s fights are particularly entertaining to watch. He combines his Ajin abilities with his own combat skills to become a formidable foe. Instead of trying to avoid injuries, he just “resets” by killing himself whenever he needs to regenerate. This makes for some unique fight scenes, aided by dynamic camera movement that wouldn’t be possible without the CGI.

This set also contains the first movie, which covers the exact same content as the first five or so episodes. Beyond a few scenes that the TV series expanded on, the movie is shot for shot the same as the TV series. It’s an adequate substitute if you don’t have the time for the full series, but doesn’t add anything if you’ve seen the TV version

In Summary: Overall, Ajin is a consistently entertaining thriller without needing to be much more. It’s solidly paced, has an interesting cast, and never gets boring. It’s immature cynicism/misanthropy puts a bit of a damper on things, but doesn’t have much impact on its entertainment value. Ajin doesn’t conclude any of its major plotlines by the end, but this is only the first season. There’s plenty more to come in season 2.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 16th, 2017
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 325
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
TSSTcorp CDDVDW SN-208FB disc drive in a custom built PC, HP ‑ 25es 25″ IPS LED 1080p Monitor with HDMI connection, Steelseries Siberia 840 Wireless 7.1 Surround Sound Headset

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