Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 - Demi-Human
A new animal has been found: demi-humans, or ajin. Outwardly just like the rest of us, the demi-humans are immortal, able to heal from even the worst of injuries. Most consider them to be a dangerous threat to humanity, and each time a new one is discovered, government agencies step in to take it someplace safe where it can be analyzed and tested. Kei isn't entirely sold on the subhuman theory of the ajin, and it's a good thing – when he's hit by a truck, he revives almost instantly, proving to be one himself. Now Kei is on the run from those who think he's an animal to be hunted. Who will ultimately prove to be the monster: Kei or the people who hunt him?
Who is the monster and who is the man? This is a question that has been in the literary spotlight since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein raised the issue of who had more humanity, Dr. Frankenstein or his Monster. Tsuina Miura takes a different look at the same issue in Ajin, which examines questions of fear and man's inhumanity to man through a science fiction/action lens. This first volume is uncomfortable, but powerfully so, forcing readers to think about where science ends and fear begins and how many actions can, in fact, be justified.
The story takes place in a world very like our own. The only major difference is that immortals known as demi-humans, or ajin, have been discovered. These beings look just like everyone else but cannot be killed: any injury they sustain, no matter how terrible, simply heals. People have dubbed them animals rather than a new sub-species of human, and their numbers are monitored so that when a new one pops up, it can be corralled and brought to a special facility to be experiments upon. There's said to be a huge monetary reward for the capture of a demi-human, making them essentially big game. Kei, a high school senior studying to be both a doctor and the best person he can, clearly has some reservations about these theories, but ultimately he feels they don't touch him: as long as he can get into the best medical school possible, his life will be just fine. All of that ends when he's hit by one of manga's ubiquitous speeding trucks (with bonus cell phone use!) and crushed to a pulp. While the driver is busy trying to waive the blame and snapping pictures of the corpse, Kei shocks everyone by standing up and healing before their eyes. He is, it turns out, a demi-human, and his life might have been better had it ended under the wheels of that truck. The only person he can count on is his childhood friend Kai, who steps up and helps him to escape.
Ajin is an interesting story in a lot of ways, but one of the primary factors is that there seems to be a lot of deliberate confusion by the authorities in terms of what the public knows about the demi-humans. For example, in order to propagate the notion that the ajin are not, in fact, human, they imply that demi-humans just develop one day, when it is evident from the story that Kei was born one and that at least one government agent knows that. Likewise they have turned the demi-humans from heroes to monsters; the first one discovered in Africa (an interesting choice, as that is where humans themselves are thought to have originated) was called “The Soldier of God” by locals, implying that he was seen as a positive. It was only after he was proven to be immortal that the fear began to be mongered. Also specifically noted is that there are no records of demi-humans harming people; something that is conveniently ignored by 99% of the book's population. Granted, that record seems about to be broken, but given the corners these people have been backed into by “normal” people, it is difficult to really blame them...mostly.
Vertical's release of this first volume (the series is ongoing at five books as of this writing) is beautiful, with color pages at the start and very clear, white pages and thick black printing. Gamon Sakurai's page layouts are very easy to read, and the smooth translation and fast-paced story make this a very quick read, although it is also one you're likely to want to reread in order not to miss any details. The segregation themes (I use the word to mean separation of anyone who is different) are disturbing, particularly the way people switch to referring to Kei as “it,” and Kai unfortunately doesn't really get much development for being the only person Kei can trust. Also the whole “Kei and Kai” thing can get confusing if you aren't careful to give the right similar name to the correct character.
Ajin is not an easy series or one that you would call “fun,” but it is a very good one. With a different take on the “who is the monster” question posed by Mary Shelley, it explores what fear and anger can do to a person with the volume's end indicating that Kei might have some monstrousness of his own. Will he blame it on his “Otherness,” or will he realize that anyone would have the same reaction in that situation? It remains to be seen...and it will be worth finding out.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Fast-paced with lots to think about, reads very smoothly in both art and text. Good use of difficult themes and the politics of fear.
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