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Ajin, vol. 1 (Good Afternoon, 2012), written by Tsunina Miura and art by Gamon Sakurai. Grade: B+.
Ok, I've finally gotten my hands on the first three volumes of Ajin. I'd written up a review of volume 4 almost 2 years ago, and I'm just now going back to the beginning to see how things started.
(Kei and his sister, Eriko.)
We pretty much get all of the major players right away, with little real explanation of what's going on. Kei Nagai is a studious high school student who wants to become a doctor. One day, he's distracted while walking across the street, and gets cut in two by a truck. The driver is yelling that the accident wasn't his fault, and tries to get witnesses to verify that he had the green light (much like when I was hit by a car a few years ago) when Kei stands back up, fully healed. Bystanders start moving in to capture him for the reward money, and call him into the police, so he yells at them to freeze and leave him alone. This happens and he has time to run away. His ghost looks like a skeleton wrapped in bandages (refer to the cover above). Kei's mother is ruthless and focused on turning him into a doctor, while his sister, Eriko, is hospitalized with some unnamed condition.
Kaito (AKA: Kai, last name not given) is a spiky-haired kid with smiley-face earrings. He used to be Kei's friend, until Kei's mother told her son to stay away from weirdos, and make more respectable friends. Kai is the only person Kei can trust right now, and he gives the boy a phone call to help get him out to the countryside, away from everyone that wants a piece of him (which includes greedy cops, idiot adults, and at least one nasty guy on a motorcycle). Kai has his own motorcycle and the two escape to a cabin outside of Tokyo. Kei eventually ditches Kai to make his way down to Kyushu in the hopes of finding people that don't watch TV news. Kai is last seen walking back home.
(Izumi and Tosaki.)
Tosaki is a tall, thin, light-haired guy with glasses. He always wears gloves, and eats breath mints by the handful. Initially, he shows up as an investigator tasked with tracking down and capturing Ajin located in Japan. So far, little is known about Ajin, which translates to "subhuman", but the U.S. commercial translations use "demi-human". The term refers to people that don't die under normal circumstances. If an Ajin is severely wounded, or even cut in two, he or she will recover within a few minutes. Ajin also have "the voice," which lets them stun their opponents long enough to attack or flee them. What is generally left out of the conversation is that Ajin also have something that Kei calls a "black ghost," which can speak to a limited extent, and can be used for killing people at a distance. Tosaki is very focused on capturing Ajin for use in Japan's research facilities. His assistant is Izumi Shimomura.
Izumi is a small, wide-eyed woman that follows Tosaki everywhere. While interviewing Kei's sister, Eriko, about Kei's whereabouts, Izumi is attacked and revealed to be an Ajin. Her ghost is a mummy with a triangular head. She's a smart fighter, but a bit too focused and prone to embarrassment.
Very little is known about Satoh, other than that he's ruthless, and hellbent on gathering other Ajin to him. There are 47 or so Ajin that have been identified world-wide, and Satoh may have been the very first one (if not the first globally, then at least the first one in Japan). He tracks down #2 and springs him from the research center, kidnaps Kei's sister, and uses her cell phone to call Kai. Turns out that Kei stole Kai's phone when he abandoned the boy, and Satoh tells Kei to meet him somewhere. Satoh usually wears suspenders, baggy trousers, a work shirt and cap, and he squints a lot. At the beginning he apparently doesn't have a ghost.
Kouji Tanaka is Ajin #2. He starts the volume trapped in some heavily protected research center, where the researchers daily torture and kill him in various ways to learn more about an Ajin's limits. After Satoh springs him (killing all the guards along the way), Tanaka joins Satoh and works mainly as a dirty jobs man. His ghost looks like Kei's, but with talons on its hands and a mouth with lots of pointy teeth. Tanaka remote-controls his ghost into the hospital where Izumi is interrogating Eriko, and ends up having to fight Izumi's ghost. And he discovers that when ghosts hit each other, the points of contact disintegrate.
(Some of the weapons used against Ajin.)
(The books starts with a doctor killing Ajin #2 as part of their "research".)
Ok, for the story. Kei goes to school, where the teacher describes Ajin as monsters that some countries wanted to use as super-soldiers. The first Ajin surfaced in Africa 17 years earlier, and currently there have been reports of 47 or so world-wide. Kei goes outside, suddenly remembers the time when he'd seen a black ghost (the family dog had died and Kei and Eriko had gone outside to bury it) then walks in front of a truck and is cut in two. He recovers, uses The Voice to paralyze everyone and runs away to the woods where he and Kai used to go insect hunting. He calls Kai for help, and the other boy arrives just as a dirty cop discovers Kei and tries to arrest him for the reward. Kai and Kei are on the run, and keep encountering people that recognize Kei from the news, so they have to fight again, and run away again. They eventually reach safety, and Kei comes to terms with the fact that he's not human anymore. He also gets to see his ghost, and talks to it a bit, but the conversation isn't very deep. When Kai falls asleep, Kei takes his cellphone and bike, and thinks about either going down to Kyushu, or trying to locate other Ajin that are also in hiding.
(Kei dies, but he gets better.)
Meanwhile, Tosaki is tasked with finding Kei. He and Izumi interview former friends and family. Then, Tosaki has to return to HQ to give a report, leaving Izumi to talk to Eriko in the hospital. Additionally, Satoh breaks into the research center and springs Tanaka, who is in the middle of being tortured again. The two of them locate Eriko. While Izumi's and Tanaka's ghosts battle it out, Satoh kidnaps Eriko, and he and Tanaka escape, with Eriko tied up in the trunk of Satoh's car. (Tosaki's report was on the investigation following Tanaka's escape.) Along the way, we do learn that Izumi and Tosaki do know who Satoh is, but when they encounter each other, Tosaki prevents Izumi from trying to fight him. The volume ends with Kai sleeping, Kei speeding away on Kai's bike to find other Ajin, and Satoh calling him on Kai's phone to set up a meeting.
(The ghosts for Tanaka and Izumi try to fight each other.)
(Kei doesn't quite accept that his ghost is on his side.)
Summary: The artwork is really good, and the character designs are unique and very detailed. But, I keep getting this feeling that everything is a bit amateurish and old-school. Not sure why. The action scenes are very convincing, without being too drawn out. So far, there's not a lot of plot or character development, and we don't know where the black ghosts come from or what they want. Right now, things are just starting out, but the series is pretty promising. Recommended if you like monsters running around present day Tokyo, and a high body count.