Review: 'Ajin: Demi-Human' is an exciting battle of wits and action

Marcus Goh
Contributor
Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 109 minutes (~1.75 hours)

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

“Ajin: Demi-Human” is a Japanese science-fiction action thriller that’s based on the anime and manga franchise of the same name.

The film sees the rise of the Ajin, superhumans who have special abilities and can come back to life after being killed. It follows an Ajin who has recently discovered his powers and learns of other Ajin who exist. Unfortunately, some of the Ajin may have less benign intentions towards humanity.

“Ajin: Demi-Human” is directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and written by Koji and Masahiro Yamaura, with Gamon Sakurai being the original author of the manga. It stars Takeru Satoh (Kei Nagai), Go Ayano (Sato), Yu Shirota (Koji Tanaka), Yudai Chiba (Okuyama), Yuki Yamada (Takahashi), Tetsuji Tamayama (Yu Tosaki), Rina Kawaei (Izumi Shimomura), and Minami Hamabe (Eriko Nagai). It is rated NC-16.

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

The “Ajin” franchise has seen multiple adaptations (anime films, an anime series, and several OVAs) since its conception, with each version seeing almost unanimously positive reception. This live-action film is no different, delivering on all the aspects that count. Even the special effects, which are normally an issue in such adaptations, were well executed thanks to a combination of art direction and camera work. It’s the best live-action film adaptation of an anime this year, slightly edging out August’s “Gintama” thanks to its action and tension.

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

Highlights

A well-rounded villain

While Sato (Go Ayano) might appear to be the stereotypical psychotic maniac at first, the film reveals that his motivations are more complex than they first appear, without resorting to melodramatic theatrics. “Ajin” does so with a few passing lines that reveal his background and how he came to be, rather than playing it out like a sob story (that most anime adaptations do). It’s a subtle but effective way to characterise him further, while keeping the focus firmly on the action.

Gritty and violent for all the right reasons

Given that the Ajin come back to life after being killed, it necessitates some level of grit and violence in the film. And this is warranted, since it’s an action film after all. The darkness and brutality are completely apt for the subject matter, and serve a plot and thematic purpose for the film.

High on action 

The Ajin don’t just battle each other using contemporary firearms (since it takes place in the modern world) and melee combat — thanks to the nature of their superpowers, the action is effectively doubled while still looking slick and realistic. They are, after all, immune to conventional methods of death, so physical conflict poses less of a threat to them than it would to normal humans. They absolutely shine when dealing with regular people, mowing them down like flies in those scenes.

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

Conflict on an intellectual scale

The clash between the Ajin includes them pitting their wits and cunning against each other, as they attempt to circumvent each other’s knowledge and abilities though creative and unexpected ways. So you get to see them brawling and outsmarting each other, making “Ajin” more than just a rough-and-tumble action flick. You’ll be impressed by how they make specific use of each other’s weaknesses to gain the upper hand every step of the way.

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

Good special effects

The special effects are much better than the average anime adaptation, both in terms of fluidity and quality. Part of this is accomplished by hiding the parts that are more challenging to animate through colours and motion, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that you truly believe that these characters have superpowers because of the effects. It enhances your suspension of disbelief, helping you buy into the world of “Ajin: Demi-Human” even more.

Letdowns

Not enough focus on the protagonist

Kei (Takeru Satoh) is ostensibly the protagonist of the film, but his introverted character and passivity make him more of a second fiddle to Sato. In fact, you could arguably consider Sato to be the central character of the film, since he seems to have more screen time and better scenes than Kei does. Unfortunately, Kei is the hero in the source material, so it’s unlikely that future films will let Sato take centre stage.

Ajin: Demi-Human (Encore Films)

“Ajin: Demi-Human” avoids the usual pitfalls of live-action film adaptations and gives fans what they want to see, doing justice to a popular anime and manga series. It’s unlikely that we’ll see another anime adaptation that will top “Ajin: Demi-Human” this year, unless a sequel is released before 2018.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Score: 4.1/5

“Ajin: Demi-Human” opens in cinemas:
– 12 October, 2017 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Police & Thief”, “Incredible Tales”, “Crimewatch”, and “Point of Entry”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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