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Have you listened to the voices of the “black ghosts” in Ajin: Demi-Human?

It’s interesting to look at the behavior and speech of the “IBMs” (Invisible Black Matter) in Ajin. They are all unique; they act differently and say different things. Why is this? The simple answer is that they are manifestations of the self. And since everyone is an individual, it is natural to assume they are not alike.

On the other hand, some act quite differently from their “owners.” 

Ajin is a highly-complex suspense thriller about conflicts both on a political level and a personal level, hinging on a supernatural premise. This premise is the existence of certain humans, labelled ajin, who cannot be killed–or more accurately, can be killed and resuscitated an infinite number of times. Additionally, most of them can manifest apparitions which resemble large, powerful, dark humanoids with long limbs and fingers, but no faces. These are the “black ghosts” I am referring to.

I’m sure everyone, in some way or another, is familiar with the idea of the “inner voice.” In fiction, whether represented as a voice-over monologue or as a tiny version of the self (perhaps dressed as a devil or angel like in classic cartoons), we have seen this depicted in various ways as a narrative tool. The aim in this case is to let the viewer know the emotional state and internal thoughts and motives of the character in question.

An article last year pointed to the phenomenon of “auditory verbal hallucinations,” which recent studies claim “might simply be a form of inner speech that has not been recognised as self-produced.” This hints of the existence of a repressed voice that the individual is creating without his/her awareness of it. Thus, it appears to the individual to come from somewhere else.

We may be observing something similar happening to Kei Nagai, the main character in Ajin, except on a whole other level.

Kei is an anti-villian archetype. We follow the story of Ajin through his adventures, but it is hard to say if we are always rooting for him. After all, he deserts people once he has no use for them, he’s prepared to leave others to die under torture to prioritize the mission at hand… Overall he strikes us as someone detached from emotional resonance.

Yet we gradually find out that he is no ordinary ajin. His ability to produce an IBM far more powerful than many others, to keep the IBM intact for longer than the standard five to ten minutes (in fact, around he can manage around thirty) before it disappears, and to produce the IBM numerous times in a short period of time, astounds even the experts. But the most intriguing aspect of Kei is possibly that the IBM he manifests appears to act like a spoiled child.

Kei’s “black ghost” is not an obedient extension of the master’s will, or a highly-trained killing machine, like some other IBMs that we see during the series. Instead, Kei’s ghost is reminiscent of a rebellious kid hitting puberty. The way it acts, its swaying gestures and often slumped posture, calls to mind a sense of boredom and dissatisfaction, as if everything is a bother. It does not do what Kei commands, instead, it usually does the exact opposite. It sometimes just attacks Kei directly. The clincher is that what it has to say is extremely emblematic of the typical teenager going through “growing pains.”

Most of the time the IBM repeats what Kei says to himself. For example, “Everyone around here is an idiot.” Kei mutters this kind of thing under his breath often, disappointed that he is the only smart one. In fact, he is trying to convince himself that he is being smart by shutting other people out, even those who help him.

To him, this is clever because he can thus avoid establishing dues that may need to be paid later–plus he does not need to consider the safety of others and jeopardize the task at hand. By cutting off the emotional quotient, he can work and meet his objectives, only depending on others in the team if it is beneficial to him.

But this frustration piles up, as we can all imagine. We have all come under stress and felt a lot of pressure, manifesting itself in some emotional turmoil. Maybe we have lashed out at others, perhaps unreasonably. For Kei, shutting himself off from his feelings may be causing the IBM to grow stronger and more uncontrollable. But he also has an opportunity to hear his own “inner voice” played back to him through his interactions with his IBM. Essentially, Kei’s frustration with the people around him leads him to have a heated argument with himself. He is seeing the ugly, repressed side of his personality, and the more he tries to bottle it up, the more it wants to lash out.

As we can imagine at this stage, many of the parallel storylines in the show are going to begin to dovetail soon. But for all the explosions and violence, Ajin can really be interpreted as a story about trust in others, and listening to one’s inner voice when it cries out a plea for help and love.

Ajin: Demi-Human (season 1) is currently streaming on Netflix.

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