A story about how one person tries to survive an unforgiving world all by themselves.
Reading Ayanashi‘s first volume is very much like cooking a new dish for the first time. You’re probably familiar with the ingredients separately, but aren’t sure how it will taste once their flavors blend together. There are however two things you can be sure of as it cooks. Firstly, you can feel the heat simmering from under it; subtle but impressive. The second is how impressive this new dish looks once you get it on the plate. You take your first few bites and it tastes alright. You take a few more bites and you think to yourself that it has quite the unique flavor. You eat faster. You take in and savor just how every ingredient creates the taste it has, how the heat still coming off of it only enhances the flavor. Then it’s gone. Almost as quickly as you realize you like it, your plate is empty. You want to make seconds but you can’t. That’s sort of what it feels like to read the first volume of Yukihiro Kajimoto’s Ayanashi.
It would is easiest for me to describe Ayanashi by giving a frame of reference. If you can imagine Attack on Titan and Trigun having a child and having that child watch Cowboy Bebop growing up, you’ve got the gist of it. A sort of western post-apocalypse action adventure if you will. The world of Ayanashi is a world where humanity has built vast cities underground in a bid to run away from the monstrous “ogres” that await them on the surface. These ogres are incarnations of death, coming in various forms and leaking a deadly miasma. Direct physical contact with one is enough to rot the flesh, while the miasma sucks the life out of the living. Neither conventional weaponry nor artillery can harm them, leaving their slaying to the Ayanashi. The word can be used to describe a singular hunter or the collective organization that does its best to keep the surface safe for traders and specializes in the slaying of ogrekind. Even as the primary force fighting for humanity’s survival, most Ayanashi are not welcome in any town due to the fact that a lot of them were once citizens of underground towns themselves, exiled for some sort of antisocial behavior. Some towns even have separate entrances specifically for Ayanashi. You many notice that it’s much easier to describe the setting of the story than its genre. That’s because the author’s worldbuilding is weaved subtly through the scenes he shows his readers through his use of his art and his story. It also helps that in the little blurbs between chapters he goes into detail about some of the important parts of the world, giving his readers insight to the sort of world he wants to create in future chapters.
While sometimes the art is soft, Kajimoto can convey the intensity of dangerous situations.
The volume itself is about three chapters long. The hefty nature of each of these three chapters leads to a pace where every chapter feels more like an entire episode of an anime in and of itself. This allows for each chapter to focus in on its own little bit of story. The first introduces Holo, the Ayanashi whose path of revenge will be followed in the chapter to come. Holo is a misanthropic loner with a lot of anger behind him, motivated by revenge but not controlled by it. In reality he’s a bit of an awkward kid with an intense fear of social situations and other people, handling it by putting on a cold exterior. It begins with a young woman and her younger brother coming upon a wounded Holo next to the river as they try to draw water and help him back on his feet as we learn about why humanity lives underground.
The first half of the chapter is spent as we get to know Holo a little more and watch as he does his best to get over his fear of other human beings. The town’s everyday flow is broken as an ogre breaks through its great vault doors and breathes the skin off of some poor guards. Holo must step in to defend the town, revealing himself as Ayanashi as the town reveals their distrust of his kind. He brandishes his blade and lights it on fire, succeeding where guns and canonfire could not, slicing open the ogre and stopping its rampage. The first chapter ends as he leaves town behind to continue his quest for vengeance.
The second chapter is dedicated to letting us see more into Holo’s mind as he has a nightmare about the man who took his brother from him before pushing him down into the river from the start of the story. He is met by his superior and told to get back to work despite Holo’s hunger for revenge. Believing that he will get clues on the way to the next town, he begrudgingly accepts and saves a child from a minor ogre attack. The young girl named Aura begs him to help find her father deep in the miasma filled ruins of her town. Holo’s instinct is to just take her to the surface and leave the situation behind him, but he remembers his brother and sympathizes with her situation, not wanting her to end up like himself: alone on the surface with no family. This combined with the softening of his heart from last chapter, he relents and escorts her through the miasma filled ruins. After a short talk about why Ayanashi are able to kill ogres and the need for fire in doing so, they find the girl’s father as they are attacked by the ogre that ravaged the town. This chapter ends much like the first: Holo takes charge of the situation analyzes his opponent, and strikes it down with his blazing blade. The chapter closes with the father and daughter reunited and Holo escorting them to the safety of the next closest town.
While focusing on the loneliness of Holo’s quest, the story never forgets what it means to be human.
The third chapter focuses mostly on worldbuilding along with setting up the ignition or the plot to be laid out in future chapters. It opens with the father-daughter pair from last chapter rummaging through the ruins of the surface as they follow Holo the next town over. The ruins of course are the ruins of buildings and conveniences of our modern world, presumably laid to waste by the ogres. After a short sequence of them grabbing “high value surface artifacts,” they make it to the town where they are met at the checkpoint by the guard. Apparently some towns have a separate entrance for Ayanashi due to the stigma that they carry. Holo’s superior from the last chapter and a new character named Lachao conveniently appear to clear everything up. Lachao is introduced as being a brash and arrogant young man with a bit of an obsession about status. A jerk to be sure, but as it turns out, Lachao is a fellow Ayanashi and is to be Holo’s handler for the time being. After the quick debacle at the gates, Holo and Lachao have a spat about how they do their work in different ways as their superior gives us more information about Holo’s background. On the other side of town, the young girl Aura and her father are haggling at the market as the miasma starts to spread and an ogre appears. Holo catches wind of this and rushes to the scene, finding himself face to face with the subject of his vengeful wrath. Before they have the chance to clash, the final chapter ends. With the readers on the edge of their seats, the author gives us a quick look at the inner workings of Holo’s flaming blade along with a preview of what is to come in the next volume.
A snippet about how much thought gets put into an encounter that only lasts a few pages.
Overall the first volume provides a slow, deliberate pacing that draws the reader into the world before introducing any sort of plot or even major characters. For the most part everyone that was not Holo felt like they were there in service of letting us know who Holo was. As for the art, it was a very nice style, one that evokes feelings of the fantasy world that Kajimoto has so vividly set forth this first volume. His characters seem harsh but human, while his environments are sprawling and give a sense of both despair and adventure. The action sequences are able to convey a sort of grit and brutality involved in facing down something that kills by simply being near you. The designs of the monsters seem quite varied, with ogres taking the shape of humans to large troll like creatures to spiders. It seems like there will be a lot of creativity involved in the future when Holo is best by more monsters. Speaking of Holo, it will be interesting in the future to see if he becomes a softer and more social person and how his revenge will affect not only him but those around him.
All in all, I give this volume a very solid recommendation to those looking for a story about adventure, a story about revenge, or a story about how one person tries to survive an unforgiving world all by themselves.