The ghouls are coming out in the summer time to spook and ingest all humans. Is this bloody adventure a mess, or worthwhile appetizer for more ghoulishness?
Every few years we must receive an anime that’s bloody, violent, alarming, and an almost instant success. It’s written somewhere in the bible I think: “And so Jesus said unto Peter, make sure the Japanese produce a series that turns stomachs and makes a lot of Yen, so sayeth Jesus.” Well Jesus, worry not, the Japanese have continuously heeded your words and in 2014, studio Pierrot and director Shuhei Morita adapted Sui Ishida’s Tokyo Ghoul. Tokyo Ghoul is the tale of Ken Kaneki and his vile journey showcasing the transformation from human to ghoul, a flesh-craving being, while aiming to retain his humanity. A manga and anime success, I’ve decided to revisit Tokyo Ghoul and devour what the series has to offer a few years removed from its premiere.
First things first: when Tokyo Ghoul was premiering, I was completely oblivious to its existence. I had no inkling as to what it was, what it may offer, or what to expect. What I received in its first episode was an enticing setup that was so enveloping and dense with story elements, I was sure I had watched two episodes full of content. Again, even on my re-watch, the first episode is so jam-packed with plot and events that I had to check the scrobble to confirm the episode was still the first. I’m not one who generally likes to overtly explain an episode, but I feel it’s necessary for this particular example.
Okay, so from the start of the episode to its closing moments, there is a momentous charge from one plot element to another with little breathing room throughout. Before Ken Kaneki is even introduced, the first character we see is an enthralled woman feasting on a pile of corpses who’s then interrupted by a hulking man who interrupts her ‘meal’ and challenges her. It’s a brief scuffle that then switches the story over to Kaneki and his friend Hideyoshi at a café called Anteiku as they talk about Kaneki’s crush. Kaneki sees another girl, Rize, whom he eventually asks out, as their tastes in literature seem to be a complete match. A bit later, this same girl now has Kaneki in an alley, sadistically biting and thrashing him around before being crushed by plummeting steel beams. We then are treated to ghostly transition of Kaneki and Rize becoming one, as Rize’s organs are implanted into Kaneki to save his life. *PHEW*
Kankei’s happy to be alive, but feels suddenly different and his lack of appetite, stating everything he ingest tastes dreadful, leads him home and to a bevy of groceries from his friend Hideoyoshi. While trying to eat, he overhears a report on TV concerning Ghouls and their ‘quirks’: they must feast of human flesh, and can sustain themselves for a month, yet there also seems to be a recent outbreak of human attacks. Kaneki panics and starts indulging himself on anything food-based around him; all resulting in the same endgame of having him rush to the toilet to vomit it up. Kaneki nearly accepts his new fate, his new life, wandering the streets taking in the sights, and smells, of those around him, wondering of their flavors. But Kaneki’s human side refuses to give in, and even attempting self-mutilation versus the alternative of cannibalism, but his ghoul side shatters the knife and leaves him weeping. Eventually Kaneki’s hunger overtakes him, leading him towards the first meal of his new diet, but regrettably, it leads him into the territory of another, more aggressive ghoul (Kazuo Yoshida ) who dominates Kaneki until Touka, a waitress from the aforementioned Anteiku café, steps in. Confused at Kaneki’s uneasiness and unwillingness to eat human flesh, she shoves a handful down his throat, finally sating his hunger.
So yeah, all of that is packed into a single episode of Tokyo Ghoul, laying the early groundwork of an eerie, ghoulish anime that has captivated millions worldwide. And it was certainly a captivating episode despite how much is crammed into it and most of the episodes in the twelve-episode series follow this same direction. Unfortunately this pacing can also the downfall of the series as the plot is so constantly moving, that there is little recap; limited time to process previous events before new ones start. In just the 12 episodes of Tokyo Ghoul, Studio Pierrot adapts approximately seven volumes of manga content (about 60 chapters), changing around events to fit the anime’s narrative, leaving the remaining half un-animated. There is a fine line in adapting a lot of content but still creating a coherent story, and Tokyo Ghoul tries repeatedly to do this, occasionally doing it well, but also failing to leave an episode satisfying. And like most anime adaptations, the faithfulness of this edition is up for debate as a lot of plot points and character developments are left out. So, while there are some quality fights and brutal violence throughout Tokyo Ghoul, limited development for later characters are almost non-existent, and thus to me, are hardly memorable outside of superficial reasons. The series needed a true 26-episode development cycle to fully showcase its story. And no, Tokyo Ghoul √A isn’t a satisfactory follow-up to the original story, deviating and spinning off into anime-only ending territory. That sounds snobbish, I know, but I’ve been burned too many times by anime-only endings, I’m a bit bitter towards them…
Bitterness aside, this production of Tokyo Ghoul not a bad adaptation though, and it’s oddly refreshing seeing that Studio Pierrot had a short run to tell a full story. If you’re familiar with Pierrot, the ongoing joke about them is the ability to get the new, hot shonen series (Bleach, Naruto [so much filler]) then milk them until they’re dried husks of their former selves. But, they’ve also produced several quality series too: Yu Yu Hakusho, Flame of Recca, and Twelve Kingdoms, just to name a few. But I’m not here to discuss filler-laden programs and companies that are content padding out shows to beat the dead cash-cow over and over, am I? I’m here to talk about Tokyo Ghoul!
Ultimately, thanks to this break-neck pacing, we get a glimpse of the brutality of the ghoul world, while how naïve and timid Kaneki is. The duality of the two worlds suddenly crashing together and his attempts to keep a balance of human and ghoul personalities spans the course of the series. Kaneki slowly learns more of his new, ‘adopted’ world, as well as his abilities and the war waging against him. He suffers the range of emotions expected of him to experience: happiness, loss, grief, torture; y’know, normal, everyday suffering we all go through. The brutality of Tokyo Ghoul is undoubtedly something to be aware of. Blood is spilt—correction, buckets of blood are spilt, seemingly so much that the censors in Japan at the time of the TV airing many censorship techniques were utilized. Thankfully the Hulu and Funimation streams are censor free, but I recall, when watching it as it aired weekly, how jarring and obnoxious the tactics were. So much so, actually, that I nearly dropped the show initially because I didn’t wish to be pampered so often. I swallowed my pride though as I realized it could have been a lot worse. I mean, none of he censorings were as bad as the grotesque Terra Formars anime, but they were close. My “favorite” was the inverting of colors to hide the blood. Not cutting away, not blacking out the viciousness, no, Studio Pierrot simply inverted the colors to hide the blood. It’s quite comical really, but jarring too.
Tokyo Ghoul has its fanbase and loyal readers and viewers at this point, so it’s an established, powerful series that has made creator Sui Ishida popular in the shonen-horror genre. The anime has flaws throughout its run, and I’d personally say stay away from the Tokyo Ghoul √A sequel series if you’re anticipating more mainline story. Tokyo Ghoul √A comes off more as self-serving fan-fiction (albeit better-than-average fan-fiction) than anything else, and isn’t really required viewing. You can find the full series on both Hulu and Fuimation subbed and dubbed. Definitely give Tokyo Ghoul a go if you can stomach a ruthless, bloody adventure because despite it being marred with a truncated plot and lackluster follow-up series, it is entertaining in the end. Nuance, thy name isn’t Tokyo Ghoul!
Like most people here, I’ve been watching anime for many, many years. I owe blocks like Toonami for getting me into the medium. Shows like Dragonball Z and Ronin Warriors shaped my beginning years, while shows like Neon Genesis Evangleion and Cowboy Bebop showed me that there’s some true artistic ability and expression found within anime (moreso than big burly dudes punching and screaming for hours on end). I now try to watch anime showcasing many genres and storytelling. Anime is just another great, creative medium for telling stories, and I’m happy to share my thoughts on the series I enjoy with you!