Admittedly, I skipped out on Tokyo Ghoul’s initial run during the summer season—I mistook the anime to be one of horror, a genre I don’t particularly fancy. After months of frequent recommendations though, I gave it a shot and I really almost missed out on something special. While the anime didn’t blow my goddamn socks out of the water or nothin’, it is a greatly entertaining, exhilarating, and fast-paced watch.
The story follows Ken Kaneki following an organ transfer from a ghoul who attempted to feed on him and, under mysterious circumstance, died trying. As a result, he becomes half ghoul, meaning his body runs exclusively on human flesh, is stronger, and impervious to knives and small weapons. He is subsequently thrown into a world of macabre, revenge, and prejudice; he comes to make friends and enemies with those of a race (ghouls) which until then had played a background role in his life (only hearing about it on the news and such). The lore of ghouls is rich and intriguing; it’s all exposited well enough, for there’s rarely any confusion with how the world of Tokyo Ghoul functions.
The production is top notch, with consistently impressive animation and superb sound design—the dark tone and atmosphere which the creators beat into the viewer rarely feel contrived or excessive, hitting all the right notes of emotion and excitement in every episode. The action is incredibly well-directed and executed, exciting and heartbreaking in all the right places—every punch and kick carries emotional weight. Much of the censorship was too overt and unnecessary for my tastes though—often times large portions of the screen were obscured by obnoxious splashes of black. However, it wasn’t all that bad, and probably could have been handled far worse The opening is breathtaking and really gets the blood goin’, perfectly capturing the dark tone and intense anguish which afflicts the anime’s characters and plot.
Kaneki proves to be a very likable and relatable character—a kindhearted bookworm whose strong heart and clearheaded morals propel him into acts of bravery and selflessness far beyond his comfort zone and physical competence. His very apparent fear and insecurity in the wake of all these supernatural acts makes his heroism all the more commendable. He’s a guy that’s easy to root for and who thinks rationally, and rarely naively—the final episode’s climactic ending was incredibly gratifying to watch, as Kaneki finally garners enough conviction and assertiveness to unlock an unbridled strength and badassery. While not as well-developed, the supporting cast is still excellent and mostly three-dimensional—I particularly enjoyed Nishio and his redemption mini-arc. Rize’s role as ghost (ha!) and crude mentor within Kaneki’s mind proved intriguing, I felt often caught between liking and hating her as a person, but also fascinated with her as a character. As a result, her mystique extends far beyond her shrouded history.
I found the season to excel most when Kaneki and his friends were pitted against Mado and Amon, members of the CCG (an anti-ghoul investigative agency). Some of the more profound themes of the anime arose from these conflicts, for the prejudice between human and ghouls became all the more questionable as the line separating the two species became increasingly hazy. Sure ghouls survive off human flesh and humans don’t, but that’s pretty much where the differences end, both mentally and anatomically (Kaneki’s body is even able to function with ghoul organs). Both species love friends and family all the same—Mrs. Ryoko’s death is no less painful to her loved ones as Mado’s is. But just as both races are capable of love, so too can each side be consumed by revenge. Touka and Amon are both possessed with enraged thirsts for “justice” against those who took their loved ones from them, bringing further to the light the uncanny parallels between humans and ghouls. As such, I find myself sympathizing intensely with both sides of the conflict, and thus rooting all the more for Kaneki once he realizes he is the bridge between both halves of the fighting, and that only he can bring the two closer to mutual understanding and peace—a seemingly hopeless goal, but one which Kaneki devotes himself to nonetheless.
The parallels also question the validity of revenge, as Hinami concludes that the deaths of her parents do not fill her with incredible anger and thirst for revenge for the perpetrator, but intense sadness at the loss of her loved ones. Perhaps we should cherish the memories of those we lost us more than take it upon ourselves to end those who are responsible. As Touka found out with Amon’s bloodthirst, the chain of revenge seldom ends with one death.
That being said, I found that the anime was at its worst towards the end when for a little bit, it chose to focus more on the battle between CCG and Aogiri Tree, for both organizations were really just introduced and barely fleshed out. This marked an overly sudden and ill-paced shift in story and purpose, for the focus deviated away from the core members of Anteiku (the coffee shop where Kaneki works at and makes his friends) to something uncomfortably bigger with little to no build-up. As a result, the warfare came off as somewhat bland, and I found myself barely invested. If this battle is good for anything though, it’s as dramatic and grand backdrop for Kaneki to eventually do some damage once he gets out. Something else which suffered from this shift in tone was the introduction of Touka’s brother, which was rushed and sloppily executed—hopefully his relationship with his sister will develop more handily as the series progresses. Additionally, I felt that parts of Kaneki’s interrogation sequence felt unnecessarily exorbitant in brutality, and went for nothing more than shock value. Furthermore, I found the speedy progression of Kaneki’s fighting ability slightly off-putting when we barely got a glimpse of his training with Yomo. Also, I found Tsukiyama’s introductory mini-arc somewhat uninteresting and underwhelming, given the mystique and incendiary history his debut implied. At many times like these, I felt the series became a tad bit rushed, and could definitely have benefited from slowing down and letting the viewer digest all that was occurring. Small issues like these abounded.
Despite its flaws though, Tokyo Ghoul is a impressively crafted work, jam-packed with intense action and emotion. The lore and characters are rife with potential for further quality and excitement as the series heads into its second season. While these are just my first impressions upon finishing the series, I can confidently say that I very much enjoyed this incredibly well-produced anime, and intently look forward to the series’ sophomore effort come January.