Natsuki HanaeSora AmamiyaSumire MorohoshiTokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: T
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Shuhei Morita
Original creator: Sui Ishida
Actor: Natsuki Hanae, Sora Amamiya, Ayahi Takagaki, Kana Hanazawa, Katsuyuki Konishi, Mamoru Miyano, Rintarou Nishi, Shintaro Asanuma, Sumire Morohoshi, Takahiro Sakurai, Takayuki Sugo, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Yuichi Nakamura
Keywords: Tokyo Ghoul, anime, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 7 October 2015
Ken Kaneki is about to have a bad day. If you asked him what he was, he'd say "a college student". After today, he'd say:
"A half-ghoul, so human flesh is the only thing I can eat without wanting to vomit. If I get too hungry, I might lose control and go kill-crazy. However I shouldn't have told you all that, because my new ghoul friends are probably going to kill you now. And then eat you, obviously."
It starts out as an action horror series, but quickly turns into "monsters are people too". Kaneki, being a half-ghoul (very rare), likes to think of himself as still half-human too, but let's face it. The guy hangs out with ghouls, eats human flesh and will eventually be fighting to help his friends. The most important way in which he's retained some humanity is that apparently he'd taste quite interesting.
Sometimes it's simply horrific. There's an undeniable gag reflex when it comes to eating people, while plenty of ghouls are kill-happy psychopaths who see humans as just food on legs. Kaneki even has someone like that in his head. Sometimes she talks to him.
Occasionally it's funny! It's the blackest comedy imaginable, but I laughed out loud at, say, the gourmet ghoul equivalent of an Anime Food Orgasm. (For some reason, anime characters often overreact ridiculously to eating food they think is quite nice.) Eps.4-5 are camp, gross, uncomfortable and brilliant.
Much of it, though, is about each side monsterising the other. Ghouls aren't undead. They have families, wives and children like anyone else. They can't help their dietary requirements. "What does cake taste like? What was it like, living a peaceful life?" However the humans hunt them down like cockroaches and will kill them in the street. It's understandable. Nonetheless the human authorities' anti-ghoul agents are capable of being as horrific as the worst ghoul, with the twist of a Crusader-like belief in their own righteousness.
Then the finale is very odd indeed, in which a three-way war turns into a moral lesson on having the strength to blame the world, discard other people if necessary and embrace your inner cannibal. Season two's going to be interesting.
It's worth discussing the ghouls as a horror monster. Are they vampires? Are they zombies? There are similarities to both, but the big difference is that they're not undead. Getting killed by a ghoul doesn't turn you into another ghoul. Meanwhile they don't have any weaknesses, especially not silly vampire ones. They can go out during the day. They're indistinguishable from humans when not in battle form. Finally they have inhuman strength and damage resistance, plus superpowers in the form of body-weapon metamorphoses. In order to stand a chance in combat against them, those human anti-ghoul agents I mentioned have had to get creative in appalling ways.
The episodes I saw have had the worst gore censored for TV broadcast, but they're perfectly watchable. I recommend the uncensored DVD releases, of course. Incidentally, the production values are good, but not flawless. Ep.7 looks cheap. I've just read that season two's animation is significantly more inconsistent than season one's, which startles me slightly, but then again this is still a good-looking series.
The obvious comparison point is Parasyte. Both are 2014 anime series with a human hero being turned into a monster and exploring the blurred lines between human prey and their predators. So far I think I prefer Parasyte, although since I'm only halfway through Tokyo Ghoul, that's an unfair comparison. Parasyte is subtler and less episodic. They're both excellent, though. Tokyo Ghoul is admirably full-blooded in its attack on its material and themes, holding back on nothing at all. It also became Japan's latest hit franchise in a way that Parasyte didn't, taking over all the conventions and cosplay events, although that's partly because Parasyte had already been big in the 1990s.
It's a strong show. It can get uncomfortable, or else at times sledgehammery. However I love its occasional sense of humour and its story is clearly going somewhere, hard and fast. Looking forward to season two.