Japanese Title: Tokyo Ghoul
Related: Tokyo Ghoul √A (sequel – included in review)
Parasyte -the maxim-
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 12 episodes (season 1), 12 episodes (season 2), 2 OVA
- Fantastic hook.
- Great performances across the board.
- Quality art and music.
- Nosedives after a few episodes.
- Little but action in second season.
- Pathetic protagonist.
- More ideas than story.
Tokyo is a city of fear with flesh hungry ‘ghouls’ masquerading as ordinary humans ready to eat unsuspecting citizens at first opportunity. A ghoul attacks Kaneki, the guy with the worst luck in love, but before she can finish him, an accident kills her and injures him. Doctors transplant her (unknowingly) ghoulish organs into him to save his life. He reawakens half-ghoul, half-human and loses his taste for normal food. An unfortunate need for love and affection has changed his life forever. (I knew there was something wrong when the woman looked older than claimed – a first in anime.)
Kaneki must not only cope with his hunger for flesh, but also the imprint of the ghoul Rize in his mind. After failing to kill himself, he reluctantly ventures into ghoul society where a café owner and a waitress, Touka, guide him in his new life as he tries to cling to his old, human life. To further layer this misfortune, Tokyo’s ghoul hunting branch has turned its attention to the 20th ward where they live.
What a great start. It gives us the premise, journey setup, conflict, and hook without missing a beat. The idea of a civilised ghoul society among the savages also brims with promise, and we get glimpses at detailed world building, such as ghouls’ ability to enjoy coffee or some ghouls eating human food to blend in, throwing it up later in secret. My favourite element is how “good” ghouls only eat suicide victims, thus keeping murder off the menu.
However – and I’m sure you know what’s coming next – it’s a shame this setup goes nowhere. Where do I start with this travesty? Right, Kaneki. He starts out as the weak bookish type, as is typical of the genre and perfectly fine, but he stays weak for almost the entire season. Only the hidden power (sprouting energy-like flesh limbs) of his ghoul half makes him stronger, which isn’t real strength for it takes no effort on his part. He doesn’t grow as a person. In Tokyo Ghoul √A (read: Root A), he gets stronger at the cost of having as much personality as a plank of imitation wood.
Kaneki may just be the most irrelevant protagonist I’ve ever seen. His friend/crush Touka’s story arc should have been his. Or merge the two into one, giving her his origin story while keeping her backstory and familial conflict. She would make for a far better protagonist.
Next, we have the unused elements. Kaneki soon wants to resume normal life at uni with his friend. A ghoul trying to be friends with a human should be interesting, yes? Well, they introduce the idea and do nothing with it. Furthermore, the friend’s uni roommate is a ghoul who has passed for human all this time and he uses the friend to hurt Kaneki. This conflict lasts an episode. What’s the point of presenting it at all?
Then there’s the villains, who almost all fall in the realm of ‘crazy for the sake of crazy’ instead of a personality and depth. Crazy, sure, yet they’re still one-dimensional. This type is starting to become one of my most hated character builds. Other than modelling one villain after Jason Voorhees with the hockey mask, I barely remember these characters. The human villains have a touch of depth, though with their purpose relegated to action scenes any depth is wasted.
Beyond the great setup, the only good story is in side plots, usually focused on other ghouls coping (or not) with their condition. But as these side plots don’t affect Kaneki, they don’t really matter in the end. In fact, they impact him so little that they shunt him out of the story for the duration. Yeah, he stops being protagonist for extended periods (should have stayed that way).
I wrote my review for Beck before this and noted how that anime starts dull but keeps getting better. Tokyo Ghoul does the reverse. It starts strong with its vampire fiction type world and premise and then keeps getting worse – Root A feels like the dullest action scenes lasting twelve episodes. Tokyo Ghoul is more of an idea for a world than a story.
Art – High
I love the high contrast coupled with a vibrant palette. The art drew me to watch Tokyo Ghoul initially.
Sound – High
The actors give performances far above what this anime deserves. The protagonist in particular shows good range, shifting between the human and ghoul states. I don’t know how they didn’t make more use of this duality. Good music.
Story – Medium
Once human, now half ghoul, a uni student tries to cope with his hunger for human flesh as he navigates the supernatural world within Tokyo. It has been a while since I have been this disappointed after such a strong start. Though never terrible, Tokyo Ghoul bores one’s tears ducts dry.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Don’t bother. Watching Tokyo Ghoul can only lead to sheer disappointment.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)