Tokyo Ghoul Review- It’s a Doggy Dog World
Well I recently finished the original Tokyo Ghoul series. It’s time to lay it all out for you guys and dissect it as per the norm… My overall thoughts were very positive but if you’re interested in my personal take on the series keep reading. I do have some valid criticisms that I need to vent- this isn’t mindless bandwagon jumping no sir.
Full Spoilers Ahead!
While it isn’t all mindless praise from me I do want to stress that Tokyo Ghoul, created by Sui Ishida, is an incredibly good series. I’m a bit cautious of it becoming one of those wretched ‘gateway animes’ for casuals but I think for the most part the quality of this manga speaks for itself unlike something like Death Note which I despise. Ghouls are a very refreshing concept for a story in the modern day to take on. They’re usually just lumped into the general zombie category when in traditional folklore the two are very different beasts altogether. Ghouls are different than humans, and in Tokyo Ghoul they are identical to humans on a surface level and they must devour human flesh in order to survive. They are physically incapable of eating any other food besides human meat or as you get further into the story fellow Ghoul meat. Because of this horrific race blending into human society the world presented in Tokyo Ghoul while very much like our own is a dark and dangerous place where no one is guaranteed safety. What’s done particularly well is that to humans Ghouls are nothing more than murderous monsters with psychopathic tendencies, yet because of the protagonist’s circumstances we get to almost self insert into him as we learn the truth of this world. Ghouls are not monsters. At least, not all of them… sure, a lot of them are murderous devils who kill and eat humans, but you also have entire communities that search for already dead corpses and process them neatly so none of them have to endanger themselves by going hunting. A lot of Ghouls just want better lives for their children and to live in safety. The moral ambiguity of Tokyo Ghoul is a wonderful framework for a story. I love when neither side is truly right because on the other side the Investigators of the CCG run the gamut for being well rounded people wanting to serve society and others who are more questionable to say the least. It doesn’t matter to them, Ghouls are just monsters… Right?
Kaneki Ken is our protagonist and he’s a damn good one at that. Coming from My Hero Academia it was kind of funny to move from one weak and wimpy protagonist (at the start) to another and see how two different series handle one archetype. Kaneki is a really, really damn good character. What makes him work so well is that early on he exists as a sort of stand in for the reader. Kaneki is a human who gets Ghoul organs transplanted inside of him after a freak accident and his body morphs into a half ghoul. Therefore he can now only eat humans. We get to see first hand what the life of a ghoul is like and early on had some incredible moments. I really felt bad for Kaneki at the start of the series because of just how startling his transformation was. Extra care was taken to show how horrible his life has become… But you also get to witness him learning about Ghouls themselves by interacting with his new brethren. It’s all done really well and sets the world up nicely. As the story develops, Kaneki… Well he goes through some shit. A lot. I was stunned with just what exactly he became. Not quite a monster or a demon, but a tortured soul powerful beyond belief. Watching him go from a weak kid too shocked to eat humans to a cannibal Ghoul-eating powerhouse strutting around with his own legion of followers was a sight to behold. I quite liked how he became this way and made him a lot more interesting to me. I mean, I liked him before and all, but this just made him amazing as we see the depths he’s willing to go to protect the ones he cares about.
The cast beyond Kaneki is all really interesting as well. Tokyo Ghoul’s world enables a wide range of personalities with memorable and distinct personalities to mesh and clash their wills together. Characters are typically separated by one of the various factions, whether they be the Human CCG, Kaneki’s friends at Anteiku, or the villainous Aogiri ghouls and they each have their own conflicting agendas which made them very intriguing to watch play off of each other. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there’s a slight political landscape element to the series. Each action the characters perform has a consequence and can piss off one of the other groups and lead to tensions down the line. It’s especially great how each group has some sort of motive so for the most part you can’t claim any one of them is entirely ‘wrong’ except for maybe the Clowns gang of Ghouls who show up at the last second just to laugh about how much chaos and destruction there is and how that’s a totally cool thing. I thought the Clowns reveal was a bit forced and put there just to serve as a last minute twist, but eh.
Lastly, I want to commend the author for being a really damn good character designer. Each person looks incredibly unique but even more impressively they’re often times riddled with fancy design accessories or in some cases tattoos that must be a gigantic hassle to draw. Uta and Suzuya Juuzou are the biggest examples that come to mind, but they are far from the only unique looking fellows on this diverse roster. I personally really liked Tsukiyama’s design a lot. Heads up, Tsukiyama is probably tied with Kaneki as my favorite character and I’m planning to draw fanart of them both at a later date. But yeah, Tsukiyama always had really nice gestures and poses that emphasized how flamboyant he is, I really loved it.
What I’m getting at is that the author, Ishida-sensei is very good at drawing detailed characters… But…
A lot of people may not know this about the art in Tokyo Ghoul, but to the trained eye you can clearly see that all of the backgrounds are digital. Which is cool and all, I mean I’m a digital artist myself. But… Ishida didn’t really draw most of them- digitally or not. They’re almost all photographs that had their settings changed to look like lineart. This is super distracting and I really hate it. I know the series is called Tokyo Ghoul but by using random shots of Tokyo all the damn time I feel Ishida missed out on a chance to draw a really grimy and disgusting world that would make you think ‘yeah Ghouls definitely live here’. Instead all of the characters have this ugly white line around them (I hate this effect and try to never use it in my own art with one very recent exception) that separates them from the background. You can tell where they copied/pasted the characters over top the digital background is what I’m saying. Only instead of using a photo reference to create a fitting world the author just uses the photos as is. Look, I’m not calling him out on it. Tokyo Ghoul is a weekly series. I don’t know the guy so maybe he doesn’t want to include all these generic backgrounds all the time either, but I’m calling it out because I don’t like it. But I get why he does it. Time restraints, so I’m not judging.
My other criticisms are about the fights in Tokyo Ghoul. I don’t think Ishida is the best when it comes to fight scenes. I found them hard to follow along sometimes somewhat because of the multitude of Ghoul kagune types to keep track of and partially because the line of action was never clear to me in a lot of fights. I had less trouble with this as time went on, but maybe it was because I was mostly reading it for the story and characters and not so much for how the battles were drawn. I mean I still liked the fights, there were a lot of cool moments but that leads me into my other complaint. Tokyo Ghoul turned into Dragon Ball really fast. It was weird. Like, the first few volumes were a psychological horror about learning how to survive in this new set of circumstances and then suddenly Kaneki is eating tons of Ghouls to increase his powerlevel and become an SS Class Ghoul. To use an example, one of my favorite parts of the whole series was when Tsukiyama tricked Kaneki into being on the menu of the Ghoul Restaurant- a despicable place where a large group of high-society ghouls bring in their prey and are treated to a live dismemberment/kill show. This was awesome and deeply disturbing to see this bizarre and crazy part of Ghoul society. I’m going to stress that I still liked the action of Tokyo Ghoul but I really, really wish it was balanced out more with bigger moments of world building and glimpses of Ghoul society and spread out the Kaneki going Super Ghoul Kagune whatever. That’s another thing. The whole types of Ghoul Kagune with each one having a rock-paper-scissors element to them felt needlessly convoluted and didn’t serve much purpose to me. They barely follow the ‘this beats that’ logic, I felt it’d just be cooler if each Ghoul had their own personal powers rather than falling into one of four Archetypes. As much as I love shounen manga and goofy attack/technique/transformation names I really don’t feel this added anything to the series… But hey, that’s just me. Despite what I’ve said I had an absolute blast reading Tokyo Ghoul.
Nobody is perfect. Not you, not me, and not this series. But there’s nothing beautiful about perfection anyway. Like I said the most I could come up with for flaws were just some relatively minor bitching about the art from a pretentious art jerk, so since that stuff won’t bother you as much as it did me I say just go read it already. I’ll be reviewing Kiseiju next but after that I don’t know. I need more series to read…