Review: Tokyo Ghoul (Funimation February!)

Like I’ve said in my Assassination Classroom review, action shows aren’t something I watch all too particularly often. This doesn’t mean the few-off action shows I watch aren’t fun, but it does mean I’m usually relatively behind on the times when it comes to watching these shows.

Here is yet another prime example: Tokyo Ghoul. The show has risen in popularity since its 2014 release, and despite an ever-growing number of people telling me I really need to give it a shot, Tokyo Ghoul was never at the front of my mind when I asked myself what show I should start next.

Finally, however, this show was pretty much presented in front of me without me even being able to protest. … Well, I guess I could’ve, but Tokyo Ghoul soon showed me I didn’t really have a reason to.

An Introduction

In an alternate universe, near-human beings have appeared and live relatively undetected among us humans, the ghouls. Ghouls live, breath, and enjoy life in almost every single way a human does… there’s just one prime difference: they eat human flesh to survive.

It’s created an uneasy disturbance between humanity and the ghouls. While most common people see ghouls as unfamiliar creatures that “would never eat someone like me”, some of humanity has become riled up enough to create an organization called the CCG, focused on the extermination of ghouls. On the opposite end, a number of ghouls simply wish to just survive, being horribly treated and oppressed by the CCG, although some ghouls have lashed back out in violence – and have even created organized criminal organizations to combat the CCG and to bring general chaos.

It’s in this turbulent world that we meet our main character, Kaneki Ken. Kaneki is a book-loving college guy, but after a fatal accident while on a “date” with a girl named Rize, who turned out to be a ghoul, he wakes up feeling different. An ethically-questionable surgery replaced his failing organs with those of the ghoul Rize. Soon enough, Kaneki discovers himself to be something quite rare: a half-ghoul.

Now awkwardly trying to keep his human side while also finding a way to deal with this new ghoulish sense of hunger, another ghoul named Touka delivers him to Anteiku, a small coffee shop in his neighborhood that doubles as a secret safe-haven for ghouls.

The Plot and Characters

The world of Tokyo Ghoul is a complex one, and I’m personally happy that this show doesn’t shy away from its complexities to only focus on Kaneki, and his plight as a human-turned-(half-)ghoul.

Although Kaneki is certainly the main character of the show, and he gets the majority of the screen time and focus, a decent amount of time is also spent on someone on the flip side of the coin: a 30-something CCG investigator named Amon. It provides a decent amount of insight into both sides of this conflict, and at its best moments, Tokyo Ghoul is able to show that neither side is really in the wrong here. The CCG, afraid of the ghouls and scared of what they could do to humanity, determined the ghouls are an enemy that must be stopped.

However, as the anime spends more time on Kaneki’s side of things, the CCG are more often than not painted in a bad light. The show does a really good job of showing the humanity (in essence and appearance, not in physicality) of these ghouls, showing them to also be caring and feeling, that simply want to live their lives, but are also stuck with necessity to eat human flesh. It really gets you to care for and connect to these characters, and to root for them as they continue to hope they can live without fear and persecution.

It seems inevitable, though, that violence enters into the picture with Tokyo Ghoul; this is an action show, after all. Although a lot of the violence in the first half of the series stems from Kaneki stumbling into various parts of the ghoul world/way of life, we soon see the CCG become the antagonist to the actions of the ghouls, and we finally see Amon (and company) fighting against Kaneki (and company). It leads to an even-bigger enemy appearing at the very end of the series as well.

Although there was one fairly emotional scene when Amon and Kaneki first stood face to face, where Kaneki tried to show he was peaceful… there really isn’t much effort on Kaneki’s side to try to open a line of communication between the two groups. Of course, when both are so enraged on the other side, it’s hard, but I feel Kaneki could’ve gone further.

The final episode of this show, as well, is a really fascinating one, especially for Kaneki. I won’t say much about him in this episode, but needless to say, we really see him begin to come into his own, and actually go through an entire character arc in one episode. The episode does it in an artistic, realistic, and disgusting way that makes you want to look away but yet stay glued to the screen the entire time… and it’s awesome. That being said, though, those looking for a resolution will not find that here at the end of this final episode.

However, you can probably get some sort of idea of what happens after the end of that episode. … And after you develop and believe in that idea, move on to the second season.

The Atmosphere

Tokyo Ghoul, probably unsurprisingly, is a very dark series. Blacks and dark greys are used throughout, and even in the scenes with warmer tones and a calmer atmosphere, the show still felt distant and uninviting with its colors and visuals. I wouldn’t expect it to allow me to get too comfortable, honestly, but it also seemed like it didn’t want me to ever be comfortable at all, while watching it.

The visuals doesn’t leave me with much to complain, but it doesn’t particularly awe me all that much either. It’s not hard to keep track of what’s going on in fights, even if the animation isn’t the most fluid. The slower scenes allow some of the more artistic background visuals to shine at times, though. All in all, though, the quality does stay pretty consistent, and I didn’t really notice any glaring issues.

However, there will be one scene that I’ll probably end up remembering for a good while: in episode 1, after Kaneki returns to his apartment, he tries out a variety of foods, and slowly (and with little dialogue) realizes that he can’t eat human food anymore – he’s a ghoul. The emotions of the scene were shown in Kaneki’s panicked, hurried actions, and his eventual crying at the end, and it was honestly kind of moving.

The character designs are pretty standard for a 2014 anime; it’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not pushing the envelope either – it’s safe. The design of Kureo Mado (Amon’s older/wiser CCG partner) is the only one that really stood out to me; the other standard designs actually became a problem for me. I ended up mixing up or not recognizing a number of the supporting cast simply because they weren’t distinguishable or different enough. On a related note, though, the designs of the quinques (the weapons the CCG use) were pretty cool (I liked them even more for story reasons that I won’t spoil).

The show’s soundtrack ranges from big and grandiose, to quiet and timid, when the scene so needed it to be. Of course, any decently done soundtrack can do so. The reliance upon strings and the occasional electronic instrument or vocal for the action scenes do lead to some pretty cool songs, though. The piano is brought out for the more quieter and somber moments, and it also serves the show fairly well.

Speaking of voice acting, since I watched Tokyo Ghoul first in Japanese, I’m more used to the Japanese voices. The performances of Shu Tsukiyama and Nishiki were my favorite. This is one of those shows where you’ll get attached to either the Japanese or the English side, though. I’ve listened to parts of the series in English, and although the English cast sounds overall fine, it still feels off because I’m so used to them in Japanese. Touka’s performance in English seems pretty decent, but I feel Austin Tindle as Kaneki isn’t the best at monologues.

If I really had to tell you which one to choose, I’d probably tell you to just watch the show in Japanese. The subtitles aren’t that bad to follow, anyway. That being said, whatever one you choose, you’re probably gonna end up not liking the other all that much.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

I really like the story of Tokyo Ghoul; it does a really good job of presenting the life of a ghoul, the troubles they face, the issues they want to save, and the eventual fighting that seems inevitable for them. It seems a bit of a shame that the show couldn’t completely show the CCG as morally grey though; I would’ve liked this show more if it were more dedicated to showing neither side as black or white. Kaneki’s plight is an adventure to watch, though, for sure.

Action fans will probably have already seen this. If action isn’t your main jam, though, it may get a bit more murky for you: the story is interesting and the show does allow you to connect with its characters, but you will also have to put up with a decent amount of gore. Give it a few episodes and see what you think.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ really allows to connect to the ghoul characters, the final episode, not straight good guys and bad guys
— could’ve gone further to show CCG as morally gray, Kaneki’s attempts to communicate with CCG could’ve been better, standard (not bad nor super-amazing) presentation

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