Tokyo Ghoul (Season 1)

US Distributor: Funimation
Production Studio: Studio Pierrot
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: Anime News Network

Tokyo Ghoul Season 1 Boxart 001 - 20160903When I decided to review Tokyo Ghoul, I already knew that “ghoul” doesn’t refer to the things grinning at kids from seasonal Halloween cereal boxes. I thought it was going to be a standard, if colorful, urban horror story. Can I please make more mistakes like this? It turned out to be so much more, in all the right, twisted ways.

Tokyo Ghoul opens with a typically gory scene that seemed to confirm my assumption, so I was feeling pretty comfortable with moderate expectations as the first episode continued.   Blood splatters and deranged characters, check. Its world mirrors our own on the surface, check. It’s modern and urban, check.  It’s almost tangible.  College students, coffee, best friends laughing about their ignorance of dating, bantering about cute baristas…it was easy to imagine myself enjoying a sip and people-watching in a corner of Anteiku, a small neighborhood cafe.  Wait, what..?

Tokyo Ghoul 007 - 20160903The sudden introduction of Ken Kaneki and his friend Hide is so normal, so slice-of-life, that the title and opening scene seem like some kind of mistake.  I only had a moment to feel off balance, thanks to a news broadcast in the background. A caster narrates, with no tension whatsoever, the brutal murders witnessed in the opening sequence. The attack was carried out by ghouls: people-like creatures which can’t survive on anything but human flesh.

Ghouls only need to eat once a month (just twelve people a year, nothing to stew over). Moreover, since ghouls look human most of the time, they can blend seamlessly into human society with a bit of training. So life is bustling, and humans apparently aren’t too afraid to step outside their doors. Most ghouls don’t abuse that fact too much.

I wonder if Kaneki had that thought in mind right up until Riza bit into him.

Tokyo Ghoul 013 - 20160903Any illusion that Tokyo Ghoul is a shallow series meant for colorful thrills evaporates after he wakes up. We don’t have to wonder what he’s thinking anymore. His mind undergoes continuous, uncensored predation as he tries to face the fact he didn’t survive. Kaneki the human was devoured, so what actually “waked” in that hospital bed? The story continually subjects us to a compelling cycle of normality, humor, life, inversion, horror, death. Separating each cycle is some tiny progress, some obtainment of agency that allows you to feel a twisted sort of relief for the characters. It’s the type of relief that makes you think they might survive gravity, despite heavy damage.  It’s also the kind of relief that’s totally confusing. The feeling reminded me of the time I dropped my phone from a balcony. I was so happy to see the backlit, cracked screen. Why did I feel relief upon seeing the cracked screen? The survival of the phone didn’t change the accident’s upsetting consequences.

Tokyo Ghoul 015 - 20160903While the main story may be comprised of Kaneki’s personal struggles as he comes to terms with his new life, the overlying themes are ones I’ll never tire of sampling in different flavors. What’s human? What’s inhuman? Humane? Inhumane? Do our enemies possess lives that have any meaning other than to make us suffer?  What happens when we’re sucked into a cycle of bitter hatred? Is it possible to choose between good and evil when you can’t even define them anymore?

Action and horror lovers, don’t let the meaty plot thematics and psychological trauma scare you off. Tokyo Ghoul isn’t just a cerebral experience. Even if you’re only in it for the thrills and want to ignore anything that makes you think, you won’t be disappointed.  We see plenty of intricately animated battles and copious amounts of blood.

Tokyo Ghoul 014 - 20160903Tokyo Ghoul’s production is exquisite. I was astounded to see no sign of skimping on character design, environment details, or action sequences. The combat imagery is extremely well balanced. Each ghoul has a unique “kagune” which makes fights foreign enough to be interesting, but they’re not overdone to the point they feel otherworldly. I’m also totally in love with the use of colors in this show. They’re so vivid, bright, vivacious, and completely juxtaposed to the existential darkness often illustrated in the story. They kept my eyes glued to the screen, even as I was wincing during a rather brutal dismemberment…  I want to find something to criticize about these first twelve episodes, but I can’t put my heart into it. Even the directing is delicious. The way camera movement and illustration angles combine to accent the mood of scenes is great!

Overall voice acting is decent, but it’s completely topped by Natsuki Hanae expressing Kaneki’s roller coaster dips into hell with great skill. Production didn’t slack on the musical front, either. The opening theme, Unravel by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure, is intense, emotional, and super relevant to the anime.  For the backgrounds, interesting melodies add bite to the incessant parade of visual treats.

Tokyo Ghoul is a rare marvel that offers something for multiple adult audiences. It satisfies the primal need for gory, action-filled supernatural horror as well as it sates the appetite for intense drama and strong characters. At the same time, the series is perfect for those who love a kaleidoscope of pretty, pretty colors, and it’s intensely satisfying for those who are into thoughtful ponderings of existence. No matter which way you lean, you need to get a taste of Tokyo Ghoul.


About the author

Lydia Rivers

As Editor-At-Large, Lydia's interests include working with international contributors and hearing their fandom stories—especially those that originate outside of the English language. She greatly enjoys content analysis and spotting the little tricks that creators use to send their art to the next level. In her time off, she can be found engaging with interpersonal disability advocacy, creative writing, and impulse-buying yarn.

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