The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 108 – Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul 1

This time we look at a more recent anime, and a particularly violent series, albeit one that has become very popular and was for some the best anime of last year.

Gory horror Tokyo Ghoul first began as a manga, running from 2011 to 2014 by Sui Ishida, and has been spun-off into various other manga, novels and anime. The first anime TV series was broadcast between July and September 2014, with a sequel series entitled Tokyo Ghoul √A being broadcast between January and March this year. For the purposes of this article, we shall only be covering the first series, primarily because the second series is not currently available to British viewers (damn the American streaming service Funimation).

While the series is set in modern-day Tokyo, in this take on the city there are also a band of monsters known as “ghouls” secretly inhabiting the town. These creatures look just like humans, but are also incredibly powerful, can heal up quicker, and feast only on human flesh, finding all other food disgusting and poisonous. Apart from human flesh, only certain drinks like coffee have any taste to a ghoul.

Bookish student Ken Kaneki goes out on a date with a woman named Rize Kamishiro, who turns out to be an especially gluttonous ghoul. She tries to kill Kaneki on a building site but she herself is killed when a pile of steel girders fall on top of her. Kaneki is taken to hospital, only surviving due to a series of organ transplants. The organs in question all come from Rize. Following this, Kaneki discovers to his horror that he has become half-human and half-ghoul, and that he cannot consume normal food.

The combination of the horror of what has happened to him and almost uncontrollable hunger almost drive Kaneki insane, but he is eventually saved by a group of more benevolent ghouls who secretly run a coffee shop called “Antique”. Kaneki takes a job as a waiter at Antique, and under the guidance of the owner Yoshimura and fearsome waitress Toka Kirishima learns how to adapt to both ghoul and human society. One thing Kaneki has to do for example is wear an eyepatch because he has one ghoul eye that turns black-and-red when his more monstrous side takes over.

For Kaneki and the other ghouls at Antique, their main problems are concerned with protecting themselves from other groups that mean them harm. These tend to come in the form of other troublesome ghouls, such as “the gourmet” Shu Tsukiyama who has eccentric tastes in fashion, language, and food, and thus is seems to desire to eat Kaneki. The other major enemy is the Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG), a branch of the police dedicated to the eradication of all ghouls who are commonly armed with special weapons kept in large steel suitcases.

The main appeal of Tokyo Ghoul is the look and feel of the thing. As anime go this series is particularly violent, with a lot of blood spilt and guts slit. It is not a series for the squeamish. One of the most memorable plots features Kaneki being kidnapped and tortured mercilessly. However, due to the fact that ghouls can heal quicker, the torture just gets repeated over and over again. To make things even worse of Kaneki, he is forced to count from 1,000 to 0 backwards in sevens in order to keep sane, and thus make him even more aware of the pain he is going through. This scene ultimately leads to the turning point and dramatic changes between this series and the √A sequel.

However, the visual aspects of Tokyo Ghoul are not just concerned with the violence. There is also aesthetic beauty. This is mainly in the form of masks, which all ghouls wear when they are out to protect their identities when they are out either fighting or looking for humans to feast on. One of the characters in the anime, Uta, is a guy who looks very alternative with lots of tattoos and always displaying his black-and-red ghoul eyes, but is actually calm and friendly, His job is designing masks for a living and he creates a mask for Kaneki, which consists of an eyepatch over his normal human eye and a fearsome teeth-baring grin with a zip-opening, which looks pretty cool.

As mentioned, Tokyo Ghoul is not for everyone due to the excessive violence, but it has built up a loyal fan-based and proved itself to be highly successful commercially.

The first series of Tokyo Ghoul can be streamed on Netflix. It will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by All the Anime later in the year.