Tokyo Ghoul (Vol 1-8)

Tokyo Ghoul is one of those rare series that completely hooked me from the first few chapters. The entire premise is just brilliant. A horror drama exploring the relationship between man and the predators they fear, predators that just wish to lead their own lives, is such a simple yet brilliant idea, and I'm amazed I haven't seen the idea explored like this before. These first eight volumes can be a tad sappy at times, but the raw humanity, both the positive and the negative, cannot be ignored.

The series begins with Ken Kaneki, a normal kid and major bookworm, falling in love with a girl named Rize and going steady with her. Unfortunately for him, Rize is a ghoul, a monster that looks human that can only feed and survive on the flesh of humans. She's also insane and absolutely enjoys devouring flesh, meaning Kaneki has found himself in the worst possible situation. Things only get worse, though. Kaneki survives due to Rize being crushed in a construction accident, but some of her organs are transplanted into Kaneki. The end result is that he's become half ghoul, now unable to enjoy the food he once enjoyed and craving human meat. He does get help from a friendly ghoul organization that try to keep the peace and feed off of the bodies of humans that have committed suicide, but nothing stays peaceful for long, and Kaneki slowly begins to realize just how broken and miserable the world is for both humans and ghouls.

It's difficult to make characters that devour the flesh of human beings into relatable people, but Tokyo Ghoul manages the trick almost effortlessly. The ghouls are pretty much just like humans, people that just want to live in peace and constantly have to hide themselves out of fear of the doves, investigators assigned to hunt down ghouls. Even the more cruel ghouls have some sort of reason for doing the horrible things they do, and the series makes a good point in how both races are responsible for one another's misery. The cruel existence of a ghoul's hunger, which can cause them to lose all reason and sanity, becomes the true antagonist on the grander level, and it centers around Kaneki's inner conflict between his humanity and his new primal instincts as a ghoul (or possibly Rize's influence, it's made very unclear).

There are four arcs in the initial eight volumes. First is Kaneki's transformation, the second introduces the doves, the third brings in the ever hammy Tsukiyama, and the final arc acts as the major tone and focus shift for the series as an opposing ghoul organization appears and shatters the peace of Kaneki's 20th ward. Each arc is strong for their own reasons, although Tsukiyama's arc stands out in a bad way. Tsukiyama is a big ball of ham that sprinkles in random French words while describing intricate ways to eat people. He is amazing, yes, but he sticks out as a sore thumb among the rest of the cast introduced up to his introduction and after. He becomes great comedic relief later, but his first arc as a villain just doesn't mesh well with the whole. The doves arc also makes some logical stretches to get the plot going, but pays off with sheer emotional impact. The slow pacing of the first arc is appreciated, as it leaves a lot of time to develop Kaneki and give him some depth, and the horror of his situation really sinks in well. The forth arc, however, stands above and beyond the other three.

All the antagonists of this arc are fantastic in their own ways, and seeing more of the doves fighting enemies not apart of the main cast is refreshing, taking the opportunity to show that there is some bureaucratic corruption in their organization. The inner ghoul politics are also very interesting, as are the reasons for their ultra violent tendencies. Kaneki's development also takes a shocking and disturbing turn that I dare not spoil, but it completely changes the focus and message that the series previously tried getting across in a rather brilliant way. It's easily one of the most sickening sequences I have ever come across in any manga. The arc just cements how strong Tokyo Ghoul's story really is.

The endless cycle of violence angle has been done before, but it's given new life here through why that cycle exists and showing the sheer constant horror of it for so many people. Humans are mostly complacent and treat ghouls as simple monsters that should simply be exterminated without question (portrayed in a haunting way during Kaneki and Toka's infiltration of a dove HQ), while ghouls are so devoured in fear and hatred that some simply give into the sheer cosmic joke their existence is and go over the edge, or use human culture to justify more horrific behavior. It's hard not to relate to either side, with even some outright monsters like Rize and Tsukiyama having some human reasoning behind their obsession with eating.

The art is very impressive, especially in the expressions and use of shadows. Every character looks distinct and memorable from just a single panel, and the attention paid to the horrific "foods" on display is grossly wonderful. However, the backgrounds sometimes disappear at moments and create slightly duller looking scenes, while a few action scenes can be difficult to follow. The detailed art style doesn't always work in black and white format, making some intricate details difficult to make out at moments. It makes fights look busier than they should, while use of ghoul abilities and dove weapons look a bit odd because of the simplistic designs that appear in fast paced action scenes. I understand the idea is it's hard to make out details at the speed the weapons travel, but it comes off as odd at moments. However, these flaws melt away when the series decides to embrace gore and more intimate character moments, matching horror and emotion easily.

Tokyo Ghoul has an insane amount of promise. This could very well be a new modern classic if it all comes together in the end. If you aren't reading it yet, I suggest you do. The series is only available through scans right now, but with the popularity of the recent anime, it's all but inevitable that someone will pick the manga up eventually. The airing anime (which Stephanie has been covering) is severally stripped down for pacing sake, plus reorders the dove arc and Tsukiyama arc, but the changes made make for a very lean and powerful adaptation, not to mention it is an amazing visual feat. While some great moments are missing, it's an excellent watch. In my book, though, I lean more towards the manga.


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