Though violence is a prevalent theme in modern animography, one needs to search very well to find truly disturbing themes and situations in mainstream titles. Even though I consider myself a fan of the horror genre, there simply haven’t been, in recent years, many cases where TV producers have given us quality animated horror. That’s the reason I was both excited and curious to see whether Tokyo Ghoul would be what I was looking for: an anime filled with darkness, sleaziness and raw brutality instead of just some second-rate Hellsing rip-off.After checking the anime’s first 4 episodes, I was happy to see that this is an interesting title after all. Then I came across reviews claiming that the anime was a weak adaptation, thus I decided to read the printed version and then watch the animated show afterwards. I should clarify that I haven’t yet managed to finish either of them, so there will probably be another review in 2015. This article will focus exclusively on the manga, since that’s the version that I like the most.
Tokyo Ghoul’s main idea (that of a hostile species co-existing with humans) is everything but original. The path of the protagonist who (willingly or not) ends up becoming the monster they fight is a theme prevalent in manga ever since the 1970s (i.e. Devilman, Mao Dante, Casshern, etc.). If anything, this title makes it clear from the start that it doesn’t try to bring new ideas on the table, but rather to retell the anti-hero’s story in a modern fashion.
Is that all there is to it? In my humble opinion, no. First of all, it’s obvious from the second chapter onwards that Tokyo Ghoul gives more emphasis on torturing the protagonist than on creating a plot with substance. The rest of the cast follows the same path. That means a lot of pain, anger and (of course) blood is displayed through each page. For this strategy to be effective interesting, emotional and diverse characters are a requirement. Thankfully, the story delivers well on that field, since there is a wide list of different personalities in Tokyo Ghoul, each one dealing with their own troubles, suffering their own way.
That’s the reason why Tokyo Ghoul has more things in common with movies like the Guinea Pig series rather than i.e. Hellsing. The focus isn’t on the plot but on how to make the reader feel as bad as possible. That’s especially true for the fandom’s relationship with Kaneki-kun. Each time he is hurt, his uneasiness with food, the moments he spends in depression, every single aspect of his experience in the story stinks of repulsion and misery.
It’s really a wonder that this kind of story works well both for mainstream audiences and those who lurk in the underground. The line between the two worlds is a thin one and both groups can be easily disappointed. Keeping a balance is a tough achievement and the mangakas deserve many compliments for their work.
Don’t get me wrong. Tokyo Ghoul’s plot has good potential and there are many interesting fights and twists for those of you who seek more than their stomachs turned upside down. It’s a well drawn title that is surely going to feel satisfying until the end, even though I doubt I’ll end up thinking of it as a masterpiece. For me it’s a something fun to read and one of 2014’s most pleasant surprises.