Kaneki Ken’s date goes terribly wrong and it’s a shame because he used to be such a nice boy.
Life isn’t easy when you’re starving a cannibal in Tokyo. Tokyo Ghoul follows the supposed tragic life of a boy named Kaneki Ken who unwittingly becomes part of an experiment that turns humans into ghouls, human-like creatures who survive on human meat.
Kaneki is a cannibal and he knows this. In order to live, he needs to feed on his kind. His sin is heavier because of how he perceives it. He still sees himself as a human and there’s no greater taboo than eating your fellow human being. Sadly, no one else from the ghoul community seems to share this viewpoint. There are noticeably two kinds of ghouls in this series, ones that (whether they’d admit it or not) have developed an affinity for humans so much that they’re no longer willing to hunt them down and resort to salvaging corpses of people who have decided to kill themselves. The other side, which seems to represent the predominant thinking amongst ghouls. Humans are nothing but cattle to them and some even resort to eating their own kind. It’s not really just about having to feed yourself, it’s also being able to relieve yourself of guilt and in some cases, finding the joy in it. Thus the line between eating as a means of survival and pleasure is blurred. Kaneki is stuck in the middle of all this and the series takes his character arc to unexpected places.
The inner linings of Tokyo Ghoul are laced with sexual undertones. I’ve one a bit of reading on the manga and these undertones aren’t quite as present. The series has often painted him as a victim and whenever he does turn into the aggressor, someone always swoops in just time to save him from himself. The finale pushes Kaneki to his very limit, forcing him to become the one thing he didn’t want to be. But what does sex have to do with all of this? Kaneki rejects the idea of seeing Rize as a sexual object and he also rejects the idea of sullying the pristine image he had of his mother. His martyrdom stems from rejecting himself pleasure and happiness for the sake of others, but it also comes from the fear of taking action. He becomes empowered by dominating Rize and taking control of the woman inside his head. He’s no longer a captive of her torture and she effectively takes the place of the mother who abandoned him. The conclusion to his arc is cynical and nihilistic. It’s that grimness that saves this series from its shortcomings.
It’s unfortunate that the larger conflict between humans and ghouls is uninteresting and fails to get me emotionally involved. It features too many characters that all too forgettable. The internal conflict within Kaneki is undoubtedly more riveting but it takes a backseat for what is possibly my least favorite part of the series and that’s a huge detriment to what could’ve been so much more engrossing if the series chose to focus on a smaller set of players. At best, many members of the cast are reduced to mere sketches of what could’ve been well-rounded characters. This also contributes to how tonally inconsistent Tokyo Ghoul can be. We’re offered glimpses into the brutal and sadistic nature of both humans and ghouls but this doesn’t blend well with the series’ frequent attempts to become more like a shounen series, depicting overblown battles. The series is littered with cartoonish villains that do not help the situation. It wants us to take it seriously but so much of the grave violence is enacted by comical caricatures of evil.
The show isn’t quite visually polished but by wading through what might look like a mediocre production, Tokyo Ghoul has been able to provide some provocative and fantastic layouts. Shuhei Morita’s touch is prominent throughout the series through vivid colors, overcast shadows and wide spaces that serve the intention of isolating our characters. It’s unfortunate that some episodes spend time looking like generic mush when you’re well aware the staff is capable of so much more. However, unlike its visual aspects, the sound direction in Tokyo Ghoul is a lot more well put together. The series is adept at playing the right kind of music over a scene, and there’s a lovely emphasis to the grotesque feeding that happens quite often in the series. Production-wise, the series is competent at what it does.
The show is ultimately uneven, it doesn’t succeed as an action series but long gazes into Kaneki’s mental and emotional state often make up for it. Tokyo Ghoul is a series that delivers when it comes to spinning smaller and more personal tales but the bigger picture isn’t quite as attractive as it thinks it is.