First Impressions – Tokyo Ghoul

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OK, first sigh of relief of the season.

It isn’t that often that my anime season starts off with one of the very best hopes for an exceptional series (I did actually watch the Bakumatsu Rock premiere first, but didn’t even make it all the way to the end) but so it is this summer.  I had big, big hopes for Tokyo Ghoul going in – it’s a genre I appreciate, with a highly-regarded source material and intriguing staff list.  And based on the first episode, it appears that hopes have a good chance of being justified.  This was an excellent premiere on all levels.

The talk of the fanbase of Tokyo Ghoul has been focused on series length, with a solid contingent believing one cour would be a disaster.  There’s been no official announcement but mixed signals right up to the minute – scenes from later in the manga showing in the preview, the announcement of a “Soundtrack 1” release (typically one-cour series don’t get multiple OSTs) suggesting two cours, but a listing of four 3-episode Blu-ray releases suggesting one (and prompting unconfirmed web reports to that effect).  We still don’t know – my reading of the tea leaves is that this is going to be a split cour, with an announcement before the end of the season, but that’s simply a guess.  For now all we can do is judge what’s put before us.

And so far, that’s really good stuff.  I think it’s safe to say that this is the only series this season (and one of the few ever) that’s directed by an Oscar nominee – Morita Shuhei, whose Possessions was a 2013 Academy nominee for Best Animated Short Film (he also directed the highly-regarded OVA Kakurenbo).  Seeing Studio Pierrot’s name attached to Tokyo Ghoul alarmed some, but they’ve always been capable of delivering beautiful art and good animation – they just seem to have chosen to go on the cheap more often than not of late.  It seemed from the beginning as if this series was a priority at Pierrot, and the first episode looks plenty good enough to reassure doubters.  I also love Miwa Kazuhiro’s (a terrific animator with a long resume, mostly at BONES) character designs, which are faithful to mangaka Ishida Sui’s originals, but sport an interesting, almost gothic look.

Make no mistake, Tokyo Ghoul is a dark ride.  It chronicles the suffering of a good person, and does so in pretty graphic terms.  The hero of the piece is college student Kaneki Ken (an excellent Natsuki Hanae), who we meet in a seemingly normal and mundane situation – sitting in a cafe with his best friend Hide (Toyonaga Toshiyuki).  Kaneki is mooning over a girl and discussing first date options as Hide affectionately mocks his innocence (Kaneki looks the part in that respect), under the watchful eye of waitress Kirishima Touka (Amamiya Sora, who could hardly have asked for a more dramatic contrast to Kaori in Isshuukan Friends).

But all is not as it appears in this world.  As the boys talk the TV news is droning on about a series of ghoul attacks, and it’s clear that ghouls are an accepted hazard of life in Tokyo – like tissue hawkers and vomiting last-train drunks.  We know these ghouls eat people – we’ve seen it in the pre-open – and that while they can apparently live for more than a month on one body, there are so called “binge-eaters”, ghouls who kill for the almost sexual thrill they derive from it.  And when Kamishiro Rize (Hanazawa Kana, disguising herself more than usual) walks in we recognize her from that pre-open – and when Ken tells Hide that this is the girl he’s been dreaming about asking out, it’s no secret where things are headed.

In many ways, this could hardly be a more classic vampire setup.  We have a class of effectively undead creatures who feast on human flesh to survive, and a division among them – some like Rize who thrill at the kill, and some who try and co-exist (among which Touka resides).  That group is called Anteiku (which I think is also the name of the cafe, suggesting it’s more than a normal cafe), who seem to be trying to organize the ghoul populace and minimize conflict with humans.  And soon enough we have the main character forced to confront the fact that he’s become a ghoul himself.  Kaneki manages to ask Rize out – they share a love for the same author, who I’m sure is going to be revealed to have a connection to all this later.  But we all know what’s going to happen, especially after Rize tearfully lures Ken into walking her home.  Things are looking grim for Ken once the feasting begins, but someone intervenes by crushing Rize under a bundle of steel beams (construction sites are dangerous, you know) and the doctor who treats Ken (he may also have a deeper connection) saves his life by transplanting Rize’s organs into him.

This is really the last piece of the textbook formula – Ken wrestling with trying to maintain his humanity even as he realizes he’s become a monster.  Ghouls can’t eat normal food (it tastes terrible to them, as if all human food were natto), and when Ken gets hungry he undergoes the physical transformation into a ghoul – but only halfway.  This may not be groundbreaking stuff, but it’s a good formula – there’s a reason it’s so popular across mediums – and the execution is excellent.  The characters are quite believable and Ken is a sympathetic presence at the heart of the story, and the depiction of his horror at what’s happening to him is viscerally painful.  The show is certainly graphic – lots of blood, feasting on severed limbs and vomiting up burgers – but the sense is that it’s still a character-driven enterprise.

It seems as if all the pieces are in place here for a top-notch thriller – a stylish and talented director, a source material with a gift for dialogue and character, a tried-and-true premise.  My only real concern is with the series length, though not having read the manga it’s hard to know just how much to be worried.  For now all signs point to yes – while it didn’t flat-out blow me away Tokyo Ghoul checked all the boxes I was hoping it would in its premiere, and it’s still on-target to be one of the most interesting series of the season.

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OP: “unravel” by TK

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  1. G

    One thing I am concerned with is censorship. Hate to see another Blood-C where everything bloody was censored so much you could not tell what was going on in the scene and had to wait til DVD to see it.

  2. s

    Once i learned that shuhei Morita was directing, i had almost no doubts whatsoever that this series might end up being a keeper. The inability to eat food humans would usually consume reminds me of "let the right one in". All these elements make for a great formula; this show's originality will come from how well it executes the chess pieces it has laid out…summer is starting out pretty ok. I feel bad for you enzo cuz it seems that thrus and saturdays are busy anime days. Well there seems to be a drought on friday but saturday and sunday kinda bleed into each other

  3. The last few seasons Friday and Sunday (my time) have indeed been the crazy days. Sunday is the one day where shows which air on Sunday in Japan are bloggable for me, because Haikyuu, Diamond and Baby Steps are non-late night shows. Couple that with the carryovers from Saturday late-night and it's nuts.

  4. K

    The episode was great, but now I'm concerned about the length because my friend told me that the premiere adapted 5 chapters, and she said that the 1st chapter was a double length, so they essentially went through 6 chapters worth of material in one episode. That gives me fear that they're going to try to mow through the manga as quick as possible.

  5. g

    Not true. It went through two chapters. Barely starting the third when the episode ends with touka force feeding him.

    Your friend is misinformed

  6. g

    Also there is a lot of anime only content in this first episode.

  7. m

    I'm not usually a big fan of the horror genre in general, and much less so when it comes to anime. There's something about things being animated that gets rid of what little fear I feel watching monsters attack people. There have been exceptions, Shiki for example, and the story along with how highly regarded the source material is made me check it out, and I'm glad I did (so far anyway). It seems like a really interesting take on a pretty standard premise, but the animation was great and I found myself drawn in much faster than with the other premieres. I didn't have any interest in Argevollen until the final minutes, and even then I'm still not sure if it's just setting up the background or if it's just going to be typical and boring. I like how Tokyo Ghoul just threw you right into the serious stuff off the bat, and even when it was introducing the MC it still had an ominous feel that they didn't wait too long to follow through on. I'm hoping this becomes the series that surprises me most, and it's off to a good start.

  8. t

    it was good but I can't say it was excellent.
    I am afraid not only the length worries me but the adaptation itself as well. it was faithful to the manga but not completely. they cut out a scene or two from chapter #2 and from the last minutes scenes it seems like they slightly push ahead. it's not really big deal or something because it's still faithful and everything but I hope it's not a bad sign for later on. we will see.
    Also, still related to that, the manga is full with details (be it the books Kaneki is reading, the TV show of the ghouls or even really disgusting details how the food is indigestible for Kaneki..and other stuff I am not willing to point out now). some of them really interesting details, some less. again, for now they didn't cut out something that really bothers and I hope they can stay so.

    all in all, this anime looks really good as expected because it really getting into the creepy atmosphere and everything. although from the beginning it seems pretty clear what will happen, the whole scene in the dark where Kaneki is trying to run and then the accident, following a very interesting conflict of a man who has become a ghoul due to transplant.
    I find this conflict extremely interesting because it really has many sides. first is the identity problem – is he a ghoul now or a human?it's not even really half-blood as a lot of fantasy stories like to bring. technically he is a ghoul now because he can only eat people and that's exactly how society will look at him. but he sees himself different. on the other side, look at some of the ghoul, living hiding as humans. there are many sides to this complexity. the second issue is the food. he must eat to live. he can't consume nothing besides human flesh. what will he do?does that mean he giving up on his humanity (at least he seems to think so and maybe it's true). I really like how the author combines it with really horror details about how the food is disgusting and indigestible. and actually it's connecting with issues we are used to see more from anime like silver spoon that brings up the question of livestock and everything but with a different touch to it.

    the anime really conveyed the right feeling with the way the story moves for now. pace was good even if the skipped something not dramatically. but I still think the manga was able to send a stronger vibe, but we will see because I liked the way the anime executed the story for now. it does looks and sound good with the right atmosphere and everything.

  9. n

    One morning Enzo wakes up; he senses a familiar scent, a sweet aroma, like Mom's home cooking… Alas! it is Natto. Now he can only eat natto. He's become Tokyo Japanese.

  10. w

    That pre-open looked excellent, closer to movie quality than T.V.

    I know if I lived in that town I'd be an awful lot more wary if I see someone who hasn't been eating…

  11. s

    At first, I didn't know what to expect from this show since I've never even heard about Tokyo Ghoul before, but this first episode definitely convinced me to keep watching it. Don't know whether you've ever heard about it, but it's its sort of similarities to Kiseijuu/Parasyte that did pick my curiosity. I guess it'll take a different road than Parasyte, but I think there's not that much that can go too wrong with the setup. Excited where this goes, though it'll be hard to keep myself away from the manga this way. Already curious about how it'll proceed, and with some doubts from fans, you might never know whether it'd actually be worth it. Guess I'll just have to wait and see.

  12. Well, Parasyte has an anime coming too so it'll be interesting to compare.

  13. s

    Heh, true. With the anime around the corner too, I guess it will be compared quite a bit next season. As a fan of both Parasyte and the genre itself though I'm already having hopes for the anime as well as this one. So far the signs point to an enjoyable ride with Tokyo Ghoul.

  14. Z

    Good execution, the opening sequence was very slick, but I was a little underwhelmed with the overall premise. It didn't yet have that X-factor point of difference to set it apart from similar works. The revulsion to normal consumables idea is basically borrowed from Pupa (remember that?). Also, the corruption of an MC's state of being and sense of taste after an operation by dodgy doctor is straight out of Saya no Uta (another Urobuchi work), so I can't say I'm really impressed here.

  15. H

    It was pretty solid, though it didn't grab me completely. I had v.high expectations though. They could have maintained the atmosphere throughout the episode since the date scene was an obvious front for premise. The frantic scene of him throwing up all that food was very well done though. Overall it has quite an early days GONZO vibe which seems appropriate..

  16. E

    So I am not the only one who can't even finish the first episode of Bakumatsu Rock…

  17. G

    I couldn't either. I try and watch at least the 1st episode of every new show each season and give it a chance. I gave up on BR soon after it started.

  18. Thanks for the tip. I removed the URL because there's no need to inflate the asshole's view counts (he seems to average about 20 per post) from curiosity seekers.

    But wow – word for word, that's some serious gall right there. I suppose it's flattering, and it's not the first time I've been plagarized on Youtube.

  19. M

    Yep,it could've been a vampire story but it took things to the next level and went for flesh-eating ghouls. Heck,vampires have it easy compared to these guys. There might be some Shiki vibes to this,but it's amplified all the way up to eleven,which is in no way a bad thing.

  20. S

    Thank god he's both monotonous and inarticulate

  21. R

    Pretty much like Spring, I'm going to make my judgement call after watching the premier this season because shows like Tokyo Ghoul made it irresistible to ignore. It's well directed and performed — Hanae Natsuki did a fantastic job — and the storytelling made it hard to take my eyes off screen. What a strong premier it is, and it's the first one coming out of the gate…

  22. Aaaand, the video is gone. Either the thief checked back here or Youtube is on the ball.

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