Tokyo Ghoul – 02

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Yeah, coffee is pretty darn hard to hate all right.

In any conversation about the best series of Summer 2014, Tokyo Ghoul has to be right there – so far, at least.  Two episodes in and this is very strong stuff – a first-rate thriller that’s got me genuinely bought into both the scenario and the characters.  It’s also the best-looking series Pierrot has produced in quite a while (not that the competition is especially fierce).  Indeed, about the only thing I’m less than thrilled with is the censorship, but that seems to be the toll that must be paid with violent anime these days.

When you’re dealing with what’s basically a stock horror premise like we are here, the success of a series really boils down to execution and the amount of imagination and detail that’s gone into the world-building side of the ledger.  So far Tokyo Ghoul scores high marks on both fronts, and this episode really did a lot to fill in the background details.  There’s an art to teasing out those details while still maintaining a sense of mystery, and we see a good balance being kept so far.  The world of ghouls has clearly existed for a long time, and seems to be no more homogeneous than the human world which seems oddly comfortable with its disturbing presence.

Essentially, as with so many horror scenarios, Tokyo Ghoul is a story about the struggle of the main character to maintain his humanity rather than give in to the monster inside him.  And in any such story there are going to be allies, those who’ve walked the path he’s walking – though in Ken’s case there really isn’t anyone who’s walked the precise path he finds himself on.  Touka is hardly sympathetic – about the kindest thing that could be said is that there’s a sliver of pity mixed in with her disgust – but her employer Yoshimura (Sugou Takayuki) is seemingly more kindly inclined.  Indeed his cafe is also called Anteiku, and acts as the gathering place for the “good” ghouls – and he seems to see it as his role to guide them towards a path of co-existence with humans.

In Ken’s case he’s got a substantially bigger challenge, because Yoshimura has to get Ken to co-exist with himself.  He’s aware of what’s happened to Ken (it was on the news) if not exactly what that means.  Touka’s scornful response to Ken’s self-pity suggests that she was a born a ghoul – which of course suggests, in turn, that at least some ghouls are born rather than made.  Adding to Ken’s problems is the not-unexpected fact that Rize seems to be an uninvited presence in his mind – how real she is it’s hard to say, but Ken is certainly seeing her and is certainly aware of her urging him onwards towards satisfying his hunger, starting with Hide (whether he’s also aware of her sizing up his junk I’m not sure).  And as the kindly Yoshimura reminds Ken, there’s only one way a ghoul can satisfy his hunger.  It’s nice that they can also enjoy coffee – being forced to consume human flesh is tough, but not being able to drink coffee would truly be hell – but coffee can only be savored for its taste, not for its sustenance.

Another very strong element of the series so far is the relationship between Ken and Hide.  Hide is definitely a bro – one of those anime best friends you wish you’d had in real life.  He simply refuses to let Ken wallow in his misery peacefully – despite being roundly ignored (let me state that I totally get where Ken is coming from here) Hide continues to badger Ken with emails trying to shame him into coming back into the world.  That’s why it hits pretty hard when Hide is put into danger by the return of Nishio Nishiki (Asanuma Shintaro), the ghoul who was in the process of brutalizing in the premiere before Touka interfered.  He’s a sempai at the college Hide and Ken attend, interestingly enough – and he’s just as surprised when Hide introduces Ken to him as Ken is.

The scene that follows is a great one – tense, savage, scary.  Nishio invites Hide back to his house to pick up some papers (I note that he’s a pharmacology student – possible foreshadowing?) , the implied threat being rather obvious.  Ken invites himself along ostensibly to protect his friend, but he’s not much help when Nishio makes his move.  The first striking moment is when Nishio wolfs down a taiyaki seemingly with no ill effects, much to Ken’s shock.  That’s just the appetizer, though – once Nishio knocks Hide unconscious beneath an overpass he turns his fury on Ken, who he derides as smelling “like a female ghoul”.  Ken does his best and try to defend Hide but frankly it’s a rather pathetic sight, and it’s clear the psychotic Nishio is toying with him.  He talks of unleashing his Kagune, which appears to be a physical manifestation of a ghoul’s powers, and when he does so with the intention of finishing off Hide – on whom he vomits up the taikyaki (he can pretend not to loathe human food but not keep it down, it seems) – Ken finally unleashes his own as a reflex.  Nishio is rather stunned to see that it’s Rize’s Kagune that emerges from Ken’s body, and Ken appears to kill him – though until I know what it really takes to kill a ghoul, I’m certainly not assuming that.

That Tokyo Ghoul can so seamlessly flow from that scene to what follows is evidence of how well-written and directed it is.  We’ve just witnessed pure adrenaline-inducing horror, and then we get a much quieter epilogue which cuts to the heart of what the series is.  Ken gives in to Rize and is about to consume Hide when Touka again shows up in the nick of time and stops him, knocking him unconscious and returning him to Yoshimura’s care at Anteiku.  This is of course the lowest ebb for Ken – he remembers every detail of the moment when he wanted to devour Hide, and it’s only by feeding him human flesh as he slept that Yoshimura has allowed Ken to suppress his hunger.

There’s not much reason for Ken to want to live at this point – he can’t trust himself to be near the friend he’s cherished since their childhood, and he’s an outcast from both the human and ghoul worlds.  But Yoshimura frames it in a different way – Ken is actually the only one who’s a part of both worlds, and that makes him lucky.  You can see Ken wrestling with himself here – he wants to give in to his despair and he distrusts the old man’s words, but he’s also desperate to latch on to any kindness the suddenly cruel world shows him.  Yoshimura promises to show Ken how to make a delicious cup of coffee, and to show him that there’s more to the world of ghouls than the mindless savages Ken envisions.  Ken acquiesces, for the moment – and was Hide awake, and listening in on that conversation?

I’m not sure I trust Yoshimura – he could certainly have selfish ulterior motives here – but Ken is in a beggars can’t be choosers kind of situation, and there’s no denying his situation would be a whole lot worse if it weren’t for the old man and Touka.  There are hints of even deeper levels of the ghoul world here – talk of a “CCG”, which seems to be some sort of anti-ghoul vigilante group.  We see what appear to be two members of this group, an old man named Mado Kureo (the great Ookawa Tohru) and a younger partner named Amon Koutarou (Konishi Katsuyuki), and they speak of a “Jason” – I’m going to guess that’s the guy we saw fighting with Rize in the pre-open of the premiere.  There’s a lot of fascinating potential in this mythology, but what sets Tokyo Ghoul apart from most others of its genre is that this is clearly a character-driven story – a good thriller with horror elements, but the foundation of its success is the way it draws its characters and the way they interact.  It reminds me of Shiki in that way, and if this series turns out to be as excellent as that one, it will be a very fine series indeed.

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ED: “Seijatachi” (Saints) by People in the Box

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  1. E

    This will be a good anime if only they cut down on the
    "Nooo, noooo, I am humaaaaan"
    "Hey, hey, hey, this is delicious, let's eat"

    20 minutes is precious, man. I wish they would just use those minutes to show more of the story. Also, what's with that inverted and yellowish color scheme?

  2. E

    I mean, even 2 minutes is precious.

  3. N

    TG is Shiki as hell. Same loss of humanity, same desperation of those on the edge of monstrosity, same weird black schlera on the eyes.

    Shiki has better characters thus far, Ozaki and Seishirou are fascinating on their own rights. TG's characters are merely okay, but they're very much stock characters thus far,

  4. R

    Ummm, excuse me for a while as I wrap my head around the fact that Hikari Sakishima and Manaka Mukaido are not cute mer-kids anymore, but are now bloodthirsty, flesh-eating monsters, hehehehe!

    Kidding aside, this one really turned out better than I initially expected, and I definitely love it. I like the fact that its scare factor doesn't rely on the shock factor (though it has tons of it), but leans more towards the disturbing. Thw way they depict Kaneki's slow mental breakdown is just spine chilling, and I really got to give props for Hanae Natsuki's performance here (as well as Hanazawa Kana's frightening, yet sexy, portrayal of Rize).

  5. w

    I like that this has Shiki vibes, but hopefully, it will diverge and solidify its different identity. Still a few episodes in, and it could go down in many ways. I read a few chapters of the manga before, but that was like…waaayy back when there are only a few chapters out. Haven't come back to reading, so I don't know what happened later. That and I forgot now what happened earlier in detail. Lol

    It seems Hide now knows at the end of this ep, which makes me wonder about what he'll do with the knowledge. Ignore it? Be wary?

    Thanks for the review~

  6. N

    "which of course suggests, in turn, that at least some ghouls are born rather than made"

    I got an impression that all Ghouls are born, rather than made. Isn't Ken unique because he is the only one not born a Ghoul?

  7. Could be, but I don't think we know that for sure yet.

  8. R

    I actually got the same impression from what old man Yoshimura says that Ken was the first "artificial" ghoul he encountered (he does know that Ken had Rize's organs transplanted into him), So i also think that all ghouls (or at least the current ones) are born rather than made.

  9. I'm not closing the door on the possibility that some humans can turn into ghouls by "non-artificial" means somehow.

  10. R

    Like infections perhaps?

  11. s

    Morita-san really has got the pacing of this series down to a science. I heard people complaining that the anime was rushing through the material so i checked it out for myself and i have to disagree. The way in which morita is pacing this series is pretty good. Looking back at the source material, im very impressed with the way he arranged certain details, took things that where important, adapted the necessary material, and even adding to the material. He does all this without throwing anything of relevance from the source material and it feels great.

    Sometimes an adaptation will try to rush through the material and skip relevant stuff, and sometimes you get adaptations that pad way too much. Tokyo Ghoul's source material a=only has like 20 pages per chapter, and the manga is orchestrated in a way that those twenty-pages, when put to screen, can be told in five to seven minutes without rushing it and i think morita understands perfectly well. This allows each episode to have suspense, character moments, horror, and action without being too slow or fast. Just make sure not to run into any spoilers along the way as you blog this series (or anyone for that matter who cares about spoilers)

  12. Z

    Manga readers really are full of shit sometimes.

  13. s

    Id would just say that they seem to have a particular notion that things should be a certain way when rather they should try to have an open mind about things and be constructive about how they perceive adaptation choices.

  14. R

    I'm not a manga reader, but I quite like the pacing. To me, Tokyo Ghoul jumps out from all others, and the performance of Hanae Natsuki is engaging.

  15. w

    If they could just set up some kind of deal with the local morgue.. All problems would be solved.

  16. N

    On this note, I've always wondered why some power brokers on the human side (aka the establishment) have never tried to co-opt hidden threats that require something from the humans to live. If you can control the corpse supply to ghouls, or blood to vampires, or souls to ghosts, and keep within reach some big sticks to those carrots, you can effectively build yourself your own supernatural death squad.

    It gives me some storytelling ideas. Like can the government keep the beasties loyal, and can the government use those beasties to stomp down the ones who refuse to bend the knee?

  17. K

    Best OP of the season, year even for me, I think. And I really wonder why coffee is the only thing ghouls & human taste the same. That's the burning question going forward for me.

  18. R

    This could easily pass off as Madhouse or Production I.G. series. Was there any Pierrot works with this caliber before? (Beside that Shonen Jump series (Meisou Underground) trailer)

  19. Pierrot was well-known for great-looking anime once. Princess Tutu, Hikaru no Go (don't dismiss it because of what kind of show it is – it has great visuals), Tegami Bachi…

  20. R

    Wait wait wait they did Tegami Bachi???

    Damn, I'd never have expected. I loved that series (the manga more so, but the anime was pretty damn good too) and Princess Tutu as well. Maybe its because of what Studio Pierrot tends to produce nowadays but it feels like two completely different studios…

  21. R

    Oh, yeah Hikaru no Go, I remember that one (never watched the other 2 though). I mostly known Pierrot from their battle shonen adaptation (Bleach, Naruto, YYH) which is quite average and highly inconsistent.

    Now if only Baby Steps got half the budget of Tokyo Ghoul…

  22. H

    I don't think Baby Steps needs half the amount of budget as Ghoul. One is an action heavy horror and the other is strategic sports comedy/romance.

  23. I'd be thrilled if Baby Steps was getting half the budget as TG.

  24. s

    @hangman I would argue that sports animes should and need higher budgets so that the actually sports aspect of the series looks kinetic enough to make the viewer feel as if they are watching a truly intense sports match; after all, that is part of the fun of watching sports. Sports animes especially would benefit from cleaner douga and genga drawings that a higher budget could afford.

  25. H

    Yeah I totally agree, but I was talking more specifically about Baby Steps (which I think looks fine enough as is, though appreciate fans say it deserves more) and how it seems to focus more on the mental presentation of the game rather than psychical, which fits with Ei-chan's character/approach. Of course touches of lavish movement pop up here and there to emphasize a great return,etc.

    I also don't think comedy, or to a lesser degree, romance absolutely need high grade kinetic visuals for obvious reasons so there's that too. Actions series clearly need fluid action as that's the main selling point (i.e Attack on Titan).

  26. H

    *physical (psychical lol)

  27. e

    The series does look good (relatedly: Pierrot back in the '80s was a major force and its series looked pretty good for their time. I grew up with their majokko shows – Magical Emi to this day it's still an oldie I favour… it has dated comparatvely well – hence for me that's what I tend to iimediately associate them with, their trademark.imprinting on me – rather than their battle or sport shonen titles). The one element that is really standing out to me so far is the music though, the choice of the tracks and their timing. Really well done.
    Character-wise I 'm pretty onboard with Ken – and Hide ( caring loyal smart bro? sign me in!) – and as long as they keep the character factor upfront I'll be watching. Not much of a gore lover otherwise. P.S.: Hide must not die D,:. A relatable fully human side is needed by both main character and us watchers I think.
    This week on top of ode to coffee (the beans of coexistence? I could get behind that. I' more of a cocoa girl but I do like the smell of ground java) we even got a Ghoul No Saji moment courtesy of Nishio's dialogue…
    One side-effect of this show: it makes me hungry for steak. Or even tartare. 'Niku! Niku! Niku!' .

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