Tokyo Ghoul – 03

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Tokyo Ghoul just keeps delivering the goods.

I know it’s a frustratingly vague thing to say, but Tokyo Ghoul just has “it”.  Some series have it, others don’t – that little extra spark that makes them special.  Ishida Sui’s source material and Morita Shuhei’s direction clearly both have that spark, and that makes Tokyo Ghoul a very exciting series to watch.  It’s small things like adding details that probably don’t impact the larger premise but add color to the tapestry (like making in-story novelist Takatsuki Sen so clearly a female homage to Murakami Haruki), and big things like making the underworld of Anteiku and the ghouls feel so real.  And it’s understanding that what separates good thrillers from great ones is putting character first.

This episode didn’t feature the headline-grabbing action of the second episode, but it was packed with content just the same.  This was exposition done right, in the hands of a strong writer and director, not relying on manufactured classroom scenes or extraneous lectures but filling in the blanks the way it happens in real life – asking logical questions at the right time, and seeing events as they happen.  What’s emerging is a picture of the dynamic that exists both at Anteiku and in Tokyo as a whole, and that picture reveals the “peace” of the 20th Ward to be hanging by the thinnest of threads.

The first event we see is a disturbance at a doctor’s office, where a smiling man (Rintarou Nishi) who takes knuckle-cracking to ridiculous heights asks the doctor (Toriumi Kousuke) for a “whatsit” to replace the one he’s lost.  This is presumably a doctor who specializes in treating ghouls (probably the “Fueguchi-sensei” referenced later in the episode), and the visitor probably the same man who interrupted Rize’s feasting in the first moments of the series – who I assume to be the “Jason” everyone is talking about.  The doctor is further presumably the father of Hinami (15 year-old Morohoshi Sumire) the little ghoul-girl who ends up with her mother at Anteiku, and “now has to live separately from her father”.

Pieces are being fitted into the puzzle here – the other face of ghouls that Yoshimura spoke to Ken of in the last episode.  I love the way the story brings us into both the big and small picture in such a natural, flowing way – we get a sense of the struggle between ghouls and the “box carriers” – also called “Doves” – and how the 20th Ward has been largely exempt thanks to the efforts of those like Yoshimura, a peace now threatened by the likes of Jason and “The Gourmet” (more later).  Yoshimura shows Ken how to help his ability to “pass” by pretending to eat (don’t chew, just swallow – and regurgitate, because apparently normal food is bad for ghoul health).  And the sugar cubes which help quell the hunger pangs (I’m guessing those aren’t on the condiment bar at Starbucks), whose contents Ken is definitely better off not knowing too much about.

Perhaps most poignantly, we see a “food run” – for the first time, a window into the way “good” ghouls manage to source food without hurting humans.  That they rely on suicide victims and even pay respects to them is quite a powerful imagery, especially in a country beset with one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  All of this, starting with Yoshimura, is a fascinating glimpse at the way the ghoul and human worlds interact – Yoshimura tells Ken that he “likes humans”, and Ken can’t help but wonder what that means.  We have Touka working harder than anyone to fit in, and an older barista kindly tells Ken that girls, especially, don’t like to be witnessed while eating.  Ken has just stumbled in on Himura in the act, and when he brings her coffee by way of apology they have a very warm conversation about Takatsuki’s books, which Hinami is struggling through despite their difficulty.

Also shedding light on various corners of this world is a visit to Uta-san (Sakurai Takahiro), the Kabuki-cho artist who makes masks for ghouls to hide their identity in the event they have a run-in with the CCG and “occasionally” has a human customer.  We also get a look at a CCG meeting in their opulent skyscraper headquarters, and at the quasi-religious approach they take to their crusade against ghoulism.  And finally there’s a visitor to Anteiku – a sartorially-extravagant man (Miyano Mamoru) who I can only assume is the Gourmet everyone is on about.  If he’s the sort of gourmet he appears to be, this fellow is likely the single-biggest reason why the 20th Ward is no longer a de facto demilitarized zone.

As to two questions that carried over from last week, Nishio is still alive and in the hospital (a ghoul hospital, presumably) but we can’t say for sure whether Hide now knows Ken’s secret (we do know that Touka has pledged to kill him if he ever finds out).  It’s rare to see a series with so much going on – so many characters and so much plot – be this coherent.  But again, that speaks to the quality of the writing and the direction.  That all this is presented in a manageable fashion and that we’re so bought in to the lives of the characters is what sets Tokyo Ghoul apart as one of the best series of 2014 so far, and its potential seems limited only by the possibility that it might not have a long-enough run.  Early returns indicate it may do quite well commercially – I can only hope that Morita-sensei leaves the door open for the series to continue, if indeed a second split cour hasn’t already been green-lit.

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  1. m

    It's been a while since I've watched a series that nailed its mood so perfectly.

    That said, the omakes at the end are just jarring. It's like they're trying to pull a Yowamushi Pedal, but the latter series already had a happy-go-lucky feel that transitions smoothly into the slapstick humor. Tokyo Ghoul, not so much.

  2. R

    Loving Tokyo Ghoul….love how the creators breathe life into the characters. Liking Ken more and more…he's gradually changing.

  3. j

    breathe life into the characters?

    I don't read the manga, but in my opinion the characters don't feel very deep, at least so far. They just kind of fall into their respective roles.

    Even the smaller details from yoshimura liking humans to touka being a student to Hinami being diligent about self learning. The thought behind it is nice, and maybe it's just me, but for some reason it all feels very artificial to me.

  4. My reaction is completely the opposite. The characters are far more 3D than I'm used to in anime.

  5. s

    I dont know, I wouldnt say "artificial". In my opinion, in the art of story-telling, characterization comes off as artificial when sequences that lend the characters to get a lil flesh out are not earned, are clumsily constructed, or just seem to be there to demand the audience to care. That is not what i see with Tokyo Ghoul which is why i completely agree with Enzo when he says that none of the exposition feels like the series is talking to the audience directly or there for just having it. That is one of the major reasons why i felt this ep was as good as it was regardless of being tamer than the other two.

    Kaneki's character is slowing asking questions and is involving himself into this situation he has come to be in in an attempt to make the best of it, and you see that as he gradually begins to see that ghouls are not these evil entities he thought they were (and the show actually gives you the liberty of inferring that without it having to tell that to the audience). We see that Touka has two fronts when she lives her life, and if you're not careful, you miss the nuances of how she presents herself with others like the changes in her voice depending on who she is talking to. She talks to Uta and Hinami with a nicer disposition while, she uses her "natural voice" with the manager, and shows her more abrasive side to Kaneki (and she makes these transitions on the fly; that's my real point). Even Uta who we are introduced to today, we learn a bit about him, not through other characters explaining to us what he is like, but by just listening to him talk, which is intentionally done so you can get a feel for who he is as a character in that span of almost 2 minutes. That is not artificial characterization at all, at least to me. And as the story goes, we do learn more and more about these characters, how they have a grey area, and how they develop from the situations they are thrown into.

    Oh and Miyano Mamoru as the gourmet??? Could not have asked for perfect casting…reading the manga i said he would be a great seiyuu choice for a character such as this

  6. j

    Enzo, they're not completely 2 dimensional, because I agree, they are definitely deeper than *most anime characters. However, that doesn't change how I feel about the characters on their own.

    Sonic, like I said, I do notice the smaller details. It does add some depth to the characters, but I'm more concerned with how well fits into my expectations of each character. Not much of what the characters do come as a surprise to me, and that's what I meant by "artificial." Isn't it natural for Kaneki to ask questions and try and integrate into ghoul society at this point? He's witnessed what it's like to try and tackle it alone, and conveniently enough, there's a band of ghouls that's humanized as much as possible willing to help him. In regards to Touka, I'm not sure having different patterns of speech depending who she's conversing with is worthy of praise. Isn't that normal for any human being? With Uta, it can go either way. He could have a unique perspective of the world (perhaps pertaining to his outlook as an artist), or he could be just another "I like humans" type of ghoul only "quirkier" just for the sake of having a character like that.

    But again, it's only 3 episodes in so I'm not fully convinced by my current opinions yet. I somewhat trust the manga readers when they say things will change, so I'm definitely waiting before I say anything more conclusive.

  7. s

    Using Touka's voice changes was just a small example of how dynamic her disposition becomes in any situation; I think what Enzo and I are arguing is that the characters have become identifiable this early within the series which is a testament to the dimensions the characters are receiving. Im actually glad you stated that its natural for Kaneki to ask questions and integrate himself with ghoul society, becuase by saying that, you're just proving that the characterization is not artificial. Like i mentioned before, "artificial" characters are those that are given certain characteristics for the sake of driving the plot for whatever reason the writer sees fit. These characters on the other hand are responding to their situation organically, which makes their actions feel natural and human. I think at this point you're looking for amazing characters as in what makes them so unique from anything else, but as of right now, that is not necessary (as you have pointed out, it's still too early to expect that). What is apparent though, is that the characters are really taking shape in this very-well paced and delicate fashion, and that's what I, the comments, and Enzo are praising… least i am.

  8. m

    They flesh out the characters in the span of probably 1 and a half episode (after all most of the first 2 episodes went into plot and blood), and they did it to so many characters. I think that's pretty commendable. I also won't say I'm drawn into any character yet (except Hide) but the interactions are very natural and meaningful, which I feel is the whole purpose of this episode. And we still have a long way to go, after all it has only just started (:

    Are suicidal humans enough as a food source though? Well yeah they can survive on a meal for a month but well I was thinking there are quite a number of ghouls…

  9. j

    When you say "responding to their situation organically" I'm thinking more like "well that was expected." I think there is so much sloppy exposition in anime, that when a show comes along and does it right for once it's "anime of the season" for some folks and I'm not quite on the same boat. I'll admit, Tokyo Ghoul isn't doing anything 'wrong' per se, I'm just slightly bored by the turn of events. You're right, it's not "artificial" in the way you're thinking about it, its feels artificial in that the story is playing out almost too predictably. It's like watching a chess game where the player is reading a how-to book before every move.

    Truth be told, if I hadn't known this show was supposed to be a "psychological thriller" I probably wouldn't complain as much. I just imagined there be a lot more psychological turmoil on Ken's part as he dealt with the situation on his own. I think I was expecting some much darker than this, since the ghoul collective kind of eased the blow of Ken becoming a half ghoul.

    These are all my current opinions on the show though, so don't take em too seriously haha. If I was binge watching this show at the end of the season, I probably wouldn't complain as much either since I can just go ahead and watch the next episode and see how the story would play out.

  10. s

    hahaha nothing being taken seriously at all; I like a good discussion is all. I do agree with you that there is some sloppy exposition (and execution for that matter) in a good amount of anime that people tend to get a little too hype when a show comes around that does it right, but in this case i still dont think it takes away from the fact that what is being done in tokyo ghoul is well-executed character building that is slowly forming its own identity (we'll see how that goes in future eps) and that's refreshing to see. If something is executed with polish, then its good and it warrants that compliment. Not everyone is floored by Tokyo Ghoul yet, but it certainly has an X-factor about it and its hitting all the right notes so far which is making for an engaging series at the moment.

    You dont have to be necessarily wowed to think something is good. I think HunterXHunter is a really good show but im not floored by it like others are; To me, it's a Shounen that actually cares about real drama and story-telling in all the right ways. i think its really good, but that's what i expect a good show to do so im not quick to call it genius because it's not quite there in my opinion. Others (not all) may feel that way because they are used to shounen's that are incapable of developing their stories as intricately as HunterXHunter does but whether ppl call it a work of genius or not or whether or not one agrees with that statement doesnt take away from the fact that HXH is a really good show; and i think that same tyoe of reasoning applies to Tokyo Ghoul

  11. n

    I may be nitpicking, but finding suicide victims for food source is kind of implausible however high the suicide rate in Japan is. Relying on pure luck to decide whether you get to eat lunch today? I don't think that works on the long run. I thought they were hunting bad guys or snatching bodies from cemetery to feed on them. Maybe they'll explain a bit more of their daily lives. I'm also curious whether they need water to keep up – I'm guessing water still tastes the same? I hope so, for their sakes.

  12. s

    Ghouls dont need food continuously; they can survive off a good portion of human flesh for a month before getting hungry again; One body would be all a ghoul would need. If they check spots where people often commit suicide, there are bound to find at least one body a month. Think about how many people die in the united states a day then apply that statistic to finding at least one dead body once a month…sounds pretty plausible to me. It would seem that ghouls could drink water but even if they couldnt, they are getting their liquids from coffee so it wouldnt matter whether they could drink water or not. As a matter of fact, the fact that they can drink coffee means their body doesnt reject water. They do have biological similarities to humans after all. I assume their take their liquids in the form of coffee because it taste the most appeasing; they wouldnt be able to do that with something like juice though

  13. I'm with Sonic here, it's quite plausible. And we don't know that it's all they do, either – maybe they have black market deals for corpses from hospitals and morgues. That's been happening for centuries in real life.

    For humans at least, coffee is actually dehydrating because the caffeine is a diuretic. But who knows how it applies to ghoulies.

  14. n

    All I'm saying is, if I were a ghoul, I would devise a more systematic way to secure a food source. I wouldn't just rely on luck to find a body at a neighboring suicide spot, which should be super-rare to begin with, so probably they try other methods as well like Enzo said. I don't know about the statistics in the USA, but there is one certified "suicide magnet" near where I currently live in Paris, but it's not like you can find a body there constantly. It's probably like one person in every three or four years.

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