“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”
Tokyo Ghoul is a seinen manga that ran from 2011-2014 in Weekly Young Jump, and was written and illustrated by Sui Ishida. Due to popularity, it spawned a sequel series, 2 spin-off manga, and two anime adaptations.
As is now tradition, let’s start with the artstyle. In moments of casual conversation, the characters will often go wildly off model, and it looks rather ugly. However, in moments of intensity, Ishida uses the abstract nature of the designs to his advantage, and draws some truly visceral scenes. The designs for the kagune are very “colorful” and “shiny” despite their lack of any literal color. Also: there are some unique hair flairs and details which I don’t see often. The cover art is beyond beautiful, and by far my favorite part of the style. The character designs are very slick and refined, giving off a look of speed. Some stuff could be considered “edgy,” but I never saw it that way.
Speaking of style,Tokyo Ghoul is freakin’ cool. It’s hard to explain, but the best way I can put it is like this: An underground war between ghouls, beings almost identical to humans in their personalities, but have incredible abilities and a lust for human flesh, and the CCG, a human organization created to stop them, has broken out. Our protagonist is the physical bridge between the two worlds. Mental breakdowns ensue.
Ah yes, mental breakdowns. Tokyo Ghoul has a lot of those. Kaneki, our MC, starts out very averse to the ghoul tendencies forced upon him. The next 143 chapters are a back and forth with the other half of himself, dragging him deeper into being a ghoul. He constantly falls into, and climbs back out of the depths, and it leads to an extremely interesting character arc.
On the character side, Ghoul goes for the old strategy of “quantity over quality” and I think it succeeds valiantly. While the vast majority of characters are only defined by 2 or 3 quirks, their designs and abilities are unique enough to remain memorable. Often times, the quirks themselves are humorous (or just plain badass) enough to make them stand out.
I’ll go through the characters I personally find the most interesting, though. First is Touka. A rather calm girl, who wants to live in harmony with humans. She is quite powerful, and can get extremely protective of what she cares about, but is generally reserved and contemplative. She spends a lot of time with Kaneki, and I can’t say I’m not saddened that their relationship didn’t go to the next few levels, as they had great chemistry. Amon is a CCG member with a strong sense of justice and morality. He loses somebody close to him while fighting a ghoul early on in the series, and it completely shapes his arc. It bites him in the ass the entire series that he couldn’t save his friend, culminating in a rather sweet romance and a heartwarming realization. Hinami is a little girl who has a rather tragic past. She trusts Kaneki with her life, and has a close, sibling-esque, relationship with him. Juuzou is a completely emotionally broken character, and my second favorite in the series. His slow revealing of more and more humanity was cathartic to watch unfold. Lastly, Tsukiyama is Tsukiyama.
Perhaps just as interesting as the protagonist is the moral struggle the series creates, because since we see not just the side of the CCG and the ghouls, but also the side of someone trapped in between, the moral lines become totally grey. I wouldn’t really say there is a villain of Ghoul. Sure, there is an antagonist, but no villain. An antagonist doesn’t have to be necessarily evil, in fact, it’s preferable if they aren’t.
The dialogue in Tokyo Ghoul comes off as natural and loose. It’s clear that being relaxed and showing the characters in normal, fun situations was a big priority for Ishida, which makes it even more poignant when they lose their minds and their words start to sound like babble and nonsense.
The plot of Tokyo Ghoul is filled with twists, and many connections and lines to keep up with. It gets cluttered and confusing when there are 30 characters that we need to remember everything about and we haven’t seen them in 10 volumes, but if you don’t have a problem with keeping up and remembering names, then Ghoul’s plot will be a blast. There are little threads always being left open to keep the reader guessing, and extremely detailed explanations of the systems behind ghoul biology and the weapons that the CCG use.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot is left open for the sequel series. Especially in the final 10 chapters, in which Ishida seemingly intentionally tries to throw in as many new twists and surprises at the reader as possible. Some work great, some are less effective. A large amount of the narrative takes place in and revolves around the past, each major character gets their own lengthy flashback that explains their motives and such. The history of the ghoul world is a large one, and this first series feels like it’s just hitting the tip of the iceberg… but that little piece is still a huge wave of information.
The pacing of Tokyo Kuushu is a bit uneven. In the early portions, it goes rather slow, easing the reader into the world and characters. Around chapter 40, the pace snorts 80 grams of cocaine, and starts rapidly dashing around. Then, starting from around chapter 82, much more of the series starts to focus on the CCG and more SoL-esque scenes, which is a huge slowdown of pace. It’s by no means bad content, just jarring. In fact, it is quite the opposite of bad content. The slice of life scenes in the second half are used to great effect in humanizing the characters, and bringing them back to their core, along with reminding the audience that, in the end of the day, they’re just like any of us.
This all spirals back to the overall ethos of the series: We’re all the same underneath any superficial labels. We’ve all had our troubles and experiences, and that’s what makes us unique. But, in the end, we can all relate to each other, as people.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t address other issues, of course: The moral implications of eating people, the chaos and warped view of society, how to look swag as fuck when standing on top of a building, etc.
On one final note, the fight scenes are incredible, due to the visceral movements combined with the gravitas and weight of the narrative. Before I give my verdict, I’d like to go over a few MAJOR SPOILER events in the second half. So… SPOILER WARNING!
The torture and eventual breaking of Kaneki during the Aogiri arc is, far and away, my favorite part of the series. The flaws of being helpful is something that is rarely addressed in any work of art, and Kaneki’s transformation felt so crushing but so inevitable at the same time. The fight was the most badass thing I’ve ever seen, yet it was also somber and terrifying. I don’t think I’ve felt that way ever before. It made a lot of other arcs worse in comparison, like the Gourmet arc. The only thing that really comes close is the ending.
To counteract that, I probably need to bring up something I didn’t like… THE FUCKING SEQUEL BAIT! I SWEAR, IF RE DOESN’T DELIVER, IM GOING TO BREAK SOMETHING! HYPERVENTILATES LOUDLY! Super Saiyan hair goes back to normal. Sorry ‘bout that… END OF SPOILERS
+ Beautiful stills and abstract looking fights
+ Slice of Life moments create levity
+ Complexly woven narrative
+ Solid cast
+ Incredible MC
+ Very fun to read
+ Intense final arc
+ Soothing character and weapon designs
+ Just… really badass
+ Morality rarely gets this grey
- Art can get pretty bad
- Confusing, and a lot to keep up with at times
- SEQUEL BAIT!
- Gourmet arc is a little weak in comparison
- Too many random CCG guys
If it isn’t painfully obvious by now, I thought Tokyo Ghoul was a wild ride. It has a few pretty major flaws, but those don’t bother me that much. It doesn’t reach for the stars high enough to be a 9 or a 10, but it totally deserves the score of a rock solid 8.5/10.