Horror movies are amusing at times to watch. Sure, their intent is to strike fear into viewers but most times, they are so predictable and saturated with tropes that it almost seems like a cruel joke. Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t derive far from that. Despite being much longer than a typical horror movie, the series plays around with itself so much that it almost becomes a laughter stock. Don’t get me wrong though. The intriguing idea of supernatural creatures known as ‘ghouls’ living among human communities is quite well-built when it comes with premise. However, the show ultimately kills itself with its execution. Based off of the manga of the same name, I can say that they are almost like two different worlds.
The brainchild of Tokyo Ghoul is Sui Ishida as his first original work. Like the title implies, the series follows the idea of ghouls living among human population in Tokyo. They are regarded as savages and killers of injustice. News reports often sends the message that all ghouls must be eradicated in order for the world to be at peace. It becomes a near totalitarian-like state as the ghouls finds themselves at constant struggle for survival. If you don’t believe me, just ask Ken Kaneki. The young boy has a dark secret after one day as he comes face to face with the horror of reality.
Ask yourself first though: is Tokyo Ghoul a good adaptation of a horror story? At first, it does seem so with the premise. The first episode crafts the image well with the innocent Kaneki and his puppy crush on another woman named Rize. What comes next is a big surprise for him as his life spins out of control. This might be a surprise for him but is far too predictable for the viewers’ eyes to see. The beautiful girl with the mysterious aura, dark alley, and morbid news near Kaneki’s community should have all been hints that something terrible would happen to the boy soon. And exactly like that, Kaneki’s life is no longer human as he becomes part ghoul in Tokyo.
Despite being part ghoul, the show sends the message that Kaneki wishes to live as a human instead. His love for literature and struggle to contain his appetite are proof of this. Emphasizing on his human traits, Kaneki fights against his gluttonous desire to consume human flesh. No matter how great the temptation is, we see how determined the kid to retain his humanity. This conventional idea isn’t uncommon at all though. Other series such as Claymore and Shiki also have similar ideas. Unfortunately, Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t develop this idea all too well. For instance, can we really sympathize with Kaneki? While he is a good role model for others, some of his roles in this adaptation are questionable. Furthermore, we don’t really know much about the young boy such as his backstory. Taking a closer glance at his character, Kaneki is more like a plot device himself to steer the engine of the premise. In retrospect, Kaneki is an underdeveloped character with minimal characterization and lack of focus. The mask he wear is a motif to his character but the anime adaptation neglects its value.
Some focus are put together with the other characters throughout the show such as Toka Kirishima, a young girl and also a ghoul dubbed as “The Rabbit”. Other ghouls entering the story includes Nishiki NIshio, Hinami Fuegushi, Yoshimura, Gourmet, and among others. The funny thing about them is that despite being the ghouls, most of them are presented as protagonists while fighting for survival. It’s clear that society misunderstands them because of their gluttonous appetite for meat. Then, there’s also the Aogiri Tree that fits the profile that society that describes them as – brutal, violent, and craving to satisfy themselves. On the other hand, there’s the CCG, a Ghoul Investigation agency dedicated to battle against ghouls. I wouldn’t necessarily call them antagonists since their purpose is to secure the safety of the public. However, they do come head and head against Kaneki and the others. The consequence includes grief on both sides as they lose important people. It pinpoints the fact that lives are very fragile that can be taken away so easily whether you are a human or a ghoul.
A prominent character in CCG is Amon. Despite not being the main focus of the show, we find out about him more than almost any other character. These include his partnership with professional ghoul hunter Mado, his past, and how he became who he is today. Serving as a determined man, he has some similarities and differences with Kaneki. They both fight for what they believe in but with very different motivations. But taking for granted, Amon can be considered a breakout character compared to others. The sad part is that he is perhaps one of the only character that some of us can relate to. Others such as Touka just lacks any distinctive traits or characterization for us to get to know well. Oh and don’t bother asking about Rize. Despite her being the main reason of Kaneki’s change, the show neglects to focus on her as a character at all and only shows her influence through the show in ridiculous diehard ways.
Several consideration should also be considered as the show explores prejudice, morality, and identity. Apparently, the public shows fear of the ghouls so the show wastes no time to label them as pure monsters. But ask yourself this: should all ghouls be considered as monsters? This can be controversial as some ghouls truly are unredeemable while others such as Kaneki and Nishiki have human values. Then, there’s the identity issue with various characters. Kaneki struggles to battle this the hardest out of any other character as he adapts to his new life. He must hide his ghoul tendencies from his neighbors, teachers, and even his best friend Hide. While all this seems to strike keen interest, it just feels repetitive and quickly grows old. The show just tries far too had when attempting to get viewers to realize what Kaneki strives to be.
Now comes perhaps the worst part of the show: the adaptation of the story. The craftsmanship had the right source material but it didn’t know what to do with it. Studio Pierrot failed to deliver a faithful adaptation with both the characters and the story. There’s little development with any of the characters and fails to achieve adequate accuracy with the main story. The main story cuts off important parts that were hugely influential to certain outcomes. It lacks credible built-up, has a poor execution, and is ultimately beyond salvage at a certain point. For the characters, most of them suffer from development and characterization. While we can feel sympathetic at times, it’s hard to relate to them at all. Most of them aren’t good role models besides Kaneki. Furthermore, the relationship he builds with others is vaguely expressed. Touka often gets into arguments with Kaneki while Nishiki picks on him as a weakling. Hinami’s relationship with Kaneki has some innocence to it but really lacks compatibility. There’s also a sense of hate between some ghouls but most of this is degenerated to weak expression because of its pacing. In retrospect, this adaptation lies in the ruins.
Despite all this, Tokyo Ghoul is a horror fest when it comes to action. The artwork of the series is done well visually to capture the gruesome moments in the ghoul world. Speaking of which, the ghouls themselves are designed with monstrous traits such as their razor sharp teeth, scarlet eyes, and body structure. The ghoul’s predatory organ known as the Kagune is designed to look artistically endearing with blood-like muscles. Although the show doesn’t focus too much on the mechanics, it’s easy to tell that they are a race to be feared. Likewise, most of the other character designs are designed with accuracy. I say this because of their ability to blend in with human society despite being ghouls. Just take a good look at Nishiki. The background and dark chilling atmosphere also has noir-like feeling to provoke power. Overall action coordination remains top notch with cinematic battles scenes from start to finish. I just hope the BDs will remove the horrid censorship from the TV series.
On the soundtrack front, the show’s delivery is effective. It shows enough ways to get most of the job done. In fact, the very first minutes of the series wastes little time with its high volume of violence. The haunting tones strikes fear with both wish-fulfillment brutality and chaos. Voice expressions too crafts the imagery of our characters’ struggles. I also give credit to Kana Hanazawa who is able to play the character Rize. She was able to convey the character as a graceful beauty until her true visage is revealed. Others such as Toka and Gourmet have distinctive ways of speaking similar to those of a tomboy and aristocrat respectfully. Finally, the OP and ED songs are beautiful and well decorated.
To say the least, Tokyo Ghoul is an adaptation gone wrong when it comes to story and characters. The way it is adapted is a degeneration of its original source. But if you’re coming in as an anime original viewer, then this show might be something to take a keen interest on especially when it comes to the cinematic battles. The first episode will hook you in but the rest of them lacks that sort of development. Although there are some occasional comedy, the majority of the show takes itself seriously, perhaps sometimes for its own good. I wouldn’t call Tokyo Ghoul a hollow shell of what it should be though. Rather, it’s more of an adaptation that should have been handled differently. VERY differently.