Tokyo Ghoul – Series Review


What is presumably the first season of Tokyo Ghoul ended this past week. In only 12 episodes, the anime covered roughly 66 chapters worth of material from Sui Ishida’s action-horror manga. If it isn’t apparent, that’s a lot of story and characterization to cover within what’s practically only about four total hours worth of animation.

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It’s best to not go into Tokyo Ghoul with any expectations because the erratic pace and non-ending will likely only leave you disappointed. Other than one or two exceptions, the show overall is absolutely terrible at cliffhangers as most of an episode’s tension is resolved by each episode’s end. This would generally be a drawback because there isn’t really much that would cause a viewer to tune in from week to week. However, since this show is available for streaming in its entirety, that’s a moot point.

The show also isn’t very good at balancing multiple storylines. It will focus at length on one narrative string and then jump immediately to the next; there’s little simultaneous progress for its subplots. While plot seeds are planted early on for events that will happen later on, they aren’t developed fully, making the story feel rushed. For example, in the second half of the series, about a dozen new characters are introduced within minutes of each other, but only a select few are given any sort of personality before the season ends.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like in Tokyo Ghoul. On the contrary, the story does a lot of things right, even with the restricted time allotted to it.

There are some notable character developments that make the proceedings intriguing. For example, introduced early on is the ghoul, Nishio. He’s easy to hate in the first few episodes, what with his arrogant and violent attitude, but later episodes introduce his lover, Kimi. She’s human and she knows Nishio is a ghoul.

What’s significant is that she doesn’t care that he’s a ghoul. Their relationship works because they understand each other and it’s in that love that Nishio finds redemption. This relationship is exemplary in how it informs the rest of the narrative. It adds a nice layer of ambiguity to the concept of good and bad.

On the opposite side of the coin are the CCG agents, ghoul hunters who humanity view as the “good guys.” The first scene of the show introduces one of the most formidable ghoul foes named Jason, who the CCG is hunting because of the long string of deaths he’s left in his wake and the absolutely brutal torture he inflicts upon his victims. A later episode explains that Jason got his torture techniques from the CCG itself while he was being tortured in horrific ways for a long time.

This revelation doesn’t make him any more likable or any less of a villain, but it’s important because it helps establish the idea that ghouls aren’t inherently evil and humans aren’t inherently good. CCG agents, like the eccentric Mado, are shown to be just as bloodthirsty and hateful as ghouls. Members of each side of the conflict kill with extreme prejudice.

Characters you root against can quickly become ones you root for. Enemies can become allies, which also means the potential for the opposite is true, and that type of internal conflict is always a great creative well to tap from.

The concept of a never-ending cycle of revenge forms the basis for the human-ghoul dynamic. Both sides feel fear, loneliness, grief and pain due to the actions of the other and this just fuels their hatred. Humans and ghouls are more alike than they know and that sentiment is one the main character, the half-ghoul/half-human student, Kaneki, tries temporarily to relay to both sides in hopes of ending the fighting.

I say “temporarily” because before Kaneki has the chance to make any real progress in that regard he’s abducted by a ghoul organization and subjected to a drawn out torture session at the hands of Jason. This launches the show into its final plotline; a rescue arc that brings multiple forces against each other. There’s little memorable narrative development in these last few episodes as story gives way to action.

Unfortunately, this means nothing is resolved by the end, but at least the action scenes are fantastic! The show as a whole looks stunning with vibrant colors contrasting the dark nature of the story. Special kudos to the animators who created the opening animation sequence as it works perfectly in tandem with the quiet, yet intense theme song.

Interestingly, the manga also just ended its serialization in Japan, clocking in at 143 chapters, so there’s more than enough source material to animate another season. Whether or not that happens at this point remains to be seen, though that’s probably just a matter of time. All of this is important to note because, due to the relatively compressed nature of the show compared to the graphic novel series, Tokyo Ghoul’s first animated adaptation leaves a whole lot to be desired. Since this season most certainly cannot stand on its own, a second season is a necessity.

If you’re so inclined, you can catch the entire Tokyo Ghoul series for free on Funimation and Hulu.