In the last 2 years, there are two anime titles that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Even the most casual fan knows about Attack On Titan, but, just below that worldwide behemoth, is where you’ll find Tokyo Ghoul. Today we will cover the age old tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl go on a date, boy becomes ghoul.
Welcome to Tokyo
“Tragedy” begins with a long look at a dark Tokyo teeming with reports of a binging ghoul. We get our first glimpse of this ghoul, gorging on a pile of dead bodies like a dog who hasn’t eaten in days, in the form of a naked woman. She’s interrupted by what appears to be a man in a nice suit wearing a hockey mask. He explains he has “orders from the top” to take her alive, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take a few arms and legs off first. Our masked man lunges to attack, is easily dodged, and gets his pliers stolen as she escapes.
It Always Begins Small
The next day, we meet Kaneki and Hide. Kaneki is your straight-laced book worm, while Hide is the lovable rom-com sidekick. Hide is busy roasting Kaneki for wanting to take his date to a bookstore. After realizing he’s not getting any dates, Hide hits on their waitress, Toka. She takes her first chance to exit the conversation and Kaneki is embarrassed for all three of them.
Now that the comic relief is out of the way, Kaneki’s crush strides into the restaurant. Hide, being the best friend and confidence booster he is, tells his friend that she’s out of his league before leaving. Kaneki is about to dive into his book just before realizing his crush is reading the same book. They meet eyes with a smile from her. The bookstore date is set with Rize.
Rize and Kaneki hit it off. Of course, most of the talk centers around their favorite author, but there is an ease to their conversation. Nothing feels too forced, and they seem to be a good fit. The only thing that feels off to Kaneki is that Rize never touches her food. At the end of the date, Rize asks him to walk her home. She lives in the area the ghoul has been binging in. Kaneki agrees, dries her tear, and takes the chance to get to know each other better. Toka notices them as she passes by with another girl.
Kaneki rolls with the momentum and asks for another date. Rize confesses her interests while drawing closer for a hug and a kiss. He notices what looks like red spores emanating from Rize’s back. In the blink of an eye, the claw of a tentacle is at his eye and Rize has shown her true colors. Rize is our binging ghoul and she chomps a good piece of Kaneki’s shoulder. He makes a break for it but Rize snatches him easily with her tentacles and tosses him through a wall. Before he can get back to his feet and run, he’s already caught a tentacle in the abdomen. She’s taking her time and playing with her food. The horror and casual gore make you forget you were in romantic comedy trope land a scene ago. While Rize is having her fun, she fails to realize that support cables above her are snapping by an unseen source. The construction site above them rains down steel girders on Rize and everything fades to black.
That’s Not Pink Eye
Kaneki floats in his subconscious as the faint conversation of surgery can be heard. Kaneki seems to be floating deep in an endless pool with one light above the surface. Rize appears, covering his eyes from behind playfully. Just before he fades out again, we hear Dr Kano taking responsibility for an illegal transplant. Kaneki wakes up looking like death and sporting Rize’s left eye.
Days have passed. Kaneki’s eye is back to normal, but he isn’t eating or receiving visits from Hide. Dr. Kano pays a visit and grins when he hears of Kaneki still not eating. He assures Kaneki that it might just be psychological and discharges him. Kaneki returns home to find some food left by Hide.
Later, Ken is listening to the news while wondering about his condition. The expert talks about how one human body should be enough to feed a ghoul for 1 or 2 months. What gets Kaneki’s attention though, is when the expert explains how ghouls can’t eat regular food. Ghouls can only eat humans, everything else tastes “incredibly awful” to them.
In horror, Kaneki rushes to try the food Hide left for him. He tries a burger and ends up rushing to the toilet to vomit. Milk? Vomit. Soda? Vomit? He is about to give up when he remembers that Hide had left his favorite hamburger in the bag also. Kaneki cooks it up, takes a slow bite, and a lonely tear falls from his eye as it starts to come back up.
In The Air Tonight
Days later, Kaneki finally gets out of the house. Cloaked in a hoodie he heads to the bookstore for a signing. He still hasn’t talked to Hide, but Hide left him a message about his favorite author being there. Kaneki is too late and heads home. Kaneki stops in the middle of a busy crosswalk, smelling all of the people passing him. His thoughts start as identifying them as people and children but quickly descends into them being only flesh. He slobbers at the thought, biting his fingers before he rushes home. Kaneki is still in denial. He remembers that ghouls can’t be harmed by knives and quickly begins his final test. After the blade breaks, he treats himself to one more good cry.
Kaneki is back on the streets, shifting between his ghoulish appearance and thoughts, and his human side. Aimlessly wandering around, he catches the scent of a “familiar, sweet aroma” like his mother’s cooking. He picks up speed the closer he gets, knocking over everything in his path, until he finds the source. His smile fades as he realizes he smelled the corpse that a ghoul was feeding on.
Poor Kaneki collapse for another good cry when the ghoul hears him. The ghoul introduces himself and offers a piece of the body before his head is punted off by a younger, more powerful ghoul. This ghoul, Nishiki, has a zero tolerance policy for other ghouls in his feeding grounds. He cringes at Kaneki’s human eye before shrugging it off to finish choking Kaneki.
Toka drops down to dispute Nishiki. As she comes closer, she begins to what I will affectionately refer to as ghoul out. Rize may have stole the grounds from Nishiki, but it was Anteiku’s job to distribute the area and manage the 20th ward. Nishiki calls the Anteiku group of ghouls “fence-sitters” that are nitpicking. A quick clash ensues, leaving Nishiki cut up and fleeing.
Toka turns her attention to Kaneki, offering him a piece of the corpse. She notices the eye and quickly realizes he’s the same boy she saw with Rize. He almost takes it but catches himself, knocking it from her hand. If he eats, he’s no longer human. Toka tells him she’ll help while cutting a piece of the corpse. She ghouls out as she shoves it in his mouth running at full speed. The last sound heard is him gulping it down.
Tokyo Ghoul S1E1
The pace at which Tokyo Ghoul starts on is a definite plus. Years of watching animes gave birth to my 5-episode rule. Most shows have a slow burn and then ramp up. Much like the aforementioned Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul jumps into the deep end at the halfway mark of the first episode. There was no wasted motion as each character was given a chance to leave a mark and then get out of Kaneki’s way. The fights in this episode may have been the one aspect to suffer, but it can be forgiven with the amount of information that was given.
The shift in tone was handled masterfully. Often in shows like this, it can feel like the hard right turn switching from fun and serious, but the slide into horror was as easy as sliding into silk sheets. I can be hard on shows for the light-hearted comedy it tries to pull off, but thanks again to the pacing, this bit didn’t overstay it’s welcome or feel needless.
Looking ahead, there are many questions and plot points hanging in the air. What exactly is Anteiku? How much of a ghoul is Kaneki? What was the deal with ole buddy with the hockey mask in the beginning? I look forward to seeing how this all plays out. The animation and voice acting are top notch, so I expect no less from the writing.