Tokyo Ghoul (2015)

In ‘Tokyo Ghoul’, college student Ken Kaneki has a chance encounter with a demon–a ghoul, a creature that possess human bodies, capable of producing limbs of organic matter and energy from the host’s back, which it uses to fight. Left in critical condition, Kaneki is only saved by organ transplants. Unfortunately for innocent Kaneki the donor was the host for the ghoul who attacked him and he awakes with the same hunger for human flesh. The demon is now within him. Frightened by his urges he does his best to suppress them, but unable to tolerate regular food he faces starvation–until he is taken in by other ghouls; ghouls who are managing their hunger by feeding off the dead. Walking a difficult path between his old human life and his new ghoul life Kaneki has to contend with possible rejection or endangering of his best friend, navigate the politics of ghoul’s gang-like structure and the vendetta they have against the ghoul personality within him, and avoid the Ghoul Investigators–a government department intent on hunting down and killing ghouls. And Kaneki isn’t just a ghoul–he’s a hybrid, which puts him in danger of losing his grip on what’s left for him, and make him a tasty morsel for other ghouls…

I wasn’t sure about ‘Tokyo Ghoul’. It was an odd follow-up to ‘Black Butler’… Dark, violent, and to start with it seemed it was going to be difficult to get a sense of who, other than Kaneki, I should be rooting for. The ghouls eat people, so *bad*, and the gang leaders are pretty sadistic in their blood and flesh lust, while the Ghoul Investigators seemed cruel and uncompromising in their treatment of ghouls. Yet this is Kaneki’s very position. Being somewhat of an introspective loner, with only one good friend in his life, Kaneki is on his own caught between these two sides, which are both sides to fear. Sympathy for Kaneki is never far away–even when he does take his first bite.

Thankfully Kaneki is taken in by ghouls choosing to live off the dead rather than the living. One of those in his group, Touka, is unwelcoming of Kaneki and his neediness–these are ghouls, hunters who need to fend for themselves–but gradually, as the series progresses they come to rely on one another, and Touka takes him under her wing (literally) and she became someone I cared about and we get what the anime I’ve seen so far does best–create relationships among the leads that are complicated, uneasy, and stir the feels.

For the most part, the ghouls and Ghoul Investigators are black and white opponents, but shades of grey creep in as we get to know the ghouls who reject their life, and the investigators. The investigators pitched against a mother and child ghoul is pretty heart wrenching to watch as the care of a mother for her child sets the ghouls up as the innocent become prey to the merciless investigators. While the investigators themselves have had their own encounters with the sadistic ghouls and their motivations are then relateable–the show quickly becomes morally complicated when considering who is ‘right’. Thankfully there are some nasty b***ards on both sides to make it a little easier and this keeps you behind Kaneki as your reference point.

For all its darkness of tone its a show with splashes of vibrant colour, from the cool opening and closing art (and equally cool music), to the energy charged fights and the inevitable and often gratuitous splashes of blood. Despite the blood, very little gore actually makes it to the screen thanks to cut aways, cunning view points and surreal imagery, which leave the horror very much up to the imagination–and perversely that made it more graphic for me. Thankfully, there is fun too, from Kaneki’s awkwardness to the kind of goofy comedy you might expect from anime, and there is also sweetness through Kaneki’s naivete and the way he softens Touka and earns her care and respect.

Kaneki spends a lot of time being a victim and needing protection, but he comes into his own and commits to making what he can of the life he has and the demon within him. Which makes the final episode and his torturous ordeal harrowing to watch… I was pretty wiped out after watching what he goes through. Sheesh.

Thankfully there’s a second season because I would give this four healthy bites of human flesh out of five, and can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.

I’m finding my way around anime on Netflix, but any recommendations are appreciated!

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