Max Reviews Tokyo Ghoul

 Show: Tokyo Ghoul (Season 1)

Manga Creator: Sui Ishida
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror
Studio: Pierrot
Director: Shuhei Morita

First Showing: July 3, 2014

Episodes: 12

                Yeah, so, if you’ve noticed, most of my past reviews have been of relatively obscure or less popular anime. This time, I thought I’d review Tokyo Ghoul for several reasons. One, is because most of the club has already seen it (besides it being popular, we just watched it…), and I know it’s much more interesting to read a review for an anime you’ve seen already. And two, I truly thought it was a really interesting show with a lot of meaning behind it, which just goes to show, you don’t need to look to the most obscure, off the wall, “hipster” shows to experience a deep, meaningful, and well thought-out anime. My disclaimer is that I’ve only just seen season 1 of Tokyo Ghoul, so I’ll be writing this review with no knowledge of the events of Season 2.


                Right, so Tokyo Ghoul takes place in a world in which creatures called ghouls coexist alongside humans. Ghouls can only obtain their sustenance from human flesh and are inevitably drawn to it as humans are to a tasty meal. Of course, this is a cause for strife among both humans and ghouls because in obtaining their food, ghouls are labeled as criminals and murderers. The story revolves around a human named Ken Kaneki, a shy college student who has a crush on a woman named Rize. In the first episode, Kaneki lands a date with Rize who, when they are alone, reveals herself as a ghoul and attempts to eat him. Suddenly, the building they are standing by partly collapses, seriously injuring Kaneki and killing Rize. In the hospital, Kaneki undergoes surgery in which he is given organ transplants from Rize (I believe that the doctors are unaware that she is a ghoul) resulting in him becoming part ghoul. This sets off a chain of events that define the plot of the show as Kaneki searches for his true identity as a human-ghoul “monster”, learns about the interactions between ghouls and humans, and discovers the mysterious past surrounding Rize and other prominent ghouls of the city.


There are two things in Tokyo Ghoul that really stood out to me and I think truly define the feeling of the show. The first is somewhat subtle: it is the idea that ghouls are somewhat of a symbol for social injustice and inequality, and embody the misfortune, cruelty, and misunderstanding that is targeted at those who deviate from a perceived norm or who exhibit behaviors that are unaccepted by society. In the real world, some prominent examples would be the treatment of individuals expressing different sexual and gender orientations, having radical opinions, belonging to minority groups, and even simply taking interest in media and books that are perceived by others negatively. Tokyo Ghoul is brimming with support of this idea. One prominent example concerns the lifestyle and behavior of ghouls: not only do ghouls look exactly like normal human beings, but they hold the same values and are capable of the same emotions as humans; most people would agree that ghouls can truly be seen as humans themselves, simply altered in some way. Another big point are the parallels drawn between the views humans hold of ghouls and ghouls hold of humans. The show conveys that the majority of either side views the other with contempt and having a lack of understanding, so much that violence towards one another becomes a regular part of their lives. Each front justifies their actions through one-sided arguments, with humans claiming that ghouls are murderers and animals and a threat to society but ghouls claiming they are saving themselves and labeling humans as cruel. This reflects the violence and bitterness expressed between different social groups in the real world. The conflicts in Israel are perfect examples, with both sides being motivated against each other through their own ideas of justice, resulting in intense violence and strife. Not only do many ghouls not accept humans, but some ghouls have trouble accept themselves, with Kaneki being the prominent example. Even after being integrated into Anteiku—the organization of peaceful Ghouls within the 20th ward who strive to prevent killing humans and rely on the flesh of dead bodies instead—and accepted by his fellow ghoul accomplices, Kaneki is unwilling to accept his own body and despises his urges to consume human flesh. This applies to the real world by demonstrating society’s tendency to categorize and label individuals based on their thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. In reality, most traits concerning humans (i.e. gender identity, personality, likes and dislikes, sexual orientation, and even ethnicity) are better considered as a continuum with infinitely possible combinations, rather than a set of predefined categories (like “communist” or “right-wing”, or racial groups on a questionnaire, or even “ghoul” and “human”) which tends to polarize people, intensify differences, and leave those in the middle, like Kaneki, stranded and alone. Evidence of this phenomenon can be seen in the treatment of sexual orientation: as we’ve discussed in my class on human sexuality and culture, while homosexual individuals are slowly continuing to gain influence and understanding across the nation, individuals who identify as bisexual or refuse to place themselves in the categories of “gay” or “straight” have not made as much progress, perhaps due to it being easier to accept people if they can be easily sorted into neat categories, which can be seen in Tokyo ghoul by how most people call Kaneki a “one-eyed ghoul”, as if he is merely a ghoul with a bit of human in him, rather than being a different being altogether.

The other aspect of the show that I (and probably many other people) found significant was it’s interesting and excessive use of gore and body imagery. Now I know, if you watched Tokyo Ghoul for the first time in Gator Anime (like me), you we’re probably pretty annoyed at the extent of censorship in the show. However, I find that this merely suggests how famous this aspect of the show truly is and how powerful it is in defining the show itself. I like to contrast Tokyo Ghoul’s use of “blood imagery” to other anime: many shows I can think of tend to use blood to dramatize or make a fight scene seem realistic or exclude blood and/or injury almost entirely (like children’s shows, obviously). Tokyo Ghoul uses this imagery not just to convey that someone is injured, however, but to suggest ideas and evoke feelings that are horrifying, painful, sensual, psychological, and sometimes downright disgusting.

Watch from 13:55 – 15:30

This is a scene from Bleach. You can see how the artists use blood to dramatize the battle and add to the seriousness of the fight scene

Watch from 0:00 – 1:20

This is a scene from Tokyo Ghoul (episode 1) When Rize tricks Kaneki. You can see how the artists use blood to intensify Rize’s personality and pair it with her horrific behavior

To elaborate on this a bit more, I’d like to compare Tokyo Ghoul’s visual style and subjects to a neat video game I’ve played called “.flow” (although I guess this probably applies to horror video games in general, really). Besides the main characters looking alike and the similar color schemes, there are a lot of identical uses of imagery to convey comparable ideas in both mediums. .flow has simple exploratory gameplay and a lack of storyline or dialogue. This, coupled with its extensive use of gory imagery, work to convey complex and ambiguous ideas suggesting immorality, hatred, disgust, lost innocence, and immense suffering. As the player progresses through the game, they begin to question the sanity of their situation and their world, similar to the trauma Kaneki faces when being forced into the world of ghouls. In .flow, you ultimately have to make a decision to permanently change your identity, similar to how in episode 12, Kaneki faces himself and his inner psychological conflicts to make a decision that will permanently change his own identity. Yet one large difference I find between .flow and Tokyo Ghoul’s uses of gory imagery is how the latter uses it to suggest passion, life, and realism. This ties back to the earlier theme of Ghoul’s being a marginalized and discriminated populace, but acting wrongly by striking back with violence. Symbols of bloodshed and human flesh suit ghouls as being full of life and rage, seeking reprise and vengeance from the unfairness of their lives. This is evidenced by each ghoul possessing a “Kagune”, a spirit-like entity that manifests a ghoul’s emotions and desire to live, which they use to their advantage in battle. This is partly why I (and probably many other people) cheer on the ghouls: because they are passionate, badass, and have a reason to fight. They have a strong will and some of them (like Kaneki) possess a powerful sense of justice, all of this emphasized by their close connection to human flesh and the body. In .flow, there is more of a lean towards destruction, death, and decay. The main character’s name, Sabitsuki, literally translates to “rusting” and as the game progresses, it seems as if the world is breaking down or falling apart, rather than heating up to a point of climax, as in Tokyo Ghoul.

Fanart of Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul and Sabitsuki from .flow. It’s interesting how fans interpret both unrelated mediums with similar visual styles, as seen by similarities in color schemes and stylizations of the characters. The ideas expressed in each medium overlap in many ways as well. However, slight differences in texture and shading might exemplify the differences in feeling between the two (passion and pent anger vs. apathy and decay)


Although Tokyo Ghoul’s characters and themes of betrayal, friendship, love, and understanding (to name a few) are similar or analogous to many other anime and media, I admire the uniqueness of it’s approach by incorporating the idea of ghouls into its storyline—to reconcile the needs of humans and ghouls (who eat humans) would seem impossible and futile; and yet, I would argue that much of the intrigue and beauty of the show lies in just this struggle. To go even further, the creator emphasizes, rather than downplays, the ghouls’ monstrosity and gory habits, perhaps to represent the passion and willpower behind most ghouls’ actions and feelings. What I find truly interesting is how popular this show has become across the world. For example, if I were to tell some of my friends I was watching a show in which the good guys were human-like monsters that eat other people, I might get some strange looks. And yet, Tokyo Ghoul’s popularity cannot be denied: although humanity still has a long way to go, we have come so far towards accepting and understanding other cultures, values, and humans which differ from our own expectations and treating that which we find “ugly” or perhaps unpleasant with respect, tolerance, and renewed interest.