The author seems keen to explore the psychological impacts of the situation, whilst balancing it with a good smattering of action and gore.
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This month we review Tokyo Ghoul, the hit manga that recently received an anime adaptation. We’ve seen the hype, but is the manga very good?
Ghouls live among us, the same as normal people in every way… except their craving for human flesh.
Shy Ken Kaneki is thrilled to go on a date with the beautiful Rize. But it turns out that she’s only interested in his body… eating it, that is. When a morally questionable rescue transforms him into the first half-human half-Ghoul hybrid, Ken is drawn into the dark and violent world of Ghouls, which exists alongside our own.
The basic plot for Tokyo Ghoul may not be the most original, but it’s one that paves the path for a character-driven story that, as evidenced from this first volume, doesn’t shy away from disgusting details.
We’re introduced to Kaneki Ken, the dull but relatable college student main character and his lively best friend, Hide. Through the introduction of these characters we also receive an in-context exposition dump that teaches us about the most important element of the story: the Ghouls. Ghouls look like humans, but feed on human flesh and possess amazing strength. Within a couple of pages, the manga touches on the issue of not knowing who may be a Ghoul, with a bit of foreshadowing when Hide jokes that maybe Kaneki is a ghoul (he isn’t, yet).
Whilst Kaneki himself seems rather plain a hero, this helps balance the events that later occur to him, and contrasts with the grimness of his fate.
The character’s personalities are quickly established, and while they appear by the numbers, there’s enough there to make us start caring just a little bit for the characters. Which is good, considering what happens a little over halfway through the first chapter. Kaneki is attacked by the girl he has a crush on. Turns out she’s a ghoul. As if the date couldn’t get any worse, the girl nearly kills Kaneki, until she gets squashed by some convenient metal beams.
When Kaneki awakes, he is in hospital. He’s had life-saving surgery, but in order to save him the doctors used the organs of the Ghoul girl, thus starting his life as half Ghoul, half human. Kaneki must now learn how to survive in both worlds, and try to keep his sanity in the meantime.
While some stories might use such a concept to create a totally badass hero who has the best of both worlds, here the story is set to be a much more psychological affair. Kaneki finds he cannot stomach human food, and soon learns that a delicious smell he catches a whiff of while walking is a human corpse. The internal struggle between hunger and morality are grittily captured, with Kaneki drooling, crying and pulling anguished faces. This is not a manga where everyone is attractive and everything is clean and pretty. This is a manga that strives to disgust for the sake of realism and occasionally make its heroes as ugly as possible in order to fully portray their emotions.
There is also no shortage of gore, with the first chapter alone including characters getting stabbed, bitten and squashed. This continues in further chapters where people’s heads are cut in half and kicked off, limbs ripped off and flesh eaten. While it’s mostly blood moreso than anything else, it can be rather intense and may not be for the weak hearted.
For those who can deal with it, you’ll find a manga full of some good action scenes. The fight scenes are interesting and flow quite well, the and Ghouls special power, the Kagune, are inventive and quite a sight to see.
We also get to see some tough female characters in Rize and Touka. Rize is the Ghoul Kaneki had the bad luck of developing a crush on and her psychopathic nature and split personality are fun to read. Touka is the blunt waitress at Kaneki’s favourite cafe, and she’s revealed to be a talented fighter who has no restraints about shoving human flesh down Kaneki’s mouth!
The internal struggle between hunger and morality are grittily captured…
The art is rough at times, and the over-the-top gruesomeness of some of the emotional scenes may turn people off. However, there’s a lot of potential, and the artist shows talent in balancing humour and seriousness. Take for example, the extra comic at the end of the volume, that tells the story of the short lived Ghoul that Kaneki stumbles upon, or the natural banter of Kaneki and Hide at the start of the story. And for those who like their manga full of raw emotions and unrestrained character expressions, this manga is sure to please as there are some truly gruesome faces pulled in this manga, and a lot of anguish.
The art can also be very pretty, with the cover showing a real talent in colour choices and style. The designs, too, are well done, with the characters all looking very individual. Further, there are different types of bodies and facial types at play and the artist isn’t scared of drawing ugly, old or peculiar looking people.
Whilst the story overall may seem mostly unoriginal, with scenes that are not dissimilar to that of Vampire stories where the monsters (here, the Ghouls) find substitutes for human flesh, as well the concept of the “Good Ghouls” and the “Bad Ghouls”, there seems to be a lot underneath the surface. The author seems keen to explore the psychological impacts of the situation, whilst balancing it with a good smattering of action and gore.
So far Tokyo Ghoul seems promising, and may provide a different take on the old “part monster part human” story. As Kaneki himself says, if one were to describe his life, it would be “a tragedy”. This story probably won’t reach a happy ending, but it’ll be an entertaining, emotional and bloody ride getting there.