Tokyo Ghoul (2014) Review: In Desperate Need of a Sequel
As one of a couple of “psychological” genre anime of the summer 2014 lineup, Tokyo Ghoul (2014) had a lot of us holding our breaths. It’s definitely in need of a sequel… because as it stands, the series is an incomplete piece of work that indulges in unnecessary gore with almost nothing going for it other than as a setup for another season.
Tokyo Ghoul takes place in a universe in which Tokyo is infested with beings known as ghouls, humanoid creatures with supernatural powers that feast exclusively on human meat. Our protagonist, Ken Kaneki, gets a date with Rize Kamishiro, an older woman he had been interested in for some time now, unaware that she is a binge eating ghoul that consumes humans for enjoyment rather than sustenance. After luring him into a dark alley at night, she reveals her secret and attempts to devour him, only for the two to be caught in an “accident” at a construction yard. In a hurry, the doctor reveals that Kaneki desperately needs an organ transplant, but the only available donor at hand was the dead ghoul, Rize. After the surgery, Kaneki discovers he is unable to consume normal human food and uncontrollably craves human flesh. During his first fit of insanity, he is discovered by Touka Kirishima, a fellow student at the same school who also happens to be a ghoul. She reintroduces him to a cafe he often frequents, unveiling that the employees are also all ghouls. Tokyo Ghoul covers the struggles of Kaneki as a half ghoul, half human mixed breed and the challenges he faces in keeping his identity a secret.
The premise of the story is not terrible. With proper development, it’s proven to be an enjoyable plot as the manga is fairly successful. The anime produces a similar success. If anything, Tokyo Ghoul does manage to shake viewers by constantly contrasting disaster with everyday peace. One minute, Kaneki and his friends will be laughing at Cafe Anteiku and in the next he’s being tortured, his arms and legs being ripped off.
This change of pace seems to be the one thing that works in the anime’s favor. Being a 13 episode series, there isn’t too much time, necessitating every minute be used to the fullest extent, and with a story like Tokyo Ghoul, this cramming synergizes naturally with the swinging atmosphere. It also serves to shock the viewers to keep them from realizing that a very key factor is missing.
Art, Animation, and Sound
The art is standard and the animation is up to par. There’s nothing distinctly positive or negative about either aspect. The style is appropriate for the series and reflects the nature of the story. The animation is decent; nothing looks sloppy and the actions are mostly fluid and smooth, but the quality isn’t up to the standards of more renown studios such as ufotable, KyoAni, and Bones. The only con is the absolutely unnecessary gore and blood. Gore and blood don’t bother me in particular, but when used in excess for no particular reason, it’s pointless and wearisome. Is it supposed to be the shock factor? There are plenty of ways to surprise an audience without scribbling red. Others propose it’s for realism; after all, if someone’s body is getting pierced hundreds of times with sharp objects, then blood must squirt out. That’s a preposterous reason, if only because it seems mandatory in the series for characters lying on the ground to see blood flowing ten meters away from a body. Some parts are disturbing enough to merit blanket censoring; Studio Pierrot often resorts to covering any excessively violent scenes with a blackness. If anything, the amount of gore seems to be an excuse to cut productions costs. In any case, though blood is definitely a strong tool in the horror/suspense drama, there are times in the anime when the use of blood seems unjustifiably extravagant.
The soundtrack for Tokyo Ghoul is appropriate. There are rarely any lasting, happy scenes in the series, and the OST reflects that accurately. Yutaka Yamada composed a more than decent album that has tracks that cover a wide variety of nonpositive emotions; there are specific tracks that convey suspense, anxiety, horror, fear, and everything in between. Being a type of anime that relies heavily on music to set the mood, Yutaka Yamada has risen to the occasion, especially considering that this is his first professional work on an anime. The decency in the sound department goes beyond simply the music. The cast of voice actors and actresses is simply remarkable, with many that some from influential and popular series. Kana Hanazawa, Mamoru Miyano, and Katsuyuki Konishi are some of the more recognizable, having been involved in works such as Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagann (2007) and Steins;Gate (2011). These prolific performers are relegated to side roles, but a very talented Natsuki Hanae performs the main role as Kaneki well.
So far, the sound, art, animation, and story have all received passing marks. What exactly brings Tokyo Ghoul as a “sales bin worthy” series?
If I had a choice, I would name each character, point out personality traits, and move on to the next section, because there is absolutely no meaningful character development that occurs in Tokyo Ghoul. There are certainly attempts, but they fail to impact the audience or are completely irrelevant and nonsensical. The entire arc concerning Hinami Fueguchi preeminently exemplifies this complete lack of care for character development. Hinami Fueguchi and her mother moved into Cafe Anteiku after a troublesome client shows up at her father’s clinic. At first, she’s quite distant from everyone at Anteiku but slowly warms up to Kaneki and Touka, viewing them as older siblings. One day, while Hinami and her mother were out shopping, they are discovered by “Doves”, investigators specializing in hunting down ghouls, and her mother sacrifices herself to save Hinami. Many things happen, and by the end, Hinami, parentless and alone except for her friends at Anteiku, decides to live in place of her parents. Everything would be absolutely fine and made a great story, but is entirely ruined by the fact that despite all her hardships and the strain on Kaneki and the rest of Anteiku, Hinami remains virtually the same person. The audience doesn’t learn more about her nor does she exhibit any kind of thoughts or actions that differentiate her from her previous self. Not that it would have mattered if she did somehow change. Unfortunately, poor Hinami is absolutely no significance for the rest of the season. She rarely gets screen time and may as well not exist having considering how much she enters her companions thoughts. Not having read the manga myself, the author’s true intentions for Hinami are unknown to me. However, it’s sloppy and wasteful for a studio to air an arc with a support character as the focus but completely ignore that character outside of the arc.
Some might argue that the arc did act as the catalyst for something, namely Kaneki’s goal of accepting his position as the only(?) half ghoul to bring both sides to an understanding. This is great. It’s a meaningful change to Kaneki’s character and also has the potential to drive the plot forward. But by the end, it’s irrelevant. Kaneki unable to act on his ambitions and his intentions of acting as a mediator between two hostile species. Worse yet, the idea isn’t even brought up again in a meaningful manner until the very end, and even this reference was indirect and off-topic. In the last episode, Kaneki is being tortured continuously and comes to the realization that the same could happen to his loved ones. When he discerns that the cause is his own weak, selfless nature, he rejects his past way of living and becomes sadistic and brutal, or so the show would like us to think.
The way the series ended almost explicitly unveils the making of a sequel, which has been confirmed for January of 2015. The complete lack of screentime for supporting characters, a vague ending, and the character dialogue all pointed a high likelihood of an upcoming season two, and the anime desperately needed one. Why should a underwhelming anime get a sequel? Because of the incompleteness of the characters and how the first season is the ultimate set up a stellar second season.
Let’s go back to Kaneki. I mentioned that this show needed a sequel, and he is the reason. The audience is left hanging. We don’t know how Kaneki has changed. Is his new personality permanent or a temporary lapse into an angry persona? How does he view the role of mediator now?Does he even think about it? How will he act in the future? We don’t know, and therefore, there’s no meaningful development. There’s a lot of potential, but with nothing to tap into it, Tokyo Ghoul is disappointing and a waste of time. But a second season would be able to answer those questions and more. A second season would complete the current bland state of the anime by fleshing out exactly what Kaneki does with the answer he’s struggled to find.
A season two could instigate a domino effect, with all characters linked to Kaneki being developed alongside him. Touka also seems to be unchanged, but after her companions revelation, will she continue to stay the same? The change from being timid and weak to bold and strong seems to big of a swap to ignore, and many other characters must respond. This first season could have been an extremely long prologue and nothing more. If that turns out to be the case, expect great things from Tokyo Ghoul‘s return. All this only applies, however, if the second season manages to answer all of these questions.
In the end, Tokyo Ghoul is a decently drawn anime that’s based on an interesting premise, but it’s execution was lacking; it’s a house with a foundation but no walls. With static characters that have unmoving personalities, it’s not worth a watch unless you enjoy excessive gore. But just as Clannad: Afterstory depends on the first season to set it up, there is the chance that the entire Tokyo Ghoul series could become a masterpiece. The first season could be the first step on the stairway to a masterpiece. However, until a second season is completed, Tokyo Ghoul is a disappointment and nothing more.
What do you think? Leave a comment.