Here comes the main plot of Tokyo Ghoul, have you ready for it?? Young Kaneki Ken is at his favorite coffee shop when he spots an attractive young woman. He approaches her and the two hit it off. Little does he know she’s a flesh-eating ghoul who can only survive by killing and eating humans. Kaneki soon finds himself cornered by the ghoul, but is saved when some building materials fall on the two of them from above. He wakes up to find that he has received an organ transplant from his twice-deceased date, and now hungers for human flesh.
It’s not all that rare to have a story about people dealing with losing their humanity. Shiki was a good example of this, as was Hellsing, though to much lesser extent. However, for a concept such as this to work, the character facing this problem has to be interesting or original, relatable or ultimately well-developed. That’s where both Tokyo Ghoul and its second season, Tokyo Ghoul √A, unfortunately fall flat.
Make no mistake, there were a lot of things on Tokyo Ghoul worth to talk. The fights were smart, not just a bunch of yelling and trading blows. A lot of the supporting characters were interesting on some level, and a fair number got some marvelous character development. Many of the more melodramatic scenes managed to have a great amount of emotional impact.
Those factors and a few others, such as the excellent soundtrack and the fantastic season finales, make me very disappointed with how bland Kaneki turned out to be. With that said, the first season finale has one of my favorite instances of character development ever, and it happens to be the only decent development Kaneki gets.
For the first few episodes, I had assumed that this was going to be a sort of Neon Genesis Evangelion sort of situation: A whiny, cowardly youth is forced into a situation, and gradually adjusts to it, changes over the course of the series, and ends being much more multifaceted and interesting by the end. A type of coming of age story, as it were. Tokyo Ghoul misses the last step with its main character.
Kaneki kicks off the series as a grating nuisance of a lead, and ends it as a dull shounen-esque stereotype, painfully familiar to anyone who’s seen any mediocre shounen series. The difference here is that in your average shounen, the incredibly mediocre lead matches the quality of the show; here, Kaneki is a conspicuously sub-par main character in an otherwise well above-average show.
That aside, I was rather impressed with the soundtrack, and still more impressed that it was done by Yamada Yutaka, a very young and largely unknown composer. I look forward to more soundtracks by him as, although this isn’t Kanno Yoko/Kajiura Yuki/Hisaishi Joe quality, this is an extremely promising start to his career. What really sets Tokyo Ghoul apart in the music department is that the soundtrack isn’t just good, it’s also expertly well used and never fails to perfectly match the scene.
As a side note, the animation is fairly excellent if a bit bland (be the quality as it may, the art-style of modern anime has become largely standardized), and the ending theme has a very nice touch in that it has different art for each episode and always looks great.
A rather disturbing issue with first season was some fairly horrendous censorship, though this can be avoided by watching the series on DVD/Blu-ray rather than streaming it. Most injuries were blotted out with a simple black spot, while especially large wounds were covered with an incredibly distracting white stripe across the entire screen. Instances of screen-covering violence would incur a temporary switch into negative color.
I simply cannot fathom why Japan has such an obsession with censoring media, but whatever the reason may be, it is very off-putting and was for me a great nuisance. With that said, better the first season than the second I suppose, as √A was vastly superior.
In spite of the bland main character and the awful censorship, I enjoyed Tokyo Ghoul quite a bit. It had a suitable amount of emotional impact, a great soundtrack, colorful and well developed side characters, and an interesting premise. The first season was largely unremarkable if satisfactory, but certainly had its moments, and the second season was radically better. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who has the time and can ignore a bit of censorship.