Directed by Shuhei Morita
Animated by Studio Pierrot
Suitable for 17+
It’s not unusual to see the line, “based on a story by…” in a film nowadays, and this is often doubly true for anime and manga. Compounding this, many anime are created when the manga is still being written. Tokyo Ghoul as a series doesn’t escape this fate. The first season followed along with the manga for the most part. The second season, Tokyo Ghoul: √a, departed vastly from the written version, since it hadn’t been published that far out yet. This has caused a distinctive rift to form between Season One and Season Two of Tokyo Ghoul.
For now though, let’s take a look at something that stays fairly constant in Tokyo Ghoul, the visuals. It is animated by the legendary Studio Pierrot, the same company that brought the world Naruto, Bleach, Yuu Yuu Hakusho, and many others. The character designs for this series, like many of Studio Pierrot’s others, is widely varied. With such a large cast of characters, it’s important to make sure that you’ll be able to tell them apart, and that each one will capture your interest visually in their own way. The most memorable is main character Kaneki, of course, with his contrasting colored hair, mismatched eye colors, and his eerie signature mask.
Tokyo Ghoul is incredibly violent and gory at times, so censorship does play a factor in the visuals of the show. Standard forms like giant slivers of light and darkened areas of the screen come into play. It’s important to make note of this because it does detract from certain parts of the series, like most censorship does. It’s always annoying to watch a particularly epic fight scene, and then suddenly get yanked out of the moment by 90% of the screen obscured by light. Thankfully it isn’t something that factors into every episode, so it is possible to forgive it when all of Tokyo Ghoul is taken into account.
On to the plot of Tokyo Ghoul. Considering its popularity, it’s not outrageous to say that if you’re reading this review, you probably already know the basic story. For those who might not, Tokyo Ghoul is about an alternate reality dystopian Tokyo. Creatures called ghouls stalk the streets. They look completely normal, but feed on human flesh. The main character Kaneki is attacked by one of these ghouls, and by a strange twist of fate becomes the first of his kind as a half human, half ghoul hybrid.
Season One of Tokyo Ghoul focuses on Kaneki coming to terms with being a ghoul, and fully discovering his powers. It’s only at the very tail end of the season that we see his ghoul side fully realized. It’s a brutal path he takes, but one that’s necessary nonetheless. Season Two then becomes entirely about the war between humans and ghouls. The CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul), the organization charged with controlling and exterminating the ghouls, begins taking far more drastic measures to eradicate the ghoul population. They ruthlessly target the most powerful ghoul, the One-Eyed Owl, and the ghoulish residents of the 20th ward. Tired of being wantonly slaughtered, the besieged ghouls eventually fight back. There is also an internal struggle between the group at Anteiku (the coffee shop Kaneki worked at), and Aogiri Tree (the terrorist organization Kaneki joins).
Season One of Tokyo Ghoul has the perfect amount of action. There are a lot of characters, they’re all fully realized, and their stories are well told. Every story arc leads into the next masterfully, and you feel satisfied with how they end. A sense of empathy grows for the ghouls in Season One, as well as for Kaneki as he goes through his gruesome journey to realizing his full power. The massive cliffhanger in Season One is directly picked up in Season Two. If you’re streaming the series, it’s incredibly easy to hardly notice the shift into Season Two at first. It takes a while for the change to become apparent. Season Two, Tokyo Ghoul: √a, has a distinctly different feel. A big factor in this is Kaneki. He goes from being a fairly emotive character to almost completely emotionless. It makes sense for him to be null and neutral after the torture he has survived, but only to a point. His character is so pivotal to all of the story in Tokyo Ghoul, and yet he hardly reacts to any of it at all.
Another dead giveaway to Season Two is the amount of side characters. There are so many more named characters that it becomes incredibly difficult to tell who is who. Back stories are thrown about at a rate that makes keeping track of them almost impossible. Most of those told are super brief, making the whole experience of Tokyo Ghoul: √a an unsatisfactory jumble of confusion. Two great examples of back stories not being told well are two waiters at Anteiku. We see them throughout the show from time to time, but suddenly toward the very end of Season Two they come into the foreground as hyper powerful characters. Kaya Irimi and Koma Enji are revealed to be the leaders of two previously prominent ghoul gangs. Two gangs that used to fight each other endlessly. There are CCG members who recognize the two as the previous leaders of their gangs, showing that there is clearly more history here than we’re allowed to know. Another story reveals that Amon Koutarou, a “Dove” who has been fighting the ghouls all along, was raised by a minister who was actually a ghoul. But don’t expect to elaborate on that, oh no. It’s just a quick, “in case you wanted to know” moment in the series that gets almost entirely glazed over.
The end of Tokyo Ghoul: √a is another huge let-down. It seems to be a cliffhanger to another season, but we have yet to see one. So as it stands right now, it just comes off as a cop-out. Kaneki loses his best friend Hide in the fights between the CCG and the ghouls. He brings Hide’s body through a line of CCG soldiers in a scene that would have been heartfelt if not for how painfully slow and long it was. This leads to Kaneki confronting one of the premiere Doves that the CCG has in its line up, Arima. The two stand before each other, like they are sizing the other up for battle. But this is a battle left unseen. The action ends abruptly before either can make a move, so we’re left to imagine how it went down all on our own.
Tokyo Ghoul really suffers from a case of an anime taking on too large of a task, and thus taking too many liberties that really cause the story to suffer. The first season feels manageable however, and is as enjoyable as it is brutal. The censorship throws it off a bit, but it’s forgivable considering the rest of the series as a whole. Season Two is where things really go off the rails, when too many characters all crowd in and none are given the level of attention they deserve. The ending of Tokyo Ghoul: √a is almost unforgivable, unless another season comes along to pick up the battle that we really wanted to see. For now, Season One is great, Season Two is a bit of a shit-show, and we’re all already hoping for a remake somewhere down the line.