Tokyo Ghoul: of horror and tragedy

I delayed watching this show on purpose since the first day I was told about it.

I still remember how it went. I was in a conversation about violence in anime, just before the first season started.

“Hey, there’s this new show coming out called Tokyo Ghoul. Kinda like Black Bullet and Kill la Kill. Awesome story.”

“Yeah…. I’m not sure how good this is gonna be if you put it that way. I’ve seen enough blood in my shows as it is and for once I would like something sweet and pleasant for a change.”

I hadn’t forgotten how badly I reacted to Shingeki no Kyojin the first time I saw Episode 1, and I’d been burnt by Mahou Sensou and Black Bullet, so at that time, with any recommendation that came my way, I received with a huge pinch of salt.

But in the months that passed, I heard plenty of good things about Tokyo Ghoul, though I still knew nothing about the plot. I’d seen the character designs of its star protagonist: a white-haired boy, eyes as empty as glass, wearing his signature half-mask – a combination of an eye-patch and giant, menacing, lipless monster teeth zipped over his mouth. It was such a stark contrast against the innocence its owner beheld.

Frankenstein's human-ghoul hybrid cousin.
Frankenstein’s human-ghoul hybrid cousin.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across the opening theme song, but I remember how I felt when I saw the video. The pace at which the characters were introduced, and the way their kagune were displayed in so many colours and patterns caught me completely by surprise (at that time, I’d thought their kagune were just deliberate designs with no real meaning to them). TK from ling tosite sigure also did an absolutely fine job with the song, with his signature high-pitched registers and a stellar musical arrangement.

I found myself actually mesmorized. Wasn’t this supposed to be a show about blood and gore? How could something so horrific be so beautiful?

It was only after I read the news that amazarashi’s next single would be the new opening song for Season 2 that I decided to give Tokyo Ghoul a chance. After all, if amazarashi supports it, it couldn’t be all that bad. Could it?

Four and a half episodes later – including the first and last – I still can’t answer that question. Said friend who told me about this show was right this time, except maybe he downplayed it a little too much.

This show is violent. So much so there are censored and uncensored verisons making rounds on the Internet. Even Parasyte didn’t need such extensive editing. But perhaps, due to the fact that a major theme of Tokyo Ghoul is cannibalism, some censorship is probably necessary.

Before you correct me, yes, I am aware that the predators are ghouls – non-humans with inhuman tendencies. But other than their diet and accelerated healing capabilities, they behave exactly like the man on the street. There is nothing unusual about them until they start biting chunks off your flesh.

Yet in spite of its grotesqueness, Tokyo Ghoul is genuinely good. Within 12 episodes, we witness the tragic loss of a boy’s humanity (literally), his assimilation and growing familiarity with the underworld of ghouls, and how, despite his best efforts to retain his human nature, ends up sacrificing it and losing every semblence of his past life to embrace a dark, evil world that he’d been involuntarily set upon. It is a Pyrrhic victory of celebrating the defeat of true evil while mourning the loss of innocence.

Tokyo Ghoul is a show that does not assume the best of people. It is a dystopic world where everyone is a wolf in sheepskin and ought to be mistrusted, some more so than others. The role of justice is ambiguous, and does not come from the usual figures of authority. Similarly, not every ghoul is sadistic, some behaving more human than humans themselves.

I now understand a little better the popularity this show has received. But it is not for everyone. I may be one season too late, but viewer disretion is strongly advised.


2 thoughts on “Tokyo Ghoul: of horror and tragedy

  1. perhaps more urgently than ever before, it’s about what happens when people confront the world outside, and what new, fragile connections they might begin to forge.


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