Anime Reporter devoured the first volume of Tokyo Ghoul and now I’m going to inflict my opinion on anyone who feels like reading this review of their own free will. Tokyo Ghoul is a phenomenally popular series and this first manga volume has only just been officially published in English so if you aren’t already familiar with the series, you might want to consider reading on to find out if it’s your cup of tea.
Ken Kaneki is in a situation many of us have dealt with. You know how it is. You’re eighteen, just starting college, and you notice someone and you instantly feel that this person is something special, something precious. Unfortunately you also feel like actually starting a conversation would be about the most difficult thing in the world and you resign yourself to almost certainly dying alone while your extrovert friend hits on everyone in sight. That should sound at least semi-familiar to most people and that’s the exact situation Ken finds himself in at the series’ beginning.
However, Ken’s situation differs from the norm in two key aspects: Firstly, the girl of his dreams approaches him and they go out. Secondly, towards the end of their date, the girl attempts to kill Ken and feast on his fresh corpse. Oh, didn’t I mention ghouls yet? As you might expect from the series’ title, ghouls play a significant part in the story. Ghouls are pretty much like zombies with personalities. All of the intelligence and faculties of a human, the only thing that really makes a ghoul stand out is their inability to digest most things that aren’t human flesh, their insanely overpowering hunger and their superhuman strength and speed. Ghouls are a known part of the world in this series, occasionally turning up in the news whenever there’s a grisly murder. Now, by all probability, our story should have ended with Ken becoming lunchmeat, but fate intervenes.
Ken’s attacker is crushed and killed by some seriously heavy duty debris and, after being rushed to hospital, her organs are used to save Ken’s life. Ken, not too keen to face a firing squad, keeps mum about the whole “that person was a flesh-eating monster and you’ve given me her organs” situation and hopes that things will just kind of blow over.
And they totally do. Life returns to normal, Ken gets on with his studies, forgets about dating for a while and becomes a very successful entrepreneur years later. Or perhaps that’s what would have happened if the series was called Tokyo Human. Nope, Ken is infected, but this isn’t the Walking Dead. People don’t just suddenly turn into ghouls. They’re really a whole other species. This means that nobody, not even other ghouls have ever really experienced Ken’s situation before. Nothing tastes good, in fact most food makes him gag and the only thing that seems even slightly appetising are those… what do you call them? The tall-ish things that mostly walk around on two legs… they invented the iPhone? People! That’s it. I knew I’d remember. People are the only thing that seems like a tasty meal to Ken right now.
Complicating matters a lot, there are rules to living as a ghoul and it’s a deadly new world Ken has stumbled into. Not everyone in the ghoul world takes kindly to a half human newcomer and there might even be some very deadly overlap between his human life and his ghoulish existence.
As the opening volume of a series, this is excellent. There’s strong drama, with Ken’s impossible situation ringing true from the moment he starts to change. Action is abrupt but very visceral and the only real criticism is that it could benefit from some clearer artwork in places. Character development is strong, though it would have to be in the opening volume. Ken’s best friend, Hide, should prove to be an interesting obstacle, already displaying keen insight into his best friend’s behaviour and feelings. Ken also picks up a couple of allies and a pretty sinister looking enemy but it’s perhaps best to let you discover those for yourself.
For today, I’m foregoing my usual scoring system. It should suffice to say that it’s early days but this series already overflows with potential. With strong characters, a highly dramatic and dark premise and so much room for things to expand, this is definitely one to watch. Check out Tokyo Ghoul Volume 01, currently available in English from the crew at Viz Media.
(Also, if you’re reading this before July 20th 2015, don’t forget to click here for details on how to win a shiny new copy of Bleach Series 16 Part 01)
Thanks for reading,