Welcome, readers, to this week’s random rant. While I don’t consider it amazing or classic, I enjoy Tokyo Ghoul and call it a decent anime. The horror and violence, in particular, are done with noteworthy proficiency and effectiveness. Sometimes I really get into that stuff. But for a long time, I felt disappointed in Tokyo Ghoul for not presenting anything beyond that.
When watching for the first time, I expected more depth to the dilemma of human-and-nonhuman. Or perhaps a new take on Kaneki’s character type. However, instead of providing something novel or truly profound, the show serves better as an introduction to the sub-genre of dark, psychological anime. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t a few uniquely thought-provoking elements to be found in this series.
This is a large and complicated franchise. If the world of Tokyo Ghoul was a swimming pool, I only have my feet dangling in the water. So the focus of this post is limited to the anime version of the first season of Tokyo Ghoul. What does it have to offer? For one thing, graphic content. In this show, it can seem like there’s a lot of pointless suffering.
A high-quality story should have there be a purpose to most of the protagonist’s pain, or perhaps make something good come from it. The exception would be if the main theme of the story was the meaninglessness of life. In Tokyo Ghoul, I don’t see meaninglessness as a central motif. Therefore, there should be a point to Kaneki’s painful experiences.
What, then, is that “point”? What’s the takeaway from Kaneki’s character arc in the first season? For what purpose did he suffer so much? I started this post thinking that no such point could be found; thus Tokyo Ghoul is disappointing. However, thinking it over at length, I came to a different answer. Consider the ending. Over the last 2 or 3 episodes, Kaneki suffers immensely. He emerges from the horrific experience changed, seeming more “monstrous.”
You can think of this ending in at least two ways. 1) Kaneki adapted, and grew mentally stronger, conquering the ones who tormented him. 2) He simply gave in to animal desires (a Ghoul’s hunger), and is still weak-minded, without direction. Kaneki is now an even stranger breed of monster. Did Kaneki grow or devolve? (Remember, I’m only looking at the first season, and treating it as its own story. I know this question is answered later, and the changes in Kaneki are clarified.)
Whether our protagonist became stronger or just more of an animal, the story now has a “point.” If the first case, we can sum it up this way. Kaneki was weak and refused to accept or acknowledge the nature of the world of which he was now part. In addition, he never wanted to hurt anyone, even if it was justified. The young man believed he could take all the pain onto himself. This led up to and prolonged the suffering he experienced. But now, as a stronger being, Kaneki knows that fighting and force are necessary to protect the lives of his allies as well as his own.
The other option is that Tokyo Ghoul is a tragedy tale with the dark message that selfish animal instincts will make monsters of even the purest hearts. In a monstrous world, there is no escaping being a monster. Weak, inferior prey will always suffer to satisfy the strong.
Rather than being the first option or the second, the “point” of the story is probably a mix of both. Kaneki adapted and overcame the strife; adversity can be conquered even in the worst imaginable situations. At the same time, all of that pain, fear, unfairness, and death is undeniable. Things will always be difficult for Kaneki, as a naturally gentle, compassionate person stuck in a world of savage ghouls.
Clearly, there are messages and meanings in this anime. But it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that these elements were present. This is most likely due to being thrown off by the severe violence on the first watch, and focusing on that violence more than the thematic elements in subsequent re-watches. Honestly, I thought the blood and brutality were mostly for shock value and pandering to fans of edgy shows. Is that really the case though?
For its time, and for such an anime with such a large audience, the violent content of Tokyo Ghoul was shocking, unique, and intense. I’m still surprised the show became such a hit, considering. But as established earlier, analysis of themes and characters reveals significant depth. Tokyo Ghoul “worked” as a successful seinen anime because there was just enough substance to the story to make the blood, death, pain worth it.
That was kind of a tangent there, but it explains why I didn’t originally think Tokyo Ghoul had much meaning. Anyway, to restate, there’s a main “point” to Kaneki’s story, an introduction to the human vs nonhuman dilemma, and some fascinating features on the side. (Examples include the struggles of Touka and Nishio to maintain good relationships with humans.) That’s my take, and I’d be delighted to hear yours. What did you think of Tokyo Ghoul season one? Was there a point? Was the violence surprising at first?
Whatever your thoughts may be, and whether or not you feel like leaving a comment, your readership is deeply appreciated. Thank you for reading!
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