Sunday, December 17, 2017

REVIEW: Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vols. 1-5) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Tokyo Ghoul is a series that I feel torn about. On the one hand, it was an interesting read. On the other hand, it may be a little too dark for my tastes, and even after 5 volumes I'm still not particularly attached to most of the main characters, although I do have a few side characters that intrigue me (Nishiki and Kimi, Uta, Yomo, Yoshimura).

I'll probably continue on with this during my next vacation, but after the incident with Suzuya I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to try the anime. It would be nice if both the ghouls and the ghoul investigators came across, morally, as varying shades of grey, but, as of volume 5, it really does feel like the more prominent ghoul investigators are as monstrous, or possibly even more so, than the ghouls they hunt. I can think of only one ghoul investigator I could name, Amon, who might turn out to be a decent human being, and if he keeps turning a blind eye to the way his colleagues behave, I don't know that even he would count.

As usual for these posts, there are major spoilers from here on out. I wrote the descriptions with an eye towards allowing me to pick the series back up again a year from now. Oh, and I took terrible notes for this series. For example, I recorded Hinami's name as both Hinami and Hinako, and didn't write down several other characters' names at all. I had to rely on fan-created wikis to straighten things out.

Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vol. 1) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki - Ken Kaneki, an 18-year-old college student studying Literature, has a huge crush on a woman he saw in Anteiku, a coffee shop. He's thrilled when the two of them arrange a date after she sees that they're reading the same book, but things end very badly: she bites him and he realizes to his horror that she's a ghoul, a being that pretends to be human and hunts humans for food. Fortunately for Kaneki, his would-be murderer is killed by a falling beam. Unfortunately, he receives an organ transplant from her (the doctor who made this decision gets in trouble, since proper consent wasn't given). After that, Kaneki has trouble stomaching human food - it seems that he is now at least partly a ghoul. He tries to avoid eating human flesh but almost ends up eating his best friend. He's saved by two ghouls, Touka and the elderly owner of Anteiku, who are apparently at the head of some kind of ghoul movement to live a quieter life (if only for their own survival). They provide meat to ghouls who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not hunt.

The art style took me a bit to get used to. The linework is thick, and hair highlights are scratchy.

The action scenes in this series are really hard to follow, and I wouldn't be surprised if the story becomes both more gross and more depressing as it progresses. I've been tempted by the anime boxed sets for this series for some time, but I keep passing it by because I don't know if I can handle how dark I suspect it's going to get. Then again, I love the Attack on Titan anime, so who knows?

I'll wait and see how this works for me. Right now it's basically just setup. Readers learn that the ghouls each have territories, and that Rize (Kaneki's date) was a binge eater whose behavior was frowned upon. Kaneki discovers that the only human food/drink he can still enjoy is coffee. Touka loathes him, while Yoshimura, the owner of Anteiku, seems to be pretty nice - although he's still a ghoul, so I'm not entirely sure how far that niceness extends.

I'm very iffy about Kaneki so far. Even before he became a ghoul, he seemed to be a bit of an emo loner. He was lucky that Hideyoshi, his best friend, was more outgoing and looked out for him. Crossing my fingers that Hideyoshi doesn't end up dead later on. I would like for this series to not be crushingly depressing, please.

Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vol. 2) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki - Kaneki starts working at Anteiku, learning to make coffee and wait tables. He meets Ryoko Fueguchi and her daughter Hinami, two ghouls who don't (can't?) hunt. Kaneki starts practicing eating human food like normal, so that he can more easily blend in and hide his ghoul nature, orders his first mask from Uta, and controls his hunger with brown "sugar" cubes in his coffee. I have a feeling he's going to rely too much on those "sugar" cubes and forget that he actually needs to eat human flesh every once in a while. This quiet period ends when two ghouls investigators track down the Fueguchis and try to exterminate them. Ryoko sacrifices herself so that her daughter can escape, and Kaneki, who witnesses Ryoko's death, decides that he no longer wants to be helpless. He asks Touka to teach him how to use his kagune (ghoul weaponry?). The volume ends with Uta's delivery of Kaneki's first mask, which is way more badass (if impractical) than he, at this point, deserves.

I'm intrigued by the world and the story, but many of the characters are just not very likeable. For example, I understand what drives Touka but I can't entirely root for her. Unlike Yoshimura, she seems to have a much more black and white view of the world. Then there's Kaneki, who's still a spineless wimp (granted, I doubt I'd manage much better than him if I were suddenly told that the only thing I could comfortably eat was human flesh). The Fueguchis were nice, but clearly low level ghouls and not the sort of folks that this series is going to focus on. And again, Yoshimura seems nice enough, but readers haven't exactly gotten to know him much yet. Uta intrigues me, at least. I have to wonder how he stays hidden from ghoul inspectors, considering that his appearance screams "ghoul." Is it even possible for his eyes to look normal?

This volume's main goal seemed to be to make the ghouls more sympathetic, at least low level ones like the Fueguchis, and it succeeded in that. As far as I could see, they weren't hurting anyone, and even their Anteiku-provided meals were acquired in as harmless a way as possible.

The ghoul investigators, on the other hand, were a bit disturbing. At least one of them didn't seem to be quite human himself. I wonder, is he a ghoul hunting other ghouls?

Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vol. 3) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki - Touka and Kaneki try to spread a little disinformation about Hinami at the CCG 20th Ward branch. It doesn't work, but they do discover that Kaneki can go through RC scan gates like a normal human being - apparently his body is still human enough for that. At any rate, Hinami leaves Anteiku, and Touka and Kaneki go after her. Touka finds her first, but the two are soon attacked by Investigator Mado. Kaneki, meanwhile, comes across Investigator Amon. Hinami attacks Mado when it looks like he might be about to kill Touka - it turns out that Mado (who is, in fact, human and not a ghoul, no matter how strange he looks) fights with quinques he made from the kagunes of Hinami's parents. It's no wonder the ghouls hate the ghoul investigators so much, when they use pieces of their friends and family members as weapons against them. Mado is killed by Touka. Kaneki defeats but doesn't kill Amon, determined to show Amon that there's more to ghouls than he thinks.

Dang but these battles are hard to follow.

I rolled my eyes a bit at Kaneki's battle. As cool as it was that he was able to survive and defeat Amon, he really shouldn't have been able to. Amon had at least some experience under his belt, while Kaneki had no clue what he was doing. He was just lucky that Amon was apparently off his game or something.

Hinami is the first ghoul we've seen in this series who for sure has ghoul weaponry but who also doesn't seem to be emotionally capable to killing. I wonder if that's what Yoshimura meant by ghouls who are unable to hunt?

This volume was pretty decent, and I'm interested to see if Kaneki can bridge the gap between humans and ghouls, but I'm still not in love with this series.

Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vol. 4) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki - We get a glimpse of Touka's school life. As anti-human as she has previously seemed, it turns out that she actually really values her best human friend, to the point of regularly choking down the food her friend makes for her. Kaneki visits Hinami at Touka's place, learns more about how to fight, and meets up with Yomo, Uta, and their friend Itori (the owner of a bar called Helter Skelter). Itori wants to know more about a special ghoul restaurant, so she offers to exchange info about the person who killed Rize - it turns out that Rize's death was not an accident like Kaneki had previously thought. In order to learn about the restaurant, Kaneki has to get closer to Shu Tsukiyama, nicknamed the Gourmet. Unfortunately, he is soon betrayed. Instead of taking him to the restaurant as a guest, Tsukiyama brings him there as an exciting new entree.

I wish these volumes came with translator's note and/or a bit more information about the world terminology. So far words like "quinque" and "kagune" have been thrown about with little explanation. In the previous volume, Mado's last words were something to the effect that he wanted to bury the "Sekigan" with his own two hands. In this volume, the translator opted to translate "Sekigan" as "one-eyed king." Why not translate it this way in the previous volume as well, or include a brief note?

We see more of Nishiki in this volume (who, since I took crappy notes, has not been mentioned in my summaries at all). He hasn't been doing too well since he was injured. Kaneki saves him and learns that he has a human girlfriend who knows he's a ghoul and doesn't seem to mind. I suspect that this will end badly.

Kaneki is kind of dumb. He knows that Tsukiyama is a flashy killer, and yet he's still drawn in. I wouldn't be surprised if Tsukiyama manages to trick him again.

Again, this series continues to throw characters at me that I don't really like and don't necessarily care to see more of. Part of me is still tempted to get the anime, to see if aspects of the series go over better in that format, and part of me is just not into this series enough for that.

One thing that surprised me: apparently this series is digitally illustrated, and Ishida only has one assistant. 

Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vol. 5) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki -  Kimi, Nishiki's human girlfriend, comes to Kaneki for help - Nishiki's wound isn't healing well. Unfortunately, this puts her in the Gourmet's sights. He uses her as a hostage to lure in Kaneki, and ends up getting Nishiki and Touka as well. None of the three are strong enough to battle him, so Kaneki offers himself to Touka as a snack, thinking that his body is probably human enough to help her build her strength up enough to fight the Gourmet. She does manage to beat him and then wants to kill Kimi too, for knowing too much, but ends up sparing her. There's a flashback showing how Kimi and Nishiki met. She learned he was a ghoul shortly after Kaneki fought him - she even offered herself to him as food so that he could heal better. Then there's another flashback, this one to Rize moving from the 11th Ward to the 20th. Then back to the CCG and the present - things are ramping up, and a new ghoul investigator, Juzo Suzuya, is introduced.

I enjoyed the flashbacks to Nishiki's past, although the way that Kimi came to accept him isn't something that would work for most humans. I'm not quite sure how I feel about their relationship. On the one hand, they seem to genuinely care for each other. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that hanging around ghouls is healthy for Kimi. While her relationship with Nishiki kept her from committing suicide, she's made it clear that, if he needs food, she's willing to be his meal even though she might end up dead.

The flashback to Rize's past was a bit worthless, although it did show that there were lots of ghouls with a reason to want her dead. Kaneki is going to have a tough time narrowing down the suspects.

The CCG stuff was just...not good. Even if one of them hadn't killed the relatively harmless Ryoko Fueguchi a few volumes ago, every time they appear on page at least one of them strikes me as being at least as scary as the scarier ghouls. The scene with Suzuya and the officer made me decide that I probably don't want to watch the anime, not if that scene is included. I couldn't tell exactly what it was he did (I mean, did he really just blow something through the guy's skull via his ears? did I interpret that right?), but whatever it was, it should have qualified him as just as much of a monster as the ghouls they were trying to defend humanity against. And yet.

Amon seems to be the most normal of all the ghoul investigators readers have so far gotten to know, and I'm not particularly impressed with him either if he can witness the behavior of someone like Suzuya and not start to question whether he's on the right side.

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