You read the title right folks, it’s a Tokyo “ghoul” which means none of this ‘zombie’ funny business. What is the difference, you might ask? Well, they aren’t brainless groaning monsters. But don’t worry, they still eat humans. I review the latest Viz release to answer the question, is it good?
Tokyo Ghoul Volume 1 (Viz Media)
This manga starts out like so many others. The protagonist is Ken, a nerdy high school aged (he’s a freshman in college) boy who can’t get girls and has no confidence. He of course has a super fun friend who teases him about it and this leads to the beginning of the hook to this series. Oh, did I mention ghouls are a real thing the news reports on and they’re scary, but generally people assume they must live among them and carry on with their days? Sort of like how society today deals with serial killers. But the thing that’s more important and gives Ken the most anxiety is a girl that works at his local diner. Figures.
Kind of a cliche…
Writer and artist Sui Ishida starts the protagonist off in a very stereotypical way and it’s probably because audiences can relate to this type of character. That said, there’s nothing about Ken that makes you interested in him. This allows him to be an easy character to relate to since he’s simply a bundle of nervousness and awkward angst. As the story moves forward he doesn’t change much, albeit the entirety of volume one takes place over only a few days.
I don’t want to ruin the twist that opens the book, as it’s actually a bit surprising and plays well, but it’s safe to say from the cover that Ken turns into a ghoul. It’s something that doesn’t just happen, at least from what the book gives us as far as ghoul culture and detail as ghouls appear to be born that way. Once Ken enters this realm the book takes on a new meaning as he’s the ultimate fish out of water. Ishida focuses mostly on Ken’s inability to eat human food, but there are some ghoul characters that sprout up and keep things interesting. Ishida references the famous Kafka story The Metamorphosis quite a bit and it’s rather clear this story heavily influenced Tokyo Ghoul. That story, much like this one, is really about changing from a boy to a man, although volume one spends most of its time watching Ken refuse to believe he’s a ghoul.
Ooh, kinky and dangerous!
Which is ultimately the weakest element of this first volume. Ken just can’t get out of the way of himself. He obsesses over not being a ghoul even when the writing is clearly on the wall. At first it’s understandable, but a huge chunk of the book is this cycle of Ken being stubborn and not admitting to himself he’s different. Of course the arc of this story does bring him out of that, at least a little bit, which is because he sees some use of the ghoul powers.
The ghoul powers, by the way, are some of the most fun elements of this series. Ishida shows the ghoul powers in all their horrific and creepy glory. When a ghoul attacks things turn black and an odd tentacle thing pops out. Not a lot of detail is given to why exactly, but it’s clear more will be revealed later. This gives the reader something to chew on and ultimately creates a sense of intrigue for this weird ghoul underworld. Other ghouls live by some kind of code and it’s briefly seen but never fully explained. This again, creates a sense of interest for the reader.
Overall the art is good and particularly great when the ghoul powers come into play. Ishida draws in a very creepy brooding sort of way, at least when there is evil present. The eye in particular is gross and very vivid in its grotesque nature. I can’t say the non ghoul scenes are that spectacular as there’s a minimalist style and plenty of white space. Call me crazy, but I find when characters aren’t given eyes, usually to bring focus to other elements in the panel, it takes me out of the book, but this is a storytelling technique gripe more than anything.
Is It Good?
By issue’s end you’re going to want to learn more about ghouls in general and how they fit in society. The protagonist is a perfect vehicle to explore this world. Now if it could speed up a bit it’d be fantastic.
Tokyo Ghoul is available now as a digital first on Viz Media’s website.