AiPT! first reviewed the debut volume of Tokyo Ghoul back when it came stateside in 2015. Now that we’ve begun reviewing its spinoff series, we’re taking a look back at the volume that started it all.
Tokyo Ghoul Vol. 1 covers the first nine chapters of Ken Kaneki’s story in which, after a horrific accident, he is turned into a half-human, half-Ghoul hybrid. The volume introduces a few of the series’ main cast members as Kaneki struggles all he can against the new hunger for human flesh inflicted by his half-Ghoul nature. Does the volume do a good job introducing the world and characters of Tokyo Ghoul?
Absolutely. The way Kaneki is transformed into a ghoul is completely referential to the vampiric folklore the Ghouls are inspired by while also feeling like a fresh take on conventional manga tropes. Creator Sui Ishida infuses the world of Tokyo Ghoul with a lot of lore to learn, from the Ghouls themselves to their predatory hunting organs called “kagunes,” to the people who hunt Ghouls and their weaponry, etc. These concepts are gradually introduced throughout the first chapters and never feel overwhelming. Most of the page-time in Vol. 1 is devoted to Kaneki learning about and trying to resist his hunger for human flesh. Devoting as much time to that horrific hunger as Ishida does allows the conflict to hold weight. Kaneki comes off as genuinely tortured by violating what he sees as natural taboos and the more deeply the conflict is explored, the more compelling it feels.
Ishida’s art only elevates that conflict, especially when it comes to rendering the characters’ faces throughout the volume. Though a good deal of the series’ horror comes from the gory violence, the way Ishida renders Kaneki’s horrified revulsion with his predicament makes me really feel his anguish because of how contorted and hideous Ishida draws his expression. Other characters’ faces are drawn with similarly expert execution, whether they need to express a steely glare or chilling grimace. For a series with as much action and fighting as Tokyo Ghoul, it’s the quieter moments of contemplation or emotional confrontation that are the most affecting or horrifying depending on the scene thanks to Ishida’s excellent work conveying the characters’ feelings.
Speaking of the action, this is where Ishida’s art becomes a bit less clear, which makes the storytelling a bit less compelling. Anytime a character moves to strike another character or recovers from an attack my eye has to do extra work to determine what exactly is happening. This is usually due to there being too many action lines on the page, cluttering it up with ink that feels like it only serves to overemphasize the characters’ movements. I see why Ishida is attempting to convey the Ghouls’ enhanced strength and speed, but it leads to messier art that makes it hard to care about the fighting because it takes more work to see what is happening.
That aside, Tokyo Ghoul Vol. 1 is a strong start to the series that any fan of action-packed horror should enjoy. It’s a volume that carries a lot of emotional weight in spite of its action-heavy nature and tells a compelling story about a man clinging to his humanity while expanding his definition of personhood.