Manga Review: Tokyo Ghoul Volume 1 by Sui Ishida
There is a parallel Earth that seems exactly like ours, except that humanity shares the planet with “ghouls.” Ghouls are shaped like humans, and can pass for them with a little effort, but they are not human. They possess body weapons known as “kagune” and can only eat human flesh. Other than that, humans know little about them. Most humans have never even seen a ghoul…that they know of.
One such human is Ken Kaneki, a college student majoring in classic literature. He doesn’t confine himself to that, however, being a big fan of current author Sen Takatsuki’s latest novel, The Black Goat’s Egg. He’s surprised and gratified when the attractive young woman Rize he’s seen at the coffee shop Anteiku turns out also to be a fan. He even gets a date out of this, surprising his more outgoing buddy Hide.
Alas, it turns out that Rize isn’t into Takatsuki’s work for the delicate language and fine characterization. She’s into the descriptions of serial killing. Rize turns out to be not just a ghoul, but the one nicknamed “Binge Eater” for slaughtering and consuming more humans than she needs to to survive. And she thinks Kaneki smells delicious!
Apparently by complete coincidence, a construction accident drops steel beams on the pair just as she’s about to chow down, instantly killing Rize and mortally wounding Kaneki. A doctor in the emergency room takes the unauthorized step of transplanting Rize’s undamaged organs into Kaneki’s body to save his life.
Kaneki heals remarkably quickly, but soon finds himself the victim of a Kafka-esque transformation, unable to eat most foods and with a craving for human flesh. Coffee is the only other thing he can keep down. (This turns out to be true for all ghouls–now you know the hidden side of Starbucks.) Kaneki is understandably revolted by the idea of eating people. This puts him in the position of being neither human nor ghoul; or perhaps both human and ghoul.
This seinen (young men’s) horror-action manga ran from 2011-2014. It has spawned a short anime series, a live-action movie, a full sequel and several spin-off miniseries.
In this first volume, Kaneki comes across as sniveling and ineffectual. In fairness, he’s undergoing what is as far as he knows an unprecedented metamorphosis into a monster, with no more support system than a human buddy he couldn’t possibly tell what’s happening. At this point, he’s unable to control one of his eyes changing color and needs to cover it with an eyepatch. The volume concludes with Kaneki gaining a mentor who may be able to guide him in becoming a better half-ghoul.
There’s a certain amount of male gaze, particularly in the first chapter, when Kaneki and Hide visit “Big Girl”, an Anna Miller’s style restaurant known for the waitress uniforms emphasizing their breasts. This eases off as the horror quotient rises. Coffeeshop wait-person Touka Kirishima, who is a main character, gets to wear a less “sexy” uniform.
The art is fitting to the subject matter, but some of it is clumsy in this first volume–I am told it rapidly improves.
A lot of obvious questions aren’t answered in this volume–where did ghouls come from? How do ghouls reproduce? How do ghouls function in human society given their obligate anthropophagism? Aren’t the police doing anything? A humorous bonus chapter concerns a bit character ghoul who turns out to be far more fastidious about who he kills and eats than Rize, not that it does him any good.
Recommended to horror fans who prefer a more sympathetic monster as the protagonist.