Tokyo Ghoul

Before we even get into my thoughts on this one, let’s back up for a second. In my review of Love is War a couple of months ago or so, I spent a considerable amount of time discussing how it had come under fire by disingenuous reviewers solely because of its popularity, being attacked and labeled as “overhyped” without any actual reason or genuine argument. But of course, just because something is popular doesn’t always mean that its popularity is deserved, or that it can live up to genuinely close scrutiny. My recent experience with Final Fantasy 14 is a pretty good example of that, but I digress; the point I’m trying to make here and that I need you to understand before I say anything further about Tokyo Ghoul is that I’m not being dishonest or ingenuine just for the sake of standing out from the crowd here. The worth of and weight behind my critique would be nonexistent if I wasn’t honest, and I think it’s totally fine if you enjoy this show which I know a lot of people do. In all fairness, it has some decent psychological horror/thriller elements and relatively well animated action scenes, especially towards the end. All that aside, what is the premise of Tokyo Ghoul exactly? Essentially, Tokyo Ghoul takes place in an alternate universe version of Tokyo where society is split between humans and “ghouls”, human flesh-eating monsters who take the form of humans and blend into their society. Our story begins when the protagonist—a teenage boy named Kaneki—is nearly killed after being tricked into an alleyway and attacked by a ghoul, barely surviving the encounter when suddenly some construction equipment falls on the ghoul and crushes her (it’s implied later on that this wasn’t an accident but not fully explained). To save Kaneki, an emergency surgery is performed where the dead ghoul’s organs are transplanted into his body, saving him but unwittingly turning him into a half-human, half-ghoul (essentially just a ghoul but with one edgy red eye instead of two). After being discharged from the hospital, he slowly realizes what’s happening to him and tries unsuccessfully to fight against his insatiable hunger for human flesh on numerous occasions before finally being accepted into a secret society called “Anteiku”, a non-violent ghoul faction who collect human corpses for food instead of hunting them directly. Now, normally I would segue into what the overall story or plot is supposed to be about after the intro sequence is over, but to be perfectly honest I have no idea how to explain the plot of Tokyo Ghoul to you. The vast majority of the first few episodes is dedicated almost solely to Kaneki trying not to eat people and losing his goddamn mind, making you question what the point of it all is in the first place, where the story is supposed to go and—perhaps most importantly—what the ghouls are even supposed to represent. At first I figured they’re an over-the-top representation of the concept of “inhumanity”, but that doesn’t make any sense when the whole story tries (and fails) to portray both humans and ghouls as being equally immoral. In case you haven’t noticed, in real life only humans possess human intelligence. Oftentimes in fictional universes we see humanoid races similar enough to humanity that we can still empathize with them, but Tokyo Ghoul throws that out the window completely and decides that for some arbitrary reason or another, ghouls are explicitly not human and need to eat humans in order to survive. This might be a bit easier to buy if ghouls didn’t look identical to humans for no good reason, but as it stands it is almost impossible for the viewer to suspend their disbelief when the ghouls violently throw up anything that isn’t human flesh and seem to possess a hunger for it stretching far beyond just the need for sustenance. The point I’m making here is that it’s impossible to sympathize with completely inhuman creatures who literally need to eat human flesh in order to live, likening humanity as a whole to livestock with even the so-called “good” ghouls being little more than carrion feeders. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue had the story been taken in a different direction, but as things stand a gross amount of time is spent quite literally trying to humanize explicit non-humans. What the hell is the point of giving the ghouls human bodies and human intelligence, then turning around and saying “Nah, they aren’t human, they have to eat human flesh”? It’s completely arbitrary, ridiculous and analogous to absolutely nothing, a pointless commentary on an issue that doesn’t exist in reality used to try and perpetuate this ridiculous notion that “humans are the true monsters” and “the world is wrong”—yeah, go cry about it some more you edgy fucking 14 year old. The result of all this is that the show suffers from much the same problem as Elfen Lied did, where humanity’s treatment of the ghouls is entirely justified! I found myself utterly despising just about every single one of the ghoul characters while rooting for the so-called “villains” every step of the way! And look, I understand that not every story has to be a social commentary or have a deep meaning, but the problem here is that Tokyo Ghoul is quite clearly trying and failing to be deep and meaningful. At the end of the day, it has absolutely no substance, no point and reads like it was written by some fucking pretentious, misanthropic edgelord who hates everything and thinks the world is against them, a grossly overdramatized excuse for flashy action scenes between characters who look like they were ripped straight off fucking Deviantart, aka “original character do not steal”. Far more emphasis is placed here on “coolness” as opposed to believability or good characterization, so much so that the ridiculously over-the-top characters we see here completely betray the show’s serious tone and make it impossible to take seriously in the first place. It’s like it can’t decide whether it wants to be an over-the-top shonen anime or a gritty social commentary about why the world sucks and humanity is bad. Instead of focusing on one thing and making it good, they try to combine the two and ultimately end up making something generic, overplayed and tiresome without passion and without a consistent vision. The action scenes the whole story is an excuse for are nowhere near good enough to make up for the terrible writing in the first place; the animation is slightly above-average at best (getting better towards the latter half of the show), and the artstyle itself is extremely generic and unmemorable. The direction is awful and the show makes a terrible first impression on you when the first 3 episodes are just the main character whining, crying and generally just being an insufferable moron who doesn’t do anything of any relevance whatsoever, meanwhile the plot completely fails to move forward at all. In general, this show’s pacing is absolutely fucking terrible; sometimes it moves at a ridiculously fast blistering pace where everything blurs together and has zero impact, and other times it stops dead in its tracks and pulls away from the action to spend an absolutely stupid amount of time trying to drive home a point that could’ve been conveyed to the viewer in a fraction of that time—and it certainly doesn’t help when more often than not, the point they’re trying to make rings hollow and makes the writer sound like a whiny fucking teenager who thinks they’re better than everyone else. Not only is the direction terrible, but my holy fucking God above, the music legitimately drove me fucking crazy. Combined with the awful direction, the lackluster original soundtrack and the constant never-ending use of it in every single scene throughout the entire fucking show create a constant sense of overwhelming sensory overload, annoying the shit out of you and devaluing moments within the narrative that might otherwise carry at least some small amount of emotional weight—in essence, because there’s constant intense and dramatic music playing nonstop throughout every single scene in the god-damn show, it becomes impossible for that music to enhance any of them! This same issue is present on a smaller scale in shows like Rent-a-Girlfriend or Planetes for instance, but even those relatively egregious examples of it pale in comparison to how mind-bogglingly bad it is here. I think this has to do primarily with the fact that I found the music incredibly uninspired and generic in-and-of itself, in addition to the fact this particular show’s tone is supposed to be dark, dreary and serious. In a show that’s trying to take itself seriously and leave a very particular impression on the viewer, it’s so much more critical to understand the importance of having an appropriate (often understated) soundtrack used at the appropriate times to enhance the emotional weight of particular moments within the story—Re:Zero would be a perfect example of how to do this correctly. In contrast, Tokyo Ghoul takes every single available opportunity it’s given to ram its generic ass Hollywood action movie sounding dumpster fire of an original soundtrack down your throat even when there’s absolutely nothing of any importance happening onscreen, it legitimately feels like the music never fucking stops—it’s fucking Elfen Lied all over again only somehow worse. Speaking of shock and surprise over suspense and substance, I found it extremely odd how despite this show’s clear reliance on shock value as opposed to strong writing, they for some reason decided to censor some of the violent scenes in the show, whether it be by blacking out the artwork or implying gruesome shit happening off-screen. What’s the point in trying to shock the audience if you’re not going to go all the way and show the violent imagery to the viewer in the first place? For fuck’s sake, the entire concept behind the ghouls is completely lacking in substance and basically exists solely for the purpose of being violent and disturbing! To be honest though, that’s less of a serious gripe with the show and more of a questioning as to why they wouldn’t make full use of their only real selling point. But then, I guess that’s kind-of a silly thing to question considering just how well Tokyo Ghoul has done for itself. Really it’s not surprising at all—it’s very clearly designed to appeal to a very specific and broad audience within the anime sphere, an extremely edgy and over-the-top shonen anime waxing lyrical about how unfair the world is and how humanity is fucked up, which is exactly the sort-of thing I’m sure a vast swathe of the edgy teenagers within the so-called “anime community” would eat up. The whole thing feels like a microcosm of that entire subculture, and as somebody who was once a part of that subculture it’s deeply frustrating. Not only is it poorly written—attempting to convey its message in the least effective way possible—but that very same message is one that I not only categorically disagree with, but personally find reckless and utterly irresponsible to try and market towards children. This is exactly the kind-of bottom-of-the-barrel shit that turns impressionable kids into brooding assholes who think they’re morally and intellectually superior to their peers, and makes it more difficult for the already existing ones to grow the fuck up. Just about every single asshole in this entire show is a characterless, annoying fucking edgelord who is utterly impossible to sympathize with and has no depth or personality. The sole exception to that rule are members of the human cast, of which there are only 2 or 3 important characters (one of whom gets killed partway through; both of the only two tragic deaths in the show are humans getting killed by our so-called “heroes”). Amon in particular is actually relatively interesting and likeable, a realistic and down-to-earth character who has a really great relationship with his partner Mado throughout a solid chunk of the show. Their bond and shared passion for hunting down ghouls and protecting humanity is genuinely entertaining—they’ve got a great dynamic! It’s honestly a shame, because you can see that there’s potential here for a good story focusing on the humans rather than the ghouls which has been utterly wasted. Instead, the show is far too busy trying to turn its ghoul cast members into super edgy shonen characters and drive home how humanity is no different from them—what a fucking joke. It’s downright insulting when they try to make Amon and Kaneki two sides of the same coin, and even more so when Kaneki waxes lyrical about how only he can fix the world because he’s both human and ghoul, the only one who realizes the “obvious truth”; absolute fucking drivel. I, for one, would love nothing more than for the ghouls to be wiped out completely if I had to live in fear of one hunting me down and eating me, or desecrating the corpses of my loved ones by snatching them up and snacking on them! The truth of the matter is that they’re nothing more than a plague on society, and trying to use them and their conflict with humanity as some kind-of nonsensical allegory for real world societal issues is a fucking insult. Oh, and to top it all off, the first season ends on a terrible cliffhanger, the last episode completely ignoring and pulling away from the climax that was unfolding in the previous one. I could probably go on for a solid while longer about everything in this show I despise, but I’ll stop here (do keep in mind I’ve only seen the first season, I have absolutely no desire to torture myself any further with the remaining ones). Tokyo Ghoul is an absolute fucking mess and in all honesty, I fucking hated it, far more than I assumed I would in fact. I went into this knowing how popular it is, expecting that it would probably be at least above-average, but boy howdy was I wrong. I have very little positive to say about this show and I would personally recommend you stay far, far away. If you’ve seen this show before and enjoy it, good on you, but please take care not to get roped in by its pathetic attempt at sociopolitical commentary—of course, you’re listening to my reviews so I’ve got nothing to worry about, but I can’t help being concerned for the health and mental wellbeing of my fellow man on occasion. Anyways, I’ve gotta go make something to eat, stay classy my fellow gamers.

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