There are things in this world that are inherently wrong. Inherently wrong they may be indeed, but our world is not a space of black and white dichotomies. Not to give you the cliche of the deep thinking relativist who always circles arguments around to saying, “It’s all relative”, yet we all can understand that our world is filled with levels of wrong, types of wrong, inconsistencies of justice, righteous misdoings and so on and so forth. Tokyo Ghoul, in my opinion, transcends all of that. It transcends it by bringing grey back to a binary black and white where no side, (when it comes to all protagonists involved) is in the wrong. It is an awesome set up that will not be particularly unfamiliar to people who have enjoyed modern vampire or werewolf narratives. You know the ones where there are vampires who actually find killing people to be immoral. Or werewolves that lament their own destructive capabilities. I could name a few as I am certain you have already thought of a number of them. Tokyo Ghoul is somewhat similar in concept but where other such stories allow vampires or werewolves an out, this narrative does not. In other vampire and werewolf narratives, the vampires can choose to get blood from lesser sources like animals and the werewolves generally don’t eat humans in the first place. The ghouls in Tokyo Ghoul have no choice. They cannot sustain themselves with anything other than human flesh. And beyond that, even when they choose to eat corpses that they find on the road side, the quality of the meat makes them weaker which puts them at a disadvantage when facing other ghouls. So they don’t really have a great out. In fact, the only thing in this world that ghouls can stomach other than human flesh is in coffee.
The story, which was of course originally a Manga that I have yet to read, was created by Ushida Sui. Two anime have been done based on the original manga. This is the way I have experienced the story so far. I intend to go back and read the manga.
Our main protagonist is Ken Kaneki. He is a college student and a total bookworm. He frequents a certain coffee shop where he likes to read and people watch. While watching people he notices a very beautiful fellow bookworm. He notices her from afar for awhile until finally getting up the courage to ask her out which only happens after he notices her enjoying the exact book he is currently reading. Mind you all of this is taking place in a Tokyo which is having a number of high profile ghoul incidents, particularly involving a “binge eater”. A “binge eater” is a ghoul who is eating outside of normal behavioral patterns for ghouls. Basically, a ghoul that is no longer eating to survive but for the enjoyment. A “ghoul foodie” one might say. As ghouls only need to eat about once a month, a ghoul killing two or three times a week is highly irregular behavior.
Kaneki kun gets up the nerve to talk to this gorgeous bookworm and is surprised to see that she has noticed him as well. She quickly agrees to go on a date with him. They have a great bookworm date. At the conclusion of their date, Kaneki walks Rize, the young woman, back home. On the walk, Rize suddenly reveals herself to be a Ghoul and starts eating our protagonist Kaneki. He is going to be eaten and die for sure but suddenly out of nowhere so beams and equipment from an above head construction fall directly on top of her, killing her almost instantly. As a ghoul she has heightened senses and physical abilities but as she was in the throws of ravenous gluttony she doesn’t notice it until it’s too late. Rize san dies and Kaneki kun wakes up in the hospital with some of her organs replacing his. For the most part, ghouls are very similar to humans. They look exactly like humans until they start to make use of their powers which vary from ghoul to ghoul and based on children and siblings, they appear to be hereditary. Because of this, the doctor either mistakenly or purposefully (IDK) transplants Rize san’s organs into Kaneki, making him part ghoul. Honestly, he appears to be mostly ghoul. The only thing that story shows to be different between him and other ghouls is his scent and the fact that he only has one red eye where other ghouls have two.
Kaneki obviously panics as anyone would. And thereafter he is thrown into the deep end of life as a ghoul which is quite the opposite of what he had previously thought. Ghouls are not a secret in this Tokyo. The fact that ghouls exist is well know. There are tv specials about ghouls that give the human population information about ghouls and their behavior. The police actively hunt ghouls. There is a huge task force dedicated to action against ghouls that is indiscriminate. Kaneki, who just took for granted that ghoul’s were inherently evil must now live in this odd world where he finds out that ghouls are more like people than he had imagined. And through he and his friends, you learn this as well.What I love about this story is that you cannot take the fact that ghouls have to eat people out of the story. Even though there are ghouls, like the ones that Kaneki finds a family in, who refuse to kill but still eat already dead humans found of freeways and underpasses. The fact is that they have to continually eat human flesh. They struggle with this necessity. They question their right to live in this world. They are essentially human with thoughts, feelings, connections, families, histories and everything else that makes a human a human. Kaneki finds this out and struggles twice as hard as everyone else. Because the police actively work toward indiscriminate genocide of all ghouls, he has to fight for his right to live in this world along with his new ghoul family.
And this is what makes the story incredible. The ghouls you come to love cannot separate themselves from the reality of who they are but they are fighting to live as humans without causing harm to living humans while simultaneously they are forced to kill humans and ghouls who seek to destroy their attempts a happy assimilation into human society. The story keeps the dichotomy of black and white. Ghouls eat people. People want to be free of the specter of life on the food chain so they kill ghouls. However, ghouls are also natural living sentient beings who have a right to live. In the end, you find that those who kill ghouls have a sinister hatred that drives them to a sadistic craving for blood and violence just as hellish as the craving for blood that they perceive ghouls to have. And who can blame either side? When two creatures have the right to live, whose right is placed above the others.
Do not misunderstand me. Lots of the ghouls are ridiculous and grotesque creatures. But so are many of the humans who hunt them. The ghouls form gangs or syndicates in the different wards of Tokyo. It is unclear how long this has been going on. Was it first humans who saw the ghouls as monsters and then started a campaign of genocide or was it binge eating ghouls that put humans in such constant terror that they chose to fight back. You get the impression from the story that it was sort of both. However, you understand that there on people on both sides who would prefer or at least be open to a form of coexistence. Their are humans who have friendly as well as non-platonic relationships with ghouls. And there are ghouls like Touka who go out of their way to have real friendships with humans while refusing to eat live humans. Touka goes so far as to even eat the harmful human food that her high school friend makes for her. The good intentions of the good however are, just as in life, destroyed by the mistrust bred by the malintent of the bad.
And poor Kaneki kun is forced to live in the middle of all of that. His development is the story. It is the struggle. It is the question. A question, that when you think about deeply is a real question that the world has been struggling with for as long as man has been able to think about such things. Who has the right to take in order to live? And who should have to sacrifice their happiness in order for others to live?