Tokyo Ghoul Ep. 1: Monstrous rebirth

Tokyo Ghoul - 0103

So I’m watching this innocent, little boy — but shockingly enough, this anime’s main character is actually a freshman in college — go on a date with a girl. He thinks everything is nice and wholesome about their encounter, but before you know it, she leads him down a dark alleyway. Usually, it’s the other way around, isn’t it? But the tables have turned: it turns out the woman is the predator this time as Rize, the girl, viciously attacks him. We’ve already seen her prey (read: kill) upon a bunch of men just the night before, and our virginal Ken is now her latest target. First, she draws his blood, breaking the skin when she digs her teeth into his flesh. She then grows tentacles and penetrates Ken’s apparently nice and soft body, promising to “gently scramble up [his] insides.” Let’s just say that after this rather violent tryst, our boy Ken is never quite the same again. It’s like he now has an incurable disease. You could perhaps even call it venereal. But more importantly, he now feels the very same temptations that she feels… or rather, the temptation that she felt ’cause she dies shortly after they fuck. Point is, he now wants to consume human flesh as well.

But of course, young miss Rize was actually a ghoul, and she actually wanted to eat Ken until the hero was fortuitous enough to have a bunch of i-beams come apart and crash down upon his figurative rapist. Still, the sexual metaphors here are undeniable. Our formerly innocent Ken suddenly finds that his appetite can no longer be satiated by safe, processed foodstuffs. Y’see, after getting out of the hospital, his best friend is nice enough to get Ken all sorts of packaged foods: hamburgers, sandwiches, etc. It’s all sterilized, plastic crap, though. Rize has made him a man (again, figuratively), and now like a junkie, he needs the real shit. He needs the carnal taste of human flesh. So in the ending scene where Ken is trying to hold himself back from the corpse in front of him, insisting upon his humanity, he’s actually desperately clinging to his boyhood. He’s not like that, man. He’s not a dirty sex-haver. Ken just wants to go back to his innocent life of reading books and eating grey, well-done hamburger meat slathered in some overly salty, artificially-flavored meat sauce. He’s not meant to stalk the shady back alleys for natural, free-range human flesh (illicit sex).

Tokyo Ghoul - 0106

Oh well, what’s done is done. You get the feeling that Ken’s descent into the dark, seedy underbelly of Japanese society is an inevitability, and there’s no turning back. You can clearly see this in the screenshot above. Not only is Ken heading in the opposite direction as the rest of his people, an unnatural barrier separates him from the rest of them. The gates have been opened, and the only question is how long will our hero continue to try and cling onto his perceived innocence. And I call it “the dark, seedy underbelly of Japanese society,” because that’s what it represents. Oh sure, we’re in a universe with man-eating ghouls and whatnot. At the end of the day, Tokyo reflects this facade of glitz and glamor intermixed with remnants of traditional Japanese values, but this only serves to conceal the fact that it’s a 21st century metropolis, and as a result, it has all the same sins and vices of the average 21st century metropolis. Powerful ghouls preside over their territories like yakuza gang leaders defending their turf. Desperate junkies go prowling in the shadows of the night, looking to attack unsuspecting passersby. We’ve merely replaced sex, drugs, money, etc. with one unifying metaphor: human flesh. This what we do with fiction, especially horror fiction. We confront the uneasy truths of our society by turning it into ghouls and monsters of the night.

Anyway, yeah, I found the first episode highly interesting, but that’s usually the case with these shows, isn’t it? After all, the possibilities are endless at the moment. The story can explore all sorts of interesting questions that have been raised by the opening episode’s set-up. For instance, Touka appears to be an ally, but she’s not exactly a heroine either. One of the show’s protagonists, perhaps, but she probably won’t represent Ken’s salvation. Well, it certainly won’t be the salvation he’s looking for when the girl forcibly stuffs human flesh down his throat. There also hints of Rize continuing existence within the story, threatening to haunt the main character long after her demise. Not only has she corrupted him, she has now become his mother in a twisted way. She gave birth to his new self, after all, right down to the very fact that they now share some of the same flesh and blood. Ken now carries her organs within him as a result of a very unlikely operation, but perhaps Dr. Kano deliberately wanted to experiment. In any case, the scene leading up to his rebirth features our hero floating naked in a body of water as Rize cradles him. Hint: it’s a dream of him inside a womb. Still, although she is motherly to him here, she continues to be his sexual predator at the same time. Rize approaches him from behind and even covers up his eyes as if to prevent him from seeing all evil.

Tokyo Ghoul - 0102

If there’s anything I’m apprehensive about, I hope the story’s conflicts won’t devolve into a bunch of over-the-top shounen-esque battles. Unfortunately, we’ve already gotten a taste of it in this week’s episode, especially when we see Touka and Nishiki charge at one another. I don’t mind action; in fact, I welcome it. But I would prefer it if the action here was a little more down-to-earth and realistic–… well, as realistic as tentacle-sprouting ghouls can be. I want the fights to be dirty and brutal to reflect the tone of a dark, seedy underbelly of Tokyo that the opening episode has managed to establish thus far. But you know how shounen battles typically tend to be. Nishiki tells Touka that she’ll have to cut him a little deeper if she truly wants to hurt him. She snarkily replies, “Will I?” We then see a delayed reaction as cuts appear up and down Nishiki’s legs. This is an example of pure shounen camp, and while such a thing works for a a series like Kill la Kill, I think it’s just distracting here. It’s too fantastical. Too silly. Unless, of course, Tokyo Ghoul wants to be comedic as well, then by all means, bring on the camp.

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23 thoughts on “Tokyo Ghoul Ep. 1: Monstrous rebirth

  1. Flawfinder

    I had a hard time wondering whether the show was supposed to be legitimately scary or pulpy exploitation throughout the entire episode, which took me out of the experience a lot despite the interesting elements, especially during the violent parts. Hopefully this isn’t just another overhyped manga that may or may not have been given to an incompetent director. We already have Akame ga Kill this season for that.

    Reply
  2. Rae (@CSrae)

    >I hope the story’s conflicts won’t devolve into a bunch of over-the-top shounen-esque battles.

    I was going over some summaries for the new shows and I read that later on the entire manga becomes something like Bleach with big fights. I did read the first manga chapter because i liked the covers. The manga-ka does show admirable improvement in his art skills over time if that means anything from chapter 1 to the most recent.

    The anime does have a nice consistency with all action and fights just from the PV. I’m still on the fence if I want to add it to my current season watch list.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I was going over some summaries for the new shows and I read that later on the entire manga becomes something like Bleach with big fights.

      That’s too bad.

      Reply
      1. kaoknight

        yeah, I also read a bit of the manga beforehand and without going into spoiler territory, the story actually went pretty well until they jumped the shark and genre shifted from a psychological story into a full-on typical battle shonen full of transformations and the like(as you saw in the trailers).

        Reply
        1. Sap

          Having caught up with the manga recently, I do admit that the later chapters got significantly heavier in terms of fights (but really, what’d you expect from tentacle ghouls?) but to go as far as calling it jumping the shark? I don’t know.

          To me the author never seemed to lose sight of the themes he introduced earlier in the story and while certainly on the over the top side, the fights never came across as cheap or outta nowhere, nor did they lose the brutality and dirtiness inherent to a universe filled with man-eating tentacle-wielding zombies.

          Add to that the fact that there are still lots of aspects of the universe which have yet to be explored (without getting into spoilers). Overall I don’t think the author’s handling his work too bad.

  3. IonCaron (@IonCaron)

    I think you might be stretching the sexual themes a bit here like with the Highschool of the Dead analysis. Not to say you aren’t mostly on point, though, since these Ghouls are easily replacements for Vampires (which most always carry sexual overtones and subtext) and the title itself implies that it does in fact want to imply what you described under “seedy Tokyo underbelly”.

    I was very excited and interested in this, actually, and the fact that the hero is saved by pure chance was a massive bonus to me. No hero(ine) coming to the rescue, no sudden powers from the hero’s unseen genes, etc.

    And then the ending… Not only does it end up with the exact thing I was happy it didn’t start with, it also adds that delayed shounen action thing you mentioned. Not to mention the stupid red-smokey glowing limb thing that seems to be going on.

    It’s simultaniously off to a great and bad start, and sadly the ending has already proven this won’t simply be a story about an unlucky guy getting stuck as a dhampir- I MEAN half-ghoul and learning how to balance the shadows he lives in with the normal life we all live. Add in the mystery of “Who the hell okay-ed this operation?” and “How can I keep from getting dragged into demon gang wars?” and you’d have a pretty interesting series.

    But no we need Naruto super powers with speed and claws and lunging and WHOOSH and BLAM and CRASH and delayed action ALWAYS DELAYED ACTION
    Got split in half? DELAY THAT ACTION Make him split after a monologue!
    Got your tendons slashed? DELAY THAT SHIT, SON Make them burst after a full hour of cardio!

    Now all we need are Blood Balloons. You know, wherein characters don’t have organs but are just walking humanoid sacks of blood that flood city blocks when slashed?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think you might be stretching the sexual themes a bit here like with the Highschool of the Dead analysis.

      She lured people with her sexuality. In the opening scene, we see her naked, straddling a body and shouting “More!” She grew tentacles and penetrated the hero, who now craves human flesh. How am I stretching anything? If anything, it’s blatant and in-your-face about it. Besides, you say I’m stretching it, but what’s the counterargument?

      I wouldn’t have changed a thing with the Highschool of the Dead post either. If I had continued blogging at that time, I would have stuck to the same tune.

      Reply
      1. moecharacter

        Not to mention there’s that one scene where the guy tells Ken that eating a corpse in someone else’s territory is akin to having sex with their significant other. It’d be pretty hard to get more overt than that.

        Reply
      2. IonCaron (@IonCaron)

        The counter argument is that the concept and point is as simple as “vampires are overplayed, how do we do a vampire story without vampires? Make them just man-eaters!”.
        _Some examples of reaching would be the whole bit about how the assault kind of mirrored rape and how she’s now “like a mother figure” in a twisted way. If we go that far we can also say that the way the protagonist is forced to change is much like how some rapes result in a pregnancy, and the survivor must then be faced with a cruel decision over what action to take next.

        Not that I think that, I’m just saying that it’s easy to read too deeply into this. I didn’t say you were totally off, my dude, but simply that some of the things you attributed to allegory are just typical vampire story tropes.

        And why did you feel the need to say you wouldn’t change the HighDead analysis? No worries, mate, I’d never expect or want you do change your writing on anything according anyone’s opinion. If you did that you just wouldn’t be as fun to read anymore.

        I think you’re wrong on certain subjects, sure, but our opinions can differ without the implication I want you to change, right?
        Haha! Like after my time reading your posts I’d want you to start editing it to suit my tastes! I’m like everyone else who reads your stuff, mate. I don’t just come here for the anime. I come here for your take on these things. You’re the reason we read. No one should want you to change into an echo chamber.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          but simply that some of the things you attributed to allegory are just typical vampire story tropes.

          And vampire stories are typically highly sexual and highly metaphorical, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. The original Dracula played on the fears of Eastern European men and how they could steal our white women away. Twilight, as much as we bash it, can be subjected to an oppositional reading where Bella is actually in control of the situation the entire time. As a result, even if Tokyo Ghoul is merely a derivative of vampire stories, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m reading too much into it. Samural Flamenco is arguably derivative, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that the show was meaningless.

          Some examples of reaching would be the whole bit about how the assault kind of mirrored rape

          I don’t see how it’s reaching. We just saw her kill a bunch of guys in a presumed orgy. She obviously enticed a bunch of men into a room with sex. She now lures the innocent main character with her beauty. She’s not just a ghoul. She’s a ghoul with tentacles. Tentacles in anime. She wants to stir up his insides. It’s like shitty eroge dialogue. In a dream sequence, they’re both naked and she approaches him from behind. They assume a quasi-sexual position, and she even covers his eyes. For what? For shits and giggles? The whole episode is dripping with aggressive sexual imagery. Maybe you’re under-reading it.

          If we go that far we can also say that the way the protagonist is forced to change is much like how some rapes result in a pregnancy,

          You could say that if you can argue compellingly for it. I think I have argued compelling for my interpretation. Any interpretation is valid so long as it holds up. I’ve provided my evidence. The only counterargument I see is, “You’re overthinking it.”

    2. torgosatyr

      “I was very excited and interested in this, actually, and the fact that the hero is saved by pure chance was a massive bonus to me. No hero(ine) coming to the rescue, no sudden powers from the hero’s unseen genes, etc.”

      Ohhhhhh you will be sooooooooooooooooooooo disappointed later when you learn what actually happened.

      Reply
  4. IonCaron (@IonCaron)

    Damn it. *simultaneously
    Anyway, could be good or crap, yeah. I was just hoping it’d be “Anime Short” level good.

    You’re right, though. We can’t let ourselves get suckered in by another mostly promising first ep. haha

    Reply
  5. Nick

    Nothing to do with the story and writing itself, but holy shit the scene and colour compositions are so incredibly well done.

    Reply
  6. eternia

    This is why Chaika is better, even though it has all sort of annoying females.
    We can clearly see how they fight, in that anime, just like when I watched a decent kungfu movie.
    In this anime, the punk and the pettanko passed each other, they put a flash of white light there, and that’s the end of the fight.
    This is just like those shounen jump anime.
    People flashing, bumping against each other.
    And they called it battle.
    What a load of bull.

    Reply
  7. Boytitan

    I disagree on your stance on this story. I really get where you are coming from with the sexual innuendo thing but I feel this story is going to be way more about if Ghouls deserve to live than anything. It did have a few sexual representations in it but just a few. What happened is a monster attacked a boy and now that boy is a monster.Now the question is is that boy still a human. For some reason when it comes to story’s about person hood when said person is now what some would call a monster you compare it to becoming a man/or woman after sex when sexual adult hood has very very little to do with those stories. Actually the lead character here is super screwed he is not fully ghoul nor is he fully human neither group would fully accept him. As with half demons in other stories there are bound to be points in time where he is a regular human and completely looses his ghoul like traits.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      What happened is a monster attacked a boy and now that boy is a monster.

      For some reason when it comes to story’s about person hood when said person is now what some would call a monster you compare it to becoming a man/or woman

      So much for metaphors.

      Reply
  8. Boytitan

    The sexual representation is there because ghouls are a representation of vampires pretty much.Actually in fiction ghouls are usually lesser vampires that are brainless and instead of just consuming blood consume most their victim. Anyways vampires are very sexual creatures. Sex is a form of power. The sexuality is in this story but as Ion said your kind of taking it far.Most vampire stories are very sexual but the story still has very little to do with sexual adult hood and a loss of innocence. I lost my virginity a while ago I would still flip my shit if I found out i had to eat humans. Being a active martial artist/boxer I would love the super powers but not at the cost of having to eat people. Also there is the issue with the fact that all other ghouls were at one point dead. They lived full lives then died.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Also there is the issue with the fact that all other ghouls were at one point dead. They lived full lives then died.

      With regards to the sexual metaphors, I’m talking mostly about the main character and a bit about Rize, but whatever. Even if the sexual angle only applies to the first episode, I would still stand by what I wrote, because it’s entirely possible that each episode has a certain theme to convey. After they convey it, they move on. So while you may argue, “The rest of the story isn’t like that,” because you have had the luxury of reading the manga — but even then, adaptations can take on new characteristics and thus deserve to stand on their own — I’m not writing about the rest of the story. I’m writing about the first episode, and what it evoked. If I see the same pattern in future episodes, I’ll bring up the sexual angle again. If I see something else, I’ll say something else. You guys are taking one post, however, and extrapolating it, assuming that it is and will be my entire stance on the show. Not only that, I’ve also compared the other characters to yakuza gang members and junkies, but you guys are so fixated on the sexual angle to the point that you guys seem to think the sexual angle is the only thing I wrote. No point even defending myself.

      Reply
      1. Boytitan

        I haven’t read the manga just vampires and ghouls happen to show up a lot in my areas of interest so I just know a lot about em. I was just saying how sometimes monsters are just sexual to be sexual.Also I sorta get tunnel vision sometimes, I read your whole post but got fixated on one topic of it. Its more so my fault, everyone interpret things different I shouldn’t have jumped on you for interpreting the show different than me.

        Reply
  9. Drasca

    Ahaha, the sex is there, but I never tied it together as a theme like you have. Nice! I hadn’t considered the internal conflict our protagonist experiences as a ghoul as coming of age since ghouls are so inhuman. Taking and accepting ghoul as a next stage of his existence makes a lot more sense than fighting the inevitable since there’s no known cure for ghouls within reach.

    Boy must become a man now, with a creepy predator mother figure that’s half Oedipal complex half seductress. She played him good, even as she got played.

    Reply
  10. Sap

    Actually, when I think about another certain character that might (or not, depending on how far the adaptation goes) appear later in the story, the sex metaphor doesn’t seem that far fetched at all.

    Reply

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