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).
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.
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.