Bleach and Naruto’s newest sibling left a rather good taste in my mouth. Not…you know what I mean. We’ll be covering the first arc here (more appropriately: Whatever arc ends after episode 11 or so).
A lot of the premise relies on one thing: Your knowledge of the generic Vampire mythos. That’s basically what we’re getting here. Only instead of Vampires, even the cute cuddly ones who don’t HAVE to kill you to feed, we have the Ghouls, a race that lives in Humanity’s shadow and eats their flesh.
In this regard it’s kind of silly. Most vampire stories in the modern day have acknowledged that yes, animal blood should be a substitute for vampires even if they don’t prefer it. Because, logically (as logical as you can approach the topic), there’s little difference at the nutritional level. Tokyo Ghoul throws that out the window. Only Human flesh satisfies these creatures, and we know that because there is no attempt to whitewash their actions, and even those we see who are very keen on blending into society don’t use alternative food sources. As close as we can get with science, there should be little to no difference in pig flesh or Human flesh, or any kind of raw meat. And yet this is not an option. This even leaves aside the fact that the only reason creatures eat is to acquire carbon. The primary decider of your diet is your teeth and intestines, not the type of carbon in front of you, be that plant or animal form. Most creatures who can eat both, will eat both. And as the family dog shows, even if they shouldn’t, they’ll eat the “wrong” type all the time.
In short, I feel like we’re being led by the nose through the pretext of horror, when we all expect this to devolve into standard shonen beat-em-up style soon enough. So why go through the effort of forcing it? Maybe I’m just being overly picky here because there isn’t a lot of supernatural bent to this stuff yet, not really. The speculative element is the race of Ghouls, but aside of that? It doesn’t appear to have a lot of occult trimmings. Thus, it seems to be approaching from the more “scientific” angle, so I’m probably feeling harsher for that.
Getting to the episode proper, our teaser is brief, a female Ghoul feasting on someone she’s just killed. She’s approached by another Ghoul, who’s here to take her out. Well before the old guy can report back to the Camarilla about how awesome a job he did…she totally kicks his ass and escapes, saying she really doesn’t have time for these little games.
Well you’ve got my attention.
Well we meet our lead, Kaneki, trying to organize a date and chatting it with his friend Hide. Hide is playing the down-to-Earth pretty boy and Kaneki the socially awkward bookworm. But we see the object of Kaneki’s affections, a purple haired girl with glasses, who happens to be reading the same book as Kaneki. They seem to hit it off quite well, even if their nerd-date features a shot of her cleava-….the hell? Realistic breast physics? What the hell kind of show is this? I think we got lost.
Rize (that is her name, after all) seems a bit concerned as the date comes to an end. She lives in the area where Ghoul attacks have been rampant, and I’m sure there’s a totally innocent reason for this.
As we’re about to have the first-date kiss on their goodbye, of course, she bites into Kaneki’s neck. I am in love.
Yeah, she’s the Ghoul from the beginning, and she’s on about how sexually thrilling it is to play with her victims. And there are just some adorably terrifying moments as she’s thrashing the poor kid around.
Yup. Still in love.
Luckily for our protagonist, the scaffolding above them breaks and Rize is crushed to death, and Kaneki himself left seriously injured. We get the “vague whispers of unconsciousness” as the doctor attending him transplants the organs from Rize into Kaneki.
…This is such a breach of medical ethics. I know they address it, the doctor wants responsibility yadda yadda. But in a planet where someone could be a Ghoul and you have no way of telling them apart at visual inspection…this is…this is downright criminal.
But luckily for us, it’s supposed to be like that.
Kaneki isn’t hungry. Or rather, all his food tastes like garbage now. He shuts himself in, avoiding Hide and with no parents, he has no one to confide in. But thanks to “Dramatically Convenient Televised Broadcasts Inc.”, he learns that Ghouls can’t eat people food. The inescapable conclusion he reaches is that, yes, he must be a ghoul now. He even proves this dramatically by trying to gut himself with a kitchen knife, testing another Ghoul trait, and the blade breaks.
…So…how MUCH force must be applied? Rize gets killed by some falling pipes, yet steel snaps off against their skin?
Kaneki wanders into a Ghoul kill, lured by the scent. The Ghoul present offers him a small piece, but is stopped by this blonde jackass. We had seen him hanging out with Hide earlier. He is less accomodating. He tells Kaneki that he’s in his hunting grounds without permission, a fate punishable by death. But luckily, Toka arrives. She was the waitress in the cafe earlier in the episode, because the world is tiny.
She’s some kind of authority, and yanks the blonde asshole’s leash. She even reminds him that until a few weeks ago, these were someone else’s hunting grounds.
Yes, connecting the dots, Rize was apparently a hell of a bigshot.
Toka here belongs to a group named Anteiku, they administer the allocation of feeding grounds to the stronger ghouls, and distribute food to the weaker ones. So by picking on Kaneki, the jackass has basically done all the things wrong.
I say this like it’s their job, but the Anteiku don’t seem to be very popular. Toka voices that she has to live in fear of the CCG (the anti-Ghoul Human forces), and other Ghouls, so their power is not absolute, or even unquestioned, but as is the rule in politics, any organized force will hold unnatural power over chaotic opposition.
Kaneki is brought to the Anteiku HQ by Toka’s boss, and he seems to be aware of what happened to him. Seems coffee is palatable to Ghouls though, so there’s that to help him blend in. He sends Kaneki home with a small scrap of food.
But Kaneki is still bothered by it. He still cannot make the conscious decision to eat Human flesh, even if it’s all prepared for him. Not helping is Rize, who mocks him as a sort of delusional apparition.
…See this is the kind of interaction I was hoping for in Nobunagun.
Well Kaneki does go back to school eventually, and seems Hide knows the jackass who nearly killed him the night before because the world is unnaturally tiny. On a walk, he knocks Hide out, just to rub salt in Kaneki’s wounds, seeing him as a weak Ghoul. But, sadly for him, he awakens the sleeping beast and Rize’s consciousness asserts itself, allowing Kaneki to tap into her powers, which are these blood-tentacles that he just tenderizes the other Ghoul with. Tenderizes with sharp points.
But Kaneki is so maddened by hunger (an experience Toka described as “living hell” with an insinuation she had tried to do it herself), that he can barely hold back Rize’s impulses and taunts to devour the unconscious Hide. All while sexually touching him (what with bloody holes in his body) and trying to seduce him into being a murderer.
Yup, still in love.
Luckily, Toka is here to knock him unconscious.
He awakens in the Anteiku HQ, where his hunger pains are gone. They fed him while asleep, and he doesn’t seem pleased but also accepting it was probably for everyone’s safety that they do so. In a nice bit, we see Hide awake while they are talking, so he knows already. None of the nonsense “but how do we hide it from the best friend?” crap. The leader invites Kaneki to remain with them, saying perhaps he will learn that Ghouls are more than he is giving them credit for.
On the whole this opening was quick, and gave us enough information without bogging us down at any point. The slowest bits were probably those of conflict, actually. Which sounds so weird, but it is. There’s also a tendency to pile Kaneki with the pity-party, but it’s JUST shy of being overwhelming that I can accept it characterization…as long as we don’t Yukine this bitch and drag it out forever. Nicely summarized, the old man tells Kaneki that, despite what he’s been saying, about not being Human or Ghoul, the truth is that he is BOTH Human and Ghoul, and should belong to both worlds. It’s quite poetic and I like the direction it’s pointing his character.
One of the mysteries to be answered will be how is Kaneki’s metabolism? Rize was what was known as a “binge eater”, a Ghoul who feeds almost every day. Most Ghouls only require one meal a month before needing to eat again. Where does Kaneki fall and how long until he’s driven mad again by hunger?
One of the questions undoubtedly asked will be “If you’re going to make a Vampire series without the vampires, why not just use vampires?” It’s something that bugs me about it, but I think the answer lies in the visceral quality of the Ghoul. Vampires are seen as cool, as desirable. Most people, presented with the option of being an immortal, beautiful, powerful vampire would at least give it some serious consideration. Doubly so with the lighter, fluffier rules that you don’t have to drink a person dry in order to feed, thus leaving no Human deaths on your conscience.
Ghouls are definitively not like that, and I think the primary reason is so that we can give some benefit as to why Kaneki is resistant to this change. Looking at Strike the Blood, where becoming a vampire was so consequence free we didn’t even need to see it happen to Kojo, here there is a lot of drama to be wrung out of Kaneki’s resistance, and his inevitable acceptance of his condition. It’s far more understandable to say “I don’t want to have to murder and rip flesh from corpses with my teeth” than “I have to be sexually appealing and super powered, I DON’T WANT THIS!”
So, a good start, on the whole. As I said it changes little about the standard vampire mythos, so what remains to be seen is how they expand the universe here, how they make us care about the characters and, for lack of a better term, the political situation of the Ghoul society.