Every season, batches of animes are released for audiences all around. Some are funny, some are sad and a majority of them are setting out to be the seasons best. Within this slew of new animes, rests a series that will be talked about for an indefinite amount of time. Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel, Tokyo Ghoul Root A, are two such primary examples. When news hit of Tokyo Ghoul’s anime adaptation, forums ran rampant with anticipation and excitement. Based on the manga series by Sui Ishida, Tokyo Ghoul was said to be as brutal and tragic as Attack on Titan and Higurashi When They Cry, I was fully prepared to handle anything the show threw at me. After all, if I’ve made it through a handful of tragedies tinged with blood and guts, Tokyo Ghoul should be no problem right? Wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional wringer Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel put me through. This will be a review of Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul Root A so beware of spoilers!! I won’t be going over every detail or character however; key moments, including the ending, will be spoiled.
Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul Root A both tell very different stories; one of the only commonalities being the theme of devastation and misery. In its first season, Tokyo Ghoul familiarizes us with our main characters and sets up a season plot that will trigger an over-arching storyline that only reaches somewhat of a resolution at the end of Tokyo Ghoul Root A.
The story first begins with the introduction of ghouls. Ghouls are human-like creatures that devour the human-flesh in order to survive. However, not all ghouls eat just to survive. Some butcher humans just for the pleasure of it. Our protagonist, Kaneki Ken, has the misfortune of asking one such ghoul (his crush Rize) out on a date. Rize ruthlessly attacks Kaneki, but is killed by accident before she can finish him off. Kaneki is brought to the hospital in critical condition and of course, Kaneki manages to survive only after Rize’s organs are transplanted into him. This seemingly lifesaving operation turns Kaneki into a half-ghoul.
Soon after, Kaneki is taken in by a group of ghouls who manage a local coffee shop (Anteiku). These ghouls try to help Kaneki deal with his new life as a ghoul, as well as teach him more about the ghoul society. A key member of Anteiku is Touka Kirishima, a tough as nails-no nonsense kind of gal who becomes increasingly attached to Kaneki as time goes by. Kaneki, throughout the course of the series, encounters many interesting characters other than Touka; the three most memorable being Tsukiyama Shuu, Nagachika Hideyoshi (Hide) and Amon Kotaro.
Shuu initially starts off as a villain, but ends up teetering towards Kaneki’s side due to his overwhelming obsession with Kaneki. Becoming addicted to Kaneki’s scent and “taste”, Shuu regularly fantasizes about devouring Kaneki and expresses a more carnal interest in him. Shuu’s character development is one of many things that frustrated fans of Tokyo Ghoul (mostly people who have read the manga). Shuu, in the anime, spends a majority of his time inhaling his handkerchief that’s spotted with Kaneki’s blood and loudly proclaiming his desire to eat Kaneki; where as in the manga, Shuu develops genuine affection for Kaneki. That being said, I had no issues with Shuu’s character. In fact, he was one of the most interesting characters of the series; which says a lot considering he wasn’t in it all that much. In regards to his development, it seemed as though the anime simply didn’t have the time to focus too much on Shuu; instead putting more emphasis on characters such as Touka and Amon.
Amon is a vital character, who I’m not exactly fond of. As an Anti-Ghoul investigator, Amon has an extremely strong sense of justice and has a great deal of hatred towards ghouls as a whole. Upon encountering Kaneki, Amon begins to reconsider the true meaning of justice after Kaneki spares his life. More than anything, Amon becomes confused and spends the season pondering what’s right and what’s wrong. I felt heavy annoyance at Amon’s ignorance, but was also fascinated by Amon’s internal turmoil after his meeting with Kaneki. His scenes with Kaneki are some of the season’s highlights because it sets up two very different sides of the spectrum. Both have no choice. but to stand against each other and without a shadow of a doubt, you know these two will eventually face off one day for one last battle.
Yet another vital character (who appeared hardly at all) is Hide, Kaneki’s best friend. Kaneki tries his best to keep Hide in the dark about his newly developed ghoul side, but unbeknownst to Kaneki; Hide manages to find out. Hide is one of the only “positive” characters present in the series. He’s done no wrong and is completely unaware of the tragedies unfolding around him. Most characters in Tokyo Ghoul, even Kaneki, have done some questionable things. Hide is the only character that remains innocent throughout not just this season, but the second season as well. He’s the most essential character of the series because of his strong connection to Kaneki and his humanity.
Along with a slew of characters, the first season introduces us and Kaneki to two key groups: The Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG) and Aogiri Tree. The CCG is a federal agency (yes, the one that Amon works for) that investigates ghoul related cases whereas Aogiri Tree is a group in opposition of CCG and is basically aiming for ghoul supremacy. These are two vastly different sides that are meant to ignite an all-out war; humans’ vs ghouls’. Despite the introduction of several new characters and two opposing forces, Tokyo Ghoul (at its core) focuses its spotlight mainly on Kaneki.
Now torn between his ghoul instincts and his humanity, season 1 essentially deals with how Kaneki handles being tossed into a harsh and cruel new world. The atmosphere of the 1st season remains bleak and progressively gets worse till we’re enveloped in a black hole with no light in sight. Kaneki, by the 1st seasons end, is seen embracing his ghoul instincts after being subjected to countless hours of torture that result in the “death” of his innocence. In contrast to his dark as night hair, Kaneki now has a head full of stark white hair and nails just as black as his hair used to be. Through-out the series, Kaneki refused to kill or cannibalize anyone however after succumbing to his ghoul instincts, Kaneki feasted upon his torturers body.
Kaneki is no longer the carefree book-worm that dreamed of going on the perfect date. Each episode chipped away a part of Kaneki until we’re left with an unrecognizable being. This was the most difficult aspect of Tokyo Ghoul; watching a beloved character’s life crumble right before your eyes. Kaneki’s torture scene was hands down, THE most brutal thing I’ve ever seen in an anime. At times I found myself questioning the writer’s sanity and wondering “what’s the point of doing all this?” Kaneki is not only physically abused, but mentally as well. With a slack jaw and horrified expression, I watched as Kaneki internally tormented himself with memories of his deceased mother as well as the possible rejection of his best friend Hide. In these moments you realize just how tortured Kaneki was, even before being turned into a half ghoul. You get a glimpse of his painful past and discern that his only ray of sunshine is his bond with Hide; a bond that’s more closely focused upon in the anime’s second season.
One key aspect of Tokyo Ghoul, as a series, that completely fascinates me is its ability to submerge me so deeply into its world. The audience is essentially as clueless as Kaneki is and learns more about this horrifying yet intriguing world right along with him. We take this journey with Kaneki, almost as if we’re physically beside him. This is a common factor in anime however; this is the first time I’ve been so sufficiently engrossed in a character within a span of 1 to 2 episodes. The atmosphere is dire and yet so tragically beautiful, I couldn’t help but keep watching despite the overwhelming feeling of sadness that enveloped me each time I did. I didn’t realize just how attached I became to certain characters, until something horrific happened to them. Kaneki’s torture scene ignited my protective instincts and made me want to jump into the anime and beat his torturer into oblivion. You know your anime has done more than a good job if it can illicit such a response from its viewers. I really, really did not want to continue the series because I knew the end result would not be good for Kaneki or anyone connected to him. In animes such as Attack on Titan or even Akame Ga Kill no matter how dark or sad a moment became, the series always provided me with some sort of hope or a silver lining. Tokyo Ghoul provided me no such relief, especially when going into its second season.
Tokyo Ghoul Root A strays away from its original source material and becomes an anime original storyline with scenes here and there that were pulled from the manga. Root A is all about consequences and the bonds formed between characters. We’re introduced to new characters and everything finally comes to a head towards the end. After saving Touka, Kaneki (now known as Eye-Patch) starts the season off by joining ghoul supremacist group Aogiri Tree, seemingly abandoning all his friends with no hints as to what his true motivation really is. When Kaneki leaves, Touka staggers after him and reaches her hand out, desperate to make him stay. Kaneki trudges onwards, leaving Touka and his old life behind. Now cold and distant, Kaneki does Aogiri Tree’s bidding and works his way up as CCG’s most wanted ghoul. On the other side of the spectrum, Kaneki’s friends are handling his departure in vastly different ways; the two most notable being Hide and Touka. Hide is stopping at nothing to find his best friend and bring him home whereas Touka is hard at work studying and trying to get into the same university Kaneki attends. Kaneki hardly has any screen time the first couple of episodes and instead we’re shown more of the CCG and Anteiku. I loved that the second season took the time to showcase what’s going on through every character's mind.
Those I saw as villains became more sympathetic and likeable as I saw a different side to them. The characters that best represent my change of heart are CCG agents Amon and Juuzou Suzuya. Amon forms an attachment to Akira, the daughter of his former partner. Akira is now Amon’s new partner and the two act as a “will they-won’t they” type of couple. With the arrival of Akira, Amon is suddenly forced to accept that there are still people in this world he wants to protect. His new resolve permanently places him as Kaneki’s enemy. Juuzou is someone I never expected to be fond of. Proving to be kookier than Shuu, Juuzou takes great pleasure in the pain he inflicts on ghouls and constantly showcases sadistic tendencies that remind me of Kaneki’s torturer Jason. Juuzou’s saving grace is his tight-knit bond with his CCG partner Shinohara. Shinohara becomes a mentor and father-figure for Juuzou and spends quite a bit of time fussing over Juuzou and making sure he doesn’t end up like Jason.
When Kaneki is finally focused upon once again, we learn that he joined Aogiri Tree in order to protect his loved ones; entering the belly of the beast to ensure their safety. Kaneki puts on a façade of disconnect when forced to interact with the very people he’s struggling to protect. When Kaneki encounters Touka, for the first time since leaving, Touka gives Kaneki a verbal lashing and even resorts to punching him out of guilt and frustration. Touka breaks down and asks “Why? Why did you change?” This scene was heart-wrenching because Touka really has no idea what Kaneki went through. She’s trying desperately to comprehend why Kaneki is no longer by her side. Unfortunately, Touka doesn’t receive any answers because unbeknownst to her, this will be the last time she speaks to Kaneki.
The bonds shown between certain characters are a major plot point for Root A. Every character has someone they love and want to protect, the question is: do they succeed in their goal? Unfortunately, the answer is one big resounding no. The climax of the series leaves devastation in its wake. CCG launches a full scale attack on Anteiku, after learning that it’s a coffee shop run by ghouls. Kaneki and Touka both rush to Anteiku in order to save a place they call home. Hide also appears, desperately searching for Kaneki while trying to blend in amongst a sea of chaos. Kaneki has an emotional run-in with Shuu, which consists of Shuu desperately trying to stop Kaneki from heading to Anteiku (because he knows Kaneki will be killed if he goes). Shuu even attempts to fruitlessly attack Kaneki before collapsing to the ground, crying uncontrollably. I felt my heart break as Shuu begged, “Have a heart Kaneki, would you please not go?” Kaneki gives Shuu a sad smile and answers, “I can’t stand not being able to do anything anymore.” Shuu’s character, in this scene, proved his attachment to Kaneki went beyond primal hunger and edged over to genuine affection.
Kaneki arrives in a nick of time and manages to save Irimi and Enji, two employees of Anteiku. It’s here that Kaneki has his final showdown with Amon. Kaneki expresses his desire to not fight, but Amon makes it painfully clear that he won’t let Kaneki leave. Both resume their battle which leaves Kaneki severally wounded and Amon dead. Kaneki attempts to crawl away, but soon passes out. Once Kaneki awakens, he discovers that he’s been dragged to Anteiku by Hide thus leading to the finale fittingly titled “Ken”. The last couple episodes depressed me beyond belief, but nothing was sadder than “Ken”. The finale’s sole focus is Hide and Kaneki. Kaneki attempts to hide his ghoul self only for Hide too reveal he knew the whole time. Hide felt as though he was being left behind, so he decided he would do whatever it takes to reach Kaneki once again. As Hide continued talking, I began to notice something “off” about him. His balance stuttered and he acted as though he was severely wounded. Moments later, blood pours from Hide’s stomach and he staggers to the ground revealing he was mortally wounded while trying to find Kaneki. Kaneki stared at Hide in shock and you can actually see the despair creep into Kaneki’s eyes and voice. Hide smiles one last time at Kaneki and says “Let’s go home.” Kaneki and Hide’s reunion was just as heartbreaking as I expected it to be. Hide’s death was subtly foreshadowed through-out the series. His clear connection to Kaneki was the biggest indicator of his demise. Kaneki lost his humanity in order to protect Hide and yet his death is what jolts his humanity right back. This was hands down the saddest moment of the entire series, but also so ridiculously well-done.
Touka finally arrives at Anteiku only to see that it has been set ablaze. A place that was once filled with fond memories is now being burnt to the ground. One of the most tragic scenes in the entire anime is seeing Anteiku destroyed as Touka cries outside asking “why?” Kaneki resides inside the burning building with Hide and as he hold him, his hair flickers back to its original color. The restoration of Kaneki’s hair is something of great importance because it symbolized Kaneki restoring a piece of his humanity. Touka manages to summon strength to stand after seeing Kaneki carrying Hide’s body outside. Sadly, Touka is stopped from reaching Kaneki by a fellow ally. Touka collapses to the ground and watches as Kaneki walks further and further away, now forever out of her reach. This was a bittersweet scene because Touka finally gets a glimpse of the old Kaneki. Kaneki surrenders himself to the CCG and it’s more than implied that Kaneki was killed after turning himself in. At
the end of the day, Kaneki’s home and hope was with Hide and with Hide gone, Kaneki had nothing left. Despite Kaneki’s desire to protect everyone, he wanted Hide’s safety above everyone else’s; even his own.
Kaneki loses Hide (and his life), Shuu loses Kaneki, Juuzou loses Shinohara, Akira loses Amon and Touka loses most of the people she’s ever grown to love. The ending sufficiently shattered me and I had a difficult time comprehending just how unhappy everything turned out to be. Each and every scene of “Ken” was emotionally draining from start to finish. The minute me and my friend finished the finale we sat in silence, mourning. After the ending song, an extra scene was shown which reveals Touka’s fate. Touka has now opened up a tea shop and the final scene is of her staring off into the distance with a sad, hopeful smile on her face. A smile that reveals Touka has been and always will be waiting for Kaneki to return. Root A succeeds in being the physical embodiment of a tragedy. No one, in this situation, won and any remote chance of happiness slipped through everyone’s fingers. There is hope of a third season, but without any official confirmation this is the official ending of the series.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Tokyo Ghoul despite how upset and sad the series made me. The anime successfully managed to endear and attach me to most of its characters, Kaneki and Hide particularly. I’ve seen a lot of praise and an equal amount of disdain for the series; whether it’s complaints on the anime’s occasional less than stellar animation or its slow pacing and “shitty” ending. I loved Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul Root A despite the tiny complaints I had about it. I highly recommend this series but I caution those who are faint of heart or despise tragedies. Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul Root A is available on Hulu and has been licensed by FUNimation for streaming and home video distribution. The manga has been licensed by Viz Media and is set to release its first volume in June. FUNimation is currently airing the second seasons broadcast dub. Please do go check it out! The series isn’t happy, not by a long shot, but the depth and emotion illustrated by the series will make it more than worth your while.
Tokyo Ghoul & Tokyo Ghoul Root A gets a solid 9 out of 10 for its complex (and yes sad) storyline, eye-catching visuals, loveable characters and stellar opening and ending songs for both seasons. This one is a must-watch folks! Check out the first season’s trailer and opening down below!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNGhKIcHVQc&h=500 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aMOurgDB-o&h=500
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