Title: Tokyo Ghoul 東京喰種
Mangaka: Sui Ishida 石田 スイ
US Publisher: Viz Signature
Level: Upper Middle School, High School
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Violence, body horror
Content Warnings: Lots of violence and gore.
Honestly, I didn’t get the appeal of Tokyo Ghoul until I sat down and watched the anime. I read the first volume some time ago, to write a review for this blog, and I just couldn’t get into it. It’s not that I don’t like horror, because it’s an issue of the opposite problem. I love horror. I’ve written in the past about Japanese horror in particular. My husband and I watch a lot of Asian horror films (here’s his review of the excellent One Cut of the Dead, which everyone should watch). I’ve been a fan of Junji Ito, an amazing horror mangaka whose work is probably way too graphic to put on my school’s shelves, for a very long time. And the first volume of Tokyo Ghoul is… okay.
The premise is that Ken Kaneki, a college student, survives a deadly date with a ghoul only by receiving organs transplanted into him from that ghoul. Ghouls are creatures who look like humans, but can only survive by eating human flesh. Kaneki finds out that he has been transformed into a half-ghoul, and desperately craves human flesh. He tries to subdue that desire, but eventually has to give in to his new nature.
My students LOVE this series. I was thinking, originally, that they oversold it to me. The manga is fine, but didn’t exactly rock my world. The violence is tamed by the art style, which is both gorey and contained. That might seem strange to say, but Ishida uses a lot of effects, which obfuscate the more explicit gore. There’s a lot of blood, but that blood honestly creates a barrier. In this double page panel, where a character has had a construction beam fall on her, the gore has been reduced by the effects.
The gore levels are honestly fairly on par with most American comics. The fast pace keeps you from really focusing on individual panels.
When I went to watch the anime, though, it was the same story, but visually different. The manga is dark and difficult to parse through at times from the amount of ink on the page, but the anime is vivid and visually engaging. The pacing is also improved.
So, the question that you’re really looking for an answer to with these blogs is whether you should buy it. And I’d say Tokyo Ghoul is perfectly fine to purchase, and that students really love it. The violence might be a bit much for some, but it’s no more violent than a standard issue of Batman or a book like Not Even Bones. There’s nothing sexually explicit, and the story gets vastly more complex and interesting past the first volume. Female characters are powerful and complex, which is a pretty big deal for seinan manga. There’s a lot going on in regard to being an outsider, and finding power in being an outsider, which is where I feel students really connect with this story. After all, this really isn’t about whether I like it or not- it’s whether this manga is something which school librarians should purchase. And ultimately, I’m on the side of buying it. I’d also say the anime is a good one for clubs to watch.
Because this is seinan, it is written with older teens in mind, but I believe it could work for some middle school populations, due to the lack of any sexual content.