Tokyo Ghoul: Hauntingly beautiful

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Ed Lin:

Ed Lin is a junior at Emory University and is currently pursuing a degree in finance. When he’s not too busy writing essays for his professors, Ed enjoys weightlifting, reading manga, and napping. Ed is from New York and plans on working there in the future.

Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida

Sui Ishida’s best selling manga series Tokyo Ghoul is a mixture of both horror and fantasy that has won one the hearts of many readers across the globe. Originally published in the seinen manga magazine Weekly Young Jump in 2011, the Tokyo Ghoul series has sold over 22 million copies and now spans light novels*, an anime series, video games, and a live action film planned to release this summer. So what is it about Tokyo Ghoul that attracted this popularity? Tokyo Ghoul is set in an alternative reality where ghouls, dangerous individuals who can only survive on a diet of human flesh, live among normal humans while hiding their true nature in order to avoid the authorities. The manga follows college student Ken Kaneki, a human who is transformed into a ghoul by a freak accident, and his life as being both a human and a ghoul. Despite having a clichéd premise, Tokyo Ghoul excels at illustrating the tragic duality of Kaneki’s life as he attempts to maintain his humanity while being forced to come to terms with being a ghoul. Sui Ishida does an amazing job at world building, making sure to fully flesh out each and every character, while complementing it with beautifully drawn eerie and inky panels that maintain the manga’s dark atmosphere.

Tokyo Ghoul begins with Kaneki barely surviving an encounter with Rize Kamishiro, his date who reveals herself to be a ghoul. After arriving at the hospital in critical condition, Kaneki discovers that he underwent a surgical process that transferred some of Kamishiro’s organs into his own body, subsequently transforming him into a half-ghoul. Just like other ghouls, Kaneki’s body now rejects human food and instead requires a steady diet of human flesh. Seeing his peril, the ghouls of a local coffee shop “Anteiku” take him in and help Kaneki adapt to his new ghoulish lifestyle. As a half ghoul, Kaneki struggles to fit in with ghoul society as well as keeping his true identity hidden from other humans.

Sui Ishida does an incredible job in making the characters as well as the readers question the morality and ethics of Tokyo Ghoul’s world. While reading Tokyo Ghoul, I would always feel conflicted in deciding which characters were morally wrong or good. Both the protagonists and antagonists have the potential to do just as much good as evil. Take Kaneki for example, since he now requires human flesh to simply continue on living, he is now faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to kill humans in order to survive. I also appreciate how each supporting character is fully developed and always seem to serve a purpose in the overall plot. Every single character is uniquely drawn as well as given distinct personalities. Similar to George R. R. Martin, Sui Ishida has no problems with introducing awesome characters that readers become heavily invested in only to kill them off by pitting them against each other in incredibly brutal and violent combat (which is something I’m sure many readers including myself, both love and hate at the same time).

The detailed art of Tokyo Ghoul does a good job reflecting the dark atmosphere and is constantly reminding the readers that they are in fact reading a horror manga. Ghouls are often depicted lurking in dark alleyways, waiting for the next unsuspecting human to turn up. Every action scene is incredibly graphic and filled with gore. It’s interesting to note how Sui Ishida’s art improves and develops as you read more and more chapters. However, what really separates Tokyo Ghoul’s artwork from other manga is Sui Ishida’s meticulous planning and execution of visual metaphors that most readers won’t notice on their first read through. Some of these visual metaphors foreshadow key plot points that aren’t introduced until many chapters later.

Although Tokyo Ghoul certainly has its strong points, it is not without a few flaws. Some fight scenes were a bit hard to follow because of the way they were drawn. Although this happens only a few times, they can be confusing because it was difficult at times to see what action was being performed by whom in each panel. Also because there are so many characters, I sometimes had difficulty recognizing each character by name. However, this might be just a problem on my part because I don’t speak Japanese and therefore struggled a bit at remembering several Japanese names. Despite these minor flaws, I would still rate Tokyo Ghoul four stars out of five. Sui Ishida offers a strong character-driven story filled with hauntingly beautiful artwork. I absolutely enjoyed watching Kaneki develop as a character and would seriously recommend Tokyo Ghoul to anyone who enjoys psychological horror and tragedy in manga.

*a style of Japanese novels that incorporates manga-style illustrations and easier to read Japanese characters


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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3 comments

  1. This series is one of the most enjoyable manga I’ve read.

  2. Ed, thanks for the review! This certainly sounds like a good read, and I will add it to my list.

  3. I watched the TV series and enjoyed it. Have to check out the manga!

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