What They Say:
In modern day Tokyo, society lives in fear of Ghouls: mysterious creatures who look exactly like humans, yet hunger insatiably for their flesh. None of this matters to Ken Kaneki, a bookish and ordinary young man, until a dark and violent encounter turns him into the first ever Ghoul-human half breed. Trapped between two worlds, Ken must survive the violent conflicts of warring Ghoul factions, while attempting to learn more about Ghoul society, his newfound powers, and the fine line between man and monster.
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good all around as we get the original Japanese language in stereo while the English mix gets a 5.1 boost. Both of them are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec, so we get pretty much as good as it can get with the source material. The series generally finds a pretty good balance between its dialogue and action components so that one never really overwhelms the other. The dialogue is one that’s well placed as needed and with some good sound effects for various situations and costume designs. It’s generally a center stage approach as one would expect, but there is some good directionality to be had from time to time. The action side works more of an intense approach in a shorter period of time and that gives it more impact because it’s not overblown or overdone. There’s a welcome intensity to it because of the situations and it works in a ghoulish way. Both tracks are clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in summer 2014, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode set is spread between two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by studio Pierrot, the show has a strong visual design to it with some great detail and color pop that it stands out in a great way. Though a lot of the show is the usual slower scenes to balance out the high action ones, the quality of the designs, backgrounds and the fluidity of the animation is very well presented. The characters are well detailed and the settings are great with all the backgrounds elements and the little things that enriches the world. Colors are heavy in the darks when it comes to the action side, especially at night or in closed quarters, but there’s no murky aspects to it that make it unwelcome. Color pops elsewhere in the show, from the blood to the costume design and the world in general. It’s a very rich looking production and the end result is beautiful across the screen with clean colors and no problems to be had.
The limited edition packaging for this release definitely sets the tone well with a heavy chipboard box that’s just ominous in its look. The front of the box goes for the dark red background that has a tile look to it, but it’s the mask over it that catches the attention. It’s well detailed and I love the little elements such as the zipper cross the mouth that you don’t always notice right away. The logo is kept along the upper right with a small approach taken to it so that it doesn’t overpower, which is the right choice.
The menus for this release are kept simple with the series logo across the middle while overexposed pieces of the settings from the show shift in the background behind it. They’re indistinct to be sure so that it’s not pinned down, but it adds a decent but to the atmosphere overall. Yet in the end it doesn’t really say anything or stand out as something to take notice of. It’s a clean looking menu and it’s also reflected in the navigation. That’s kept to a dark red box along the bottom that has the basic selections and disc notation along it with the text in white. It doubles as the pop-up menu but sticks out when you use it rather than something that accents it. Submenus load quickly and access is easy throughout it. he back of the box uses one of the more used publicity image pieces with Kaneki in his waiter outfit with the mask on, eye red, in an attack position while there are splatters of blood from the spine of the box coming around onto it. It’s a solid looking box overall and definitely sets expectations.
Within the box we get the two Blu-ray cases where they each hold two discs from the different formats. Both covers go for a painted visual of key characters here with a really disturbing look to them that in some ways feels very unusual for anime. But the end result is striking and quite appealing. This artwork is carried over to the back covers with different characters used there, including a little female influence. If the painted visuals are a bit too much you can use the reverse side visuals which works off of the Japanese covers of various Ghouls that get their own panels, some bloodier than others. There’s nothing on any of the cases about episodes, titles or anything else except the spine, and that keeps them looking positively strong and appealing.
The extras for this release are pretty solid in general as they’ll please both sides of the language equation for fans. For the English language fans, we get some good episode commentary material from the cast and staff as they talk alongside one of the early episodes. We also get the Kaneki in Black and White special, a nearly thirty-minute long video piece that sits down with a few of the actors and the ADR director and assistant director to talk about the project, motivations and some of the cool aspects of the show. We also get the welcome collection of Japanese commercials and promos as well as a complete roundup of the many opening and closing sequences that exist for this season.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Sui Ishida, Tokyo Ghoul is a series that definitely caught a lot of attention when it landed in the summer 2014 season. The title came just before the manga itself ended its first run and shifted to its sequel series and ahead of the news of a second season coming for the anime. With strong visuals to it in the lead-up with the marketing side, the show certainly stood out and was buoyed by a lot of praise for the manga, which hadn’t been released in North America yet in print form. Tokyo Ghoul presented a potential crossover title, albeit a violent one, that could draw in folks and could back that up with some strong looking animation and design work. I hadn’t seen the show when it was simulcast and this complete season, marathoned over a day or so, was my first experience with it.
The series is one that takes a welcome approach in giving us a world where these creatures known as Ghouls exist – but aren’t a hidden secret. Often we see them working in the dark corners and only a few know about them or a secret organization is attempting to take them down. What we get here is that the general public knows about ghouls and that there are varying ranges of them out there. Some wards have more of them – and more violent ones – while other wards are quieter and you don’t hear much about ghouls doing things there. There’s also a police style organization that appears to be a branch of the government known as CCG that’s focused entirely on dealing with the ghouls. They play like the police/detectives in a lot of ways and that helps to show that there is a real effort to deal with it, but not as a kind of overly oppressive police state. They’re treated like criminals, albeit really dangerous and dark criminals.
The focus is on college student Ken Kaneki, a decent young man who lives alone after the loss of his mother years ago and never knowing his father. Kaneki’s your generic nice guy, your everyman for the most part, but just a little bit introverted. He has a friend in Hide, someone he’s known since he was a kid himself as Hide befriended him when he was largely alone. The problem for Kaneki is that he has some interest in a young woman named Rize that he sees at a cafe pretty regularly.She’s definitely beautiful and appealing and you can see why he’s interested in her. Unfortunately, when she spends some time with him he discovers that she’s actually a ghoul that wants to devour him as she’s in her feeding mode. Ghouls end up requiring human flesh, viewing them as cattle in a sense, It plays well as a horror sequence combined with her beauty and his fear, but it takes a disastrous turn for all involved when she goes to finish him off and they both get caught under some construction collapse. It’s orchestrated in the shadows by someone, though that doesn’t get played with for the most part.
What this leads to is the real makeup of the series in that Kaneki ends up being saved by a doctor by doing some organ transplant material with him using Rize. There’s uncertainty about how it could all happen, but that’s cleared up towards the end in a slightly off-handed way. But what we get is that Kaneki becomes a hybrid now, human and ghoul and struggling with what he is. It’s almost standard new-vampire kind of material when you get down to it and we spend a good part of the time with Kaneki trying to resist it as you’d expect. The hook that I really liked is one that’s severely underused though as as Kaneki, in his struggle, has Rize in his mind as she kind of talks to him and nudges him along about the reality. He mostly pushes her to the background though, but the two have an utterly fantastic accepting of the reality in the final arc of the season that gives us the kind of Kaneki that you want.
In fact, when you view the season as a whole, Kaneki’s evolution is well played because it does actually evolve. Most shows would play at Kaneki being like this for the entire season or the equivalent of several seasons with some minor breakdowns along the way. But what we get here at the end of it all is that Kaneki evolves to a whole new level of acceptance and in some ways that makes him a far more compelling character. Of course, that’s for the next season as opposed to this one, but the final arc really takes it up a notch in a way that just elevates the show. The downside to it is that the villain of it, which is introduced early on in a very dangerous ghoul named Jason, really isn’t all that compelling. He plays the bad guy side well with real venom and threat, but I didn’t find myself investing in him or his story. But what he provides is the trigger for Kaneki, combined with Rize, that makes it an utterly thrilling arc because you’re simply waiting to see when the young man reaches his breaking point and how far he goes.
While Kaneki’s story is first and foremost, there’s a lot more to the show than just him. While we get some basic introductory material early on as he’s exposed to some of the ghouls that do their best to blend in, like Nishiki, we get a good examination of how some of those survive without killing. There’s the segment of ghouls that view themselves as top of the food chain and act like it, hence ones like Jason, but we also get those that want to exist within human society quietly and peacefully. The coffee shop is once such place where the owner and staff are all ghouls and manage to stay under the radar. The trick of it is that one of them procures suicides and uses their bodies to repackage into servings. Since ghouls can’t eat human food, it’s the only thing that really sustains them and eases the hunger. Kaneki spends a lot of his time struggling with the idea and understandable so, at least until the hunger becomes more pronounced and he’s pushed into accepting it. It’s not badly done but it’s just very familiar within the vampire story material out there, so there was no real tension or specialness to it all.
The array of characters here are decent and they’re obviously trying to nudge a mild romantic interest with Touka, the young ghoul waitress there with a chip on her shoulder. There’s nothing terribly compelling about the cast here, but they provide the balance and experience that the show needs to compensate for Kaneki’s inexperience since he’s thrust into this as an adult and as a hybrid. The more interesting characters that are brought on though are the CCG investigators that we get in the pairing of Amon and Mado. Mado practically looks like a ghoul himself with his disheveled appearance, something that makes him stand out as possibly being crazy yet also completely understanding of how this whole business works. He’s worked with Amon for a bit and the two definitely know how to deal with each other, resulting in a solid and experience pairing. Through them we see how the CCG operates and the challenge they face, mostly in trying to locate Jason, while also providing a view of how the city deals with all of this and some of the organizational politics of it all. They both bring something really engaging to the action side and become compelling enough characters that I could easily see them having their own spin-off series that takes place prior to this show and digs into the darker horrors of ghouls.
Though I’ve long enjoyed the many projects that studio Pierrot has worked on, and they’ve done a good range of works, this one just feels like it’s darker than most of what they do. And their style and design of the show works incredibly well. There’s a really good darkness and violence to it as they don’t pull away from a lot of it, though they avoid being too gratuitous. The blood flows here and they do realize that this is a horror series so they go the distance in bringing the manga to life. And it pays off because the colors, the details, and the fluidity of the animation are make or break moments here. They fully step up to the challenge and I simply love the visual design here, especially the fight choreography and just the way it all came together in the final arc when working with Kaneki, Rise and Jason. A beautiful series of disturbing sequences across the board.
Having not read the manga or watched this in simulcast form, this was my first experience with the property after writing about it for the last couple of years. And what a series it is. Though there are familiar trappings abound here, the execution is what nails it. A lot of shows hold back and we don’t get a lot of this nature in general, but the source material offers up some delicious ideas to it that are carried through in some dark and brutal ways. While I enjoyed the show as it went along, it really wasn’t until the final arc that it captured me in total. I liked the CCG subplot more than Kaneki, since that was familiar if well executed, but as all the pieces come together and we get the true baptism by blood for our lead character, Tokyo Ghoul sunk its teeth into me completely. The next season can’t come fast enough to see where it wants to go.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Kankei in Black and White, Episode Commentary, Textless Opening and Closing, Japanese Commercials, Promotional Videos, Preview Collection, U.S. Trailer, Trailers.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.