Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1

By Sui Ishida. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Young Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

I am highly amused at the cover art for the first volume of this series, designed to draw in readers. It shows our hero, Kaneki, posing artfully on a chair, shirt untucked and collar undone, a hand to his head, a glowing red eye sdtaring at the reader, and a small fake-looking smile on his face. It is a look that says “Ladies, I am undead and hot. Please read my story.” It does not bear any resemblance whatsoever to Kaneki in this entire first volume, who from the moment he is attacked by a ghoul is in a state of panic, hunger or guilt. But then seeing him crying and creaming on the cover wouldn’t give the manga the right image. And while I think it’s a decent start, this manga does seem to be more about looking cool than plot and characters.

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The premise is simple and easy to understand. Our hero is a bit of a nerd with a crush on a gorgeous girl who reads the same erudite horror novels he does. On their first date, however, he discovers she is a ghoul out to kill him and eat his flesh. Fortuitously, she is killed by a passing act of God – or possibly some I-beams to the head – and he survives, albeit on the brink of death. The doctor, wanting to save his life and having a convenient corpse handy, replaces some of his organs with those of the ghoul. Thus when he wakes he finds himself a hybrid, not human or ghoul… but still craving the taste of human flesh.

There is some horror here, rest assured, but I’d say it’s far more of a thriller than a horror series, like most of the current zombie genre. I will admit to one pleasant surprise in this first volume. We see a young woman with her hair draped over one eye, who was giving our hero and his love interest/ghoul the stink-eye early on. I was fairly certain he would end up being rescued by her, and that she would turn out to be a ghoul hunter or somesuch, showing him their dark organization and asking if he wants to destroy ghouls with them. Totally wrong, in fact. In fact, Touka is also a ghoul, and the dark organization she belongs to is basically a ghoul halfway house, dedicated to allowing them to live relatively safely without becoming serial killers, like Kaneki’s crush turned out to be. She also (supposedly) wants nothing to do with Kaneki. I’m sure that will change.

This is a solid first volume. The villains we do meet are nicely nasty, and it’s nice to see a damsel in distress be male for once. That said, I didn’t really find much here that would make me want to read past the first volume. If I’m going to be reading horror, I’d like a bit more humor – this is a Very Serious title – or a bit more complexity, a la Umineko. But for those who enjoy zombies – pardon me, ghouls – and action thrillers with seemingly high body counts, you’ll get a kick out of Tokyo Ghoul.

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