TWO QUICK NOTES: This is a review concerning the ANIME, which does differ from the manga in ways that make a lot of fans angry, so fair warning. ALSO – just a fair spoiler alert warning, I enjoyed going into this series unknown to a lot, so just in case you want that same effect.
One extremely large part about my existence on this Earth as a DaLakota has been deeply seeded in balancing the duality of reservation and urban experiences, attitudes, forces (whatever we could actually call them). Growing up on reservations that were so rural, scattered with poverty, and sprinkled with the covert and simultaneously directly outward effects of inherited historical trauma, and then going off to a place like Philadelphia to earn my bachelor’s degree at an ivy league university was a really challenging and exciting experience. I’m happy to have grown from it, but without a doubt it was a tough road for me to walk on.
With this in mind, it must be noted that for me, expression and art is something I’ve always turned to for solace and as tools for coping. When the going got rough during my senior year of undergrad in particular, I was coincidentally turned to the first season of “Tokyo Ghoul”.
“Tokyo Ghoul” is an anime from Funimation studios that derives from a manga of the same name created by Shu Ishida. The story develops in an alternate world where Tokyo has what are called “Ghouls”; essentially, humans with quite the unique characteristics: superhuman strength, tail-like organs called “Kagune”s that can be used as weapons, and… the need for human flesh. It follows the main character, Kaneki Ken, who *spoiler alert, sorta* (after being attacked by a ghoul) undergoes a procedure where doctors essentially made him half-human, and half-ghoul. The anime follows his transformation, albeit physical OR mental.
In the beginning of the series, we see ghouls feared, having been spoken of as “animals”. The humans they feed off of both despise and are terrified of them, though it is hard to know who is and isn’t a ghoul. There is even an organization known as the CCG whose primary focus is to exterminate them completely.
After Kaneki’s transformation, he struggles and starves, as regular food now tastes disgusting to him. Attracted by the scent of a human, Kaneki runs into some trouble and is then saved and helped by Touka Karishima, a member of the Anteiku café which serves to help ghouls who are either not able to or do not wish to hunt for humans in the same way that other ghouls do. They provide safe space, as well as food to suffice the ghouls’ hunger (using things like the bodies of suicide victims, so as to not prey upon live victims).
(btw, I’m speeding through this and skimming through A LOT. Why? Because I want you to go watch it!)
After an incident where Kaneki had attempted to eat his best friend out of severe hunger, he undergoes a lament with mentor and owner of the Anteiku coffee shop, Yoshimura.
From episode 2:
Kaneki: “I’ve been stricken with this hunger this whole time….
I didn’t even realize what I was doing.
And then, I went after Hide (Kaneki’s friend)….
I… don’t want to hurt my friend. Which means, I can’t be around Hide anymore. But I can’t enter the world of ghouls, either. I, who am neither human nor ghoul, am all alone. There isn’t a place for me anywhere now!”
This hit me, and as Kaneki teared up, the big idiot writing this review did too. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Is he saying that being Indigenous is dangerous because you might eat your friend?” Of course not! But, take this into account: Here I was, conflicted by two thoughts. I felt that I could never conform to the ideals the ivy league had presented me. There was this uncomfortable presence of disingenuous “connection”-based friendships that I just couldn’t get down with. Back home, I felt that all the people I spoke to were genuine, as was I in return. When you were greeted with, “How’re ya?” you genuinely wanted to know how the other was doing. There wasn’t a “let’s grab coffee later, I’ll text you” promise that never went unfulfilled. On the other hand, now that I had entered the ivy league realm, I found myself being teased by people back home and was kind of outcasted and looked down upon. “Talon’s too good for us, now.” And “Now that he’s getting all educated he thinks he’s better than us.” They might as well had been treating me as though I was trying to eat them! I’ve had people tell me I’m not from the rez anymore. And to know that I cannot fully be down with either ways of living, I felt just as Kaneki felt: alone.
Then, the wise Yoshimura responded to this lament,
Yoshimura: “That’s not true. You are both ghoul AND human.
You are the one and only person who has a place in both worlds.
Come over to Anteiku, I’m sure it will lead you to the path in which you can keep your own place.
I also want you to understand us better. To see whether or not we are just ravenous beasts.”
Woah, right? This kind of opened my eyes to something special. Here I was, a somewhat afraid college student feeling suffocated and excluded by the duality of two different lifestyles, and I didn’t realize the true privileges in this particular struggle that I had. Being free to wander in both paths, I’m able to open my eyes to more perspectives than just those similar to my origin or outcome. Which is why I also wanted to focus on that other thing Yoshimura said: “I also want you to understand us better. To see whether or not we are just ravenous beasts.”
Looking back on how humans view ghouls, it is actually very phobic, with good reason. I mean, traditionally, ghouls eat humans – so the fear makes sense. But all ghouls?
Fast-forwarding a bit, we see Kaneki go through this unique experience he has as he sees the very human aspects of ghouls. They love and protect one another. They have families. They care about morality and there is a definite method to the madness. Some lament their own thirst/hunger, and thus places like Anteiku seem to make more and more sense. In seeing how organizations like the CCG generalize the entirety of ghouls and remorselessly kill off child-ghouls and ghouls who are essentially innocent, it starts to feel like the table has completely flipped in a sense.
Kaneki, a very nonviolent person, is forced to eventually confront an agent from the CCG. In this instance, he knows that if he lets the agent go, he loses his friend and another who he considers a younger sister. On the other hand, he worries about the fact that he is still learning to control his hunger impulses, and worries that if he isn’t careful, this will completely take over his will forcing him to do something he’d regret.
As he undergoes this confrontation with the agent, named Amon, the agent asks him why ghouls cause so much grief. Essentially, he makes a speech in angst saying that ghouls do nothing but kill and traumatize. Kaneki, laying down after taking a hit from him, comes to an epiphany.
Kaneki: “I’m the only one… who is aware of it… who can communicate it…
Only me, the ghoul… Only me, the human…
I’m the only one.”
Realizing the privilege he has in his knowledge of both worlds, Kaneki speaks up.
Kaneki: “You’re wrong.
It’s not the world that is messed up.
Sure, there are ghouls who have taken the wrong path…
But, not all ghouls are like that.
We should learn more
Both humans and ghouls.
It’s not just ghouls who are screwing up the world…
It’s you too.”
At this point, I’m just going to stop there. I could go on and on, but eventually it’ll just end in me possibly making connections that aren’t entirely there. Instead, I say go watch it for yourself. For me, it was an interesting social reflection on some of the issues in the history and in the present, no matter where you come from or how you identify.
Undergoing a lot of stress during college, I found this anime to be a very relieving thing to watch, and even a way of channeling my anxiety and sadness into something else. After the second season was announced, two of my closest friends and I ended up watching every week just because we each had our own thing about it that we really loved. Overall, I say at least give the first season a shot. The second season is very good too, and I definitely am looking forward to the third. I give this series as a whole, 10 Anteiku coffee shop blood-sugar cubes out of 10.