By Dustin Cabeal
If only I hadn’t sat on these books for so damn long. You’re looking at the last holdouts of manga that have been gracing my desk for the past few months. They all four deserve their own review, but that timing is off right now, so here we go with one last big bundle review.
Like most people, I read the manga after watching the show. While I enjoyed the show a lot and would even place it very high on my all-time anime list, I have grown to love the manga ten times more. The main reasons being that there is nothing else like Tokyo Ghoul on the market. The way it looks, the tone, its overall creepiness in design. The violence and the costumes. It’s a world you love but would never want to visit. The art alone is groundbreaking and different from anything else I’ve seen. Perhaps it will one day become one of the “norms” of manga, but for now, it’s originality places it by itself.
I did have some expectations going into Tokyo Ghoul: re. For the most part, I assumed it would continue the story from Tokyo Ghoul, which had a great ending that answered a lot of questions about the series, but then gave you as many questions back. Here’s the clever thing that Sui Ishida did with re, he flipped the narrative. Instead of being on the Ghoul’s side of the story, we’re on the Doves side. Now granted, there were plenty of times in TG Prime that we saw the Dove’s side of the story, but not like this. They were still always considered the bad guys of the tale because we were following Ken’s story as he was forced into this new world. It was easy to understand the Ghouls as most of them would happily live among the humans if they could. It showed how repressed they were from their lack of education and how they accepted that they would likely be hunted and killed like animals. It was very much a statement of the class system that resides in all societies, be it invisible or not.
Tokyo Ghoul: re will be a tough pill to swallow for anyone that hated the Doves or at least most of the Doves. You are likely to have conflicting feelings like when Mado’s daughter was introduced. Its impossible not to hate Mado, but his daughter is entirely different. That conflict of feeling bad for her loss, but simultaneously disliking her father is masterful writing from Sui Ishida.
Let’s get into the story of Tokyo Ghoul: re as it introduces Ken, but it’s not Ken. How could it be, he had his goddamn brain drilled out in two spots in the last volume of TG Prime. The thing is, we know it’s him, but he’s not himself. Not all the way. His name is now Haise Sasaki, and he’s a first-class investigator in charge of a team referred to as the QS. His four subordinates are part of an experiment that surgically implanted Kagune’s into humans. They’re not half ghouls like Haise, but they’re similar. They have the eye thing going on, but they’re limited in how long they can use their Kagune.
They’re also looked down upon for obvious reasons. Doves hate Ghouls which is why they hunt them down so having the QS’ around is appalling to some. They stumble onto a ghoul case called “The Torso” because the ghoul leaves all the other parts and only takes the torso of his female victims. Through this first case, we learn that one of the men on the team is a woman and doesn’t want to be revealed. We also learn how the CCG will handle Haise if he gets out of hand.
Haise’s past begins to catch up with him, and that’s driving force of the story. They run into a ghoul that we know very well in the first volume. It’s a bit of a surprise if you’re not paying close attention. After this initial contact, more people from Haise’s old life come back and continue to drive and change the story. The fucked up part is that everyone misses Ken, but brilliantly Ishida makes you conflicted about this as well. By the time you begin to remember and feel the emotion of Haise’s previous life, you’re burrowed deeply into his current life. He has mom and dad figures; he has surrogate children in the QS’ that he’s taking care of. He has friends in the organization and a job that he’s good at. It’s hard to imagine having to pick between which set of friends and which life is more important because neither is any less real to Ken/Haise.
There are more twists in the story though as another auction is happening and the CCG is looking to sweep up everyone involved. Interestingly enough Agori Tree has become mercenaries for hire which brings out a lot of similarities to the big Agori Tree sweep in TG Prime. While Ken has been flipped to the Doves’ side of the story, there’s a former Dove that’s been flipped to the Ghoul’s side. Again, that’s a surprise, but holy shit did it add another twist to the story. Again, Ishida makes sure that you can never really settle on one side to root for because it would mean the loss of a lot of characters that you’ve grown to care about.
At first, there was something that bothered me about this series, particularly in the first volume it felt more commercial. The artwork was much cleaner looking, and it didn’t particularly feel like Tokyo Ghoul. It just seemed like it was trying to be more mainstream and less violent. By the second volume though, it was something better. It's not that it returned to form, but it had found a new form. Yes, the art is cleaner, but that is a great thing because there were times in TG Prime that the details were completely lost in the free-flowing artwork. Towards the end, it felt as if Ishida was stuck in that style for consistency sake. Now, you can see the growth in style. The subtle changes and how everything has been refined. The book could be colored in the same style as the cover and look amazing. The color pages are a rare treat that leaves you wanting more. It’s not that it “looks like the anime,” but it looks like something else entirely. It’s simply gorgeous when colored, but it’s still spectacular in black & white as well.
The gore does seem toned down, but with it being more on the Doves side it doesn’t seem as necessary to have bloody battles and half eaten people all the time. It’s more like a battlefield now which again plays into this being a different side of the story. While the narrative is a continuation, Ishida has gone to great lengths to break the comfort level of the reader and present the story from a different perspective. I can only think of a handful of creators that have done something like this on this scale. Sure, a comic will flip to the other perspective here and there, but imagine the series starting over on the other side and staying there? It goes to show how groundbreaking Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul: re truly are.
While I didn’t give you a lot of story info for a review covering four volumes, I don’t particularly think you need it. Reading all four together was an enjoyable experience. It was paced wonderfully making sure you’re not blitzing through the book, but you’re also never lingering towards boredom. If you’ve been reading the series, then you should continue with re. If you’ve never read the series, then you’re good to start here because you’ll have twice the mystery, which would be an interesting reading experience for sure. Either way, read the series.
Tokyo Ghoul: re vol. 1 – Score: 4/5
Tokyo Ghoul: re vol. 2 – Score: 5/5
Tokyo Ghoul: re vol. 3 – Score: 5/5
Tokyo Ghoul: re vol. 4 – Score: 4/5