Based on the popular manga by Sui Ishida, Shuhei Morita's Tokyo Ghoul is one of the more impressive anime series in recent memory. The first "season", for lack of a better word, aired in Japan from July-November 2014 and condenses about 60 volumes of the manga into just 12 episodes running 22 minutes each. This isn't unusual in the world of anime...but even though the condensation leads to a number of pacing issues, Tokyo Ghoul survives almost all of them due to the fascinating themes at the heart of its ambitious, accessible story.
Our central character is Ken Kaneki, a teenage student living in a version of Tokyo where "ghouls" roam the streets: these creatures resemble humans but feast on unsuspecting victims as the only way to satisfy their appetites. Unfortunately, Ken is smitten by one of them and doesn't know it: attractive and well-read Rize Kamishiro reveals her nightmarish identity on the way home from their first date at local coffeehouse Anteiku, nearly ending his life before she's killed by falling debris. Rushing to save his life, doctors hastily transplant her organs to Ken's body, inadvertently turning him into a half-ghoul in the process. Regular food tastes disgusting, but Ken's moral compass can't accept the idea of cannibalization. Dangerously close to starvation, he is taken in by the coffeehouse owner Yoshimura and employee Touka, full-blooded ghouls who understand his reluctance to feast upon humans.
Tokyo Ghoul is at its best when exploring moral quandaries such as these: the innocent Kaneki is both an excellent "everyman" and a perfect candidate for the series' nightmarish events to revolve around. Early on, Kaneki is not afraid to question the very nature of food and survival: he and the others are perfectly capable of using shortcuts to temporarily satiate their hunger: a special coffee supplement, or gray areas like salvaging the flesh of suicide victims. Their plight and methods of survival are also mirrored by human enemies like the Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG) and investigators Amon and Mado, who kill ghouls to create weaponry to further the cause. Both warring sides are almost willing to do whatever it takes to advance their cause...but the reluctance of pivotal characters like Kaneki are what deepen the series' human intrigue. First-time viewers will never be sure if and when he'll will crack under pressure and finally feed on the flesh of a human...if that is, of course, Kaneki's true nature.
As mentioned earlier, though, pacing issues pop up when 60+ volumes of a manga are condensed into just 4.4 hours of animation. Early episodes have the most trouble: they move slowly and establish some of the main characters nicely, but new information is hastily thrown at viewers in the closing minutes. Later episodes have trouble sticking the landing as well, often ending on the wrong foot instead of a gripping cliffhanger. The final two episodes also shift gears dramatically, as the stakes are raised between CCG, Kaneki's group, and ghouls from other Tokyo wards. Aside from that, the only minor complaint I had was with the music: it often feels either generic or doesn't suit the material at all, and the opening song had me reaching for the "skip chapter" button faster than Star Trek: Enterprise.
Despite these issues, Tokyo Ghoul is a memorable and engaging series that will probably enjoy a decent amount of replay value as well. Luckily, Funimation's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (available as a standard package, this bulkier Limited Edition, or as a deluxe Collector's Edition to be released at the end of this year) offers plenty of support, including a solid A/V presentation and a handful of entertaining bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Tokyo Ghoul: The Complete First Season looks impressive from start to finish. The show's distinct visual style has translated quite well to high definition, especially the moody color palettes and detailed line work. Black levels are consistent and the series' sporadic CGI effects (which usually arrive in the form of atmospheric flourishes, fight amplification, and three-dimensional backgrounds) also look great and blend in seamlessly when they're supposed to. The included DVDs look above average for standard definition, and both formats show no signs of common problems like compression artifacts, pixellation, interlacing, or other glaring digital eyesores. In short, this is an extremely strong presentation that fans will appreciate.
DISCLAIMER: The resized screen captures in this review are decorative and do not represent this title's native resolution.
Two choices are offered in DTS-HD Master Audio: a 5.1 English dub and the original 2.0 Japanese track. It's nice to have both options, but each has its own strengths and drawbacks. The English dub is a fine alternative to the original and benefits from a wider presence, crisp channel separation, modest amounts of LFE, and stronger dynamic range. Yet as capable as the dubbing is on most occasions, it just feels unnatural at times in comparison to the Japanese version. Unfortunately, the original 2.0 track suffers from improper balance between the music and voice work; the latter gets drowned out at times, and it doesn't seem like a stylistic choice. Even so, both are satisfactory efforts for the most part. Forced English subtitles (not "dubtitles") are included with the Japanese audio track, while the English dub also includes forced translation subs for signs, background text, and other minor objects.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface, though substantially different on both formats, features smooth navigation and well-organized content. This four-disc set (two Blu-rays and two DVDs) arrives in a pair of dual-hubbed Blu-Ray cases inside an attractive, sturdy outer box. No inserts are included, but separate content lists have been printed on the packaging.
Leading off is a pair of Audio Commentaries with voice actors from the English dubs of Episodes 4 (Mike "Amon" McFarland, Austin "Kaneki" Tindle, J. Michael "Tsukiyama" Tatum, and Brina "Touka" Palencia) and 12 (Mike McFarland, Austin Tindle, Monica "Rize" Rial, and Christopher "Jason" Sabat); these are very rambunctious and tough to follow at times, but there's some interesting stories found on both tracks that fans should enjoy (just pop a few aspirin beforehand and maybe bring a notepad). Also of interest is a production featurette "Kaneki in Black & White" (27:41); though I hoped it would be a comparison with the manga, it's a actually a series of interviews with the cast and crew (most of whom spoke during the audio commentaries) about their respective characters and the series as a whole.
We also get the obligatory Textless Opening & Closing Songs, a few Japanese Commercials for the Blu-ray release (2:10), a collection of Episode Previews that originally appeared after each ending credit sequence, two dialogue-free Promo Videos and a U.S. Trailer for the series (2:02), and a handful of other Funimation Previews. All applicable bonus features are presented in 1080p and look excellent with optional subtitles for translation only.
Tokyo Ghoul is a subversive and, at times, thrilling adaptation of the popular manga series, serving up copious amounts of morally complex drama, engaging mystery, and supernatural violence. It doesn't take long to grow attached to certain characters...which is good, since the series' sporadic pacing issues and sharp left turns don't allow some of them to stick around for very long. Still, it manages to survive this problem (and a few others, including generic and inappropriate music cues) thanks to its engaging and human core story; specifically, our relationship with each other, the food we eat, and what it means to stay alive in the face of death. Funimation's Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack serves up a top-notch visual presentation, two distinctly different (and slightly disappointing) audio tracks, and an assortment of quality bonus features. New viewers may want to check out a few episodes or browse the manga first, but established fans will be more than happy with this package. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.