Mixed Feelings on Tokyo Ghoul

Recently I finished watching all four seasons of Tokyo Ghoul, and for once I actually had the desire to write out my thoughts. I have a lot of mixed feelings towards this series, and what better way to sort those out than through a post?

Just a heads up, there will be Tokyo Ghoul spoilers from here on out!

Rise and Fall

Personally, I’d summarize the Tokyo Ghoul anime as follows:

  • First season starts out strong and gets better over time.
  • Second season starts and finishes strong.
  • Third season takes a huge detour and doesn’t really hold up well.
  • Fourth season finishes everything off, but isn’t that satisfying.

To me, without question, the first two seasons were the best. They are the essence of the series that I’ll remember in the future, and if I ever wanted to rewatch this series, it’d be for those two seasons. The world and characters of Tokyo Ghoul are built on the strong foundation that is these two seasons.

So what made the first half of the series so captivating to me?

In the Shadows

Tokyo Ghoul has an inherent dynamic at play: ghouls feed on humans, and thus are reliant on humans. And humans have no need for ghouls whatsoever – which means that in a general sense, to humans as a whole, a dead ghoul is the best kind of ghoul. The humans also heavily outnumber the ghouls, even if they are physically weaker, they have more resources at their disposal.

Ultimately, this means that ghouls are forced to live in the shadows. If their identity is discovered by the CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul) investigators, they will be captured / killed. But they have to feed on humans to survive, meaning that even basic survival carries the inherent risk of being caught – simply hiding and never feeding on humans isn’t an option. They have to take that risk and feed on humans, one way or another.

While we follow Kaneki Ken in the first season, this dynamic is heavily emphasized. Ghouls have it rough, not only from the CCG, but also from other ghouls. It’s a life of secrecy and danger, every move they make has do be done with caution, to the point where being able to pretend to enjoy human food without showing any signs of disgust is a valuable skill.

I loved this dynamic and the thrills it brings us. You just never know what’s going to happen next in the life of characters who could end up in serious danger from the slightest mistake. And it also gives us a reason to cheer for the ghouls, the underdogs. They may feed on humans, and be nothing but a danger to humans, but we can still cheer for them because they are persecuted by an organization much more powerful than they are. Even when we are introduced to Aogiri Tree where we see ghouls organized and fighting back, this dynamic is still present. Aogiri was forced to be very calculating, knowing exactly the right moments to strike before retreating into the darkness.

And on top of everything, Kaneki’s struggle, physically and mentally as the story progresses through the first two seasons, is a large part of what makes them so enjoyable. Even as a member of Aogiri, we can see Kaneki’s desperation and mental instability drive many of his actions – he had gained power, but at what cost? Was it enough, was it worth it?

Unfortunately, we don’t get to follow that idea through, because after the second season, the story turns on it’s head.

Direction Shift

Moving into the third season, the series doesn’t keep it’s upward momentum, but instead shifts in an entirely different direction. Kaneki Ken is no longer fighting against the CCG / the establishment, but is now a part of it as the sort of amnesiac Haise Sasaki. Not only this, but he leads a team of half-ghouls, all taking orders from the CCG. Our protagonist is now living under a new identity, and suppressing the Kaneki Ken within him, only letting Kaneki out when he is in a desperate situation.

Not only does Kaneki’s story shift, but the entire tone of the series changes.

No longer do we feel this shadowy, tense atmosphere where our beloved main characters could be found out and hunted down.

No longer is there any emphasis placed on needing to consume humans, as presumably Haise is provided with what he needs to survive.

No longer are we following the underdog.

And no longer are we empathizing with the ghouls, as we are not experiencing their plight anymore.

Plus, all of the sudden, everyone is a ghoul now. Even the CCG is filled with half-ghouls which we’ll regularly see from this season onwards. The uniqueness of ghouls went right out the window, and basically everyone was a ghoul after the third season. Which doesn’t feel right, as ghouls were supposed to be the oppressed ones, the few who had to work hard, hide, and fight to survive.

Basically, everything that made Tokyo Ghoul so thrilling and interesting in the first two seasons was taken away from us. And in it’s place we were given some very large changes, and strange choices. As a result, the third season was not satisfying at all to me.

But wait, what about the final season? Surely I enjoyed that, as Kaneki goes back to working with other ghouls, including some old friends!

Ending with a Sputter

Well, I do commend the final season for wrapping up the story. This is rare in anime, so I will always give some level of recognition for this, even if I wasn’t happy with the ending.

However, the final ending fails to recapture any of the elements of what made Tokyo Ghoul such a captivating story for me. From the third season onwards, the tone never really went back to the way things were. Instead, the ending felt very slapped together, with a random villain popping up to control the CCG before turning on everyone and trying to cause chaos. And somehow, by defeating him, everyone was able to come together and save the whales.

I can’t say I was surprised at how things ended either, as this was hinted at as the goal from the beginning. The ideals of Anteiku and the idea that Kaneki Ken, a half human / half ghoul, would bridge the gap between the two warring factions was clear as day. I’ll also commend Tokyo Ghoul for at least trying to be consistent with this goal, even if it was rushed through and the entire process of coming together was basically glossed over, jumping from “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” to “six years later everyone is happily coexisting”.

As you may be able to tell, I didn’t like how this ideal was implemented in the ending.
I also just flat out didn’t like the ending being the way it was.

Not only does it not fit with the world as it is designed, but it also doesn’t make sense. I can understand it being a pipe dream of ghouls who have it tough – they didn’t ask to be ghouls, after all. To be able to live like anyone else without fear of persecution would be a natural ideal for many ghouls, no question. But it makes no sense from the perspective of a human population to make any sort of compromise with a dangerous and often feral population of ghouls that ONLY consume humans for sustenance. It’d be like willingly living amongst wolves – even if some are good, others are rabid, and if any of them are hungry, watch out.

We even see in the first few seasons that ghouls had a very “every ghoul for himself” attitude. Often enough they wouldn’t even hesitate to kill each other. How can it be expected that these ghouls would be able to compromise with humans and resist all urges to kill? For some it wasn’t even about the food, but about the thrill. Others believed ghouls were superior, and humans were just food to be consumed. It just seems too optimistic and idealistic to think that ghouls as a whole could come together with humans somehow.

I could carry on with more reasons why the ending didn’t feel like it fit the series, but you get the point.

In general I tend to lean on the side of liking darker themes and tones, given how thrilling and unexpected they can be when done right, so this ending overall just didn’t do it for me. I would have preferred to see a more reasonable conclusion that crushed the ideal of compromise, and stated the obvious – that it was never an option.

Anyways, that’s all I’ll write about Tokyo Ghoul. It’s still a great series, even if carried by the earlier seasons, and I’m glad I watched it all. I’d say it’s worth a watch regardless of all my criticisms. I typically don’t write my thoughts out like this, or at least recently I haven’t, so I was glad to find that I wanted to write this all out.

And this wasn’t just for me to air my thoughts, it was also for me to try and get some of yours, too!
So here are a few questions I have for you, if you’re interested.

  • What did you enjoy (or dislike) about Tokyo Ghoul?
  • What did you think of the ending?
  • Any other thoughts on the series?

I’ll look forward to any answers.

Until next time,
Thanks for reading.

10 thoughts on “Mixed Feelings on Tokyo Ghoul

  1. I loved the first season, really liked the second season, and felt nothing but disgust towards the third season. After the way the second season ended, I couldn’t wait to continue, but we never got that. I felt cheated, like a ghoul eating a piece of pork thinking it was human meat. I don’t think I finished it and haven’t even considered the fourth one.

    Ironically, the manga-stans will tell you the second season was a big detour and the third was a course correction…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If the third and fourth seasons were the course correction, then the manga’s depiction of the first season must have read like sunshine and rainbows.

      Even when Kaneki was confused, innocent and naive, the world around him in the anime was as dark as it gets. What happened with Tokyo Ghoul brings back bad memories of the tone in Arifureta and how it couldn’t figure out if it wanted to be dark or cutesy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have read the manga and watched the anime. For the anime, it’s exactly like you said, it starts gripping but slowly turns boring along the seasons but from the manga stance, Tokyo ghoul was amazing – from the art to characters to the story. I personally liked Kaneki’s growth a lot, it was done perfectly which showed how depth a characterization can be.

    As for the anime, I hope it gets rebooted like HxH because we already know what a good reboot can do to a series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe, but unless a lot of content was cut in the anime, or the manga throughout had a more happy-go-lucky feel to it that made everything feel more consistent, I don’t see a reboot being able to fix the story and awful shift in tone that was in the anime.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I only watched the first season and maybe two episodes of the second season. I really liked the first season, but the beginning of the second season frustrated me too much. I mean, his ghoul friends risked their lives to save Kaneki and he ends up totally ditching them! I thought Kaneki was supposed to be a nice guy. After that, I just couldn’t root for the main character anymore. It’s one thing to be a blood thirsty monster that eats people, but betraying your friends is going too far!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, he had his reasons. After all the brutal torture and having his sanity damaged, he decided to stop being passive like the ghouls at the coffee shop. In his mind he was fighting to protect the ones he cared about, because he saw his past self as too helpless and unable to protect anyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There are a lot of good moments in the first two seasons, and honestly even some good moments in seasons three and four. Unfortunately, for me at least, a lot of it gets overshadowed by the fact that I did end up reading the manga first, and yeah it kind of just outshines the series in a lot of ways. Not to say you can’t deride any enjoyment from the anime, but rarely would I recommend it looking to consumer Tokyo Ghoul, no pun intended.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Makes total sense. I’m sure there were a lot of moments that were cut in the anime to fit everything in 4 seasons, at least it felt that way. Both when going from S2 to S3, and with S4 and how much exposition there was and the random villain tossed in. I could be wrong but I imagine all of those things were introduced much smoother in the manga.

      Liked by 1 person

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