Saturday, February 17, 2018

Vamp or Not? Tokyo Ghoul (Seasons 1 & 2)

This is an anime series (based on a manga) and run in two 12-episode series (with two OVAs) that were directed by Shuhei Morita. It was recommended to me as both a series and as something that “I think this is very much a ‘Vamp or Not?’” by Ian.

I went looking for it and found a Malaysian DVD set contain the two extant (at time of review) seasons, both OVAs and was in English dub or Japanese with English subtitles (bar the OVAs, which were Japanese with subtitles only).

This is set in a world inhabited both by humans and ghouls. Now lets just cover off the original folklore that has lent the creature name. The ghoul is a creature from Arabic myth mentioned several times in the Arabian Nights, as translated into French by Antoine Galland in the 18th Century. The story of most interest is The History of Sidi Nu’uman, which tells of a man suspicious because his new bride never seems to eat. Long story short he follows her to a cemetery and witnesses her indulging in eating the dead with the other ghouls.

Kaneki is a ghoul, but is he Vamp?
Cut forward to 1821 and E.T.A. Hoffmann published a story entitled Vampirismus as part of his Die Serapions-Brüder. There is every chance that the story title was added by an editor as the story is essentially a reworking, into a modern Western setting, of The History of Sidi Nu’uman. Jump forward a century and Dudley Wright adds the same story into his reference book Vampires and Vampirism and Summers conflates ghouls and vampires in “The vampire, His Kith and Kin” (1928).

ghoul attack
So, that’s the word but typically the ghouls in this Japanese series are somewhat different. Ghouls are either a branch-off from humans (perhaps a mutation, which is mentioned at one point) or a separate species. They can, however, interbreed with humans and I’ll cover that momentarily. They hide in plain sight and, though the series doesn’t say so, the human societal dominance must be down to numbers. They are faster, stronger and pretty darn resistant to mundane piercing weapons. When hungry, angered or feeding their eyes become red in colour.

Whilst they are separate from humans there can be hybrids born from interbreeding, as mentioned, these tend to be more powerful than regular ghouls and only one eye turns red. A hybrid can also be created by transplanting ghoul organs into a human’s body. This happens to primary series protagonist Kaneki Ken (Natsuki Hanae), who goes on a date with a pretty girl, Rize (Kana Hanazawa), only to discover that she is a ghoul (and a binge eater at that). The attack he suffers ends abruptly as materials fall from the building site they are on. He is badly wounded, she killed and the surgeons (not knowing she is a ghoul) transplant some of her organs to save him.

From that point on he is a hybrid ghoul and can no longer eat human food (food tastes foul to ghouls and the only human thing they can consume is coffee) but must eat human flesh to survive. He has also “inherited” Riza’s kagune – her predatory organ. This seems, to me, to be supernatural as much as physical and (according to online sources) is composed of special cells that flow like blood until the ghoul manifests the kagune as a weapon, emerging from the body. Each ghoul’s kagune is different. The kagune can be taken from a dead ghoul and fashioned into a weapon called a quinque – used by anti-ghoul investigators as an effective weapon for ghoul hunting.

What also is evident is that certain powerful ghoul’s can rapidly heal injuries and regenerate lost body parts as well. Food is necessary for both their power, their manifestation of the kagune and regeneration/healing. A difference between these ghouls and the traditional Arabic version is that they need to eat human flesh but this does not necessarily mean the consumption of corpses. There is a “gourmet” ghoul who speaks of eating a still living victim so that the suffering can convey subtle flavours to the meal and another ghoul mentions eating flesh before it spoils.

in the coffee shop
So, very much flesh eaters rather than blood drinkers but we do have the conflation of ghouls and vampires in the genre already. The regenerative aspect would seem to be more vampiric than ghoulish but these are a separate species (or mutation) and very much alive, rather than undead. The kagune is out with both traditional ghouls and vampires and is very much an anime embellishment that allows for spectacular action sequences (though it is story important also).

All in all, I’m not sure. If you accept the ghoul/vampire conflation then yes, this is a vampire series. If not, then the conflation itself is enough to make this of genre interest and the regeneration (and the fact that food is necessary for both power and regeneration) brings vampires to mind also. I’m leaning towards accepting this and it is definitely genre interest.

The imdb page is here.


Gene Phillips said...

I'd tend to agree that even if the Tokyo Ghouls can't be defined as real vampires, the image of the self-healing vampire influenced the way they're portrayed here.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks gene - there is definitely a degree of crossover/borrowing if nothing else :)