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by Rebecca Silverman,

Tokyo Ghoul

GN 2

Tokyo Ghoul GN 2
Kaneki is slowly becoming accustomed to his new half-ghoul life, although he still can't bring himself to dine upon human flesh. The owner of Anteiku is kind in his tutelage, however, and takes opportunities to try to help Kaneki see how survival is possible, even with his scruples. Others, though, are not so kind, and when the Ghoul Investigators begin a stepped-up campaign against the ghouls, Kaneki learns what it means to be the persecuted.

One of the greatest tropes in horror literature is the fear that the monsters might look just like us. I call it a trope due to its widespread use, but it remains an effective one, and in the second volume of Tokyo Ghoul, Sui Ishida takes that device and tries to use it to show us both sides of the coin: humans and ghouls mostly look just like each other, and that's what makes them both so frightening to the opposing side. Ghouls, nominally the predators in this situation, have enhanced senses of smell to help them, but when the prey starts fighting back, even that isn't quite enough to defend against them. To a degree, it's as if an osprey swooped down on an unsuspecting fish only to discover that it was rigged to explode.

The primary theme of this second volume is that both humans and ghouls are, at heart, the same. In a few cases this reads like an eighth grade assignment about “man's inhumanity to man” as Ishida gets a little too heavy-handed, but as a central heart to the book, it works very well. It was present as a basic plot thread in the first volume, and now that he has time to develop it, Ishida makes certain to show that neither the humans nor the ghouls are better or worse than the others. Yes, the ghouls consume human flesh, but they try to find ways to do it without killing anyone. Yes, the humans are hunted by the ghouls and must protect themselves, but they do so with all the glee of a crazed child stomping on ants. No one is perfectly “good” or “bad” in this set-up, and that helps to create a world the story can unfold in shades of gray. It also makes Kaneki's adjustment to his new demi-ghoul status more problematic. He can't hate what he's become by damning himself as a monster because he knows first hand that many of the ghouls don't fit that description; “monster” and “predator” are not synonymous. But he also can't quite embrace his new life, because it still requires things that he considers taboo. Kaneki serves as the link between the two worlds, although how he will choose to play that part after the events of this volume remains to be seen.

The plot this time is divided between Kaneki learning more about how non-hunting ghouls cope and the introduction of some very enthusiastic Ghoul Inspectors and the role they play in the story's world. The first part basically introduces some of the more “human” aspects of ghoul society and its diverse members; most importantly it brings in the characters of Hinami and her mother. Hinami is a young ghoul girl who has been kept out of school (and not, apparently, homeschooled) who lives with her mother and visits Anteiku for meat, as they do not hunt. Her father was killed by the Ghoul Inspectors, and the clear grief she and her mother feel, as well as the way her mother seeks to protect her, is a clear example of how everyone sees what they want to see: when Kaneki observes them, he just sees them as a loving family and Hinami as a girl. When the Ghoul Inspectors encounter them, they see the mother's protection of the daughter as animalistic and refer to Hinami as a “midge,” a small biting fly. More interesting is how one of the Ghoul Inspectors' character design looks more inhuman than any of the ghouls in the story, even when they wear their masks.

The idea of the masks, introduced this volume, is one with a lot of possibilities. Ghouls wear them in order to hide their faces so that they can still walk around in daylight and lead regular lives but also hunt for food. The masks run the gamut from Phantom of the Opera to creepy bunny to the unusual one Kaneki receives at the end of the book, and they have some very interesting implications. Does the mask hide the real face, or is the mask revealing who the wearer really is? Feisty and angry Touka's mask may reveal some hidden insecurities, but what will Kaneki's give him license to do? Will it be impossible to retain his humanity in a ghoul-tainted body after all?

With this volume being less action-oriented, Ishida's art works a little bit better, as he doesn't have to rely on large sound effects or speed lines as much. Feet are still disproportionately small and Hinami's age is very unclear from the way she is drawn, but there are also some quite powerful artistic moments as well, such as a ghoul with transformed eyes crying or the first scene of Kaneki in his mask. Character designs show some good variation as well, with newcomer Uta especially standing out as noticeably different.

Tokyo Ghoul appears to be action-horror with a consideration for the bigger questions, and while it isn't quite as deep as it wants us to think, it's still much more thoughtful than it at first appears. Kaneki at this point is more a point-of-view figure than a real character, but that seems likely to change now that the pieces are all on the board. There's a decent chance that this could descend into gimmicky schlock (like I said, Ishida can get a little heavy-handed), but right now it's equal parts fascinating and exciting as it looks at what happens when we're all the monsters to somebody else.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Good use of the “monsters look like us” theme from both sides, idea of masks is interesting. World building for ghoul society works.
Kaneki feels too much like our “guide” at this point rather than a character, symbolism can get too heavy-handed. Some artistic issues.

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Story & Art: Sui Ishida

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