by Rebecca Silverman,

Tokyo Ghoul

GN 7 - 9

Tokyo Ghoul GN 7 - 9
Kaneki's attempted infiltration of the Aogiri Tree organization has resulted in his capture by their sadistic leader. The ghoul tortures Kaneki to the point where something inside of him snaps. Irrevocably changed from his previous self, Kaneki finds himself living in unknown territory. While he is able to help take down the evil group, he also cannot go back to Anteiku and his former life. Instead, he devotes himself to taking down ghouls like the ones who harmed him and finding out what's really behind the organ transplant that turned him into a half-ghoul in the first place. If it was deliberate, he wants to know why – and if there's any way for him to live a remotely normal life again.

Tampering with the makeup of humanity, be it physical or psychological, has long been a subject of literary fascination. One of the first to take the idea in a specifically Gothic direction was Matthew Lewis' 1796 novel The Monk, which saw its lead character spiral down into a willing depravity by consorting with supernatural beings, while Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein is usually held up as one of the greatest of the genre. Sui Ishida borrows from both of these authors' traditions, along with the works of other Gothic writers of the 18th and 19th centuries, and by volume nine of Tokyo Ghoul, it's become readily apparent that the series is a Gothic tragedy wrapped in the trappings of contemporary horror. This allows the story to function on more than just its gore factor, as these three books show Kaneki's life taking a dark turn.

Volume seven begins with Kaneki in the clutches of the Aogiri Tree organization, more specifically being held by Yamori, their leader. Yamori enjoys torturing his victims, and he's decided that Kaneki is the perfect subject for him to ply his trade on. This leads to a mental break for the young man who has steadfastly been trying to remain as human as possible, essentially creating a Jekyll and Hyde situation: human Kaneki's gentle heart and soul are still there, but ghoul Kaneki now also has a face and a voice, and he's not afraid to come out when he feels threatened. The fact that Kaneki's hair turns gray from the experience speaks to the extremes his mind and body were pushed to, as well as a visual signal to the readers that there isn't any going back from this – yes, a wig or hair dye might cover up the new color, but the truth will remain just beneath the surface, just like Rize's organs beneath Kaneki's skin. More importantly for Kaneki, it means that he can't ignore what he has become any longer – he has a bucket of his own fingers and toes to show him that his body can now regenerate itself, and even worse, he has been pushed to the point of self-cannibalization. On the one hand, it may be easier to eat his own body than to consume the flesh of another person; on the other, it's still a truly horrific thing to have to do, especially when Kaneki has been going out of his way to avoid eating human meat.

Sadly, this is the new world Kaneki finds for himself. He's no longer able to live his perfectly human existence, he distances himself from almost everyone he knew at the coffee shop with the notable exception of Hinami, who chooses to follow him rather than stay with Touka. Now Kaneki seems to be almost mirroring what the anti-ghoul police do, following the trails of more predatory ghouls and taking them out, although he still refuses to kill. How much of this is in pursuit of the doctor who “ghoulified” him isn't entirely clear, but we do know that's a major item on his agenda, and after the slow-down of volume eight, which is mostly concerned with giving us bits and pieces of other characters' pasts while easing us into the change in Kaneki's basic narrative, it becomes an almost-reality.

Volume nine is really the start of the new post-Aogiri-Tree storyline. Armed with a better understanding of Touka and her brother, along with a few other characters, we head into Kaneki's new world at the same time policeman Amon gets a new partner: the daughter of his previous partner, Mado. Akira Mado does not appear to be thrilled to be working with Amon (or with the fact that he's just gotten a promotion), which throws the investigator off. He's still invested in his hunt for The Gourmet and The Binge Eater, however, and he notices discrepancies in The Gourmet's feeding patterns – he doesn't know it, but it's a sign that the ghoul is now working with Kaneki to find the doctor and anything that might be left of Rize. This puts the two groups on parallel tracks, since they're both essentially looking for the same ghoul. It will be interesting to see what the CCG will do when (and if) they meet up with Kaneki's group and learn that someone is actively creating human/ghoul hybrids.

After all, that's very much an activity that the not-so-good doctor is still pursuing. This more than anything solidifies Tokyo Ghoul's relation to the Gothic genre, as Ishida has created a Victor Frankenstein and his Monster in Dr. Kano and Kaneki. We're not sure what drives Kano at this point or what he thinks of his creations (are they monstrous to him?), but we do know that Kaneki sees himself as a monster, perhaps now more than ever. In both this and the need to confront his creator, we can see echoes of Shelley's novel, as well as the ever-present fear of the Other that the CCG and even Kaneki represent. This is also evident in the fact that Touka is ashamed of being a ghoul rather than a human. She takes pains to fit in with human society not just because it's easier and safer, but also because it gives her a firm place in the world. She doesn't want to be a “bad ghoul,” but the very fact that she can't live as one seems to be wearing on her, particularly now that Kaneki has defected.

While Ishida's art isn't always up to showing all of the emotions and actions of his story (Kaneki seems to have inexplicably lost a few inches from his height since his transformation), there's still enough detail to enable the story to move forward smoothly. He does appear to be running out of character designs for new players, and the use of smudgy black in a lot of scenes can make it very hard to tell what's going on, but once you get used to his artwork, it isn't a huge impediment. There's a bit too much of a black-and-white worldview amongst the CCG officers, which may be intended as a contrast to the more nuanced way the ghouls view the world, but it can be frustrating nonetheless.

Volume nine is probably the strongest out of these three, with eight's transitionary material being interesting but weaker overall. Nonetheless, Tokyo Ghoul continues to be a fascinating contemporary Gothic work. Now that we know more about Dr. Kano and Rize, as well as Kaneki's break from his previous reality, things are moving more rapidly toward a showdown. Whether it will be a free-for-all with each group fighting against each other, or if the CCG will realize that not all ghouls are the same is up in the air, but it should be worth sticking around to see it go down.

Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-

+ Clear links to Gothic fiction help ground the story, Kaneki's new self propels the story faster, Touka's backstory gives us a fuller picture of ghoul life in the city
Number of characters seems to be growing too fast to keep track of them all, CCG's myopic worldview is beginning to really grate, art isn't always up to the task of clearly portraying the plot

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Story & Art: Sui Ishida

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