Ranking the Anime: Spring 2015 Week 7 (May 15-21)

I’m putting Plamemo on hold until it stops getting mired in rom-com shenanigans. Frankly, I need to put something on hold if I’m going to keep doing this, because I’ll be really busy over the next week or so. I’m heading to a film music conference in New York next weekend, to present a paper on Michiru Oshima’s score for Fullmetal Alchemist! I am really excited, but it means a lot of prep ahead of time. I am probably going to take Week 8 off to focus on my work and having fun at the conference. See you all then!

Blood Blockade Battlefront: Don't you love Zapp?

Blood Blockade Battlefront: Don’t you love Zapp?

1. Blood Blockade Battlefront episode 7: I’d recently come to the conclusion on revisiting Trigun that music can do a lot to make up for a low budget and otherwise sloppy visuals. Well, Blood Blockade Battlefront delivers on those fronts, and yet its music still adds so much to each episode. I especially like that each episode has so much stylistic variety, and it still matches so well to every moment. Like this week, where we had operatic strains accompanying Leo meeting with Black and learning about White, and comparing her to his sister’s plight. (I’m not fully convinced White isn’t actually his sister on some level.) And then we had the hard rock for Zapp getting trapped and Klaus coming in to fight. There’s a lot to love about Blood Blockade Battlefront from week to week, and the soundtrack is no small part of that.

2. My Love Story!! episode 7: Full review here. This was probably the single cutest and most romantic episode of My Love Story!!, and that’s no small feat. Most episodes of this show are pretty adorable. This one did a lot to show you just how invested in each other Yamato and Takeo are. The answer: even more than you thought. I’m a little worried about how long My Love Story!! can run on this particular engine, but as for now I’m more than enjoying the ride.

3. Heroic Legend of Arslan episode 7: Full review here. This episode was a huge step up! It really fleshes out the Lusitanian side of the conflict, and gives us a bunch of new, fun characters and dynamics. I’m feeling good about where this show is going in a way I haven’t in weeks, and that’s awesome. Arslan has a ton of potential it needs to stop squandering.

Heroic Legend of Arslan: The king's exasperated brother.

Heroic Legend of Arslan: It’s hard being the brother of an idiot king.

4. Sound! Euphonium episode 7: This episode focused largely on the older students, showing how hard they’ve worked to keep the band alive when the previous seniors quit. Yet for some of them that isn’t enough to keep them in when the band starts interfering with their other dreams, like getting into a good university. This leads Aoi, tenor saxophonist and one of the leaders of the band, to quit. The band is finally the powerhouse she wanted it to be, but it also really doesn’t have room for her anymore if her sax isn’t going to be a priority. Sound! Euphonium in many ways is like the anti-K-ON!: it’s the real-world workings of a school music group, not the fantasy version that show serves up. It’s very refreshing, and the rich character interaction should make it work even for people who aren’t deep into the high school band world. We’ve all struggled with the trade-off between our goals and the things we do for fun. Some people take band as their top priority, like Asuka. For some people, it’s always going to be second fiddle, even if it’s still big enough to fight for it.

5. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders episode 43: When was the last time Jojo’s was this straight-up dark? Vanilla Ice sure knows how to bring the terror. Polnareff is probably one of my favorite Stardust Crusaders, but he can be frustrating when you’re expected to take him seriously. Still, this was a strong, interesting battle, especially in watching him and Iggy put aside their differences to defeat such a formidable enemy. I kinda know how Stardust Crusaders ends, but I’m still a little worried for our Boston terrier there. Vanilla Ice and his stand Cream are a terrifying pair, and he and Polnareff are pretty stuck. This is Jojo’s, though, so I’m sure they’ll get it out of in some bonkers way with a rocking soundtrack.

6. Sailor Moon Crystal episode 22: I can’t believe it, but I think this week Crystal was actually kind of good? The plot was easy to follow and the characters had personality (Venus even expressed regret that she’s so powerless during this arc). Usagi actually cared about her friends as much as her boyfriend. I could actually feel for the villains as they got frustrated over their Prince Demande going insane. And Black Lady is already a menacing, mysterious presence. I also think the show saved pretty much all its art and animation budget for this episode, as there was a noticeable lack of mistakes and upgrade in the visual quality. I especially liked the design for Wiseman, Neo-Queen Serenity and the other non-physical “projections,” with textures that reminded me of the character designs in Gankutsuou. Not a comparison I ever thought I’d be making for this show! I hope Sailor Moon Crystal can keep up this level of quality in the last few episodes. I might actually be pumped to watch them now.

Fate/stay night: Poor Lancer. As doomed as this show.

Fate/stay night: Poor Lancer. As doomed as this show.

7. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works episode 19: This episode falls into one of the franchise’s major weaknesses: excessive talking that doesn’t translate well to film. I wasn’t as negative on this episode as Gabbo was—in fact, I mostly enjoyed it, apart from the creepy Shinji stuff—but it does make it clear how much they’re stalling for time. Now that we’re coming down the wire to our true, final antagonists in the form of KK and Gilgamesh, I’m not sure how this show expects to fill its remaining episodes. I surely hope it’s not all with Archer monologues.

8. Wish Upon the Pleiades episode 7: Full review here. Well, that sure wasn’t promising. Wish Upon the Pleiades gave itself a tall order last week, but one it could at least take some steps toward delivering. And it…didn’t even try. With the exception of a few moments hinting that something is seriously wrong with Minato, it was all meaningless friendship hijinks. Oh well. Better luck next time? Maybe? I don’t really know what to expect from this show anymore. I’m not sure if it even wants to try.

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Ranking the Anime: Spring 2015 Week 6 (May 8-14)

This week was a little more consistent than previous ones. Strong contenders that slipped a little before are back in shape, with some turning in their best episodes. Pleiades is as uneven as ever and Plamemo went back to weaker episodes, but that’s not a huge surprise. They’re both at interesting crossroads, though, so hopefully they’ll get it together for the rest of their runtimes.

BBB episode 6 for blog

Blood Blockade Battlefront: It’s burger time!

1. Blood Blockade Battlefront episode 6: BBB continues to be my favorite show airing, but this might be my favorite episode of the series so far. Trigun is the only anime that’s brought me to actual tears, and while this episode didn’t quite get there, it came close. Yasuhiro Nightow is one of those few creatures who can combine the silly and sad so seamlessly. This week’s installment also sets up well for “what this series is about,” with both Nej’s story and White’s cryptic messages. BBB may be a word full of colorful and creepy-looking aliens, but this isn’t Men In Black: some of them are perfectly benign and even sympathetic, like Nej this week, whose near-“death” broke my heart. The point is that there are good people and bad people, good aliens and bad aliens… good creatures from all walks of life. We have the power to decide who we want to be, independent of our natures. It’s not unfamiliar if you’re used to Nightow’s other work, but BBB may be his most fun presentation of it yet.

2. My Love Story!! episode 6: Read the full review here. We’re back to strong episodes of this show, and ones that dispense or play around with shojo genre conventions. Takeo and Yamato’s love story has the potential to be a different sort of love story, and I’d like to see this anime deliver on that. Really, this week earns high marks just for the Saran wrap scene.

3. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works episode 18: Here it is: the best episode of this show and the one that spells out its themes. Fate is all about heroism, when it’s worth it and when it’s not, and how it can corrupt. Friends who played the visual novel told me ahead of time who Archer really was, and I’d always wondered how Shirou turned so cold-hearted. FSN: UBW answered all that and more in just a few minutes, in Rin’s artful introspective scene. It’s far from the first anime to deal with this topic, or the best (that would be what Utena did with Dios and Akio) but at least now I can see why the Stay Night half of this has such a fervent following. It doesn’t hurt that, unlike with Zero, this show has the direction its heavy material deserves.

My Love Story!!: Takeo loves (rescuing) kitties.

My Love Story!!: Takeo loves (rescuing) kitties.

4. Sound! Euphonium episode 6: This was a pretty strong episode, with a heavy focus on Hazuki. When their teacher announces auditions for festival competition, Hazuki figures she’ll just sit this one out, with how new she is to her instrument. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to play tuba, after all! Her friends (and Asuka, of course) convince her to give it a try. The power of friendship reigns supreme in Sound! Euphonium, but also the power of “ensemble,” the joy of music-making with friends. I really liked this, since the thrill of playing in a large group was a big part of why I loved high school band and orchestra. It’s a very energetic, communal experience, where you’re just feeding off each other. Small groups (like when she practices with the rest of the bass section) have even more potential for that sometimes. My favorite parts of Sound! Euphonium are when it captures some of the excitement of music-making as a teenager, and this week was in prime form for that. It also does a lot to better develop and elevate Hazuki as a character, too.

5. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders episode 42: D’Arby the Younger’s ending is very similar to his brother’s, and in that way this episode stumbles. Still, it’s a fitting ending for a very frustrating, silly villain. It’s great to watch Jotaro’s (and Joseph’s) trickery tear him apart at the seams, and in a way that makes it clear just how much he pales in comparison to the other D’Arby. More importantly, the second half of this episode introduces one of the best and most popular Stand users, Vanilla Ice, and shows that stronger, darker, creepier things are to come for the remainder of this arc. Including Dio! Stardust Crusaders has putzed around for long enough. It’s about time.

IMG_3518

Wish Upon the Pleiades: Subaru gets caught in a….something. Even I’m not sure what’s going on here.

6. Heroic Legend of Arslan episode 6: Read the full review here. This episode solidifies a lot of Arslan’s ideas about power and what makes for a fair society. That said, the actual episode itself is pretty weak on its own. It doesn’t give us much from the more fun characters, just a larger struggle that makes it obvious to me how much I don’t care about any of the players involved. This feels like transitional stuff, so let’s hope Arslan moves on to equally smart but more interesting pastures.

7. Wish Upon the Pleiades episode 6: Read the full review here. The show finally does something with its larger plot, but it feels too little too late. It comes very abruptly after weeks of character-focused shenanigans, and with such a decisive victory. At least Pleiades has to keep moving forward after this, right? But who even knows with this show. Next week might be back to focusing on drive-shaft training, for all I know and how sloppy its pacing has been up to now.

8. Plastic Memories episode 6: This episode was actively difficult to finish watching. It’s not even the worst episode; the sections focusing on Isla’s feelings about her deteriorating state were strong. Those were at the beginning of the episode (fooling me into thinking this one wouldn’t be “too bad”) and the end. It was everything in-between that stunk, all the silly rom-com stuff between Isla and Tsukasa. We get it: They like each other, and they’re both awkward about and loathe to admit it. There is nothing new about the way the show has built up to or is presenting this. Nobody cares. I just want more of them retrieving Giftias and info about how they work. I like Isla’s personal business when it plays into that, but not when it’s just sitcom hijinks. Plamemo has never been good at that, and needs to stop trying. Just stick to what you can do.

Ranking the Anime: Spring 2015 Week 5 (5/1-5/7)

I put Assassination Classroom on hold out of boredom, so we’ll be skipping that this week. Luckily, there’s lots of other, (not always) better anime to pick apart!

This is also a little bit later than I would have preferred to get it out, now that most of the first half of my next week post is out. Sorry about that! I’m working on a series review, so it’s been a busy weekend.

sailor moon crystal black lady

1. Blood Blockade Battlefront episode 5: Will this show ever not be my no. 1? Not if it keeps the good work, it won’t. The whole ketchup sequence alone earned it its top spot here. But so does the story: “monomaniacal” girl creates The Perfect Boyfriend only for the two boys she merged to fall in love with each other. So do the bouncy, colorful visuals, and the music to match. It’s really hard to talk about this show because it’s always good and it’s always because every single element is working in tandem to make it perfect. One specific thing that’s getting clearer with every week is how much this is a Yazuhiro Nightow creation: his very American-comic-books sense of style combined with humanistic values. It makes me wish we could get that Trigun manga reboot one of these days. But we won’t, so I’m happy to “settle” for BBB, which isn’t even really settling because it actually might be better than Trigun after all. Whoever thought I’d say that?

2. The Heroic Legend of Arslan episode 5: Full review here. We meet another exciting character this week in the form of master archer and musician Gieve. If Arslan keeps introducing fun supporting players with the potential to shake up the story, I’ll stay pleased and keep giving it good reviews. I know this isn’t really an “Arakawa story,” but a lot of what made FMA so appealing was her big cast full of bigger personalities. Arslan shows some other similarities even with a different writer, and that’s one I’d really like to be true for it, too.

3. Plastic Memories episode 5: Yep, this was exactly what this show needed. This episode is spent almost entirely with our characters on the job, and we finally see what happens to Giftias when they start to degrade with Marcia’s devastating breakdown. I felt like it pulled out some of my interest in this larger world that it was just “oh they go senile and go on a rampage,” but we also saw that there are competing organizations with perhaps more nefarious plans for them. Hint hint: That’d be a great place to explore in future episodes as much as you can, Plamemo. Keep on this track of plotting and you’ll stay golden.

plamemo marcia week 5

4. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works episode 17: Yay Lancer, and Archer returning to the right side! Or not really, I guess. The show is making it clearer and clearer who Archer’s true identity is, and I’m eager to see how he got there. How he became so bitter and cruel, especially toward someone…who may or may not be… oh come on, you all know what the deal is here, right? Anyway, I know Unlimited Blade Works is one of the routes where that’s revealed, so I was glad to see that built on this week. And Lancer is always entertaining. A solid episode.

5. My Love Story!! episode 5: Full review here. This slipped a little, because I’m really not liking our new character, Ai, or what she might mean for the show going forward. She’s unnecessary and more than a little creepy. But the episode’s still largely solid, funny and cute, so how can I complain too much? Ai better not let it slip any further, though.

6. Sound! Euphonium episode 5: This episode is pretty much pure band-nerdery. Maybe that’s why I personally found it less appealing, since marching band is one of the few experiences I haven’t had (though I’ve known many who were really into it, including my sister). I play cello and bass, what can I say? There are some important character moments for Kumiko near the end, when she realizes why her current school band is so important to her. She’s given the opportunity to hang out with middle school friends, but refuses it to focus harder on their performance. That’s an important step forward for her, but just one moment in an episode filled with marching band minutia and high-school hijinks. (And for all that focus, we only got to see a tiny slice of their actual performance!) I didn’t mind it, but Sound! Euphonium has done better.

At least their uniforms are really cute.

At least their uniforms are really cute.

7. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders episode 41: It’s crazy, I should love a baseball episode. And there was a lot to enjoy this week (even if Jotaro really should have chosen to bat second. C’mon, dude). But D’Arby the Younger is just so tepid compared to his older brother. I’m sure he’d love to hear that, given his smoldering resentment toward said brother, but the show doesn’t even really develop that beyond one flashback, either. Granted, this is Jojo’s, I don’t exactly expect deep character writing. What I do expect is entertaining characters, especially villains. Or failing that, to make them shit-your-pants terrifying. Younger D’Arby is neither. So it’s time to move on, Jojo’s.

8. Wish Upon the Pleiades episode 5: Full review here. This episode wasn’t nearly as good as last week’s, but it’s still better than the first few. I think fleshing out its cast is a good move for Pleiades. At the very least, it’ll be more engaging to watch for me. This is the stuff I loved growing up about Sailor Moon and other magical girl series, and if it can at least stay in the neighborhood of that, I’m happy.

9. Sailor Moon Crystal episode 21: The perennial underperformer continues to underperform. Shocking, right? It wasn’t for lack of strong material this time: The whole Black Moon arc is some of the strongest stuff from the manga, but particularly when we get into Chibiusa’s character development. She got the short shift in the anime, so I was eager for Crystal to impart some of what made her so compelling in manga form. She’s a scared but curious little girl robbed of the chance to grow up by fate, and the Black Moon Clan gives her that golden opportunity. Crystal, of course, destroys most of that powerful emotional resonance in presentation. It’s as lifeless and by-the-book as ever, where the original anime often livened up listless material with color and creativity. You aren’t even trying anymore, are you, Crystal? And that stinks, because this stuff could be good, but who would know from the way you’re dealing it? I continue to wonder if I’m going to suffer through the sequel series or not, when this show turns the franchise’s strongest stuff into such a snooze.

Ranking the Anime: Spring 2015 Week 4 (4/24-4/30)

This was a pretty strong week for a lot of shows. Consistent winners kept up their streak (Blood Blockade BattlefrontMy Love Story!!), underachievers fielded better-than-average installments (Wish Upon the Pleiades) and shows that lost their way got back on track (Plastic Memories, Heroic Legend of Arslan). The state of anime is in good hands! Here’s a look at how I thought they all stacked up:

Blood-Blockade-Battlefront-Episode-4

1. Blood Blockade Battlefront episode 4: We’re finally getting into the meat of this story, and its characters and themes, and this episode bombards you with content. But surprisingly, I didn’t find it hard to follow at all. You might need to rewatch it to catch everything, but is that really a minus when the show is this fun? Blood Blockade Battlefront is just the gift that keeps on giving, with every episode a gem that’s both a thrill ride and rife with stuff to dissect. The technical aspects keeps improving too, even from a base of “excellent.” For example, I’ve always loved the music in this show, but I really like how it’s making specific references to famous works like Beethoven 9 (last week) and The Magic Flute (this one). I can’t wait to see where they’re going from that–and with the humanistic-yet-batshit Nightow themes and sensibility that should be familiar to any Trigun fan. BBB feels like everything I ever expected and wanted from anime, as both a fan and a critic. You don’t get shows like that often, especially in weak seasons like this one. Hey, I’ll suffer through a lot more for another one of these.

2. The Heroic Legend of Arslan episode 4: Full review here. This was a huge step-up, and a big part of that was the introduction of Daryun’s pal Narsus. I love politically-involved fantasy (if my recent obsession with Game of Thrones isn’t any indication), and he’s the biggest key to where it’s going with this—which could be good, could be bad, but looks promising at least. Also, Narsus is just really fun and packs a lot more personality than anyone else.

3. My Love Story!! episode 4: Full review here. This material isn’t as strong as last week’s, because how do you top the fated love confession? But My Love Story!! shows a real investment in what happens after, and keeping that exciting. Its characters also behave a lot like real teens in love! You don’t get that much in shojo anime, idealism vehicle that it is. So that’s nice.

oh young love

Oh, young love.

4. Sound! Euphonium episode 4: This week’s episode wasn’t nearly as cohesive as other ones, but I still loved the heck out of it. Watching a high school band get its shit together is something I could do all day, because it’s something I lived. Heck, I’ve even been on the teacher’s end of things a few times, so I love how he’s a character in his own right. Like all good teachers, he struggles to make sure things get done while also being nice and getting down to the kids’ level. It’s a tricky balance with any sort of teacher, but especially with something like music, supposed to be the “fun” class yet one that absolutely requires a baseline readiness. At the same time, I’m kind having trouble understanding what people get out of episodes like this if they aren’t an ex-band-geek or otherwise really interested in the specifics of teens learning music. There are still a few moe moments—like when Kumiko confesses how much the trumpet player inspires her—but overall it seems like it’s playing more to music fanatics than KyoAni’s usual audience. As someone who’s firmly in the former group I’m thrilled about that, but I really wonder what it’s doing for others.

5. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works episode 16: I’m perfectly fine with talky Fate episodes so long as they’re done well, and contribute something to the story besides just worldbuilding, pretentious dialogue or (especially) domestic shenanigans. (You can never have too little of the domestic shenanigans, and FSN pads whole episodes with them. And whole hours in the original visual novel. Gag me.) And this was a “done well” one. It moved forward the plot by shoring up an alliance between Team Shirou/Rin and Lancer, and also developed that central romance a little better. It’ll never get your blood pumping the way Illya and Berserker’s final battle did, or even Lancer’s original confrontation with our heroes way back in episode 1. But it’s still fun, important, and certainly could be worse. Especially when the faces are this great.

6. Plastic Memories episode 4: There’s still enough bullshit from previous episodes here for me to rank it relatively low. But Plamemo is getting back on track, and not a moment too soon. The most interesting thing about this show was always the questions about memory and grief at its heart, and we explore those more by watching Tsukasa and Isla do their job of retrieving old Giftias. We don’t get that from shipping bullshit that every anime ever has beaten to death. We could also get it from digging into who Isla is more, and all the signs that her own time is up. Unsurprisingly, there’s more to that this week than either of the two previous episodes. Thanks for getting back on the rails, Plamemo, now please stay there.

Gripping stuff.

Gripping stuff.

7. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders episode 40: I didn’t dislike this episode as much as a lot of people! But it’s undeniable that it’s something we’ve seen before over and over in Jojo’s, and specifically, it’s an uninspired retread of the previous D’Arby’s battles. It’s also something that was probably a lot fresher in the early 1990s than it is now: video game battles. That was new when gaming was still more an untested, niche nerd product, but when AAA games are as mainstream as Hollywood movies and we have multiple mega-hit anime based on “living in the video game world” (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, the .hack// franchise, etc.) it’s hard to make this feel exciting. Jojo’s tries its best without deviating from the source material, but maybe some deviation could have worked here.

8. Wish Upon the Pleiades episode 4: Full review here. Pleiades improved by leaps and bounds this week, and if it’s still near the bottom, that’s only because even a great episode of this kind of show can’t compete with the other stuff I’m watching. That said, this gave me hope about riding this show out might be a more fulfilling prospect than I thought.

9. Assassination Classroom episode 14: There was nothing outright bad this week, but AssClass rockets to the bottom out of mediocrity. Like too many recent episodes of this show, this one just had too much going on. It had no real central organizing principle to it. Not that that automatically makes for great installments, as we see with Irina’s focus episodes. But at least it makes me feel like I have some reason to care about this increasingly-tired premise. Plus, the jokes usually land better when they coalesce around one idea. This week still had some funny ones, but they were few and far-between. Eh. It’d take a lot to get me to stop watching this at this point, but it needs to stop chugging along. I want it to move forward with purpose.

Wish Upon the Pleiades Episodes 1-2

A very belated post, since this went up on Thursday. Sorry about that!

I’m not sure what to make of this show yet. It sure is a typical magical girl show! As I said in the review, that is a little refreshing in the wake of all the Madoka rip-offs we’ve seen recently. (Madoka is great. Other shows riding its coattails with nothing but GRIMDARK OMG SO GRIMDARK!!! …not so much.) But I grew up on the older kind of magical girl shows, and there’s nothing to distinguish it from those.

But hey, it was an ONA that was apparently popular enough to make into an anime series. There’s gotta be something that appeals about it…right? Right?

Here’s my review.

My Love Story!! Episodes 1-2

The second of my episode reviews is up for the spring season! My Love Story!! is the cutest thing I’ve watched in a while, and easily my favorite of the season so far. (And it’s had some stiff competition there in the form of Blood Blockade Battlefront and Sound! Euphonium, so that’s not nothing.) You should watch it right now if you’re a shojo romance fan. You should watch it right now if you’re not. You should watch it right now if you’re worried it’s going to be a Nice Guy (TM) fest, because it’s nothing like that and my review should specifically address your fears.

Read it all here.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan Episodes 1-2

For the spring season, I’ll be taking a page from others’ books and trying to link my ANN reviews here, if only to get more content for this blog at least. Here’s the first of the three shows I’m covering: The Heroic Legend of Arslan!

I requested this one partly just because the first episode intrigued me so much. But also because of its connection with Hiromu Arakawa. I love Arakawa’s art style but I’m kind of glad she’s not writing something like this. Her handling of tense racial and religious conflicts was dicey in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga (and done much better by the less faithful 2003 anime adaptation). I haven’t watched Legend of the Galactic Heroes yet, but I hear that Yoshiki Tanaka is good at that sort of thing. So I’m eager to see how this goes.

Read my review here.

Tokyo Ghoul is Better Than Parasyte, and You Should Be Watching It

Every year we get several anime that are beloved by the general otaku community, but send critics and bloggers turning up their noses. For most of these, that response is warranted, but there are always at least a few who don’t deserve it. This year that honor goes to Tokyo Ghoul, which even I dismissed during its first airing as a soulless gorefest. I have a bit of an aversion to ultraviolence, and without hearing much else to recommend it to me, I decided I’d skip it in my already-loaded summer itinerary. I revisited it last month, though, after my friend and fellow critic Hope Chapman talked it up so much in her episode reviews for ANN, and now I can see it’s fully deserving of not just fannish excitement, but critical analysis.

There's still plenty of blood, though.

There’s still plenty of blood, though.

Tokyo Ghoul probably gets dismissed because it’s the latest in this year’s trend of shounen anime, featuring a world where humanity is preyed upon by a monstrous Other and one boy is the “bridge” between the two groups. Because our protagonist has aspects of both, you see: he’s a titan-shifter, like Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan, or he’s got the man-eating alien hiding in his hand, like Shinichi from this year’s anime adaptation of Parasyte. The latter especially is probably why so many Serious Anime Fans decided to skip over Tokyo Ghoul, deciding to wait for this similar thing based on this old horror manga that so many senior anime fans remembered fondly. Yet, as it becomes clearer and clearer to younger viewers that we chose wrong—that Parasyte is little more than “Anime Spiderman”—it’s probably time to take a second look at Tokyo Ghoul. And in doing so, you’ll find that it’s a much richer, more “human” story.

Tokyo Ghoul is, like Parasyte, a protagonist-centered tale: it focuses on Kaneki, a human stricken with ghoul appetites and abilities when he gets a ghoul’s organs transplanted into his body. The first series follows him throughout his “metamorphosis” of sorts, as he comes to accepting the “ghoul” side of him as inevitably dominating over the “human” one, and his place in ghoul society. This isn’t like Parasyte, though, or like District 9, where the protagonist’s irreversible transformation happens over time. Like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, he wakes up completely transformed; Kaneki may retain his human eye, and a “human taste” as some unscrupulous ghouls later find out (but more on Shuu in a bit, ugh), but he’s all ghoul in the ways that matter. And it’s why he can never go back to the life he had before all this, even if he can hide it for a while from his human friends like Hide. While he does change physically at the end of the whirlwind that is Episode 12, it’s in largely cosmetic ways, and the real changes come psychologically. As Kaneki is tortured, he retreats into a void where he encounters the ghoul girl who gave him his organs, and Kaneki realizes he has to accept one side of himself over the other. Kaneki picks the only one that makes any sense: “I am a ghoul.”

One boy, many faces.

One boy, many faces.

So Tokyo Ghoul gets points over Parasyte for its much deeper and more original portrayal of a character gradually losing touch with his humanity, and coming to terms with changes in himself. Parasyte’s changes for Shinichi are largely the physical, in the form of Peter-Parker-like superpowers, though of course there are some cliché bits about how he’s becoming more beep-boop logical and losing empathy. Kaneki retains his human emotions, however, since ghouls are shown to have just as much emotional depth as the non-cannibalistic humans are; his journey is about acceptance and, in the last episode, about responding to trauma. Speaking of the ghouls’ emotional depth, though, that’s another place where Tokyo Ghoul is leagues above Parasyte: it gives all the characters emotional arcs and believability. Parasyte is almost Death Note-like in how much its two protagonists, Shinichi and Migi, tower above the walking plot tools who inhabit the rest of the story. Tokyo Ghoul has a larger story to tell; it centers on Kaneki but it’s not just about Kaneki.

Of course, that’s not to say that Tokyo Ghoul is that complicated. It’s still a shounen-manga, and outside of Kaneki and Touka, a female ghoul who is Kaneki’s closest friend among them and strongly drawn to him, most of the characters fall into familiar archetypes. Yet, they still have their own struggles and stories, in spite of their simplicity. There’s Hinami, a sweet little girl who lives her with her protective mother, with all the childlike naïveté you’d expect from a kid who doesn’t need to eat human flesh in order to survive. Her mother dies protecting her, and it’s a story as much about her own loss of innocence as it is about Kaneki’s. What’s more, the show also fleshes out the human characters, including the ones who kill ghouls we care about like Hinami’s parents. Amon, an investigator with the CCG (a police-like organization that hunts ghouls) is the next most-developed character in the series after Kaneki and Touka. The series spends a lot of time with him despairing over his colleagues dying and toying with his conscience.

Very sexily, I might add.

Very sexily, I might add.

It’s comparing and contrasting Tokyo Ghoul’s approaches to the human and ghoul characters that make it so rich for analysis. Unlike a lot of sci-fi and fantasy analogues for understanding real-world prejudice and conflicts, Tokyo Ghoul presents both sides as equally sympathetic and rational in their causes. Ghouls are pretty disgusting and present a real threat to humanity, but they didn’t choose to be that way and some of them take pains to limit how much they harm humans (as with the ghouls at the Anteiku café where Kaneki and Touka work, who only consume the corpses of suicide victims—which raises its own question about why those suicides are so regular in the first place). Who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed? Who deserves our sympathy? It’s not for the show to say—it’s up to the audience.

Which is where it gets hard to recommend this show as a “sci-fi metaphor for prejudice and the cycle of hatred,” as Hope puts it in the first of her episode reviews. Real-life prejudice, at least within a society (rather than between two warrings ones), is normally a lot less complicated than that. Members of privileged majorities rarely have any rational reason to feel threatened by oppressed minorities. Their irrational feelings are understandable, but usually the result of ignorance of the larger causes that leave them searching for a scapegoat. The human society of Tokyo Ghoul’s world does seem to have some bigger problems, sure (like…whatever’s causing all those suicides), but the ghouls present an actual threat. Most ghouls aren’t Anteiku, and actively feed on humans. There are other ghoul gangs, like Aoigiri, that actively fight against both humans and human-sympathetic ghouls, and if they’re supposed to be analogues to minorities who choose more violent and aggressive means for standing up against their oppressors…well, that’s more than a little suspect in a way we see too often in anime like this. That’s not to mention that Tokyo Ghoul isn’t so great when it portrays real-life oppressed minorities among their characters, as Eric detailed in his post about the show’s queer-coded villain, Shuu.

tokyo ghoul shuu

This is about what you can expect

I’m giving it some legroom before I write it off there, though, because it’s an incomplete story that may end up completely surprising me. This could be especially true of Tokyo Ghoul √A as it spends more time among the Aogiri, with post-breakdown Kaneki joining their ranks. Plus, this show has so much else to recommend it: its portrayal of Kaneki’s psychology and, most of all, the interesting lens it turns on us, on humanity, especially in response to similar shows. Attack on Titan and Parasyte both indulge some amount of lifting up humanity as a whole, celebrating its “specialness” in response to the monstrous titans and cold parasites. Both Shinichi and various titan shifters fret over losing their humanity to their inhuman other sides. Yet Tokyo Ghoul, in how it prioritizes the everyday lives and emotional development of the ghouls, frames humans as the other. Even Amon doesn’t get as much time on-screen as do the slice-of-life moments in Anteiku, and that’s on purpose: to put the viewers on the outside with the ghouls, looking in on humanity. Looking in on ourselves. Are humans really all that special after all, or could our “special” qualities be managed just as well—if not better—transferred into other bodies? Is “humanity” really worth protecting?

For an ultraviolent shounen, Tokyo Ghoul poses many thought-provoking questions. Add in its fantastic production values (from its vibrant color scheme to its varied and energetic musical score, it’s a pleasure to see and hear, even when it’s gross), and it’s a show with a lot to recommend itself to all kinds of anime fans. Even squeamish babies like me.