This show wasn’t on my initial Summer list, since from the admittedly very little I saw and read of it, I’d already seen it’s like before, with similarities to everything from Ao no Exorcist to True Blood. But with nothing else to watch, this first episode was to enticing to pass up, like the flesh laid out before Kaneki Ken. While it was impossible not to notice its many derivative elements, it was still a bloody fun romp.
Many shows of this genre we’ve seen feature huge sprawling casts of various factions vying for power, but in the interests of easing us into its blood bath, the actors are thankfully kept as few as possible. There’s Ken, an utterly unremarkable bookworm of a kid with bangs that make him look ten years younger than he is, and there’s Rize, his gorgeous date, the true side of whom we see in the episode’s prologue, where she’s nude, enthusiastically gorging on flesh, and escaping a pursuer.
With Rize, Hana-Kana gets to use both the cute/innocent and bad-ass/crazy/evil sides of her versatile voice. A ghoul—a vampire by any other name—she lures Ken somewhere secluded and attacks him with lustful vigor, totally throwing him, but not us, for a loop. He survives the assault when some steel girders fall on Rize, apparently killing her, and a doctor manages to fix him up, apparently by transplanting some of Rize’s still-intact organs.
You can guess the rest: he becomes a ghoul himself…or rather a half-ghoul, which makes him unique (so far). Earlier in the episode he’s a bit of a tiresome pipsqueak, but watching the shadows literally close in upon him as he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, is nicely done. I particularly liked how all normal food and drink (given to him by his devoted best and only friend, Hide) now make him retch; now only human flesh will do.
Like Haruto in Valvrave, he must choose to “resign his humanity”, although fate kind of chooses for him. When his nose leads him to a relatively kindly ghoul tucking into a fresh kill, their encounter is interrupted by Nishiki, an experienced ghoul and a heel who is ready to take over the dead Rize’s territory. He’s about to kill Nishiki when a girl named Touka shows up (Amamiya Sora in her first “tough girl” role).
Touka was a waitress at the cafe where Ken meets Rize, and whom we imagine to be part of a more disciplined sect of ghouls than Rize or Nishiki. After dispatching the latter, she doles out some tough love to Ken, who is full-on Dr. Strangelove with his human side keeping his ghoul side from eating. Quick as a cat, she shoves the flesh right down Ken’s gullet, deciding for him that this is the way things are going to be.
This is good, dark, twisted stuff; well-executed if not 100% (or even 50%) original. I liked how realistic, busy and richly-detailed the Tokyo backdrop appears, portraying the metropolis as one massive, seething buffet for Ken & Co. I’m hoping this episode wasn’t an anomaly in terms of either animation quality or amount of blood and gore for this show, because both were at a good level. I also appreciated that political claptrap was kept to a minimum.