Tokyo Ghoul: the Shingeki no Kyojin counterpart with a better main male protagonist?

Levi and Kaneki (Attack on Titan , Tokyo Ghoul) by Madara-RO

                                                           … I wish.                                                                                  

Tokyo Ghoul has been a popular manga series that has spawned a two cour anime series – the first 13 episodes debuting in Fall 2014 and the next cour airing currently in Winter 2015. The contents of this post will relate to a quasi-comparison between the first season of the Tokyo Ghoul anime, and the Shingeki no Kyojin series.

Tokyo Ghoul is set in a grim alternate reality of Tokyo where human-eating ghouls roam and terror the streets at night. The story is told from the point of view of an ordinary college student, Kaneki Ken, who gets inadvertently thrown into this darker side of Tokyo when he encounters a girl, Rize.

With such an all too familiar set-up, Tokyo Ghoul at first glance looks like any other ordinary horror story told in a linear plot line: in this modern backdrop with supernatural beings a pretty much accepted part of reality but looms on the top of the food pyramid and usurping human beings of their place, an ordinary human boy encounters a life changing event that thrusts him into the world of ‘the other side’. Sounds familiar? Shingeki no Kyojin comes to mind – in all gory and fear-inducing detail.

Aside from their immense popularity with both Japanese and international viewers, there are actually undeniable similarities between SnK and TG that may not be immediately apparent to most viewers. The most glaring one would be adrenaline pumping action scenes that are drawn with the finest details, exuding rawness and emotion which is impactful on the minds of viewers and adding a dimension of reality to what is going on in the scene (as opposed to the clean cut, swift, razor sharp graphics of ufotable’s Fate Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works) TV series, a topic for another day).

However, the way the story line actually progresses and the way events are introduced and resolved also leaves are also more subtle similarities between the two. Both have a linear storyline in which one event happens at a time and fully consumes the attention of the viewer. Yet when this event are supposedly resolved and we come to the end of the arc, the story leaves enough questions unanswered such that these can be touched upon later in the story to become fully resolved. I realise that I am talking in very abstract terms here, but if one has read and watched enough manga and anime, this is actually quite a common plot planning tactic that mangakas use (another example that comes to mind would be Gakuen Alice). It may be apposite to point out here that the entire first cour of TG actually comrpises of many more arcs than the entire two-cour SnK, and that there are probably more differences between the two stories than I could list. (for example, SnK spent no time in character development, but rather jumped straight into the execution of the story, of which I will elaborate on later.)

This brings me to my main point here. Even when there it is merely a clear linear plot progression, its execution is so fascinating that it captures the audience’s attention fully. What I mean by this is that both anime really know how to draw out the fringe emotions in its viewers so well, its almost like going for a roller coaster ride in the dark. One is immersed fully in the shoes of the protagonist and experiences fear, despair, pain, excitement and foreboding. SnK is undoubtedly the best in this department. TG meanwhile, spends more time on making sure the audience gets to know the world of the Ghouls at the same pace as Kaneki, our protagonist, actually does. But when the action scenes come, they astound the viewers with the same impact. (this applies to all major revelations in SnK, and most action scenes in TG especially towards to the end of the cour.) I have always preferred complex plots with interweaving plotlines, but the way these two series actually executed their plot has earned all the brownie points in that department, sufficient to make up for their lack of texture.

The major diverging point of both series, then, would have to be its main male protagonist. Eren Jaegar is fuelled by mostly anger at the Titans, and that is really his main motivation for improving his combat skills and ultimately, the X-factor that pushes him beyond the abilities of the average human to surpass even his most talented peers, in the most tight-knit situations. His strong willpower and determination to kill all the Titans in the world even spills over to his behaviour in his non Titan-fighting aspects of daily life.  Honestly, the one word I would use to encapsulate Eren’s character over 25 episodes would be: angry. Moreover, he is angry from the first episode, and he is still angry at the last episode. Enough said.

Image result for kaneki kenMeanwhile, we have Kaneki Ken, who starts out as the slightly reserved, lonely bookworm, who is kind and nice, and the guy that girls would probably choose to bring home and show their parents. At first, we think, what is an absolutely boring male protagonist doing in such an exciting setting? But as we see him being introduced into the world of ghouls, we see him turn from an absolutely horrified human being into someone who is more cautiously accepting of ghouls as he realises that they do also demonstrate what humans term as attributes that make them ‘human’: love for their family, love for their friends, camaraderie, the ability to organize themselves intelligently; and not the mindless human devouring predators as they are made out to be. Though he considers himself to be merely an observer, he gradually gets involved in the affairs of various ghouls. It also comes to a point in the confrontation with the ghoul-hunting organisation (really a specialised branch of the national security force of sorts) that he realises the grave misunderstanding that has alienated both humans and ghouls and put them at eternally opposing sides of the field. He then realises that, being half of each, his identity poses as the greatest weapon and tool that could potentially bring both sides together. He suddenly realises the weight of the duty and responsibility that has come to lie on his shoulders, and his own – and that gets him to firm up his resolve to act correspondingly, with that end in mind.

I have not even gotten to the most exciting character development that Kaneki has experienced, but one can see the immense amount of thinking this character has done as we see the world through his eyes. His transitions in thinking mirror that of the audience as we follow his thought processes. Our perceptions also change together with his. That level of engagement with the audience humanises him more as we unconsciously put ourselves in his shoes. This makes it feel like Kaneki’s reactions and actions are a realistic alter ego of ours, and its precisely what we would have done if we were in his shoes. (for example, being in self-denial and rooted to the spot when we are scared. There is a difference between a character being simply wimpy and one that only reacts they way he does because that’s what a normal person would do). This is actually the first reason why we are so enthralled with Kaneki Ken as a character.

The second reason, of course, comes from his transformation. We are referring to one of those rare total transformations in character even in anime, where logic does not match up with reality. What may seem like an entirely bizarre change is actually very well accepted even though at first blush, it seems to reek of a total deus ex machina of sorts or a poorly executed plot device. Why? Simply because Kaneki has been humanised enough to us that there simply isn’t any other way that he could have developed, given the experiences he was brought through. Hence, we are ready to accept his transformation, managing to satisfy at least two types of audiences: firstly, those who, from the start, have been disappointed with Kaneki’s lack of ability to defend and fight and being always overpowered and have finally been given the action they were eager for. Secondly, those who are looking for wholeness of character and have accepted Kaneki’s ‘wimpy’ reactions as purely normal; but were thrown into a pleasant surprise. After all, this total transformation is the part which deviates from reality (because there is a higher chance of becoming mentally deranged than actually turning out to be stronger mentally AND physically). However, Kaneki Ken has made the juxtaposition of badass and kindness so possible: and honestly, who doesn’t love a badass character? Moreover, though his mannerisms and behaviour are nothing alike the first character, his innate kindness and compassion towards those he cares about is retained, though not easily shown, but in existence nonetheless.


             Who would have thought?

Don’t get me wrong; Shingeki no Kyojin is in my top 5 anime of all time, but Tokyo Ghoul ranks nowhere close to my top 20. I absolutely adore SnK in all its glory; but to me, this highlights the difficulties in rating anime; to call an anime one of your favourites is to also recognise its flaws, but accept them nonetheless. Tokyo Ghoul does a much better job at character development, and I can’t help but recognise that strength it has.

That concludes my comparison on the two arguably most talked about anime for the past two years. I believe I have managed to avoid any overt spoilers in my post, though please let me know if there are any crucial or major ones I have mentioned. Both anime are seriously worth a try if you haven’t had the chance to, and I would also recommend reading the Tokyo Ghoul manga as well to get a fuller picture of the setting 🙂

*All images used in this post were sourced from Google Images and Deviantart and do not belong to me, but to their respective owners.*