Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1
By Sui Ishida
Rated T+, for Older Teens
VIZ Media, $8.99 (digital edition)
Tokyo Ghoul opens with Ken Kaneki, a mild-mannered college student, impulsively deciding to go on a date with a beautiful stranger. As Kaneki soon discovers, however, Rize isn’t even a person–she’s a ghoul, a violent predator who feeds on human corpses. A freak accident spares Kaneki from becoming Rize’s next meal, but he has a new problem: the ER doc who saved his life used a few of Rize’s organs to do so. Within days, Kaneki begins craving flesh, too, forcing him to decide whether he’ll succumb to his ghoulish impulses or cling to his humanity.
Tokyo Ghoul‘s first chapter is the strongest, thanks in part to manga-ka Sui Ishida’s crack pacing. In less capable hands, the introduction might have been a tedious information dump; Ishida, however, is sparing with details, allowing us to learn about ghouls through the unfolding of the story. Ishida also demonstrates considerable skill in creating suspense, artfully manipulating light and shadow to amplify the contrast between well-lit, “safe” spaces such as the cafe where Kaneki likes to study, with the dark, remote areas where Rize likes to hunt–you’d be forgiven for screaming “Run away!” every time Rize steers Kaneki toward a quiet, empty street.
What should have been chapter one’s most dramatic moment, however, is executed clumsily. Ishida piles on the speed lines and close-ups, but it’s almost impossible to determine what Rize looks like in her true form: an angel with charred wings? a spider? a four-legged octopus? Compounding the confusion is the lack of background detail, a shortcoming that becomes painfully obvious near the end of the scene, when a pile of I-beams falls on Rize and Kaneki. The artwork never hints at this potential outcome, cheating the reader of the opportunity to guess what happens next–Ishida seems to be making it up as he goes along, rather than deliberately preparing an important plot twist.
Kaneki’s transformation is handled in a similarly pedestrian fashion. We see Kaneki sweat, cry, scream, and vomit like Linda Blair, but his moral crisis is painted in such broad strokes that it’s hard to feel genuine sympathy for him. When Kaneki faces a terrible choice–eat his friend or starve–Ishida resorts to a deus ex-machina to save his hero from the indignity of snacking on someone he knows. Although this plot twist makes Kaneki seem more human, it blunts the true horror of his dilemma by making him too likable; our allegiance to the hero is never really tested.
Any pretense that Tokyo Ghoul might be a character study is shed in the the final pages of volume one, when Ishida introduces a secret ghoul organization. This plot development feels like the first step towards a more conventional battle manga pitting demons against humans. More disappointing still is that Ishida seems to think that splattering the reader with entrails is scarier than asking, What really makes us human? Kaneki’s liminal status between the human and demon worlds makes him a natural vehicle for exploring this question, but Ishida shies away from the tough ethical or moral issues posed by Kaneki’s new dietary needs. The resulting story reads like a low-cal version of Parasyte, stripped of the complexities and conflict that made Hitoshi Iwaaki’s body-snatching manga so compelling.
Volume one of Tokyo Ghoul is available in ebook form now; the first print volume will be released in June.
Did you receive an Amazon or RightStuf gift certificate this holiday? If so, this post is for you! Below, I’ve reviewed the first volumes of three series that debuted in 2014, offering a quick-and-dirty assessment of each. Already read Food Wars? Fear not—I’ve also rounded up reviews from around the web as well.
Food Wars, Vol. 1
Story by Yuto Tsukada, Art by Shun Saeki
Rated T+, for Older Teens
VIZ Manga, $9.99
Food Wars begins with an only-in-manga scenario: Soma Yukihira’s dad shutters the family’s greasy spoon restaurant and lights out for America, leaving his son behind. With no place to go, Soma enrolls at Totsuki Culinary Academy, a hoity-toity cooking school that prides itself on its wealthy alumnae, rigorous curriculum, and high attrition rate. Soma’s working-class background is a major handicap in this environment, but his can-do attitude and culinary instincts allow him to triumph in difficult situations, whether he’s salvaging an over-salted pot roast or wowing an unscrupulous developer with a simple potato dish.
In theory, I ought to hate Food Wars for its cartoonish characters and abundant cheesecake, two qualities I generally despise in a manga. But here’s the thing: it’s fun. Soma repeatedly shows up bullies and snobs with his ability to transform everyday dishes into haute cuisine, proving that good food doesn’t need to be fancy. Though Soma’s foes are stock types—the Busty Bitch, the Rich Mean Boy, the Teacher With Impossibly High Standards—Shun Sakei’s crisp caricatures make them seem like fresh creations. I wish I could say the same for Sakei’s abundant fanservice, which quickly wears out its welcome with porny images of women enjoying Soma’s cooking. These pin-up moments are supposed to be funny, I guess, but the heavy emphasis on heaving cleavage and bare skin seems more like a concession to teenage male taste than an organic part of the story.
The verdict: I can’t decide if Food Wars is a guilty pleasure or a hate read, but I’ve just purchased volumes 2-4.
Manga Dogs, Vol. 1
By Ema Toyama
Rated T, for Teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99
Manga Dogs has a terrific premise: a teenage artist decides to enroll in her school’s manga program, only to discover that her teacher is inept, and her classmates are pretty-boy otakus with no skill or work ethic. When Kanna’s classmates discover that she’s actually a published artist, Fumio, Fujio, and Shota glom onto her in hopes of breaking into the business—even though her debut series is on the verge of being cancelled.
With such a ripe set-up, it’s a pity that Manga Dogs is DOA. Part of the problem is that the script panders to the reader at every turn, whether it’s poking fun at reverse-harem tropes or saddling the characters with pun-tastic names inspired by famous manga creators. The author spends too much time patting the reader on the back for “getting” the jokes and not enough time writing genuinely funny scenarios or imbuing her characters with more than one personality trait each. The other issue is pacing: the story and artwork are both frenetic, with characters screaming, jumping, and flapping their arms on almost every page. By the end of the third chapter, I felt as if someone had beaten me up for my lunch money while asking me, “Do you think I’m funny? No? Now do you think I’m funny?”
The verdict: Just say no.
Yukarism, Vol. 1
By Chika Shiomi
Rated T, for Teen
VIZ Media, $9.99
Yukarism combines the supernatural elements of Rasetsu with the historical drama of Sakuran, then adds a dash of gender-bending weirdness for good measure. The story revolves around Yukari, a best-selling author whose novels explore the history of Edo’s red-light district. Though fans attribute the abundant details in his writing to research, Yukari has an even better strategy for learning about the past: he visits it! When he returns to the 1800s, however, Yukari becomes Yumurasaki, a top-earning oiran (or courtesan) enmeshed in a web of political intrigue, lust, and violence.
Given the complexity of the plot, it’s not surprising that the first volume of Yukarism is a bumpy ride. The tone see-saws between broad physical comedy and brooding melodrama, making it difficult to know if Yukari’s plight is being played for laughs or sniffles. The script, on the other hand, is too pointed; manga-ka Chika Shiomi is so intent on telling us what Yukari is thinking and seeing that she forgets the old dictum about showing, not telling. The same kind of editorial interventions result in at least one character waxing profusely about how handsome and cool Yukari is, just in case we haven’t realized that he’s supposed to be handsome and cool. Now that the basic parameters of the story have been established, however, Shiomi can dispense with the heavy-handed dialogue and do what she does best: write sudsy supernatural romances with beautiful characters in beautiful costumes.
The verdict: Volume two should be a pure guilty pleasure.
Reviews: Here at Manga Bookshelf, Michelle Smith, Sean Gaffney, and Anna N. posta fresh crop of mini-reviews. Further afield, Megan Purdy discusses est em’s Carmen, a swell-looking manga treatment of the Bizet opera.
Laura on vol. 1 of Ani-Imo (Heart of Manga)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 2 of Attack on Titan: No Regrets (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Barakamon (Manga Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 6 of A Bride’s Story (Manga Worth Reading)
Jenny Ertel on vols. 1-13 of Dorohedoro (No Flying No Tights)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 14 of Dorohedoro (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Drug & Drop (Manga Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlson on The Garden of Words (Manga Worth Reading)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 25 of Higurashi: When They Cry (The Fandom Post)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Milkyway Hitchhiking (ANN)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 1 of Prophecy (The Fandom Post)
Lori Henderson on vols. 1-6 of Strobe Edge (Good Comics for Kids)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 8 of Umineko: When They Cry (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Megan R. on vol. 1 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (The Manga Test Drive)