Something that long time anime fans will relate to is the feeling of trepidation when it’s announced that an anime will not be following the manga and will instead have an original story. Its scary to think that a studio won’t follow in the footsteps of the author who has created the characters from scratch and built them in a certain way, but instead choose to use them as they please because they think that such a direction will appeal to more people. Therefore, we have come to associate shows that don’t follow the manga with ‘failures’ or the ones that aren’t quite what you would want out of an anime adaptation.
What is unique about Tokyo Ghoul:re is that while it does follow the manga, I still get the feeling that its not what I want out of this franchise and I don’t think I’m alone on this either.
Tokyo Ghoul:re is a 2018 anime that serves as a direct continuation to Tokyo Ghoul: Root A, which aired in 2015. Root A was the sequel series to the original Tokyo Ghoul, which aired back in 2014. Now, by reading the above sentence one would think that the series continuity is fairly simple to understand, with three separate series telling one overarching story. This is the normal approach with anime that have spawned sequel seasons (for example, shows like Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass, Boku no Hero Academia, etc). However, if you actually take the time to sit and watch all three series, you will quickly realize that this is not the case by any means. While the original series does a good job of conveying the story as concisely as it could while also giving the audience sufficient insight into each of its primary characters, their motives, beliefs, ideals and whatnot, its sequel, Root A, decided to deviate from the manga entirely by changing one key event and thus follow a completely different storyline. However, the ending of that series merged (sort of) with a pivotal point in the manga. Therefore, after 12 episodes of (mostly) sleep inducing sequences, one cannot be blamed for thinking that every problem was solved, and normally it would be, but the way that :re is structured makes it problematic as within the first few minutes of the first episode, people who have only seen the anime adaptations will inevitably be confused as to what’s going on.
Due to the events of :re following the manga all of a sudden, anime only viewers have no clue what is retconned for this story and what isn’t, which means that they have to refer back to the manga in order to fill in the missing pieces. An anime, being a visual adaptation of the manga, should be able to tell a self contained story that doesn’t have its viewers scrambling for other sources in order to make sense of what’s happening in it. If one takes a look at Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, even though it had a series which told the first half of its story in the form of Fullmetal Alchemist, you can still watch all 64 episodes of Brotherhood without feeling lost on what the intricacies of the world are or miss out on any crucial plot points that are relevant to the overall story. Brotherhood never expected the viewer to fill in pieces of its plot from the manga or from its previous series, despite telling a portion of the story from scratch.
When I watched :re for the first time, I was super confused as to what was going on. The story opens with Haise Sasaki, a senior ghoul investigator along with a squad that all seem hell bent on being as horrible as possible; one is self obsessed, one is a slob, and one is the stereotypical character with huge amounts of power that they cannot seem to harness. For some reason, Kaneki Ken, the protagonist of the entire series, seems to be residing within the subconsciousness of Haise as a dormant being that is constantly pressing for control. As a manga reader, I know the story behind why this is, but for an anime only viewer, taking into account how Root A ended (with Kaneki coming face to face with legendary investigator Arima), its confusing and an instant put off for the rest of the story. To make matters worse, the series (which is 6 episodes in at the time of this article) doesn’t look to explain anything at all. Instead, it just keeps plodding on. Currently, the show is in the middle of a huge battle arc, which attempts to juggle at least 3 different conflicts at once, which would work if we knew these characters a little better or if the show gave us something to ground the battles to. But we don’t get that, and this is where :re falls horribly short.
All in all, Tokyo Ghoul:re is a flawed series. It cannot be enjoyed completely unless you’ve read the manga or at least have some knowledge of the events that take place before the start of this series, and that to me, is almost a deal breaker, as an anime telling a proper story independent of its manga is one of its most important elements. I say almost, however, because I am interested to see where these characters go from here, and for that, I will continue to watch this show. However, I remain disappointed at the way it has been handled, and unless the show fixes this problem, I don’t see it being very well received in the long run.