Tokyo Ghoul more or less opens with its protagonist being attacked by what’s known as a “ghoul,” a superpowered cannibalistic being with special physiology. At the end of a hopeful date, Ken Kaneki’s companion, Rize Kamishiro, attacks him in the hope of scoring a meal out of his body. But the date ends in disaster, with both Kaneki and Rize on the brink of death after steel beams fall onto her.
It’s only because of an emergency transplant procedure that Kaneki can survive — but it turns him into enough of a ghoul that he has to learn to live like one. But in a cast filled with purple-haired females and Kaneki’s own shift towards starkly white hair, how does the live-action cast stack up against that of the anime?
Spoilers for plot development and character arcs follow for Tokyo Ghoul.
Masataka Kubota as Ken Kaneki
At least when the series starts, Ken Kaneki is meant to be a generic, shy book-lover with dark eyes and short, dark hair. Almost any actor could fill those roles effectively. At the opening to the manga, in a weird meta moment, Kaneki actually says the following:
“I’m not the protagonist of a novel or anything. I’m just a college student who likes to read, like you could find anywhere. But … if, for argument’s sake, you were to write a story with me in the lead role, it would certainly be … a tragedy.”
What an actor really needs for a character like Ken Kaneki is range and depth. Ken’s arc throughout the series is one of a gentle, unassuming, and sometimes self-righteous youth who gradually descends down a path towards darkness and, at times, madness.
Ken Kaneki quite literally becomes a monster, wearing a gimp mask and showing off his bloodshot kakugan, using his kagune to defeat enemies who he sometimes wants to devour. Thankfully, Masataka Kubota has experience playing Light Yagami, the protagonist of Death Note, who is perhaps an even more egregious sociopath.
Fumika Shimizu as Tōka Kirishima
Tōka Kirishima can be considered rash and severe in the anime and manga — particularly at the beginning — mainly because she’s had to live a double-life as a human and ghoul for so long. Her family was torn apart by the CCG, the organization that polices ghouls; as a result, she’s lived for years as a fugitive. In broad daylight, she pretends to be just like any other vaguely tomboyish, purple-haired girl who goes to school and waitresses at a cafe. But at night, she masquerades in a blonde wig as the ghoul called “Rabbit.”
Once Ken Kaneki enters the world of ghouls living alongside humans, it’s Tōka who becomes one of his closest companions, and she’s the first to teach him how to live like a ghoul.
If the promotional photos of Fumika Shimizu as Tōka are any indication, then she has the accurately standoffish vibe of harsh judgment down.
Yū Aoi as Rize Kamishiro
In both the anime and manga, Rize has purple hair and eyes, and puts forward a persona that is as shy and unassuming as it is sexual and alluring. But this is merely the femme fatale front that she puts on in an effort to attract victims.
Rize’s actual personality as a ghoul is fiercely independent, with a monstrous appetite — her ghoul nickname on the streets is “Binge Eater” after all. Readers and viewers alike are led to believe that Rize died in the accident that also led to Ken Kaneki’s transformation, but that may or may not be the case.
Yū Aoi played similar roles of strong females in a few Rurouni Kenshin films (2014).
Nobuyuki Suzuki as Kōtarō Amon
Amon is a First Class officer of the CCG, and is described as a tall, handsome man with dark hair and teal eyes. After a traumatic experience as a young orphan, he vowed to fix all that he saw as wrong with the world. That mainly turned into something of a witch hunt against ghouls, which naturally led to him joining the CCG.
Amon is self-righteous and severe, and once Kaneki begins to give in to his ghoulish ways, Amon becomes something of a principal adversary.
The upcoming Tokyo Ghoul live-action film debuts in Japan on July 29.