The last time we looked at Tokyo Ghoul, it was the much-maligned Root A, a followup which lost much that had made the first series such a sleekly orchestrated thrill ride. Speeding through the remaining source material at a pace of knots, it was hard to shake the feeling that Root A was a profoundly ‘rushed’ product. This feeling wasn't helped by a noticeable lapse in animation quality. The result left a sour taste in the mouth of fans who had come to love the show’s blend of horror, slick Shonen action tropes, and top-tier world building. Now, nearly three years later, we’re still waiting for a third season of the show and are haunted by the lingering aftertaste of Root A.
Viz Media’s ongoing English translation of the manga has filled the void somewhat. With the series currently enjoying a popularity amongst Western fandom, possibly only topped by Attack on Titan, it’s fair to say that Tokyo Ghoul currently stands as one of anime’s ‘mega hits’. With said fandom clearly gasping for more material, does this short OVA set deliver enough of a punch to tide us over until season three inevitably arrives? Comprising two separate, unrelated, stories, Jack and Pinto effectively offers up two sides of a coin: Two highly distinct takes on the Tokyo Ghoul world, each lasting 30 minutes and each acting as a kind of prequel to the events of the main series.
For many, Jack will undoubtedly be the main attraction here: A simple tale of high-school friendship, wrapped around some excellently animated fight sequences. With the number of anime series that flake out when it comes to out-and-out violence these days, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how violent Tokyo Ghoul can be. Sufficed to say, limbs are severed and blood flows copiously - all served up in glorious high definition. Tokyo Ghoul has always felt like a return to the blood and guts action/horror anime so beloved by audiences in the 90s, and never has this been more accurate than here. Fans of the series’ lore will also enjoy seeing a young Kishou Arima, even if he does come across as a walking power fantasy - overpowered almost to the point of hilarity. There is an awkwardly delivered twist near the end too, but for the most part Jack is a satisfying slab of raw Tokyo Ghoul action. It ticks off most of the key ingredients the series has come to be known for, even if some of the characterisation is lacking.
In that light, the second of the two OVAs - Pinto - is arguably the real treat here. Trading in flashy violence for a more subtle tone, which cuts right to the core of the show’s darkest moral dilemmas. Our viewpoint character this time is a young Shuu Tsukiyama, the purple-haired flamboyant ‘gourmet’. Shuu is without a doubt one of the most memorably engaging stars of the mainline series. Here, we see him paired up with quirky high-school photography student Chie, and we follow this chalk-and-cheese combo as they uncover a disturbing incident of injustice at a local hospital.
Anyone who watched until the end of the first series of Tokyo Ghoul will know the extent to which the series enjoys making its audience squirm, via a delirious combo of body-horror and ‘what would you do?’ dilemmas, that seemingly have no ‘right’ answer. In the world of the show, life is cheap, simple human decency and justice even cheaper. Pinto is at pains to highlight one of the core themes of the series: Sometimes it is humans that are the real beasts. This satisfying moral quandary makes this second OVA a fantastically gripping watch, pairing dark humour with real thematic weight as well as highly engaging, watchable, characters.
It’s a sure sign of the popularity Tokyo Ghoul currently enjoys that a disc containing just an hour of content can be made into a legitimate release. With a third season of the anime ostensibly still a long way off, and the English translation of the manga finishing up the 14 volumes of the ‘main’ series this August, this OVA release comes at a perfect time to tide fans over. That said, the lack of an English dub here is surprising given the popularity of the show, and feels like a missed opportunity - especially as Funimation’s dub for the main series was one of their best in recent years.
Ultimately, Jack and Pinto are an all too brief diversion. Never getting into the real meat of what makes Tokyo Ghoul one of modern anime’s greats, but offering up a tantalising taste of some of its finer qualities. One of the series’ strengths has always been the sense that, in the dark streets of the metropolis, you never really know what secrets might be hiding in plain sight - a world where lines of morality and justice have long since blurred away. Against this backdrop, the eternal question: In a cruel world what really makes us ‘human’?