When I originally reviewed volume one of Choujin X, it was difficult to separate the intriguing premise from what I had seen in the creator’s prior work, Tokyo Ghoul. This novel follows a modest youngster who is attracted into the town’s dark supernatural underbelly, where individuals can transform into animals with a penchant for body horror. It is via this metamorphosis that our main character will be able to grow up and learn more about himself. That is still, for the most part, what happens in the story, and it will continue throughout these volumes. However, I believe that volumes two and three of Choujin X are when the story begins to develop its own distinct visual and narrative personality.
The concept of Choujin is intriguing, acting as berserk transformations or mutations that can occur naturally or artificially within individuals. Sometimes they are based on an animal, and other times they are based on a very heightened yearning. A desire might be as evident as a dislike for snakes or as detailed as a baseball player throwing a specific pitch. Yes, the concept of supernatural metamorphosis has been done to death, but how these forms are imaginatively portrayed is intriguing, and I believe it demonstrates Sui Ishida’s strength as an artist. This unease is created by the deep shading in numerous character silhouettes, as well as close-up views with sketchy pencil lines. Volumes two and three even go so far as to provide stomach-churning body horror elements, despite the character models’ continued use of exaggerated limbs and face motions. Hands down, the artwork is one of the series’ most powerful elements, helping to raise these monsters from generic to nearly nightmarish manipulations.
But it’s not just the beasts who attract this amount of attention; the human figures may be just as profoundly expressive. As we focus more on the story’s world-building, our main character, Tokio, is constantly thrown in tough situations. Seeing him respond to different things alongside his inner monologue can also add a surprising amount of levity to the plot. Unfortunately, the novels suffer slightly as a result of attempting to combine this new emphasis on world-building with some more visceral character analysis than we saw in the first collection. Everything regarding why the vulture was chosen as Tokio’s beast form, as well as the premise that he lacks decision-making abilities, is still present. It’s still not as strong as it was in volume one because character development now has to be balanced with so many more elements.
This might have been less evident if we had gotten more introspection from Ely, our second protagonist, who serves more as comedic relief. I appreciate that Tokio and Ely ultimately met since they are two sides of the same coin. While Tokio strives to find his own ambition and identity, Ely is almost too straightforward for her own good. The arcs of these two characters are well foreshadowed, and I appreciate their camaraderie. These two comprise the story’s heart, with their adorable interactions providing some of the more authentic moments. I’m interested to see how their friendship develops and where it goes next.
Overall, while the story’s narrative excitement has decreased slightly since the first volume, Ishida’s beautiful artwork raises things beyond the basic. The addition of some real heart to the plot with our two characters, as well as some fascinating yet simple world-building, are all still present, and keep me going back for more. Given the cliffhanger that volume three ends on, I will be reading volume four, and I would not be shocked if everyone else who continues the series feels the same way.