So Preacher’s another cool dark AMC show – but will it ever be more than another of the same?

Church signboard in AMC's Preacher: Open Your Ass and Holes to Jesus

Looks like Texan vandals aren’t without a sense of humour.

Even those of us who’ve never read a Preacher comic have probably all been hearing the name lately. After some weeks of AMC pushing their new series without respite, the TV adaptation’s pilot episode aired last Sunday; we can expect the season’s second episode shortly. I review the first episode, with some thoughts on the show’s future, for those of you wondering whether Preacher‘s worth your time (and to be clear, since I’m not a reader of the Preacher comics, I here discuss the series on its own merits alone). Fairly spoiler-free.

Joe Gilgun as Cassidy in Preacher's first episode

Meet everybody’s new favourite vampire.

In Preacher‘s premiere we’re handed a troubled hero, a maverick priest who possesses some sort of dark history – the specifics of which will doubtless be dragged out for a while, though at least in outline it’s all roughly apparent already. And meanwhile, some kind of a hell-force from space is entering, then exploding, various religious speakers worldwide (including Tom Cruise as a proponent of Scientology, a clever little touch that had me chuckling for a fair time). There’s a most enjoyable vampire, who’s an admittedly well-written/well-acted example of a shameless drunken-Irishman stereotype, and there’s a rather adorable mass-murdering female, with a mysterious (OK, let’s be honest, a plainly romantic) involvement with the hero in his aforementioned criminal history. The hell-force comes round to our titular preacher eventually, but leaves him both unexploded and with supernatural powers; we’ll have to wait for future episodes to show us the exact extent of these. The supporting characters are one of the strengths of this story, most of them having some level of interest or complexity, from the local sheriff who’s the father of a disfigured boy – a boy who I’ve been informed is Arseface, which might mean more to others than to me – to the abusive relationship that’s more complex than it seems initially. And another strength is the overall high quality: smart well-crafted scenes/dialogue, lots of fast-paced action, some skilled performances, a slick visual style.

Jesse Custer in the Preacher pilot

This dude doesn’t make a model preacher.

Thing is, though I found Preacher‘s pilot intriguing to some degree and entertaining to a great degree, it’s also a blatant effort by the network AMC to repeat the success of its shows Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and perhaps to rival HBO’s Game of Thrones, with something aimed at a similar audience, something that’s graphic and far-out and gritty. It owes a lot to The Walking Dead particularly, being a comics-based character-driven visually-similar horror-fantasy. So is Preacher a mere imitator of these phenomena that exist already, or does it have the potential to become a phenomenon in its own right in the future? In this it seems to me that it has one disadvantage: whilst it has the surface elements of the shows it emulates, it might struggle with what in fact makes these shows distinctive: character change. If you think about it, each series I’ve listed develops its main players significantly (from lighter to darker, specifically). Preacher seems centred around the character of Jesse Custer, and our self-doubting hard-drinking priest can’t fall a whole lot further; nor in view of the show’s tone is he too likely to rise, meaning he’ll have to stay about the same. Of course there are a lot of shows which aren’t Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, which aren’t based around character transformation – but Preacher seems to set out to be the next Breaking Bad or TWD, while not being strong in the same places as these. That said we’ve only seen one episode, so hopefully the series will either include more than the superficial elements of its influences, or better still become its own thing by finding an equally compelling way to evolve its tale; it’s reassuring that the comics seem to be well-thought-of for their story.

So if you’re a fan of shows like The Walking Dead, of shows that are smartish and stylish and not shy about violence, I’d totally suggest giving Preacher a try. But though it lives up to most of the hype, it maybe leans too much on its influences; and maybe not in those respects that have most importance. If you’re after more of the same, so far Preacher seems to be attempting to be more of the same. Though there’s hope that it will progress from being that merely.

The upside-down church from Preacher.

Tokyo Ghoul: these ghouls are better vampires than most vampires are

Ghoul attacks in Tokyo have increased in frequency of late, but these flesh-eaters remain a mere urban rumour to student Ken Kaneki – or at least until his promising date Rize proves to be one. After she has almost killed Kaneki, Tokyo Ghoul Kaneki maskfalling beams crush Rize; her organs are transplanted into Kaneki to save his life, turning him into a ghoul (a half-ghoul, specifically). Thus starts Tokyo Ghoul, which in its original manga form began in 2011, but which has found increased success since then due to a recent anime. The second season aired last year, with a possible third season this year sometime. It’s obvious that the titular ghouls – an humanoid species essentially, but one whose diet is nonetheless in the human blood and/or meat line – owe a non-inconsiderable amount to the vampire genre. But this is no criticism, for the franchise’s handling of this content recaptures what vampires themselves often lack today.

Vampires are much altered from the demonic beings of folklore, and even from Dracula. Anne Rice pioneered the repentant vampire; a creature with humanity as well as with monstrosity, a creature torn between these two extremes. Since then the demonic side has been taken increasingly less seriously, relegated to giving vampires a reason for getting a little bit angsty. (Let’s not even talk about Twilight – please.) Hellsing, a vampire anime about vampires per se, pulled off its own impressive take through returning to the origins in a sense, showing antihero Alucard/Dracula as a monster exultant in his own monstrosity. Tokyo Ghoul does something else; its ghouls are more human than most vampires are, as well as more monstrous than most vampires are, restoring importance to the struggle between the two. To explain this: the ghouls are not undead, nor are they nocturnal, nor do they differ from humans in many ways except for their dietary requirements and their possession of a predatory organ called a kagune. At the same time the absence of the romantic traditions surrounding vampires emphasises their feeding’s brutal nature – no slender white necks in moonlight, in fact it’s all a bit messy.

Given that the ghouls, half-ghoul Kaneki particularly, are so human save for their involuntary flesh-eating tendency, Tokyo Ghoul is in part a depiction of people impelled to desperate measures by that primal imperative of the will to survive. Nothing but human flesh keeps them alive, animal meat being no substitute; while some compromise by eating the dead, few have this opportunity. This urge – this theme of hunger, and of appetite – drives the first part of the manga and the anime particularly. The need to feed is the force behind the plot here, ghoul-on-ghoul fights erupting over prey, some ghouls grouping based on feeding preferences (binge-eater or gourmet, for example). Further into the anime – this being further than I’ve read in the manga – the conflicts become much more political ones, and increase a lot in scale. It’s the ghouls versus the government anti-ghoul operatives known as the Doves, as well as disputes between ghoul factions who differ in their aggressiveness towards humanity. The ghoul versus human conflict’s rather tragic, a war few want to be fighting, one with sympathetic characters on both sides, an inevitable war over an insoluble issue. And with regard to the arguments between the ghoul organizations, another benefit of ghouls not being undead loners is that this allows them to have complex affiliations including familial ones.

Tokyo Ghoul tells a compelling story filled with characters whom it develops all the time, and whom it’s not afraid to transform drastically; this last applies to its hero especially. Furthermore it delivers visually, the kagune battles inTokyo Ghoul Kaneki kagune particular being impressive. But above all it reinvigorates the vampire – or vampiric creature – genre, and approaches its subject matter intelligently. It questions humans’ position in the food chain, questions our right to see ourselves as the species of greatest importance; in a sense it exposes the anthropocentric nature of human morality, in this much like that other excellent recent anime Parasyte. I also appreciated the texture provided by the frequent literary references in the manga, in particular the comparison of Kaneki with the protagonist of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but a must-read/must-watch for manga/anime fans with no objections to a fairly dark horror-fantasy.