A closer look at Shuu Tsukiyama’s true nature + why I think his flamboyant persona is a coping mechanism for his loneliness.
I can see how easy it would be for those who have only watched the Tokyo Ghoul anime to mischaracterise Shuu. Besides the gourmet arc, he serves no relevance to the plot other than as pointless comic relief who flamboyantly prances around in over-saturated suits while screaming his ‘El Dorados’ and ‘Spicy Spices’ and basically making a complete mockery of his manga counterpart. But Shuu’s character is a lot more intricate than that. In fact, I whole-heartedly believe that Shuu is actually a very lonely individual whose flamboyant personality is a subconscious facade and coping mechanism that helps him deal with his loneliness. I’m not going to go into extensive depth about his relationship with Kaneki (there are already plenty of lovely and well-written analyses floating around), instead, I want to explore why I think Shuu is actually one of the most complex characters in the entire Tokyo Ghoul series, as well as one of the loneliest.
My reasoning behind this? Well, let’s start with Shuu’s family.
Not much is known about Shuu’s background. All we know is that he’s from a very wealthy household and that we never see his parents. While he’s not the first manga character in history to have an unexplored family background, this is quite strange in the Tokyo Ghoul series, after all, we get to learn about the family backgrounds of characters such as Kaneki, the Kirishima siblings, Hinami, Amon, Nishiki, Yoshimura, Akira, and Yomo. Hell, we’re hardly 20 chapters into TG: re and we know more about the families of Urie, Saiko and Mutsuki than we do Shuu! Why is this? I feel like it’s Ishida’s way of suggesting that Shuu doesn’t have a very deep and important connection to his family like many of the other characters.
This idea is further reinforced by the audio drama, with Shuu himself revealing that as a child he used to calm himself down by screaming and playing Chopin, or calling out to his servant Matsumae. While this does serve as humour in the context of the drama, it also raises a few flags. As a child, wouldn’t your first natural response to trouble be to seek comfort from your parents? This suggests to me that Shuu’s parents were never around, or just didn’t care, as he’d rather seek the security of his maid or his own devices. And then in the flashback to his high school days in Re, we learn that he was a high achiever and at the top of his class. Why would such a wealthy rich kid try so hard (unless he’s naturally gifted)? His family has enough money that he’d probably never have to work a day in his life. I feel like this could possibly be because he was seeking acknowledgement from his parents, or even his peers.
He has lived such a lonely childhood that he just wants someone to recognise
also explains why his interactions with Chie are so strange, with him referring
to her as his ‘pet’ and even giving her a collar in the Re omake - he doesn’t
have many friends (Chie even accuses him of having none), soof coursehe
doesn’t know how to properly interact with them! We even see in a flashback in
Re chapter 23 that he used to play music with his servant Kanae, which just shows how little friends he has. It’s quite peculiar to share such a close relationship
with a servant (as loyal and endearing as he may be), and I think it’s quite
interesting that this relationship would take precedence over any other relationship
that Ishida could show between him and his family or (non-existent) friends. In
addition, it should be noted that Shuu has been bedridden with depression for
three years and it’s his servant who’s caring the most and helping him - we haven’t seen
even a glimmer of family concern, and this only reinforces how little presence Shuu’s
family has in his life.
we might not know much about Shuu’s family, we do know that he’s quite fond of
reading, even admitting to Kaneki that books have helped him through many hard
While some may argue that this was just his way of tricking Kaneki into
empathising with him, I truly believe he was being genuine (after all, he’s had to deal with the difficulty of a lonely childhood). In fact, I even
think it’s possible that one of the reasons why Shuu is so passionate about Gourmet
food is because of books. Ishida seems to really like the idea of exploring
literature and books in his work. Kaneki compares himself to the Goat in Sen
Takatsuki’s book, and Ishida strongly insinuates the parallels between Kaneki’s
situation and Franz Kafka’s ‘A Crossbreed.’ And then we get the scene where Shuu
passionately discusses his adoration for Savarin’s ‘The Physiology of Taste’
with Kaneki. For someone like Ishida, who’s so meticulous about details in his
manga, I feel like he would only go to the trouble of including this scene if
it actually served some sort of purpose to the plot or characters – in this
case, fleshing out Shuu’s character.
quite possible that due to Shuu’s loneliness and subsequent refuge in books, he
discovered the wonders of Gourmet food through Savarin’s work (in fact, he
probably found most of his interests through books - fashion, foreign
languages, martial arts etc), and then felt inspired to join the Ghoul
Restaurant so that he could connect to others of similar interests. As such, he
goes out into the world hiding behind an extravagant and eccentric personality
in hopes of charming others and making new friends - which we see doesn’t work.
In fact, it’s very likely that Shuu doesn’t even realise that his eccentric
personality is a facade or that he’s actually very lonely. If anything, his
flamboyant personality could very well be a subconscious coping/defence
mechanism, and his passion for Gourmet food serves as a distraction from his
loneliness, but somewhere along the way it became so prevalent in his life that
it, combined with his ghoul ethics, completely twisted his sense of morality.
This also explains his desire to consume food of the highest quality. As Shuu’s beloved Savarin once said: “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Since ghouls have such an important connection to food, Shuu probably believes that if he eats only the finest food, it’ll make him more admirable to others. This further justifies why it’s such a huge
damage to his ego when Rize makes negative remarks about his picky tastes.
such a lack of close personal relationships in his life, can you really blame
Shuu when he fails to understand or empathise with Nishiki’s devotion to Kimi?
It’s not until he joins up with Kaneki’s group that he’s reminded of how lonely
his existence really is, witnessing first-hand how dedicated Kaneki is to
caring for and protecting his friends and how much they in return care for him.
This has quite a noticeable influence on him, and we see an example of this during
his encounter with Naki, where he observes Naki’s outburst of not wanting to be
left alone with the grief that accompanies loneliness, before throwing himself
in front of his friends to protect them from Akira’s attack. While in retreat, Shuu praises Naki for his act of loyalty, before silently hoping for
Kaneki’s well-being - this coming from the same ghoul who once ridiculed Nishiki for protecting Kimi!
doesn’t understand it, but he subconsciously yearns for a relationship similar to
the one Kaneki shares with his friends, and through his interactions with Kaneki’s
group, he eventually begins to care for others (such as Hinami) and genuinely wishes
to be considered one of Kaneki’s friends.
His inexperience with friendship,
however, makes it difficult for him to comprehend his feelings and he confuses
this with hunger, convincing himself that he’s using Hinami as a pawn to get to
Kaneki, and that his only interested in Kaneki as food. But as we all know, he
completely feels otherwise.
some of this analysis relies on speculation, I strongly believe Ishida is
trying to portray Shuu Tsukiyama as a lonely individual whose flamboyant
persona is mostly a subconscious coping/defense mechanism, as well as someone
who never truly learnt what friendship means until he met Kaneki. Unfortunately,
this complex side of his character is often disregarded or ignored, and the
horrible characterisation the anime has made of his character isn’t helping