Appetite: The Thread

Appetite is a Korean manhwa whose concept -once it was made apparent- grabbed me, but which seems to have lost the thread at some point.

The initial chunk of the story is spent establishing... a fairly dense amount of stuff in retrospect, but the obvious and most immediately relevant-to-what-I-want-to-talk-about stuff is that the protagonist has a limp, his limp has contributed to him having a lacking social life/being treated poorly by his peers, and the beginning of the story finally leads him to feel his miserable state will never improve and he'd rather just die.

In typical fashion for a story that opens with the protagonist deciding to commit suicide, a Mysterious Girl proceeds to save him and insist he can't die... only where usually such a girl would be a waif who loves him, probably a supernaturally beautiful creature from another world who needs him to save her people or whatever and blah blah blah, what's going on is rather more morbid and obviously selfish: she's a cannibal-monster, an inhuman creature that lives among us and consumes us for sustenance, easily overpowering us with her superhuman abilities -she can jump insane distance, run really fast, break through concrete, and other standard Anime Superpower stuff. The reason she's not willing to let him die is that he's a 'delicious human' (Or 'grade-A human', I'm not sure if this is a translation inconsistency or what) who will at the age of 20 -about a year's time from now- be at his full ripeness and if she eats him then she will become even more ungodly powerful, because that's how 'delicious humans' work apparently. So he can't die yet, because she wants the full power. (As opposed to a more modest power increase he'll still provide if eaten now, which among other points justifies his presence drawing the attention of still other cannibal-monsters)

This is a really interesting/counter-intuitive approach to pulling a depressed protagonist away from their suicidal urges, and the story even embraces the dark irony of him eventually becoming cheerier by virtue of feeling like his life has a purpose and that he will have benefited someone else with his existence. (It takes some time, don't worry)

Things get a little weird in a way that kind of disappointed me initially because it's such a stock Chinese/Korean/Japanese way of handling secret societies that exist within/in parallel to our own, with it turning out that in addition to 'drinkers' and 'eaters' (Drinkers are pretty much vampires, surviving on human blood, while Eaters are mutants that survive on a mixture of regular human food and also eating, you know, everything from human beings) there's regular humans who hunt the monsters. Quite improbably, it turns out that one of the protagonist's classmates -specifically a boy who is pretty much Head Bully- is one of these monster hunters, and he calls in some buddies once he becomes aware that his school contains at least one such monster.

To my pleasant surprise though, the story did tie this back to the core thread, and in a way that quite surprised me: Head Bully offers to protect the protagonist and even be friends with him in place of the deal he's currently got with the monster girl. The 'obvious' thing to do is for the protagonist to go along with this deal, since after all we're talking about switching from being under the 'protection' of a cannibal-monster to siding with someone who helps keep humans safe from such monsters and in turn it also means lifting the deadline entirely, and indeed the protagonist cheerfully goes along with it... initially. Then Head Bully starts laying out how he's even willing to beat up a kid that the protagonist had a bad experience with earlier in the story, and the dissonance gets to the protagonist: Head Bully is talking about how he and those like him protect the weak from the strong, yet he's perfectly willing to put beatdowns on regular humans who are weaker than him for no real reason. That ain't right.

The end result is that the protagonist changes his mind, refuses the offer, decides he's going to go back to the monster girl, and then gets knifed for his trouble because Head Bully is quite clear that letting a cannibal-monster gain more power is inherently unacceptable.

I like this sequence quite a lot. (And the fact that it demands the silly scenario of Head Bully being a monster hunter is acceptable given its purposefulness: this sequence needs at least one bully to be closely connected to the monster hunters somehow) It makes in-character sense, and narratively it's taking a fairly unusual stand on the question of petty evils: Head Bully was part and parcel of bullying the protagonist so hard he actually tried to commit suicide, and in some sense this sequence is condemning that behavior and refusing to say that it's no big deal or that it's more than made up for by him fighting against cannibal-monsters.

And I can actually agree with this position. Certainly, if you've got superhuman cannibal-monsters running around inside your human population it's really not desirable to leave them be, as a species it just makes logical sense to try to exterminate them, but on the level of individuals the monster girl killing and eating people is driven by biological necessity whereas Head Bully is willing to physically and verbally abuse people on a persistent basis for no deeper reason than because he kind of dislikes them. Her worst behavior can only be opted out on if she's willing to die. His can be opted out on anytime he feels like ceasing to be scum. She may be intrinsically a threat to humans by her existence, but on the level of personal morality he really is The Bad Guy.

Another, subtle layer to it is that it gets established that one effect of eating a Delicious Human at their prime is that an Eater will turn into a Drinker. ie a cannibal-monster will become able to sustain itself without killing people. While it may not be her explicitly stated primary motive, she's still seeking a means to escape her need to kill people. Head Bully is instead reveling in his bad behavior, and even when he finds himself having a reason to be nice to one of his prior victims this doesn't for a moment cause him to think about maybe amending his behavior at large.

Unfortunately the story seems to somewhat lose the thread after this moment. A Drinker shows up, interrupts everything that's going on, causes everyone involved to unit against him, and then he wanders off without having killed anyone because he learned something interesting and the brief alliance inexplicably turns into a more permanent one. Suddenly the story is weirdly comedic, and the protagonist's limp not only gets fixed but in the process he gains minor/specialized superhuman abilities that let him actually kind of compete with the monsters instead of requiring his monster girlfriend owner-like-a-slaughterhouse-owns-its-cows to protect him, and he's also got a revolver with silver bullets so he can actually kill Drinkers. I'm hoping the story is going somewhere with this that actually ties to the core thread, but I'm a bit concerned.

At least it's nowhere near as bad as Tokyo Ghoul jumping tracks like four times, three of them near the beginning of the story's run. The very fact that I'm hopeful instead of quitting in disgust is quite the contrast.

We'll see.

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