The Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Tokyo Ghoul Root A
With the bizarrely named "Root of A," Tokyo Ghoul resumes as if it never left at all. The first episode of this second season is immediate, intense, climactic, and could easily serve as the "episode 13" to the first season, as if nothing had ever changed. Yet, several very important things have changed. So many things have changed that it's hard to cover them all, but I can certainly try.
For one thing, Studio Pierrot has apparently been given money! To animate the show! Saints be praised! (I guess calling on those saints constantly in the first season's ED theme must have paid off. More likely it had something to do with season one becoming a smash hit, though.) While the show was always impeccably, cinematically directed, it had to be impressive in spite of its low animation budget, but if this episode is any indication, that problem has been remedied to some extent. It's exciting to think that Shuhei Morita might get more actual frames to work with in his action scenes, and that early promise is already given legs in this fight-packed returning episode.
For another thing, this second season has been touted as not only a conclusive one for the story, but also an anime-only story created and approved by the original manga author. It's a neat scenario that rarely happens, and its unique decisions are already evident in this starting episode, where Kaneki makes a drastically different decision from the one he made at this point in the manga. It's not different for different's sake, thankfully. The show communicates Kaneki's change in perspective (and personality) beautifully through silent, carefully composed shots. Even without the extended torture scene packed with dialogue that led up to this shift in character, this returning episode goes out of its way to illustrate Kaneki's new mindset through the visuals alone. (Episode 12 was a divisive conclusion, but I personally fell on the "brilliant and ballsy" side of the divide, if that tells you anything.)
For yet another third thing, there was no censoring this episode, and it wasn't for lack of disgusting imagery. (Get queasy watching ghouls eat other ghouls alive? Well, then I have bad news for you!) Either Funimation has been given uncensored versions of episodes or Tokyo MX has lightened up on Tokyo Ghoul. Whatever the reason, it's good news for viewers who were sick of all the black bars and ridiculous negative photo filters.
But most importantly of all, Kaneki himself has changed, permanently. The new season's extremely minimalist opener makes it clear that this conclusive, anime-only version of the story is going to be all about his psyche, featuring a shot of his face changing gradually over time to intentionally disturbing music. It is heartening but also sad that this episode starts with a shot of his good friend Hide circling his bike around the battle going down at Aogiri Tree's base. We all know there's nothing he can do for Kaneki now, and it'll be interesting to discover what role the story has been preparing for him now that his best friend has been thoroughly de-human'ed.
All these exciting new changes aside, this conclusion to the battle with Aogiri Tree only implies the start to a much greater war, where the bid for Kaneki's fate matters even more than the fate of the city. It's all action-action-action, climax-climax-climax, blood-blood-GORE until a few quiet moments of tragic reflection near the very end. Expertly directed, nicely animated, and absolutely disgusting: it's good to get more Tokyo Ghoul.
Tokyo Ghoul √A is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Rating: 4 (of 5)
Review: The second series of Tokyo Ghoul picks up exactly where the previous one left off, with no recap or explanation, so this is not something that the uninitiated should even attempt to watch. It also left me with one overwhelming impression: this really should have been the final episode of the previous season.
That conclusion is, I feel, inescapable. Many were unhappy with the odd place that the first series cut off, with a transformation having happened but no resolution. This episode, contrarily, features a resolution, and a pretty major one at that. Kaneki's decision at the end of the episode, once the battle has completed, is a drastic game-changer, one that will doubtless reshape the direction that the series goes in, and that would definitely feel more appropriate as a season-ender than a season-beginner. The actions scenes resolved here are also more indicative of the completion of a stage than the beginning of something new.
That point aside, the first episode is predominately an action exercise. The Owl engages the senior CCG officers, who unleash armor-like prototype cinques with a nasty side effect in order to fight him. Though those temporarily seem to put them on even footing with The Owl, even those are not ultimately enough, but the officers are further caught off-guard by The Owl not pressing an advantage and making unexpected comments about the evil of killing. Meanwhile other scattered engagements continue, including Ayato savaging Touka, although the latter ends when Kaneki emerges in his white-haired form and abrupt disrupts it. Ayato quickly gets frustrated by his sudden inability to beat Kaneki and Kaneki's philosophical probing, but their battle, and those of others, get interrupted when rumbling and shaking herald what was apparently a planned collapse of the buildings they were fighting in by Aogiri Tree. Was it a trap set for the CCP? It seems likely, but it also allows all parties involved to step back and regroup. Only Kaneki won't be going back with the others from Anteiku, and this time by choice. His recent experiences seem to have impressed upon him that the peaceful approach just won't work for him anymore.
Kaneki's personality change here from what he was for most of the first series is quite dramatic, though probably also necessary to convincingly convey that he is now a bad-ass. His decision to go over to the other side invites comparisons to Sasuke in Naruto and raises big questions about whether he will continue as an anti-hero or actually become one of the antagonists. Either way, it's a loaded point to start the new series off with. Everything else about the episode is set up and followed through well, with the exception that the building collapse scene takes way too long to play out.
I will also be curious to see if the series ever explains if there is a point to using such an unconventional title tag as √A, but content-wise the series is off to a rip-roaring start.
Tokyo Ghoul √A is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
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