Tokyo Ghoul √A
by Jacob Chapman,
The battle for Anteiku has ended, almost as suddenly as it began. Unfortunately, a new battle is already on the horizon. That means most of this episode is action, action, action, but it's a specific kind of character-driven action I'm not sure I've ever seen in an anime before, and that's what I want to focus on before diving into the big game-changing events at battle's end.
If this episode (and maybe even this series on the whole) could be defined by a single line of dialogue, it would be Black Dog Irimi's terrific throwaway burn, aimed at a regular CCG grunt: "You have a Villager #2 sort of face, don't you?" With all the CCG characters running around in armor and ghouls running around in masks, the confrontation has a "cast of thousands war-pocalypse" feel where everyone is just a homogeneous extra to be gunned down. It's a horrible game where shirts kill skins while skins kill shirts, and it's a game we've seen played in hundreds upon hundreds of other fantasy stories that end in "epic" battles. The unique thing about Tokyo Ghoul is that it cares so deeply about all its extras, even when it doesn't have the time to do that. This has been a valid criticism of the show since it started, that it's constantly packing ten pounds of meat into a three pound sack, but by now it's one of my favorite things about the series. It would be different if the story was incoherent and the main characters' arcs messy or ill-defined, but since those core elements are so tight and consistent, I've enjoyed the series' frequent love for all its Villager #2's between the lines.
The truth is, Villager #2 does have a name and an identity. This one's name is Take Hirako (thanks Google,) and he's appeared throughout the series, always in the background where villagers tend to stay, occasionally getting a line or two to remind us that he's there. In this episode, he panics at the appearance of a civilian in the line of fire and almost dies because of it, surviving only to be severely criticized by his bloodthirsty superior. This story isn't about him, but the show wants you to know that he has his own personal story regardless, and so do all the other nameless soldiers in this tragic skirmish. To most of the CCG, Irimi herself is Villager #2, just some powerful ghoul they've been ordered to exterminate. That's definitely how Take feels about her, telling his reckless commanding officer that one ghoul's death was not worth putting a little old lady civilian in danger, (especially considering that Irimi only goes down because she tries to protect the innocent bystander.)
At least we can write off that tool who made the call, right? Nope, his name is Chuu Hachikawa, and he's another Villager #2 with his own inner life that we aren't fit to judge lightly. He replies, "She's just a strange ghoul to you, but the Black Dog killed my mentor and my friends ten years ago. I'm not going to let my only chance at justice get away because of some little old lady with one foot in the grave." Chuu then reveals the horrible disfigurement of his jaw that Irimi left him with one decade past (when Irimi herself was a very different person,) and asks if Take has anything else to say about it. Before Chuu can take his final revenge, Tokyo Ghoul's actual protagonist Kaneki shows up and incapacitates him to rescue Irimi. Take resumes his place as an extra in Kaneki's eyes and is knocked unconscious but not killed, allowing the audience to breathe a sigh of relief for a couple characters we normally wouldn't even notice. At every turn, Tokyo Ghoul refuses to let you dehumanize anyone, and I enjoy the emotional challenge its overstuffed world provides. (More fantastic dialogue from this episode: "I'll see you in hell." "There is no hell for ghouls." "Oh? But you think there's one for humans?" Ouch.)
Anyway, this whole character-packed conflict makes up only a tiny part of the battle for Anteiku at large, defining the tenor of the entire episode as an unfair loss of life on both sides and nothing more. Sure, there are little victories for the characters we care about most. Kaneki manages to save Koma and Irimi from certain death, and that's good. Touka and Hide (in a CCG disguise) remain just clearheaded enough to stay out of the line of fire, and that's good. However, there's ultimately no victory to be had here, and the episode does such an outstanding job of portraying this "meaningful emptiness" that it becomes unlike any climactic battle I've witnessed in an anime series before. The greatest emotional victory for any character comes in the strengthened bond of trust between Shinohara and Suzuya. It's too bad that this growth comes at the cost of another father's life and future with his children. You're a cruel show, Tokyo Ghoul.
I hadn't considered the possibility that Suzuya would be the lynchpin to taking down Yoshimura, but in hindsight, it's upsettingly perfect. Shinohara is beginning to realize that he sees Suzuya not as a victim to be protected, but a son that he should trust to take care of himself, even if he's doomed to a weird life of government-sanctioned sadism. Suzuya is beginning to experience pleasure unrelated to harming himself or others, as he gains approval and support from a caring parent who's strong enough to communicate with him in the (violent) way he can understand. It's like if that scene at the end of Finding Nemo was about Marlin helping and trusting his kid to go kill the world's toughest monster instead of rescuing Dory. Yoshimura's defeat brings them together, resulting in another heart-wrenching not-quite-victory for some characters at the cost of others. (It's hard to believe that just a few episodes ago, I wrote Suzuya off as irredeemable for attacking characters the audience barely knew, and now I feel for him as he kills off one of the show's most likable ghouls! What is happening?) It takes a lot of firepower, but ultimately, this was always the Owl's battle to lose. Yoshimura passes on as images of the many non-biological children he raised flash through his memory, and we even see some progression in those characters from feral lost ghoul kids to strong and admirable heroes. Finally, Yoshimura is reunited with his human lover. The jury may be out on a ghoul or human hell, but it looks like Anteiku's master at least is headed for the pearly gates.
As the CCG celebrates, Kaneki once again remembers the time Yoshimura blessed his position as the "bridge between worlds," but this time we see an amendment to that blessing from their last conversation. Yoshimura admits that he was wrong about Kaneki. Being half in one world and half in the other doesn't mean Kaneki can bring the two groups together, and it was wrong of him to put that kind of burden on one person's shoulders. Kaneki is still just one ghoul-human with one perspective, and it's a perspective he shares not with both sides, but with neither. He was never in a position to save everyone, but Yoshimura still believes he can change this world by reaching out to others like him, those without a side. If Kaneki is alone in his role, then he's really in a position where he can speak to and save others who feel they are truly alone. If he can save just one person like that, Yoshimura claims, that will be enough. As he remembers this, Kaneki finds himself face-to-face with one such person: Amon. It's anybody's guess how their final confrontation will shake out, but is there perhaps another person who feels alone in a way only Kaneki can speak to?
Oh right, the other One-Eyed Owl. Only a few moments after the CCG has declared "mission accomplished," Aogiri's real Owl crashes their party in fully-deployed glory. It's ten times its father's size, with yards of mutated kagune lining its yards-long wriggling belly. The CCG's biggest and baddest are all gathered in one place, and they've been freshly weakened by the battle. Aogiri was waiting for just such a perfect chance, and now all the human opposition is ripe for the picking. If you love big ugly monster reveals in your anime, this one's an absolute showstopper. The CCG is about to pay for targeting the wrong ghouls, unless Kaneki and his friends can do something about it. I have a pretty good idea who's under that one-eyed face by now, and who might be under the white sheet in Kaneki's arms on that ominous production poster.
I wish I could give a grade higher than A plus for a half-hour of anime this engrossing. As it is, I can only wait for the penultimate episode with bated breath.
Tokyo Ghoul √A is currently streaming on Funimation.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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