Tokyo Ghoul √A
by Jacob Chapman,
Biggest Achilles Heel for Tokyo Ghoul: Animation Budget. (Small improvements aside, there's still not much of one.)
This Episode's Entire Focus: Complicated Fight Scenes. (Outside of a couple short dialogues at the beginning, the episode is nothing but battles from start to finish.)
It's weird to say that an episode packed with violent showdowns is more "transition stage" than climax, but that's definitely the case here. The unfortunate result is an all-fighting episode that's more tedious than exciting. It's a real shame because the setup itself is actually pretty excellent, and it's bookended by two strong (but very short) scenes. Amon and Akira have been sent to the top-secret high-security ghoul prison Cochlea (so named for its shape, like a spiral version of Central Dogma) to question an SS-ranked criminal about his knowledge of Aogiri Tree. The CCG's decision to send Amon isn't arbitrary however. This criminal is actually his "father," the owner of the orphanage Amon was raised in, and Amon is the only orphan he didn't end up eating or experimenting on, a mistake that eventually led to his arrest. It's strongly implied that Amon was spared because the child-eating ghoul had formed an affectionate bond with him, and Amon felt the same way before the horrible truth was forced out in the open. This puts Amon's complete lack of family or friends and deep desire to connect with other members of the CCG in stark context. He wants to see the ghoul hunters as "his people," considering his only living family member is one of the most monstrous ghouls on record. That past is something Amon wants to distance himself from as much as possible, but his gentleness and deep compassion for others ensures he'll never be a true ghoul-killer like his mentor Mado or his colleagues. He's a protector, not a hunter, and his place might not always lie with the corrupted CCG.
Unfortunately, he'll have to do a lot of killing today, because it turns out Aogiri Tree's plan all along was to bust Cochlea wide open. Last week's looney tune Naki was being relocated there and knows just how to break in, sending a torrent of Aogiri ghouls raining down on the security guards and a very unlucky Amon and Akira. All hell breaks loose as the prison doors fly open and high-ranking ghouls come spilling out to join The World's Most Minimally Animated Murder Spree! Okay, it's not that bad. There's effort despite the production's clear limits, but it's just not enough to make the combat interesting. Director Shuhei Morita's eye for fight composition and staging ensures that the battles are never confusing or pointless. You always know who is fighting who, and where each group of attackers is trying to go next even in such a homogeneously clinical detainment center. So at least it's easy to tell why things are happening, but it's pretty cringey to watch. Shots of criminal ghouls shooting out of holding cells are contrasted with wide shots of the suddenly empty building where two off-model lead characters dance awkwardly around one another, relying on pans and speedlines as much as possible (without sacrificing clarity, to the episode's credit.) All the energy of a clash between the world's most powerful ghouls and the CCG just deflates completely as we cut from one fight to the next with a nervous chuckle. There's some valuable plot and character stuff dropped about Ayato's dad and Suzuya's true nature, but it's chump change compared to the wealth of character development in most Tokyo Ghoul episodes. It just seems like misplaced effort; ugly fights that go on too long and reveal too little. They just do not have the money for what they're trying to do, unfortunately.
Eventually we come around to the end of this tiny war, and the other strongest part of the episode. Of course, Kaneki is part of the Cochlea raid effort, and while he doesn't encounter Amon again (yet), he does end up trapped in a fight for his life with one of the inmates he intended to free. We don't know anything about "Whale Tail" as I'll call him for now, (his kagune looks really funny,) but the con clearly had a connection with Rize that he's happy straight-up murdering Kaneki for, with no questions asked. Poor Kaneki really doesn't deserve this, and he seems to know it, as Whale Tail's savage blows propel him straight through a wall and into what looks like the inmates' "boneyard." (Prisoners have to eat, after all.) An offhand comment from Amon's ex-father seems to imply these are human remains, which makes Kaneki's broken body lying amongst them a striking image. Kaneki is "human remains" in his own way, human passions and beliefs zipped up inside a ghoul's body, nature, and methods. Right before the credits roll, the episode brings this subtext straight into the text, as a gigantic, revolting kagune rips its way out of Kaneki's back while he pleads with himself to remember why he's doing all of this. He's trying to protect Anteiku. He's trying to protect Touka, Hide, and all the people he loves either human or ghoul. The result of his efforts is a weapon even bigger than he is, and once he uses this kagune, I have no idea how he plans on putting it back into his system. If you are what you eat, then what in the world has Kaneki been eating? "Cannibalism: the forbidden fruit," as Shuu puts it. My best guess is that Kaneki joined Aogiri Tree to eat some of its members in secret, overpowering them from the inside-out, and Jason is not his only victim.
It has a strong start and a strong finish, but the middle of this episode is all mush, unable to stand as spectacle, and forced instead to come across as time-killing, something this short season has no business doing. If you were drawn to this material as an action aficionado or fan of fluid animation, you probably stopped watching Tokyo Ghoul a long time ago, so there's no use in trying to parade that pony around now, especially when the pony is this meager and sad. Let's hope this transition is preparing us for a real showstopper next week, and possibly a confrontation between a very different Amon and a very different Kaneki from the last time they met.
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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