Tokyo Ghoul √A
by Jacob Chapman,
There sure was a lot to censor at the top of this week's Tokyo Ghoul episode! I guess seeing Kaneki eat his way through a pile of corpses, only to have his naked body groped by the gore-covered ghosts of his victims isn't kosher for broadcast! Anyway, while this nightmare sequence is absolutely over-the-top even by the show's disgusting standards, it serves a valuable narrative purpose. Kaneki has finally realized the true price of cannibalizing the "bad ghouls." Even if he wasn't responsible for killing them, every ghoul that he consumes has equally been consuming him, resulting in trauma and madness a thousand times more intense than what he was already suffering under Rize. He survived the "overdose" this time, but he can't keep doing it and remain cognizant enough to protect the good people and beliefs he still holds dear. He almost killed Shinohara and Amon, two good (albeit anti-ghoul) human beings, because the power inside him came at the expense of other lives, filled with emotions and desires just as powerful as his own, acting through him and against him even after their deaths. If there's a more blatantly obvious sci fi metaphor for the cycle of violence out there, I haven't seen it. It might be nice if the theme here were less hamfisted, but there's a place for megaphone directness in art too, and Tokyo Ghoul's mainstream success in Japan probably owes a lot to its author's crystal-clear and frequently reinforced messages.
After the harsh cold open, things slow down drastically, and unlike last week, it's not necessarily for the better. Since we had a CCG episode last time that only featured a glimpse at Anteiku, it makes sense for the script to be flipped around this time. Unfortunately, Anteiku is relatively stable compared to the deeply rocked CCG, so most of this episode is spent introducing information that the audience already knows, bringing all characters back into the loop in preparation for the finale.
I liked the decision to string most of these character interactions though Hinami, giving the episode a natural flow and ease of pace it wouldn't have if it just cut from unrelated conversation to conversation. First, Hinami realizes that Touka has been studying hard to enter Kaneki's school specifically, and therefore that Touka has feelings for him. She sees Nishio with his girlfriend (I'm glad they're doing well!) and asks him what it's like to be in love. Shuu notices this, and helps Hinami to realize that she is in love with Kaneki just as much as Touka is, and that she should embrace those feelings. When Shuu excuses himself to go be gross somewhere else, (more on that later,) Kaneki's favorite author, who Hinami befriended in a previous episode, brings her down from that high of fresh infatuation to realize that Kaneki is in no place for a romantic relationship right now, and needs a lot of help that Hinami cannot provide for him. So ultimately, it puts Hinami in the perfect place to react in a stunningly mature way when Kaneki shows back up at Anteiku. She flashes back to the gentle Kaneki she once knew, realizes he's not that person anymore, and goes to get Touka to talk to him instead of approaching him herself. It was moving and smart all at once, a lovely trail of subtle progression at the core of the episode, and definitely saved it from being kind of a snooze, and a snooze punctuated by a backslide in Shuu's character for that matter. It seems he's back to his obnoxious gay-panic-comedy antics, huffing Kaneki's blood deeply from a hanky in the bathroom for what seems like a full five minutes. Not a good use of runtime, Tokyo Ghoul.
Touka's confrontation with Kaneki is somewhat satisfying just by virtue of existing at all. (Her cry of "You think you look broody, like some tragic hero?!" earns a fist-pump at least.) However, for the most part it's an oddly cliche tragic lovers' spat. Kaneki explains his motivation of self-sacrificial protection to Touka, Touka (rightfully) rejects his protection and the entire selfish martyrdom plan, and gets in a fistfight that ends with Touka blaming herself internally for scaring Kaneki away from his home at Anteiku again. No Touka, you told him what he needed to hear. Stand up for yourself, girl! The episode ends with Shinohara and Juzo popping into Anteiku for a cup of coffee and a suspicious chat with Yoshimura, who does his best to cover up the fact that his coffee shop is a safe haven for ghouls. Shinohara is sure he's seen the old man before, leading to the obvious assumption that Yoshimura is the One-Eyed Owl! I refuse to believe it! Yoshimura is a good guy, not an evil mastermind, and if the story really is going that cliche of a route, frankly I'll be disappointed. There must be much more to it than that.
There's not much to this episode overall, so in closing, I'd like to comment on Funimation's premiere simuldub for Tokyo Ghoul √A, which began with the first episode (of this second season) on Wednesday night. Full disclosure: my expectations were kept pretty low. I was wary of the sheer character volume the series demanded, beginning a dub at the halfway point in the story, and the shortened time schedule that came with such an undertaking. Despite this, I was completely blown away, and ended up watching the entire episode, totally engrossed, instead of just skipping through to hear different voices. Mike McFarland and J. Michael Tatum have done a fantastic job directing this cast, and the performances already sounded polished, as if the episode really had been plucked right out of the center of production instead of being one of the first parts of the show recorded. Austin Tindle makes for a very spooky "ghoul Kaneki," (and thanks to some of his prior roles, it's easier to imagine how his "human Kaneki" will sound later.) Brina Palencia's Touka and Todd Haberkorn's Ayato are packed with character, perfect for their parts and already sounding lived-in. Even the most on-the-nose casting choice, J. Michael Tatum as Shuu, is a joy as his lower-voiced lilt throughout the battles makes him almost unrecognizable in the role, and the properly pronounced French lines make for fun ham too. (Sorry, Mamoru Miyano! The butchered French is charming too.) The adaptive script for these efforts often goes unappreciated, but that too was outstanding, a nice combination of faithful and natural that brought the best out of the material without ever distracting or ringing false to character. To my ear, it was the best-sounding new dub of the evening, and I fully intend to rewatch the show in English because of it. Definitely worth giving a listen, even if they are starting halfway through the show.
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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