Tokyo Ghoul √A
by Jacob Chapman,
Why do you do this to me, Tokyo Ghoul? I care about Takizawa now. He was barely a character up to this point, just an optimistic goofball underling of Amon's with a bad habit of leaking information to Hide. Now this show has me deeply worried for his safety, as he's assigned to the siege on Anteiku. Every CCG member assigned to this suicide mission is asked to write a "testamentary note," as in a final letter for the bureau to send to your family if you don't make it back. This episode opens with a montage of CCG members, most of them complete strangers to the audience, completing these final statements and turning them in with shaking hands, and it's brutal to sit through. Takizawa in particular goes home to see his single mother and her adorable pet puppy dog for the first time in a while before composing his letter. Later that night in his childhood bedroom, he drafts a carefully composed goodbye, complete with last will and testament bequeathments, and signs it neatly...only to scrawl "I don't want to die" in giant letters over the whole thing and struggle to stifle the sound of his ensuing nervous breakdown. Ouch, my heart. This cruel, cruel anime is forcing us to sympathize with the "enemy" ganging up on the innocent ghouls of Anteiku, determined to not even give us the satisfaction of cheering on Yoshimura and his friends in their glorious last stand.
And what a last stand it is! Strictly speaking, only Yoshimura needed to stay behind and battle the CCG to protect Anteiku's remnants from further investigation and potential slaughter. Once the CCG can claim they've killed or captured the One-Eyed Owl, Anteiku's surviving members can attempt to regroup and create a safe haven for ghouls divorced from his name. Alternatively, he can beat them back with such unholy fury that the CCG will never come near Anteiku again, and he can achieve greater immunity than ever for the 20th Ward ghouls. (This outcome is highly unlikely, but the compulsion to preserve the sanctuary he's worked his whole life to build ensures that Yoshimura isn't planning to lay down and surrender ether.) No matter how it ends, it's going to be a bloodbath, because even though Yoshimura is willing to fight to the death alone, his oldest lieutenants, the Devil Ape and Black Dog, also decide to stay and fight by his side, along with their loyal underlings from more violent past days. The "Devil Ape" Enji has only been a blowhard played for laughs up to this point, and the "Black Dog" Kaya has been at most a gentle hostess keeping the cafe at peace, both of them relegated to "senior staffer" positions in Anteiku. This episode brings their rumored violent pasts boldly into the present day for the first time, as each lash from their weapons takes out dozens and dozens of CCG officers. The carnage is so incredible that it really makes you want to cheer on our Anteiku champions...if only you could get that extended "CCG members writing their wills" sequence out of your head.
Of course, the point is that you can't. Yoshimura isn't pumping his fist and showing off by battling the CCG, he's just protecting his family, and he's well aware of the unfairness of it all. As he transforms into his kakuja form, he announces to the CCG that there is no winning or losing for anyone here tonight. "For us to live, we have to take things from others, every day of our lives. To take things from others is evil. To live itself is evil. I am conscious that I am evil. And so are all of you." For as optimistic as Yoshimura can be about human and ghoul potential, he's extremely pessimistic about the grand-scheme results. He believes that life is a battle that you can never win, but must never stop fighting for regardless. There's no joy for him in taking human lives to protect ghoul lives, but if that's what he has to do, he'll do it without hesitation.
The animation throughout this episode is really great, working wonders to preserve the grim tone for this bleakest of battles with perfectly sculpted facial expressions on each member of the gigantic cast that convey their subtle emotions perfectly, even keeping everyone on-model during the heavy action scenes. The backgrounds and lighting are also at peak emotion this week, rich with detail and depth as snow begins to fall over the urban battlefield. It's as nice as Tokyo Ghoul ever looks, and that finesse combined with the episode's emotional intensity would give it full A+ marks if it wasn't for one very significant hiccup, and it's a hiccup we've endured many times before in Tokyo Ghoul: the problem of Shuu.
There are four key characters on two opposite sides who have yet to enter this climactic battle. On the human side, Amon and Akira take solace in each other's company, as Akira warns him that she will get revenge on the One-Eyed Owl even if it costs her life, and if Amon tries to stop her, he'll only be endangering himself needlessly. That would be bad of course, because she's fallen in love with the big dork, and he with her. (Akira even tries to kiss him, but Amon rejects her smooches. Dammit Amon, now's not the time for your stoic nonsense!) Needless to say, the ghoul side of things is where Shuu comes in. Despite Yomo's efforts to protect her, Touka has rushed off to join Anteiku's last stand, and little does she know that Kaneki is just a few steps behind her. Nishio encourages Kaneki to demonstrate the courage that he never had by going out in a blaze of glory in the battle for Anteiku. (Poor Nishi plans to spend one last night with his lady love and then flee to another city for a while to keep both of them out of harm's way.) Shuu disagrees, flying into a foaming rage at the idea that Kaneki would sacrifice himself for Anteiku, and this is where the episode's otherwise impeccable production falls flat on its ass. Shuu attacks Kaneki to keep him from taking part in the battle, and he looks terrible doing it, right down to his flat and comical red-eyed rageface that I can only assume will be fixed up to not look like tone-breaking garbage for the home release. Even his properly drawn weeping face post-defeat is a real scene-ruiner, good for a comical reaction gif and not much else. Oh well.
Aside from the routine speedbump that is Shuu's presence, this was a fantastic episode both visually and narratively. The custom ED sequences with art by manga-ka Sui Ishida continue to be gorgeous, refreshing surprises to cap off each episode, and now the only question left before us is how the final showdown will end. There won't be any winners or losers, but if the war concludes with some hope for Anteiku or Kaneki's future, I'll consider it a victory.
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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