Tokyo Ghoul √A
Episodes 1-2

by Jacob Chapman,

After the last two episodes of season one, and the first episode of season two, Tokyo Ghoul needs to calm down. Ever since Kaneki got kidnapped during the siege on the 20th ward, the show has been at an absolutely bananas high of calamity and emotional turmoil. I've expressed my feelings on episode one in detail here already, so my focus for this writeup will be the quiet, contemplation-heavy episode two. Kaneki's gotten plenty of attention recently, and now it's time to see how everyone else is holding up after their world's been taken apart and put back together.

The Anteiku ghouls are all coping with the loss of Kaneki in their own ways, but none more heart-rending than Touka's. She's actually doing something positive with her life for the first time in a long time: studying to go to a prestigious school. She hasn't just lost Kaneki, she's lost her brother all over again too, and she still feels adrift in her resolve to protect the species that demonizes her (humans) from her own kind (ghouls.) Pouring herself into work and study might actually be a healthy way to redirect her frustration rather than an escape...but as it turns out, she's working to apply to Kaneki's university. She still hasn't given up on him, and that could be a very dangerous choice. It's clear that despite her unmerited "harsh" reputation, Touka has the biggest heart in the whole series.

This episode's focus on the characters left behind in the wake of Aogiri Tree's assault isn't limited to the living, though. Even in death, Kureo Mado is a key figure both for his mysterious backstory and the impact his life had on his young partner. Amon is beginning to realize that there may be a middle ground to combating the ghouls that Mado could never see, but he also wants to do right by his ex-partner, and maybe learning about his past will eventually help Amon come to terms with his answer. In the meantime, he has to deal with a new partner, the brusque and enigmatic Akira Mado...Kureo's own daughter. Unlike her father, she has no desire to connect with Amon, or even treat him with a drop of respect. For some reason, she seems to have everything figured out, from Rize's disappearance to Aogiri's true plans, and it's anyone's guess whose side she's really on or if she'll be a positive or negative influence on Amon. She's definitely the most unexpected wildcard in this low-key ensemble episode.

Overall, the story is not concerned with surprise right now, and only barely concerned with intrigue. It's rightfully more interested in checking on each member of the show's large cast and asking them one by one, "Are you okay?" It may be simple and unassuming, but it's closure we've desperately needed for a while, and a strong reminder that at its core, Tokyo Ghoul is a subtle character piece that just happens to have a lot of action slathered over the top of it. One of the most striking examples of this comes when Anteiku throws a party for Hinami. It's time for her to receive her first mask, and the event is celebrated by all friends of the safe haven for ghouls. Her mask is made to look like her pet cockatiel Hetare, which is just as adorable as it sounds, but there's sadness in the celebration too. Hinami is now old enough to fight. She's old enough to be hunted by the CCG. Her mask is an emblem of a fearful, hidden life no child should have to be born into, and it's treated just like a normal child's birthday party: the first she's celebrating without her parents. The somber insert song and intercutting of equally masked Aogiri Tree soldiers tearing apart the city brings the tragic contrast of the whole affair home hard.

The tiny glimpse we get of Kaneki through all of this is used in the best possible way: letting the viewers know that he's not really Aogiri's ally. Kaneki's mind-shattering realization at the end of season one wasn't that he needed to be "evil," it was that he had to embrace his human selfishness and ghoul instincts to protect the things he really cared about...and those things are all still at Anteiku. He joined Aogiri to protect Touka and everyone else he loves, and I have little doubt he plans to sacrifice himself in some way to destroy the gang from the inside out. Anyway, Kaneki's only scene in episode two reveals him to be sparing victims of Aogiri's raids. We don't actually see him killing anyone, only walking into a room of victims, noticing a terrified survivor, and letting him go. Right now my greatest hope for the potential salvation of Kaneki, even a very small salvation, comes not from Touka or Amon, but Hide, who is seen briefly working as a "delivery boy" for the CCG to find his way back to Kaneki somehow. (He's such a loyal friend!) There's a world of potential waiting for viewers in the anime-only Tokyo Ghoul √A, and it's anyone's guess where its unique breed of tragedy will end up.

Rating: B+

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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