by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Tokyo Ghoul:re ?
Remember the finales for the first two season of Tokyo Ghoul? They were dark, harrowing tone poems about Kaneki confronting evil inside and outside of himself, plumbing the depths of his psyche, walking purposefully along the last stretch of his journey toward certain death. The music and visuals were artfully crafted to reflect Kaneki's state of mind, full of fear, despair, anger, and unbearable amounts of grief. Anyway, this episode opens with a helicopter exploding, propelling a man through the air, through a window, and into a building where he lands upright like a cat and unharmed like he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cut to the opening theme.
In a way, I actually appreciate this scene for letting the audience know right away not to expect a finale on the level of those first two. I wasn't expecting one anyway, since those episodes were largely a result of the original director Shuhei Morita's vision of Sui Ishida's story. Tokyo Ghoul:re's anime, on the other hand, has been helmed by a different crew and adapted the manga's story more straightforwardly (from what I've heard). So I'm not surprised that this finale feels more like just another chapter in the longer story of Tokyo Ghoul, rather than a mission statement by its creators. This doesn't make it a bad episode, but it can't help but feel lacking in comparison.
While it might not have the laser-focus on Kaneki's psyche that I would have liked, Kaneki is still the central figure in this episode. And I do mean Kaneki, since Sasaki finally acquiesces to the other person living inside of him. As with most of Kaneki's shifts in personality, the catalyst is getting the shit getting beaten out of him, but this moment should still feel bigger than it does. Sasaki's struggle with his identity has followed him for the entire season, and its resolution is the kind of climax that I would have liked an entire episode to explore, like in the first season. Instead, we get a couple minutes of internal dialogue in the middle of the episode before Sasaki fades into the background. I can understand that this isn't as big a deal as other points in Tokyo Ghoul's story, since the line between Sasaki and Kaneki had already been blurred, so this is more a moment of acceptance than a huge sea change. But it still feels underwhelming when it should be marking the start of a new chapter.
Regardless, we do peel back a few layers of Kaneki's mind and find some of the answers to questions we've had all season, although they're still not straight answers. Kaneki did absolutely want to die at the end of Root A, and Arima was ready to grant him that. However, for some reason, Kaneki did not die. He held on, and Sasaki was born instead. But that self-destructive impulse remains in Kaneki, and it's manifesting once again as a desire to die with a purpose, doing something that other people will remember and love him for. Kaneki is still too full of self-loathing to see that he does have a good heart, people do care about him, and they would be heartbroken to see him die. Sasaki wasn't another personality so much as a version of Kaneki (a sweet dream) who let himself love and be loved, even if it happened within the fraught confines of the CCG, and even if he still reached the same ugly conclusion as Kaneki in the end. Despite the different directions their lives took, both became swamped in various kinds of trauma, and Kaneki's trauma runs even deeper than we knew.
Last week, I talked about the failures of the various parental figures in Tokyo Ghoul:re. We already knew that Kaneki's mother, selfless to a fault, overworked herself to the point of ignoring her son, leaving him all alone when she died prematurely. We now know that she physically abused him, a set of memories that Kaneki had repressed all this time. It's a startling revelation, but the pieces fit into place. Kaneki's lack of self-esteem, his conflicted feelings about his mother, and his own violent tendencies to name a few. Many parts of season one's finale, which saw Kaneki retreat into his memories of his mother, also grow even darker in this new context, like Rize's constant prodding of Kaneki's idealized image of his mother. Her mantra of “it's better to be hurt than to hurt others,” which Kaneki struggled to uphold before he got sucked into the world of ghouls, now rings of cruel hypocrisy. Kaneki has made more than his fair share of mistakes throughout this story, but his mother failed him long before he turned into a ghoul. We've seen other characters move past their scars (most recently Juzo), and remembering this trauma is the first step toward dealing with it, but Kaneki still has a long road ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Shirazu's road is cruelly cut short. He opens the way for Eto's guardian to be cut down, but it comes at the cost of a significant chunk of his torso. After all the time spent since the auction arc dealing with his PTSD and his conflicted feelings about killing ghouls, I can't say I didn't see this coming, but it still hurts. It's a fitting Tokyo Ghoul kind of end, with Shirazu finally overcoming his mental hangups about using his quinque, only for that new power to be insufficient for taking down this enemy. It's even more upsetting to consider that this death might have been a mercy. Would Shirazu have started wantonly killing ghouls, gradually losing sight of himself and his sanity, becoming a respected but hollow investigator like Kijima? Inhumanity or death seem to be the only possible outcome for CCG employees, but this is little comfort when he's leaving behind his sister and his surrogate family of Quinxes. Everyone is heartbroken, but Urie's reaction is the most painful to watch. This season began with Urie and Shirazu fighting together, and Urie consistently resented Shirazu. This moment shows how far Urie has come, finally letting his cold exterior give way to grief. His obsession with prestige and promotion disappears entirely. The perfect opportunity to prove himself in front of Matsuri is not as important as his friend's life. The circumstances are devastating, but it's also satisfying to see Urie's moral compass finally recalibrate itself back toward humanity.
The Tsukiyama family also meets its end, in a manner of speaking. The newly-awakened Kaneki makes short work of Kanae and stabs Shu before throwing him off the skyscraper. It's indisputable that Kaneki remembered Shu, but it's debatable whether or not he truly intended to kill him. He does this in front of Ui in order to keep up appearances as Sasaki and not raise any suspicions. So did Kaneki know that Kanae would jump after him? Kaneki is back, but he's more difficult to read than ever.
Shu does survive the fall thanks to Kanae's sacrifice, and the conclusion to Kanae's story is about as messy as the impact crater she surely left behind. I guessed last week that Kanae would still largely be identified as male, but her last request for Shu to call her by her "true name," Karren, makes it clear I was wrong. In this respect, her story slots firmly into :re's ever-expanding collection of families failing their children. Intense patriarchal pressure made Karren feel obligated to present as a male heir to her family, even if it got in the way of her romantic feelings for Shu. But the way Ishida handled her story still isn't great! Cramming all of these revelations into the final moments before her death comes across as lazy writing at best and exploitative at worst. There are definitely stories to be told about the pressures a daughter in this situation would feel, but they would require time and nuance. An excellent example would be Oscar from Rose of Versailles. She flits between male and female presentations, but the story makes this struggle clear from the moment of her birth, as a theme that runs throughout the show. It's poor writing to try to shock the audience with a character's “true” gender, and it's irresponsible to do so when we have so few mainstream stories that handle queer narratives with respect. In the specific context of this story, Karren's narrative might not be considered queer, but it still reflects queer anxieties in its framing, so when it turns out to be poorly handled, both Karren and the audience deserve better. Ishida is a compelling writer, but he has serious blind spots when it comes to LGBT issues and characters.
I would be remiss not to mention the return of Kaneki's mood hair, which has now gone full circle and changed back to his original black. Kaneki is nothing like the kid he was at the start of Tokyo Ghoul, however, and his relatively easy dispatch of Eto is proof positive. Eto likens herself to an agent of chaos, setting her pieces (like Karren) in place and gleefully watching the results. But her real motive is the connection she feels with Kaneki, as two birds of a feather, both half-ghouls, both doomed by their parents' actions and a society that wouldn't care for them. Kaneki also finally recognizes her as his favorite author, and the two are certainly fated to meet again. Kaneki's plan for now is to continue posing as Sasaki, but for what purpose we don't know. Luckily, he doesn't lose his memories as Sasaki, and he still knows his Quinxes. But Sasaki's kind thoughtfulness has been replaced with Kaneki's tired bitterness, so he has no words of comfort for the grieving Urie.
This finale leaves everyone in a dark place. The Quinx Squad has lost both of its leaders. Karren's dead. Eto has lost her mind and half of her body. Kaneki's back but still depressed. Furuta is alive but evil. Nothing stands in the way of Matsuri's cruel ambitions. The only character who gets anything that could be called a happy ending is Shu, who gets rescued by the triumphant return of our ex-Anteiku friends Touka and Yomo. They barely had any presence all season, but after an emotionally exhausting episode (and entire season for that matter), I couldn't help but feel my heart swell at the sight of their arrival. Of course, I also can't help but worry about what their interference with the CCG's operation will mean for their safety. And what will come of the foreboding epilogue and Kaneki's eventual clash with Arima?
Well, a second season has already been announced, and with the manga in its final chapters, I'm sure we can look forward to the full story getting adapted in the near future. Overall, I think Tokyo Ghoul:re has proven itself to be a worthwhile continuation of Kaneki's story. Root A's finale was powerful but also dark, depressing, and death-obsessed. This season gave us hope that Kaneki could live on and achieve something resembling redemption. Of course, we're nowhere close to a happy ending yet, but there's still that hope that Kaneki can overcome his past and present with time and understanding. This episode doesn't feel like a finale, because it isn't one. It's just another chapter in Tokyo Ghoul, where things will always get worse before they get better.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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