by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Tokyo Ghoul:re (TV 2) ?
The winds of change are finally blowing in Tokyo. As a consequence of the dizzying array of raids, betrayals, and killings from the previous arc, major upheavals have fractured both the human and ghoul sides. The result is a surprisingly quiet and reflective episode that sees Kaneki embracing Arima's final wish and using his newfound stature to form a resistance group called Goat, with the ultimate goal of settling this war peacefully. Naturally, this is easier said than done, so this episode focuses entirely on the difficulties of bringing these disparate factions of ghouls and humans together after years of conflict.
Kaneki is optimistic that he can wrangle the remnants of Aogiri Tree and the CCG to work together, but thankfully neither he nor the show are entirely naive about what it takes to get that done. Ghouls and humans have committed atrocities both on one another and within their own groups for too long to get anyone to just shake hands and call it a day. Even Kaneki's old Anteiku friend Renji can't help but feel torn between his desire to help and the knowledge that Arima killed his sister. The ends might have justified the means for Arima, but those means came at a great cost to both his victims and the people around them. How many lives is peace worth? Renji will never be able to extract revenge for Touka's mother now, but would he ever have been able to? These are unanswerable questions, and it seems that his best course of action now is to put his trust in both Kaneki and the deceased Arima. It's a shitty situation, and Tokyo Ghoul doesn't shy away from acknowledging that. Everyone in Goat is going to have to grit their teeth and pray that it'll be worth setting aside their personal vendettas, however righteous they may be.
Of course, this makes Goat a powder keg for internal conflict, and all of the platitudes in the world can't stop some fights from breaking out. Most notably, Naki simply cannot abide joining forces with the man responsible for killing his boss. Yamori is pretty much singlehandedly responsible for warping Kaneki into a killing machine, and the torture he put Kaneki through was his own undoing. I don't think any of us are going to blame Kaneki alone for his death, but none of that matters to Naki. Yamori was Naki's boss, his idol, and possibly his friend, and Kaneki is nothing more than the guy who took that away from him. They both possess irreconcilable perspectives, and sometimes there's nothing left to do but fight. However, the speed with which Kaneki defeats him and gains his allegiance is something that pretty much only happens in fiction. It's a disappointingly reductive conclusion, but I also think you can interpret it as more complicated than it looks. It's not just that Kaneki beats Naki in a fight; Naki only relents once he sees Yamori's kagune slithering out of Kaneki's back. Kaneki is in many awful ways Yamori's heir, and therefore the obvious person to lead Naki and his crew. Both of them have been damaged by this war, and that damage unites them.
Where Tokyo Ghoul tends to falter is where it leans into ghouls as a metaphor for The Other. They're mysterious, they're scary, and humans want to protect their own lives by eliminating them entirely. It's a familiar story, especially so with Kaneki bridging these two worlds as both human and ghoul. To Tokyo Ghoul's credit, it goes further than most similar allegories in painting a complex portrait of both sides, refusing to stereotype and instead exploring the individual personalities and motivations of each character. There are peace-loving ghouls, just as there are bloodthirsty humans. The problem is that it still lacks the nuance necessary to reflect the real-world politics of discrimination and oppression, which is further exacerbated by the show's frequently insensitive portrayals of queer people, an actual marginalized group. I don't doubt Sui Ishida's good intentions, but stories about queer oppression are best told by queer people in their own words. The most salient point this episode comes when Amon asks why a former human like Kaneki would choose to side with the ghouls, and Kaneki's answer is simply that he made more ghoul friends. It's not an earth-shattering revelation—just an acknowledgment that empathy can be a powerful weapon against ingrained bigotry. Unfortunately, getting people to actually act upon their empathy is an entirely different story.
The most interesting case study in this episode is Akira, who I'm pretty sure gets the most screentime by virtue of her complicated concatenation of relationships to the other members of Goat. She finally has a proper conversation with Amon, although it's as terse and awkward as expected since she's discovered her dead former partner has come back to life as a ghoul after being in hiding for years. At least Amon had the good sense to soften the blow with her cat, but they clearly have a lot more problems to work through than can be done in one conversation. Still, it's a start. There's nothing simple about finding yourself surrounded by the people you've spent your entire career trying to kill, and Touka doesn't exactly make things easier by confessing to her father's murder. It's not an act of cruelty on Touka's part, nor is it a ploy for sympathy, but it's a way for them to connect. When Touka talks about her own father, she's also talking about Akira's father. It's more than a matter of one man's good deed being another man's evil deed. Touka recognizes her father as someone capable of both good and evil, and the kindness he showed her does not excuse his bloodthirsty quest for revenge that left her and her brother all alone. People are complicated, but they're still ultimately responsible for their actions. Children, however, are not responsible for their parents' actions, and they are not obligated to inherit their conflicts. Touka rejects her father, and Akira experiences something her father neither could felt when she gets lost in the sensation of Hinami's heartbeat. Some people will be incorrigible and toxic until their dying breath, and they might even be your family, but that doesn't mean you have to carry on their legacy or even forgive them. It's possible and sometimes necessary to just let them go.
This episode is Tokyo Ghoul:re at its most sentimental and optimistic, exploring what a path forward for ghouls and humans together will look like. It's a painful road littered with the trauma of a multi-generation war, but it's a road worth traveling. Still, I can't help but wonder if Tokyo Ghoul's politics are too optimistic. (I know it's a strange thing to say about a story that so frequently plumbs the darkest depths of depravity.) We live in a society where our most vulnerable populations are the ones most frequently vilified and dehumanized. How can I possibly believe that this same society would ever welcome man-eating ghouls as their fellow humans? To be fair, neither Ishida nor his characters seem to harbor any delusions about Kaneki's solution being easy, and one important thing fiction can do is let us imagine better versions of ourselves. By taking a break from all the action, Tokyo Ghoul:re finally gives itself the space it needs to let its characters feel like real people again. Nobody's life is on the line, but their souls are laid bare as everyone begins to reckon with their approaching end game. Mostly, I'm just relieved to have an episode from this season that I actually like—a much-needed respite before next week plunges us back into clown shenanigans.
Steve is an anime-reviewing zombie who can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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