Tokyo Ghoul:re
Episode 21

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 21 of
Tokyo Ghoul:re (TV 2) ?

Tokyo Ghoul:re takes a slight detour this week into kaiju territory, while Kaneki takes a power nap on top of the whole city. It's an unexpected genre shift, but not an unwelcome one. The anime actually has some fun with the situation, using on-the-ground found footage to show the extent of the damage wrought by the Kanekipede. Also in line with great kaiju films, the scale of the conflict can be traced from the colossal and the supernatural all the way down to the political and the psychological. The CCG scrambles to defend what's left of Tokyo, Goat wanders in the absence of its leader, and Kaneki's friends reflect on a way to save their precious disaster boy.

With the story quickly running out of time to wrap things up, this surprise scenario strikes me as a convenient way to get the CCG and Goat (and more broadly, humans and ghouls) to finally work together. A mutual threat forcing former enemies to work together is about as cliche as a plot device gets, and it feels especially sloppy when compared to the time Tokyo Ghoul has spent interrogating its characters' prejudices and hypocrisies. At the same time, I totally get it. Outside of the main arcs, Tokyo Ghoul has too many characters and not enough time to satisfactorily resolve their individual traumas. So all of Goat walks up to all of the CCG, Touka swears, Juzo smiles, and the two sides make up with wry grins and high fives. The last thing I want to do is discount the power of hearing Touka say “kiss my ass,” but it's just too neat of a resolution for a story that revels in the messiest aspects of its characters. It's pleasant but unfulfilling.

It's also weird to see everyone so nonchalant about Hide being alive. The anime has been my window into Tokyo Ghoul, and the pain and reconciliation of Root A's finale remains one of the show's greatest artistic triumphs, so I don't know how to reckon with Hide casually rejoining the cast. I know that the manga and anime diverted significantly and controversially by the time Root A ended, and in all likelihood we're probably supposed to pretend that Root A didn't happen. Still, I can't help but feel that this cheapens one of Tokyo Ghoul's finest moments. It's not that Kaneki and Hide don't both deserve happiness—they absolutely do—but this feels like a sensationalist plot twist devoid of the gravity it requires. I'm hoping that weight will settle once the two of them are actually reunited.

Kanou's scene barely even registers amidst everything else happening in this episode, but that's precisely why I want to talk about it. He's one of the most obvious casualties of this truncated Frankenstein season. He showed up for like a minute several episodes ago, we got a bit of backstory between him and Takizawa, and now he shoots himself in front of his family's grave. I have to believe he has an arc in the manga, but he gets nothing here. He's an outline of a mad scientist with the faintest flicker of discernable motivations. He's such a non-entity that the anime would have been better off excising him completely, and you could say that about a lot of plot points and characters this season. But I can't blame the showrunners for their decisions in structuring this adaptation. They were given an impossible task, and they're doing their best. My blame is reserved solely for whichever executives made the decision to cram the rest of Tokyo Ghoul:re into a single season. It's no small feat that the show is intelligible at all.

Finally, we have to talk about Mutsuki. At long last, he catches up to the audience and realizes that Furuta played him like a yandere fiddle, which sends him into a torrent of self-loathing—an all-too-familiar sight in Tokyo Ghoul. He wants to die, and he wants the Quinxes to do it for him, but Urie and Saiko love him too much to let him spiral any further. It's a raw, tender, and powerful scene, another beautiful expression of the current of hope that always runs beneath Tokyo Ghoul's bleakness. His parallels to Kaneki are obvious, and it's no wonder he fell in love with a soul so similar to his own, right down to the poisonous patterns of self-hatred. Again, I just wish he was given a more interesting arc than getting manipulated because of his feelings. He also unfortunately continues to fall into Sui Ishida's pattern of treating his cast's queerness with sensationalism instead of sympathy. I don't doubt that Ishida is sympathetic to Mutsuki, but he's neither reflective nor careful enough to write a meaningful trans narrative for the character. One of this season's precious few looks into Mutsuki's thoughts reveals that he resents his feelings for Kaneki, because they betray him as “disgracefully female.” The fact of the matter is that many gay trans men exist, so while I'm glad Mutsuki has finally found his family again, I only wish he was given an arc that respected him more.

Returning to the kaiju format of this week's episode, my favorite part was that the Big Plan To Save Kaneki relies on metal detectors. It's so perfectly pacifist and absurdly mundane that it's a great way to show ghouls and humans working together in a context beyond violence. Of course, Kaneki wakes up and spits out some toothy goons for everyone to fight, so the peace doesn't last long, but that's Tokyo Ghoul:re for you. This season remains moored in a pattern of narrative successes being undermined by failures of execution, unable to escape the weight of its condensed runtime. We're almost out of time at this point, and there's little left to do but wait and hope for a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: C+

Tokyo Ghoul:re is currently streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Steve is an anime-reviewing zombie who can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.

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