by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Tokyo Ghoul:re (TV 2) ?
Despite its large cast and ever-expanding scope, Tokyo Ghoul has always primarily been a deeply personal story about Kaneki's struggles to find his place in the world around him. It's a struggle complicated by both the dangers of life as a ghoul and by his own self-loathing. It's a struggle that also naturally lends itself to reflective, intimate, and deeply affecting moments where Kaneki must confront his own failings and still find the strength to continue. Unfortunately, it's not a struggle that jives particularly well with the long-term escalation of conflict you typically find in shounen-adjacent series like Tokyo Ghoul. The stakes have never been higher than in this arc, but the emotional core of the story has never felt so distant, as if it remains buried in the giant carapace wrapped around Tokyo.
The problem is that Kaneki needs to grow as a person while the threats also need to grow bigger and more dire. This approach Sui Ishida has taken creates a paradox where Kaneki is the healthiest we've ever seen him, yet he also does the worst thing he's ever done. It's not that I believe depression is bound by any kind of logic, and I think there's definitely a way to make an approach like this work, where Kaneki unexpectedly falls to rock bottom yet is saved by the support network he's forged for himself. This is actually what happens. For me, it's a matter of degrees, and turning into a giant centipede monster that eats most of Tokyo is apparently one bridge too far for me to cross. This is an absurdly huge step up from anything that's happened in the story before, by an order a magnitude that collapses in on itself. Normally, I'd be so proud of Kaneki for finally blowing off Rize and choosing to walk the more difficult path, instead of listening to the voice inside his head that hates himself. He's accepting all of his flaws, fears, and failures as part of his whole, and I want to be happy for him for getting this far. It's just that a heck of a lot of people are dead, an entire city is in ruins, and nobody is acting like they care. I don't want Kaneki to feel guilty; I just want somebody to acknowledge the unfathomable scale of this tragedy instead of brushing it aside so we can move on to the next fiasco. This is a plot point that doesn't feel earned and reeks of Tokyo Ghoul's worst sin: shock factor purely for the sake of it. If Tokyo Ghoul was nothing but entertaining schlock, I wouldn't mind. However, I relate to Kaneki's internal struggles, and this ridiculousness distracts from his triumphs in the worst way.
Part of the problem is also this season's pacing. Nothing is going to completely salvage the main character turning into a centipede the size of a city out of nowhere, but a little more time and reflection could have gone a long way. Even his chat with Rize feels like it's over too soon, although in this case it fits that he'd feel more confident about choosing to live, both for himself and the people he loves. I also appreciated the bright primary colors of his ocean-bound mind temple, which provided a welcome reprieve from this season's dark and desaturated environments. It still doesn't hold a candle to the haunting psychological climax of the first season, but we get some neat shots nevertheless. It's just a shame that this moment, which should be triumphant, falls short due to failures of both writing and adaptation. The first season gradually built toward Kaneki's decision to eat Yamori—a moment as terrible as it was cathartic, visceral, and unforgettable. Kaneki's return to Touka is a decidedly more uplifting conclusion, but when divorced from the gravity of their situation, it feels weird, neutered, and unearned. Perhaps the finale will deliver a more satisfying end to his story, but this doesn't inspire confidence.
Elsewhere, the new big threat is spores that turn people into ghouls, because why not. Again, this is something that could have worked better with proper setup. It's easy to imagine the universal democratization of ghoul powers to be one way to “heal” the divide between humans and ghouls—a bad solution, but a solution nonetheless. If Furuta had been properly established as a foil to Kaneki, this corruption of his idealism into plague and totalitarianism might have been engaging. Because we still don't know anything about Furuta, this is just another horrific absurdity replete with head explosions. I will say that Furuta's campy attempt to interview one of the walking flesh monsters is the closest I've come to liking him as a character, so Tokyo Ghoul:re still can surprise me. Rewarding Saiko, the show's singular precious cinnamon bun, with a blast of ghoul particles to the face doesn't surprise me, but I am disappointed. The Quinxes by nature already straddled both the human and ghoul worlds, so this isn't even a dire situation from a thematic standpoint. It feels like the show is scrambling to throw ideas at the audience without thinking any of them through, hoping they will somehow coalesce into a conclusion.
Thankfully, the episode isn't completely bereft of satisfying character moments. Kaneki's reunion with Urie and Saiko is sweet, and Urie's newfound emotional intelligence shines through as he and Saiko gently remind Kaneki that he doesn't have to shoulder his worries alone. Their strength is not in their kagune but in their bonds with each other. Kaneki's scene with Hide expands on this theme, with Kaneki asserting his desire to help his friends shoulder their burdens. It's a sentiment that rings especially powerfully next to Hide, who sacrificed his face for his friend. Again, it's weird that we're just going to pretend the Root A finale never happened, especially when it's one of the crown jewels of Tokyo Ghoul's anime adventures, but it's not like this season has been known for its good decisions. Kaneki's made huge strides toward becoming a person who can love and be loved, but Tokyo Ghoul:re as a whole is stumbling towards the finish line.
Steve is an anime-reviewing zombie who can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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