by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Tokyo Ghoul:re ?
As the big battle at the auction house lurches into its third week, Tokyo Ghoul:re finally gives itself some space to stretch out and look inwards. Our protagonists aren't just fighting wave after wave of enemies, they're also fighting their own insecurities and traumas, and this more intimate focus on their psyches makes for a more engrossing episode.
First up we have Urie, who at the end of last episode had landed in Big Madam's gullet. I was waiting for his experimental surgery to finally pay off, and it does, granting him enough strength to break free. I was also waiting for him to be consumed by his heightened ghoul powers and lose all of his composure, which of course also happens. It's pretty entertaining to see the normally stone-faced Urie with his tongue gleefully lolling out, but it's also telling that even his ghoul-addled thoughts are totally self-centered. He's blind to everything but his own greatness, which brings me to the thing I wasn't expecting: he still gets his ass kicked. A common thread when protagonists take a great risk to become more powerful is that they'll win at some great personal cost. I thought that Urie would seriously hurt one of the other Quinxes and be forced to reckon with those consequences, but instead, even sacrificing more of his own humanity doesn't get him any closer to the glory he longs for.
The world of Tokyo Ghoul is fundamentally unfair. Urie didn't deserve to lose his father, but it still happened, and it still haunts him. Even if it is true that Urie worked and sacrificed the most out of the Quinx Squad, that doesn't guarantee him anything. As he lies defeated on the floor, he runs through his list of all of the people he believes failed him, until the last of his selfish bravado fades away and he reveals that his true insecurity is feeling unwanted himself. He believes that Sasaki and everyone else see him as dead weight and that they'd be better off without him, so he simultaneously hates them and desperately tries to prove himself to them. It's a toxic mindset that makes him lash out at the people closest to him, which in this case turns out to be Mutsuki. For his part, Mutsuki is fully aware of his own fears and weaknesses, so he recognizes the same ones in Urie, who finally snaps out of his self-centered ramblings when he realizes that he just hurt his friend. In a beautiful gesture, Mutsuki at last unleashes his kagune, not to fight Urie, but to comfort him. The image of Mutsuki gently embracing Urie with his giant horrific appendages has to be one of the strongest that Tokyo Ghoul:re has given us so far.
Meanwhile, Juzo confronts Big Madam, the last specter of his own traumatic past. Madam turns out to be a surprisingly accurate portrait of an abuser. She first tries to appeal to Juzo's sentimentality as his former “caregiver,” implying that she loved him and just wants to be there for him again. When Juzo doesn't react to this at all, she does an immediate about-face and begins to berate him. She tries to break him down by saying that he wasn't special, that she was the only one who could have put up with him, and so on, but Juzo still doesn't give her the satisfaction of compassion or resentment or anything at all. He's long since been able to move past the awful things she did to him, thanks to good people like Shinohara and the support of his friends at the CCG. This confrontation isn't the big emotional climax of Juzo's story. This is him turning over the final page in this chapter of his life. Now only his scars are left, but his scars will not define him.
Moving on to more uplifting developments, it turns out Shirazu is actually pretty darn smart! He quickly figures out the gimmick behind Nutcracker's kagune traps and uses them against her. He also manages to convince the timid and stubborn Saiko to finally use her ghoul powers. We still don't know what they are exactly, but they pack one heck of a punch and outclass the rest of the Quinxes. Shirazu must then confront some of his own weaknesses in the aftermath of this battle. Nutcracker dies in classic Tokyo Ghoul fashion, with a sudden flashback to her childhood in a ploy to garner sympathy. It's a pretty cheap tactic, and it's not gonna work on me the umpteenth time that this story has done it, but it's consistent with Tokyo Ghoul's dedication to showing the moral grayness of its world and characters. The good in Nutcracker doesn't justify the horrible things she did, but that good is part of her nonetheless. Anyway, the impact all of this has on Shirazu is more important. He's briefly overcome with greed, since the defeat of high-ranking ghouls fetches a high price, so he rushes to finish her off. Her sudden display of vulnerability snaps him out of it and clearly makes him uncomfortable. He still has a good heart, but he's gonna have to grapple with the fact that ghouls are both monstrous and human, just like the CCG and just like him.
This brings us to the most troubled character of them all, Sasaki. He's gone through multiple identities over the course of this show, but the one constant in his life is getting the crap beaten out of him on a regular basis. This time it's Takizawa's turn to dole out the pain, from one half-ghoul experiment to another. His transformation into the Owl has done nothing to assuage his inferiority complex, and he's eager to prove himself the superior hybrid. Sasaki can barely keep up the fight, with most of his strength locked behind Kaneki's personality. We've already seen that handing the reins over to Kaneki could put even more people in danger, but Sasaki has run out of options to deal with the Owl's relentless assault. It's time for another trip into the far recesses of his mind, to that room where Kaneki passed the point of no return.
Sasaki wanted nothing more than to be able to live his life and forget about Kaneki, and maybe there's part of Kaneki that wanted that too. But life isn't that simple, and we can't just discard our pasts. Sasaki has no choice but to acknowledge Kaneki's existence, if for no other reason that Kaneki's legacy defines Sasaki's own. Takizawa singles out Sasaki because he's Kaneki, but Hina also tries to save Sasaki because he's Kaneki. Kaneki did many good things and bad things alike, but just because Sasaki can ignore them doesn't mean that other people have to do the same. Kaneki affected people simply by living. At the same time, Sasaki is not an empty vessel holding him prisoner. He's also has formed important bonds, created precious memories, and pursued his own desires. Both personalities have their weaknesses, fears, insecurities, loneliness, and trauma. Just as ghouls and humans cannot be separated in their messy complexity, Kaneki and Sasaki cannot boil each other down to anything less than two sides of one person with a complicated life.
So rather than succumbing to or shutting away Kaneki again, Sasaki chooses to protect him. The already muddy line between the two of them blurs further as they find the strength to fight back together. You can tell it's an important moment because the original OP “Unravel” begins to play in the background! I could complain about the way it kinda feels like :re is leaning on a crutch established by the stronger direction of the first two seasons, instead of carving out its own identity. But I won't complain, because the song is too good and too fitting for Sasaki/Kaneki's struggles. Even if this particular use of it isn't as impactful as previous examples, it still makes for a powerful scene. The battle ends as the episode does, but the outcome is uncertain. All I know is that the only healthy outcome will be for Sasaki and Kaneki to completely accept themselves as part of each other, if we ever reach such a conclusion.
Tokyo Ghoul is at its best when it's exploring the psychologies of its broken characters and their attempts to survive the cruelties the world forces onto them. Its endings are rarely happy, but its rare moments of kindness stand out against the backdrop of despair. Mutsuki's embrace of Urie struck me harder than any of the head-splitting, kagune-shattering, and ball-busting blows of the auction arc's dizzying myriad of battles. The war between humans and ghouls isn't settled, and perhaps it never will be, but as long as these characters can learn to help each other, there's moments of hope.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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