Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
It has been two years since the end of the first Tokyo Ghoul series. New CCG Inspector Haise Sasaki has been given the job of supervising the QS squad, a special group of inspectors who have undergone a process to implant them with ghouls' special powers. Sasaki doesn't remember anything before two years ago, but there's something familiar about him, and every so often a memory will almost resurface, making him question who he was before. When an operation to take down the ghouls auctioning off humans as both pets and meals begins, those memories are definitely at a greater risk of coming back – would that be a danger or a blessing for the man we once knew under a different name?
“I have a curious animal, half kitten, half lamb.” That's the opening line of Franz Kafka's 1931 short story A Crossbreed, a piece referenced both overtly and obliquely in the next arc of Sui Ishida's Tokyo Ghoul manga, Tokyo Ghoul: re. Ishida's new story picks up two years after the events of Tokyo Ghoul volume fourteen; the CCG is still pursuing ghouls in Tokyo, and many of the same ghouls are still causing trouble. A few others have either slipped under the radar or moved into prominence, but one major thing has changed: Ken Kaneki. Although the first series ended with his decapitation, there was also the reminder that his creators could very easily recreate him, perhaps better this time with what they learned from their unauthorized experimentation at Kaneki's expense. Rather than leave well enough alone, it looks as though they have done just that.
It takes most of volumes one and two to fully establish Haise Sasaki's former identity, but that's really never in question from page one; Ishida just isn't confirming it. This incarnation of the character is very much like Kafka's curious animal – equal parts human and ghoul, but trying very hard to be one or the other. The CCG itself is playing the role of Kafka's narrator in this case – Kafka describes the narrator's relationship with the animal as, “Sitting on my knees, the beast knows neither fear nor lust of pursuit.” In other words, it is simply content when it is with its master, a situation we see Sasaki mimic throughout both volumes. He is devoted to his job, not because he harbors any great hatred of ghouls, but because it gives him safety and purpose. He takes his work with the misfit QS squad seriously because they offer him stability. He knows neither the ghoul lust for human flesh nor the human fear of the ghoul's predations – somehow, both are within him, blending into that which passes for nothing.
It's an interesting point from which to reboot Kaneki as a character, and it also shows the CCG in a much more favorable light. What's interesting as well is that it does not immediately translate into painting ghouls as bad, something that Ishida could very easily have done since the point of view has shifted from the ghoul community to the human. While some mention is made of all ghouls being bad, the focus is more on the fact that some ghouls are especially bad, and it is those who are being pursued. Sasaki himself doesn't actually appear to put much thought into the idea of ghouls versus humans at all – his objective is much more focused on keeping the people he cares about safe. In the previous series, those people were ghouls. In this one, they're humans. The base takeaway would seem to be that in the end, they're all simply people – but that's not what most can (or choose) to see.
The first volume of Tokyo Ghoul:re is primarily set up. It introduces us to the new and returning cast, the personalities of the major players, and drops some hints about what may have led to Kaneki becoming Sasaki. Volume two runs much more like the first series, with more action, intrigue, and of course blood. The greater part of the book revolves around the CCG infiltrating an auction held by the ghouls, with a focus on Toru Mutsuki, one of Sasaki's squad members. Born female, when Toru joined the squad, they asked to be treated as male; generally this is the case, but events require the entire group to go undercover dressed as women. That Toru has unpleasant associations with being female is very apparent, and their increasing emotional discomfort as things get more and more fraught is a major factor in the rising tension that the second volume deals with. Volume two is, generally speaking, the stronger of the two, not only because the story really gets going, but also because Toru's character drama is both different from that which we've seen before in the series and more intense. It also plays with Ishida's Kafka theme for these two volumes, making Toru another character who is “part kitten, part lamb,” more in an emotional sense than Haise's literal physical one.
Whereas most of the characters seemed unaware of the Frankenstein themes of the first series, at least one is very much conscious of this series' Kafka elements – Special Investigator Arima. When we first meet him in re, he is returning Sasaki's copy of A Crossbreed to him, commenting on how interesting he found the story. The fact that he knew Sasaki before and that he is now clearly aware of what happened to him in the operating room would seem to indicate that he sees parallels between Sasaki and Kafka's creature. That he meets with Sasaki and seems to care about what happens to him, or to at least be monitoring his new life, may also have significance – Kafka's narrator says at the end of the story that death would probably be a blessing for the strange creature, and one that it sometimes seems to ask for. Does Arima think the same about Sasaki? And would he be willing to wield the knife should Sasaki's life become unbearable?
Tokyo Ghoul: re's first two volumes are set to follow their predecessors in merging a gory action narrative with more philosophical literature. Although the story takes a little while to fully get off the ground, it's still a fascinating follow up to the dark ending of Tokyo Ghoul. Even if you didn't feel the original series needed a sequel, this is worth checking out. Ishida seems more comfortable with the direction he wants to take with this, and even if you're not a fan of Kafka, it should be an interesting journey to follow.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Interesting use of Kafka's themes, doesn't try too hard to make its points, good use of the new POV
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