by Jacob Chapman,
Just when you think Tokyo Ghoul can't get any more disgusting, it finds new veins of discomfort to pierce and plunge into. In this episode specifically, it's the veins of Kaneki's ocular mucosa: the space between the eyeball and the inside of the eye. Like most details in Tokyo Ghoul, the nature of Kaneki's eye-focused torture sits somewhere between fantasy and reality. Ghouls apparently have such resilient immune systems that they can only injected in this tiny, upsetting area, but a little research revealed to me that there are actually studies being done on the efficiency of vaccinating humans in this spot because it most immediately affects the mucosal functions that fight off pathogen infection faster and harder. It is technically the best (or worst, for Kaneki,) place to get a shot. Most of Tokyo Ghoul's over-the-top horror scenes have roots in real-world biology like this, making them all the more potent. This show wants you to learn about anatomy and break out in a cold sweat all at the same time, and it's a unique and en"gross"ing experience. It's also a niche that could stand to be filled more often in such a naturally sensationalist medium as anime.
Despite a strong start, Kaneki's torture scene goes downhill fast, not because it's too gory, but because it's too vague. Details have clearly been cut for pacing or censorship reasons, and the audience is given no idea how Kaneki is being tortured exactly. We only know the experience leaves huge pools of blood all over the ground, involves large poisonous centipedes, and is so painful that Kaneki is forced to count backwards from 1000 during the process to ensure he doesn't pass out and escape the torture so easily. We care enough about Kaneki to be upset that this is happening to him, but the intended effect of visceral shock is replaced by confusion. The show is ending soon, so this will be the final trial that makes or breaks Kaneki in this arc, but it's so neutered that we can't fully appreciate the terrible present or the promise of his future escape.
While Kaneki's torture scenes fall short, the siege on his torture chamber is completely exhilarating. This episode's action is fast, furious, and packed with character. The doves are after Aogiri Tree, the Anteiku ghouls are after Kaneki, Aogiri Tree is after the world itself, and all hell breaks loose as the three forces crash into each other right from the start of the episode. Several confrontations are mixed with flickering flashbacks, and the effect still works wonders for maintaining a sharp pace while still building character. At the same time, the show knows when to slow down and draw out a single moment with the introduction of "the one-eyed owl," a ghoul so frightening that he reduces the show to near-silence, as the normally power-mad dove commander tells his soldiers to back away and leave only the front line of shock troops to be sacrificed.
Best of all, every action-packed confrontation builds on the show's heavy theming. The cycle of hatred forces Touka and Amon, two parties that could be helping to rescue Kaneki, into combat against one another, accomplishing nothing and prolonging Kaneki's suffering at the hands of a torturer who is also a victim of the cycle. The infamous "Jason," so named because he wears the famous horror villain's mask and shares his bulldozer-build, was once a gentle soul before being tortured at a ghoul "research" institution. Now he carries out that same torture on others, step-by-step the same method he suffered, because it's the only pain or pleasure his warped new personality can feel anymore. Hatred and fear as their own means to their own end is the ultimate destination of the humans and ghouls who push each other past the breaking point. It's something we also see reflected in Suzuya, albeit in a much more cartoony sense. Suzuya's comical personality and appearance, like Shuu's, still seems cliche and tone-dissonant from the rest of the show, though. He feels much more like a character out of Hellsing than Tokyo Ghoul, and my best guess is this is a hazard of loosely adapting what may be a more tonally distaff manga. (If anything, this show has definitely made me want to read the source manga for a different experience and compare the two!)
Tokyo Ghoul, for all the things it gets right as a horror and action show, does seem to have trouble deciding whether it wants to be plain gory fun or disturbingly contemplative, and this is following it into its season one conclusion. The fear of boredom and anticlimax are not, though, and that's a massive point in its favor. The impact of Kaneki's torture and the hectic effort to rescue him are dampened a little by censorship and a breakneck pace, but Tokyo Ghoul is still entertaining, heart-stopping, and much smarter than it had any right to be. Here's hoping the best for its final episode next week!
Tokyo Ghoul is currently streaming on Funimation.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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