Tokyo Ghoul
Episode 12

by Jacob Chapman,

If you're looking to this finale to conclude the plot of Tokyo Ghoul in a satisfying way, prepare to be massively disappointed. We don't see even a millisecond of the doves, Anteiku ghouls, or Aogiri Tree in this episode. We don't know the outcome of their own fights to rescue or destroy either Kaneki or his captors. We have no idea what's going on just outside Kaneki's torture chamber, and if there's no second season for Tokyo Ghoul, we never will.

However, if your interest in Tokyo Ghoul lies more with the characters, thematic concept and directorial execution, this is the most emotionally powerful note this unassuming horror story could have gone out on. It's the best episode of the entire show by a thousand miles, reminiscent of both the Berserk and Evangelion TV endings, and likely to be just as frustrating in its audacity.

Last week, I lamented that Tokyo Ghoul was skirting the real implications of Kaneki's torture at the hands of Jason and Rize in favor of more standard, climactic, butt-kicking action. It would be different if Tokyo Ghoul wasn't such a character-driven piece, but to me, the necessity of change for Kaneki in the face of such horror was more important to the heart of the story than whoever was going to win the pointless revenge-driven war outside. This week had me choking on those words in the most heartbreaking way possible. Tokyo Ghoul ultimately begins and ends with Kaneki's feelings about his own identity, and despite all the tiny rays of hope he's been allowed so far, this is a story where not good, but evil, conquers his heart.

As it turns out, the show was focusing on the battle outside to the exclusion of Kaneki last time, because that was the last time we were going to see anybody but Kaneki in the show. Period. For this last twenty minutes, it's just our protagonist, a monster tearing apart his body, and another monster tearing apart his mind. These three are all alone in the outer and inner worlds Kaneki perceives as the two planes slowly bleed into one another and hack away at his sanity. The result is excruciating to watch, but in the best possible way, ending with a shocking turn we all should have known was coming, but didn't believe could actually happen. It doesn't matter if the good guys arrive to save Kaneki first, or the bad guys rush in to destroy him. They would only find an entirely different person behind the wrought-iron doors of his blood-soaked cocoon. The new Kaneki doesn't need to be rescued by anyone, but in the process, has taken himself past the point of salvation in a very different way. Shockingly, the cycle of hatred has not been broken by Kaneki, as we were expecting from such a passive, kindhearted protagonist. Instead, it has broken him, and given birth to a terrifying and unknown quantity in the human-ghoul war outside. The catch is that the show ends there, right at the pinnacle of the whole devastating hammerfall.

It's hard to take a character from eternally forgiving lily-liver to monstrous, unfeeling cannibal in one episode and make it believable, but the cinematic finesse of this episode is on par with the best of its kind, rivaling the tension of both this season's lauded thriller Terror in Resonance and its greatest aesthetic influence, Neon Genesis Evangelion. (He goes many places in his mind, but Kaneki is in reality experiencing his entire grueling transformation chained to a chair.) This is a perfectly paced and sculpted character destruction, from the powerful (though not subtle) visual metaphors to the haunting subjective perspectives blending imagination and reality to the immensely disgusting sound cues (we don't see a centipede being forced into Kaneki's ear, but we sure do hear it!) Many anime series end their runs by playing the opening theme during the final scene, but Tokyo Ghoul's use of this tradition is really something special. It becomes clear as the song goes on that the opening theme was always written specifically for this moment, as the lyrics and melody match the onscreen action with freakish accuracy. (Even down to specifics like the lyrics: "the two entwine and the couple dies, breakable and unbreakable, shakable and unshakable.") If the entire goal of Tokyo Ghoul The Anime was to believably transform a pacifist into a sadist in a way that the audience both understands and fears, this is a firm mission accomplished.

As an exercise in compelling action and effective horror, Tokyo Ghoul pushed its middling budget to the limit from episode one, and was thoughtful enough to save its biggest guns for this most impeccably animated final episode rather than running out of steam early on. As a "commercial for the manga," Tokyo Ghoul is also second to none, taking the most immediately effective material from its source and illustrating it cinematically. And yet, as a standalone story? It's inconclusive, and it was probably always going to be. The show seems maddeningly deliberate in its role as a teaser for a bigger story. Like its closest relative in execution, the Berserk TV series, it doesn't peter out at the finale with rushed attempts to wrap up what little pieces of story it can. Instead, it focuses all its energy on the most shocking plateau of its host narrative, then stamps its foot down with a defiant "Want more, do you? Too bad!" This final episode is so powerful in its character development, thematic strength, and the sheer heights of emotion and spectacle it achieves, that it's hard not to be satisfied with its ambitions regardless of the brutal cliffhanger.

Rating: A

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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