In Episode Eval, I take a look at a singular episode from one of the eight series I’m watching this season.
These last two episodes–while including several amazing and riveting fight scenes–often obscure the point or, even worse, waste time when there’s barely enough time to be had as it is. Though they make a decent bridge between this season and the recently revealed next one, these episodes lack a sufficient closing to the season itself, leaving many plot points up in the air by the end of things.
As Kaneki gets tortured by Jason, things heat up between the 11th Ward ghouls and the CCG, leaving the Anteiku crowd to try their damnedest at slipping through both forces without being noticed in order to rescue Kaneki. Amon meanwhile, must deal with demons of his own as he takes on various high level ghouls with the central frame-of-mind of avenging Mado. With Kaneki coming closer and closer to insanity through the sheer exhaustion of his non-stop torment, will he come out of the situation the same person, if at all?
The problems here rest solely on the last episode of the season, as episode 11 is nearly flawless in its mixture of exciting action between the three warring parties and Kaneki’s slow and methodical unraveling at the hands of Jason. Episode 12, however, focuses solely on Kaneki, to the point that the viewer is given no inkling of an idea of how the conflict between the CCG/11th ward ghouls/Anteiku is shaping up–arguably the more interesting storyline, though the one with Kaneki is seemingly more important. The issue also arises that watching Kaneki get tortured for an entire episode is a little arduous.
When the warring parties take up half of the screen time, it’s much easier to deal with what Kaneki is going through–though being able to “deal” with his torture isn’t something to be proud of, it is a necessity of this series to be able to handle a large amount of oft grotesque violence. In scenes where said violence is being hammered over your head, there begins to be a total lack of entertainment value, which makes the show harder and harder to want to sit through. The only reprieve we get is Kaneki’s own retreat into his mind and the conversations he has there with Rize, or at least a version of her that his brain has fragmented into. These scenes play in an almost Evangelion-esque manner, as we see Kaneki completely shift the kind of person he is all the way down to his belief system, after having a rather convincing conversation with Rize. We’ll get to this later, but suffice it to say, it lacks any sort of brevity which could possibly take us out of the head space which Jason’s proceedings put us in. To put it simply, the last episode of Tokyo Ghoul is some of the darkest anime I’ve yet to see, almost of the same ilk as Boogipop Phantom. That’s not to say it’s bad, but just that it’s a tonal shift from the slightly more action packed scenes we’ve gotten in the past. There’s still an engaging fight scene at the end here, but ultimately it doesn’t carry the same kind of gravitas which was found in the dove arc a few episodes back.
Most of all, the last episode suffers from the fact that Tokyo Ghoul already has plans in place to continue for another season. As a general fan of the show, I”m glad to hear that, but in many ways it hobbles the scope of this episode and blunts the impact of Kaneki’s transformation. Beyond creating an uncomfortably dreary mood for the last 24 minutes of the series, not bringing any of the Anteiku crowd (or even Amon) into the fold of this episode, reminds us that Kaneki would have no way of carrying this show on his own. Much like many people feel of Shinji from Evangelion, Kaneki isn’t a character who’s easy to like. Despite the fact that he seemingly cares for all humanity, it’s proven in this episode that more than anything, he’s really just scared to make a difficult choice, like giving up one life in the name of another. Much like his mother–as we see through flashbacks–Kaneki is so quick to sacrifice himself for the will of others, that he lacks any sort of command over his life or the direction it takes. Touka is the opposite of this with her need to defend her fellow ghouls at any cost, while Amon seeks the ultimate retribution for the death of his friend at the same price. These characters have things which drive them and push them to action, while Kaneki rarely has any, save for trying to save a pal of his when a truly critical emergency pops up.
It’s not until the end of the last episode when Kaneki finally seems privy to his shortcomings and we are given a protagonist with a level of agency. Alas, this new Kaneki swings so far in the opposite direction, that he is–so far at least, since we only get a handful of minutes with him–completely removed from the character which we’ve been following over the last twelve episodes. Had Tokyo Ghoul ended at episode 12, or had it gone straight through to 24 without taking a season break, we wouldn’t have gotten this staunch volta which speaks to little that we’ve seen up to this point. Here Kaneki’s shift works solely as an attention grab, pushing the show into overdrive so that more people will be likely to return–after a long break, mind you–for the next season.
Looking at the season as a whole, it’s hard not to recommend Tokyo Ghoul, especially if you’re into violent action and quasi-horror story lines. The characters are interesting enough and the pacing of the arcs is pretty solid, up until the last episode. The finale does have me worried about the second season of the series though. Do I really care about this new, blank and seemingly-invincible Kaneki? The old version might not have had any command of his life, but at least he was more than his power set. Sad to say, I smell shounen tropes on the rise.