As anime episodes go, that one was quite the slap in the face.
It’s not like the first three episodes of Tokyo Ghoul were low-key and discreet, but the insanity was sure cranked up in a big way this week. It was brought off with a lot of style by director Morita-sensei and a seiyuu performance for the books by Miyano Mamoru, but I’m not quite sure I like this over-the-top freakshow version of Tokyo Ghoul as much as the more sinister and reflective one we saw precede it. Then again I’m not completely sure I don’t, either – we’ll see if it digests better than karaage in a ghoul’s stomach.
Without a doubt the driving force of events here is the Gourmet, Tsukiyama Shuu. It was pretty obvious from the moment he walked onto the scene last week (before, in fact) that this ghoul was big trouble, both for Kaneki Ken-kun and for the 20th Ward. It’s a bit irritating how easily Ken is seduced by Tsukiyama’s sweet talk about books and loneliness – especially given that he was snowed exactly the same way by Rize. One might also argue, however, that Yoshimura and Touka should have done a better job making sure he was fully aware of just how dangerous the Gourmet really is. Touka did say so, but she’s normally so hostile to begin with and the mention so brief that it’s not surprising Ken didn’t really register it.
In fact, it’s Yomo (Nakamura Yuuichi, with a lot of Grizzly-san in his performance) who takes the most hands-on approach in trying to continue Ken’s education, in his own tough-love sort of way. That means teaching him how to fight (he certainly knows how to dodge) and taking him to meet Itori (Takagaki Ayahi) who runs a Ghoul bar called Helter Skelter. This is a nicely atmospheric scene, but it most importantly seems a pretext to introduce the concept of human-ghoul hybrids into the story – a subject which Itori seems quite knowledgeable about even as she dismisses such one-eyed “super-ghouls” as urban myth. They’re not, of course – I don’t think we have a story otherwise, and it seems a safe bet now more than ever that all of the events on the night Ken’s life changed forever were planned.
For the most part this ep is a showcase for the Gourmet, and he’s Miyano-san at his most (v)amped. He really pulls out all the stops here – peppering his speech with French, English and German, orgiastically responding to the smell of Ken’s blood on a handkerchief (apparently shards of ceramic are able to cut his skin while a knife is not) and generally throwing everything he has at making Tsukiyama a ridiculous yet simultaneously menacing figure. I’m pretty sure no one else could have played the character the way Miyano does, and if it’s not subtle it certainly makes one hell of an impact.
Tsukiyama’s aim all along (though he denies it later) is to lure Ken to his gourmet club, where he and his Epicurean friends can enjoy the rare feast of a half-ghoul. And Ken is, as mentioned, an easy mark – soon enough he’s involved in a grandiose and perverted spectacle that frankly feels a bit out of place with what we’ve seen from Tokyo Ghoul before it. It’s sort of a cross between Fight Club, Anne Rice and a Venetian masquerade ball, complete with twisted ghoul guests like Madam A (Asano Mayumi) and her “scrapper” Taro-chan (Taketora). He may be the most grotesque thing in the episode, a barely literate mass of flesh in leather bondage gear whose job it is to slice up the main course for the ghoul feast. Ken has at this point been drugged (it was in the coffee) but his survival instinct does kick in when his life is on the line.
Was the Gourmet’s plan from the start to put Ken into this situation and force his Kagune to reveal itself, or did he genuinely intend to feast on this rare delicacy and impress his like-minded friends in the process? I’m not 100% convinced either way, but when Ken’s true one-eyed nature (that seems to be the key sign everyone is looking for, as referenced by Itori) reveals itself, it’s the Gourmet who steps into the pit and slices Taro-chan in half as the menu substitution. However this started in his mind it seems Tsukiyama’s mindset now is that he’ll feast on Ken alone, this meat being too precious to share with anyone else.
I think in lesser hands an episode like this one could certainly have come off as ridiculous and not much else, but because of the quality of the writing, direction and performance by Miyano this was stylish and grotesque in a good way. This side of the ghoul world is clearly an important part of Tokyo Ghoul’s mosaic, but I do hope this kind of ep is the exception rather than the rule because I think the burnout factor would kick in pretty quickly if it becomes the norm. As a change of pace is works a treat though, because the more I see of the strange and exhaustively detailed alternative world this series has created, the more I want to learn about it.