Is Tokyo Ghoul beginning to develop a reverse Star Trek syndrome?
I’m not quite ready to call it a pattern, but there’s definitely a trend here – the odd-numbered episodes of Tokyo Ghoul tend to be much better than the even-numbered ones (which is of course the opposite of the Star Trek movies – though I’d likewise say it’s not 100% true there either). This is this season’s polar opposite of Barakamon for me – the more the manga readers bitch and complain, the less I care – I like what I see, though there are some pacing and consistency issues which prevent Tokyo Ghoul from being a truly elite series (sadly, this season doesn’t seem to have one of those).
While this episode continued to focus loosely on Hinami’s story – which was the root cause of most of the problems with last week’s episode – the difference in approach was night and day. Rather than wallow in lowest-common-denominator pandering, this was brutal and thought-provoking – rather than to cash in cheap emotional payoffs, the death of Ryouko was used as a trigger to expose the core intellectual and moral dilemma at the heart of a series. And brutal and thought-provoking are two qualities that are definitely part of Tokyo Ghoul’s best side.
Fundamentally, Tokyo Ghoul seems to be thematically coalescing around the disconnect between the viewpoints of the Doves and the Ghouls. How is it possible, one might rightly ask, for the inspectors to seem so decent and compassionate – they worry for each other and mourn each other – and yet to be so thoroughly removed from any feelings towards the ghouls they kill? So much so that they would kill a mother in front of her child, and then unceremoniously kill the child after if given the chance? The answer seems clear enough – they simply don’t view the ghouls as anything but dangerous animals, like rabid dogs or sewer rats.
This is personified in Mado, of course – I could do without the droopy eye and Scooby Doo villainy, but narratively speaking he does serve his purpose. It’s Amon who actually makes the more troubling figure, because he seems thoroughly decent and normal in every way but is no less impassive when it comes to the ghouls. More than impassive, it seems he and Mado – and the Doves in general – take sadistic pleasure in killing them. To us, who know the ghouls at Anteiku and see Hirnami and Ryouko as a seemingly normal mother and child, this is horrifying, and it naturally casts Mado and Amon as the villains in the story.
The obvious problem, though, is that we’ve seen other ghouls too – Jason and Rize and Tsukiyama – and we know that this is a species that not only needs to eat humans to survive, but has many members who likewise take sadistic pleasure in doing so. While we’ve seen only small windows into the ghoul world, it seems very likely that Yoshimura’s brood are very much the exceptions, and that most Tokyo ghouls – even if they don’t necessarily take pleasure in it – do indeed take human lives in order to survive. What the Doves are doing is a form of self-defense, then, as horrifying as it in the context of the plot.
The natural question this raises for me is whether there’s any detente to be forged here, or whether warfare is the unavoidable state that must exist. When Yoshimura warns Touko not to seek revenge for Ryouko’s death, he does indeed scold her for being so hung up on revenge that she can’t live her life, but the bulk of his concern is a practical one. If Touko goes after the Doves, any hope for peace in the 20th Ward will be shattered and whatever Doves she kills will simply be replaced by new ones. Naturally she seeks revenge anyway, and she takes out one of Mado’s underlings, Kusaba (Taishi Murata), who’s just been shown at his most endearingly human. She’s about to finish off colleague Nakajima (Oguro Kazuhiro) when Amon intervenes – and when Touko proves too much for him, Mado steps in and gives her a good schooling (the timing of their successive arrivals was a bit too convenient, truth be told) – making reference to her as an “Ukaku-type” as he uses her as a learning opportunity for Amon.
The logical progression of the story, of course, would have Ken emerge as the factor that can forge peace between the two species since he’s a sort of bridge between them – perhaps that was even the thinking behind his creation in the first place. We can even see the seeds beginning to be planted here, as he declares both Touko and the Doves to be in the wrong, but also that he won’t stand by and see innocents like Ryouko murdered – with the caveat that he himself won’t kill anyone. Taking receipt of his mask from Uta-san is a symbolic entry into the war for Ken, but he’s obviously going to try and have it both ways – fight without killing, have friends on both sides. His struggle on the personal level seems likely to be a metaphor for the larger struggle to forge a third way for ghouls and humans, in which Ken is likely to be the pivotal figure. I don’t know how much of it we’ll see play out this season, but it has all the hallmarks of a fascinating story to watch.