(So a funny thing happened on the way to posting this… Once everything was done and formatted, news came through that the official Chinese website for the Tokyo Ghoul manga announced a second season for January. I suppose it could be bogus and it seems very odd that you wouldn’t announce that at the end of the episode but wait a measly 18 hours, but this is the official Chinese site – and apparently the mangaka had hinted at this earlier on Twitter. So rather than edit the post itself I’ll leave it as is, because I think it’s more interesting that way – just remember, this was all written before any announcement came down…)
As endings to manga adaptations go, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like that one.
It’s been a crazy week in the world of Tokyo Ghoul. Not only was the anime ending in a blaze of hyper-pacing with rumors of a possible continuation (at this stage based on no hard evidence) flying, but mangaka Ishida Sui unexpectedly announced that the manga was ending at Chapter 143, with almost no notice. But he’d also titled Chapter 72 “Halfway”, so there’s overwhelming speculation that this is a long-planned stunt – an ending for the first “part” of the manga, with a sequel due to follow. Guesswork is rampant – hard facts are in short supply.
I most certainly have no idea what’s going to happen either with the manga or anime, though I’d be shocked if the manga doesn’t continue (probably under a slightly changed title). There’s certainly valid reason to think a second season of the anime is possible: the anime has been a huge boon to the manga’s sales, so the publisher has strong incentive to see it continue. The anime seems on-track for decent sales, though not outstanding. There’s an anime event scheduled for next month, and such occasions are sometimes used for sequel announcements. But all I could to is guess, the same as anyone else.
Thing is, if anyone was looking to the season finale for a clue (never mind an announcement, a la Sidonia) it wasn’t any help. I was quite surprised by the way it wrapped up, frankly – after the antepenultimate episode introduced a half-dozen potential plot arcs and the penultimate was an exhausting “Blackwater”-styled action epic, the finale never left one room. Apart, that is, from the flights of hallucination (or were they?) in the mind of Kaneki Ken. It was as grim and interior as it’s possible for an episode to be – it effectively took place mostly in Ken’s mind, over the course of what was probably not more than an hour.
On the positive side, I like this approach way better than attempting the impossible task of trying to tie up all those loose ends in one episode, which would inevitably have left all of them unsatisfactorily closed out. On the other, this was pretty much full-on torture porn here – those who love such things will no doubt complain about the black bars (like with all kinds of porn, this is used as incentive to sell discs), but it was plenty grisly enough for my tastes. As I mentioned last week I tend to feel that the normal charges against these sort of episodes – namely that they’re mostly about titillation – don’t apply as strongly here. As gruesome as all this is it is here for a point – the viewer has to be shown how Ken got from the guy he was to the white-haired being we see in the OP. But allowing for personal tastes, this isn’t the sort of material I enjoy very much. As torture scenes go, I thought it was quite harrowing, and both Hanae Natsuki and Nishi Rintarou deliver outstanding performances.
When push comes to shove, Yakumo is here for this purpose – he’s a device, a catalyst to start the reaction that will give birth to the new Ken. He’s a darn good one – a truly evil and genuinely scary SOB. But the main point here is what’s going on inside Ken’s head while Jason is continually lopping off his extremities, forcing him to count backwards from 1000 by sevens in order to keep from breaking mentally. I’m still not quite sure how literally we’re supposed to take Rize’s presence, but it’s certainly clear that she and Ken were indeed fused in some meaningful way (and quite intentionally, though to what end is still murky), and she makes a very useful symbol of the ghoul side of Ken, trying to assert itself.
There’s a lot of philosophy tied up in Ken’s fevered visions, as he recalls his late mother (Takahashi Rieko). Whether it’s Ken using her as a way of questioning his own beliefs or literally her, Rize certainly uses the mother’s life to create a straw man out of Ken’s personal philosophy – “It’s better to be hurt than to hurt others”. Ken’s mother was kind, but easily taken advantage of – despite being a widow raising a young son she constantly gave money to her deadbeat sister, forcing her to work non-stop to survive and provide. It’s not the simple matter that Rize mockingly makes of it, but I don’t think most people would disagree that there’s such a thing as being too nice. And it certainly makes sense that Ken would have been harboring a good deal of resentment over this, given that it was from overwork that his mother caused her own illness and eventual death, leaving him alone (apart from Hide, seemingly).
Truthfully I’m not quite sure where Ishida comes down on all this, but there’s a definite sense that he’s judging Ken pretty harshly for the choices he’s made. Or lack of choices as the case may be, pointedly demonstrated when Yakumo makes an example of the couple who’d treated Ken kindly during his ordeal. In the end Ken seems to insist that he’s going to try and have it both ways – turn into the killer and devourer he’s refused to become until now, but retain the essence of who he is rather than turn into Rize. It’s the world that’s wrong, not him – and while that may be a useful lifeline to cling to, there’s no denying that Ken seems to have embarked on a path from which there’s no turning back.
That’s certainly a milestone, but I wouldn’t say it feels much like an ending – and I suppose one could optimistically say it’s yet more circumstantial evidence that a second season may be in the offing. It’s quite shocking, but none of the plot threads and none of the major characters introduced in Episodes 9-11 were addressed here, and apart from brief cameos in Ken’s mind none even appeared. This is either a teaser for a second season or a commercial for the manga, but it’s certainly not a conclusion. And again, I prefer that to an ill-advised to do far too much in far too little time, which almost always leads to disaster. One-cour adaptations of long, ongoing anime always require hard choices, and rarely are any of the options good ones.
So what of Tokyo Ghoul as a whole, then? It can only be judged as if this is all the anime we’re going to get because, as far as we know, it is. And for me, that’s a flawed but sometimes brilliant series – a victim of the schedule, certainly, but one which managed to introduce an awful lot of interesting stuff in that short window of time. I can see why the manga’s sales have skyrocketed, because the anime is very good at expressing just what a well-crafted story this is, and how full of interesting characters and ideas – even if it’s not always as good at bringing out all of their potential. That’s frustrating on its own terms of course, but as advertisement for the manga it’s a recipe for success.