And just like that, Tokyo Ghoul is all the way back. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
It seems almost unnecessary to say that this was the best episode of Tokyo Ghoul √A, the gap between it and any that preceded it is so wide (though last week’s ep was very good – so the trend is positive). Rather, what’s interesting is that the recipe is so simple that it’s astonishing that it took seven episodes to get back to it. Focus on Ken, Touka and Anteiku. Take the time to let the plot breathe. Worry about existing characters rather than continually introducing new ones with no context. Really – is that so fucking hard?
I suppose rather than focus on the frustration that it took us so long to get here, it’s better to reiterate just how good this episode was. In my post on this week’s episode of Kiseijuu I mentioned that it was “the story I hoped Tokyo Ghoul was going to become and hasn’t – that of a decent young man caught in he middle of a tragic conflict between two species that co-exist inside him.” This episode gives me hope that Tokyo Ghoul still might become that story, though we still have a long way to go and frankly, it’s only earned a limited amount of trust from me.
The endless focus on unlikeable CCG hacks and endless battle sequences has finally abated, starting last week and especially this. It’s at Anteiku that the emotional center of Tokyo Ghoul resides, and among the CCG Shinohara and Juuzo are easily the most interesting pair. Add in the mysterious Takasaki being clearly up to something big, and the interest level in the plot has spiked enormously. About Tsukiyama the gourmet I’m less enthusiastic, but it’s certainly a blast hearing Miyano-san chew his way through the scenery in a dizzying array of accented foreign languages. El Dorado!
I guess everything starts and ends with Kaneki, who gets more action pre-OP than he did in the first six episodes combined. His vision of Rize is highly symbolic, of course, and it seems what we have here is a naive ghouman who’s literally bitten off more than he can chew. His reason for joining Aogiri seems more or less what one might have theorized – he wanted to get stronger because in the end, the goal is to protect those he left behind. It’s a bit flimsy and far-fetched to be honest, but at least we now have a reason, and it’s one that’s not entirely out-of-character. Kaneki, at least, seems to have recognized the futility of trying to follow the Kakuja route to growing stronger – “I thought I was eating other ghouls, but they were actually eating me.”
The first visitor to Anteiku this week is not Kaneki, but the Gourmet, who’s been spying on Ken for Yoshimura. He brings the news that Ken has been ritually cannibalizing for the purposes of becoming a Kakuja. He then proceeds to go on the creepiest-ever cafe date with Hinami (seriously – no one at Anteiku thinks that’s a bad idea?) where the latter meets up with the author “Takatsuki” while Tsukiyama is in the bathroom huffing Ken out of a Ziploc bag. Hinami, it seems, is now old enough to realize she’s in love with Kaneki and she’s asking everyone in sight about it. Takatsuki-sensei senses what’s on the girl’s mind and gives her the sage advice that she can’t be any help to Ken as she is now, seemingly encouraging her to leave her sweet and innocent self behind and become a troubled teen.
Just what Takatsuki is up to is definitely an important question this episode is asking. She shows up at CCG headquarters to interview Shinohara, and asks only one question of substance – “Can ghouls be made?” It’s not hard to figure out who she’s talking about, but since she should presumably already know the answer, the more logical assumption is that she’s planting that idea in Shinohara’s head. Couple that with the fact that she then gives him a tip about the cafe in the 20th Ward with delicious coffee and certain rumors, and it seems very likely that she’s trying to get Shinohara to uncover the truth about Kaneki. Why, specifically, is for the moment still a mystery.
Before Shinohara visits Anteiku, Ken does. We hear none of what happens here – he goes immediately into Yoshimura’s office but we don’t follow. But Hinami arrives back to hear the news, and she immediately goes to find Touka – which seemingly amounts to a concession on the romance front (given the practicalities, probably a mature choice). Touka in in the college library – she’s been cramming hard for her entrance exams – but she rushes back and just misses Ken. She catches him on a pedestrian overpass, and launches into some of the most tsundere behavior you’ll see – but in this case, I think we can say it’s pretty justified. Seemingly she pushes Ken away (punching him in the face makes that implicit) but I don’t know that Ken will see it that way. Yoshimura has invited him back in spite of what the Gourmet told him, and for the sake of the narrative I certainly hope Kaneki accepts.
Finally, we have Shinohara’s visit to Anteiku, and it’s truly a fascinating one. Of all the players we’ve met, it would seem that these two would be the most likely to be at the center of any non-tragic outcome in the human-ghoul conflict – both seem decent, reasonable and moderate-tempered. But whether such a thing is possible is highly dubious, and Shinohara’s comment that he thinks he recognizes the old man is obviously significant (it’s been strongly hinted that Yoshimura has another identity, though whether Shinihara made that specific connection is unclear). Shinohara’s “We’ll be back” tells us in no uncertain terms that he has strong suspicions about Anteiku, Yoshimura, and how they’re involved with Ken.
All in all, this was the episode I’ve been hoping for all season but was beginning to fear would never come. Only last week’s quite solid effort prevents this from being what I’d call a stunning turnaround, but it certainly is a whiplash recovery – now, can the series sustain it? If indeed the first half of the cour was the prologue and this marks the beginning of the real story, I think Tokyo Ghoul √A is in good shape. But there’s still reason to worry, because the series has dumped a dizzying array of characters and plot threads out there, and focus has certainly not been one of its strengths. But building on last week’s effort, I think there’s good reason to be hopeful at the very least. And that’s real progress.