As we to are consumed. . . – Anime Critique: Tokyo Ghoul √A

tumblr_nhvkj43FWj1rzlvy0o1_500Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A (Tokyo Ghoul Root A)
Format: TV anime
Genre: horror, psychological, action
Series Creator: Sui Ishida
Series Director: Shuhei Morita
Studio:
Series length: 12
Original Airing dates: January 8, 2015 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format:


Synopsis:

Kaneki has been broken by Jason’s torture, reverting to a feral mentality before devouring large parts of Jason. After rescuing the friends sent to rescue him, Kaneki leaves Anteiku (Antique) to join with the enemy, Aogiri Tree. Why has Kaneki suddenly abandoned his friends, both human & ghoul alike? Why did he join with those who conspired to have him tortured & killed? Did Aogiri Tree’s torture kill the person Kaneki once was or does he have his own motivations for joining with them?


Critique:

Just going to get this out of the way first by talking about the last (episode & series’ critique): Tokyo Ghoul has a terrible problem with endings. It either ends in the wrong spot or just doesn’t end properly. Case in point being, that the first episode of this series should’ve actually have been the last episode of the 1st series & the last episode of this series gives zero resolution what-so-ever to the events of TG√A.

Now, one reason for this is that the franchise has become a huge money spinner, with several manga & Light Novels out now & a sequel manga currently in print, so they are trying to milk it all for what it’s worth. Unfortunately this means there is a cop out with the ending which throws us (unknowingly) into a Time Skip in the coda.

The other issue, off the bat, is that the series doesn’t actually go anywhere & is fairly muddled in it’s arc & motivations.

It doesn’t know where it wants to go or what questions it wants to answer, so it sets up all these threads without heading towards any resolution. This is especially true as to Kaneki’s motivations for joining Aogiri, the other half ghouls who appear & are never mentioned again & the motivations of the One Eyed Owls.
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This in & of itself isn’t a terrible thing, because everything that made the last series great still remains, but if you made the mistake of reading the manga, you’re going to be very very disappointed with the direction the anime went.

The two media forms are different during the first few mini-arcs that comprised the first series but they are nothing alike once Kaneki is captured by Aogiri Tree. This at least means that you get value in watching one & reading the other but it also means that they insert characters & ideas into the anime that they have no intention of resolving -primary to this is the notion of the half ghouls & their creation.

Yet, despite the muddled & unresolved nature of TG√A, I genuinely enjoyed it as a whole.

This is because it still resolves around the idea of what makes a human.

Is it simple biology or is it something deeper within the soul -like grief, compassion & love?

If that is true, than many of the Anti-Ghoul Investigators are no longer human because of how they revel in killing ghouls. Whilst many ghouls are more human because, despite their predatory natures, bond with each other & do everything to protect those whom they perceive as family.

At this intersection stands Kaneki. Who has been transformed -physically & psychologically since the last series.
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After being shown the horrors capable by those who possess power (both on the ghoul & CCG sides), he knows that he needs greater strength in order to protect those whom he cares about but staying by their side will result in them all getting hurt by those who seek to use him for their own ends.

This goes some way as to why he joined with Aogiri Tree, despite all Anteiku ghouls risked to rescue him. That is because Aogiri Tree are the means for him to get stronger as he devours other ghouls (a taboo in ghoul culture as well as being basically disgusting due to the taste of ghoul flesh to a ghoul) but because if he sides with them, Aogiri tree no longer have a reason (at least in his mind) to battle Anteiku.

Yet, muddled motivations are the order of the day, as Aogiri Tree go out of their way to send their grunt members to die in useless attacks against CCG facilities, such as the ghoul super-prison, but once that’s done, the ghouls whom they release are pretty much never mentioned or seen again. Same as the spectre of Rize -the ghoul whose organs inhabit Kaneki’s body. So many ghouls smell her on him & are driven into a frenzy to kill Kaneki but you’re never told or shown why Rize is so hated/lusted after by so many different ghouls all over Tokyo.
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At least what is made clear is the development & motivations of some of the other characters, who had kinda been shunted off to the background for a bit in the last series.

You really get to see the lives & histories of some of the CCG members & why many of them have such incredible hatred of ghouls (usually involving friends & family being murdered by them). Amon’s background gets fleshed out, when it’s revealed that he was an orphan in a Catholic orphanage but instead of being molested by the head priest, the head priest was actually a ghoul who ate the other orphaned children but spared Amon for some unknown reason. This gives background to why Amon is so fixated on destroying ghouls who kill parents, wilfully ignoring that he’s destroyed entire ghoul families himself -which then creates ghouls who are more vicious towards humans for having their parents murdered by the CCG.
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The twisted little stitched up freak Juzo gets a lot more development; being shown as once being an orphan who was adopted by a female ghoul who used to torture him so he’d kill humans for her as part of the gourmet rituals (that we saw in the first series with Kaneki being a potential victim). He was broken over & over again but was eventually rescued by the CCG, who saw the potential in his talent for murder. He ultimately seeks a parental figure, whom he finds in Shinohara, who treats the fucked up boy with genuine affection despite him being so mentally unbalanced.

We’re also introduced to some new characters this season. Such as Mado’s daughter, Akira, who is every bit as efficient & driven as her father but not as twisted in obsession. Yet she’s lacking in any true emotion, instead preferring to act like a machine & keep her co-workers at a distance. Naturally, this means Amon, who feels responsible for her because he was her father’s last partner, tries to get close to her but she still blames him for her father’s death, so their relationship exists in a form of impasse where they don’t know how & what they really feel for & about each other.

This exploration of character & motivation is great, even if some of it doesn’t go anyway, but what is ultimately rewarding is seeing the original nature of some of the characters whom you thought that you knew.

My favourite being the Anteiku ghouls Enji & Irimi.

Enji is often seen as a useless braggart, claiming that he was once referred to as “the Demon Ape” but is often fobbed off by his colleagues as being an idiot. In the final arc of the series, it’s shown that all he said was true & he more than lived up to his reputation for brutality.

Same with the older sister figure of Irimi, who is often seen as a mentor to the younger female ghouls but was once the most brutal & cold hearted ghoul leader, Black Dober (as in Doberman but is more of an Egyptian jackal in mask shape).

The contrast between these two periods of being is held together by the extreme contrasts in the personal history of their manager & leader, Yoshimura, from whom almost the entirety of events within both series first came.

You also get introduced to other random ghouls & CCG characters, many of whom work amazingly well on screen despite having such a short time upon it. This just shows the power of the writing & performances as well trying to give each character a sense of action & presence upon the screen.

The visuals remain amazing & vibrant but the broadcast version still has the heavy darkening censorship to obscure the scenes of extreme violence. Despite that, the series does well with its visual allegories to bring contrast & juxtaposition of states of being for the characters as well as the under currents of their mental states. He action is also crisp & sharp, never leaving you wondering what’s going on -even when intentionally obscured. This is proved in the final all out battle of the last few episodes, where the screen is cluttered with action but is never as muddled as the plot.

Again, this is a brilliant & well rendered series that still suffers some annoying faults in terms of motivations & narrative but it’s still worth watching. The lack of closure & direct implication of there being a series (which will be called Tokyo Ghoul :re after the Time Skip manga). The juxtaposition of the anime with the manga is still fitting & they are rushing both out for official Western release, so you have no excuses to avoid either -unless, of course, you’re being eaten by a ghoul or something.

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Ghoulishly Good – Anime Critique: Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo-Ghoul-Horror-Anime-TanekiTitle: Tokyo Ghoul (Tōkyō Gūru)
Format: TV anime
Genre: horror, supernatural, angst
Series Creator: Sui Ishida
Series Director: Shuhei Morita
Studio: Pierrot
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 18, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Ken Kaneki is a shy college student who meets a woman named Rize Kamishiro at Anteiku, a coffee shop. They share an interest in literature and plan a date. While walking Rize home, Ken is attacked by her. Rize reveals that she is a ghoul, a human-like creature that hunts and devours human flesh. As she is about to finish him off, she is crushed by a falling platform. Kaneki is taken to the hospital in critical condition. The doctor decides to transplant Rize’s organs into Ken. He then must deal with life as a half-human/half-ghoul, including interacting with ghoul society and its conflicting factions, while striving to keep his identity secret from other humans.


Review:

Let me begin with an aside: Pop Culture is always confused as to what zombies are. Properly, a zombie is a mindless automaton of formerly living flesh. Yet Pop Culture sees zombies as mindless devourers of brains & human flesh who spread infection through their bites; which, in truth, is semi-based on what a ghoul is supposed to be. I blame George A. Romero for spreading this misconception & infecting Pop Cultural like the proverbial zombie. This is all illustrated because the titular ghouls in Tokyo Ghoul aren’t like their folkloric counterparts, being near-mindless monsters haunting burial places. The ghouls within this series are more akin to the traditional views of vampire in the Slavic Balkan tradition, who eat flesh & organs to sustain themselves but maintain some semblance of intelligence.

Son, I am disappoint. . .
Son, I am disappoint. . .

This is merely said because I can be a tad pedantic in terms of folklore & mythology as well as terminology & the origins of things. It’s something to keep in mind, especially for later articles.

Anyway, let us continue:

Coming to this series only knowing the general outline of the original manga (which recently finished its run at 14 volumes, which will soon be released in the West), I had nothing in the way of expectations for this series. So I was nicely surprised at how much I really got into it & enjoyed it. That is to say, right up until the end but will speak about that later.

Cue emo-ness
Cue emo-ness

On the surface, Tokyo Ghoul seems like a story that we’ve seen more than a few times before: a normal boy comes into possession of a dark supernatural power that removes him from humanity & threatened to overwhelm/destroy his everyday life. Yet where Tokyo Ghoul differs from many other narratives is its intense focus on the personal, moral & social struggles of enduring trans-humanism & finding yourself being neither one thing nor another but being forced to consist via means that you once found utterly abhorrent.

It symbolises his social isolation upon turning half-ghoul. Very subtle.
It symbolises his social isolation upon turning half-ghoul. Very subtle.

This is the situation that Kaneki Ken finds himself in after miraculously surviving an attack by the powerful ghoul Riza, also known as The Glutton because of her insatiate appetite, but fatally wounded. He has Riza’s organs transplanted into his body, with the surgeons thinking that they were both in an accident together, which begins Ken’s downward spiral into re-examining the morality of what it means to not just live but also survive.

& you thought your ex's were crazy.
& you thought your ex’s were crazy.

In the universe of Tokyo Ghoul, ghouls can only survive by eating human flesh (although they can eat other ghouls but find the taste abhorrent). All human food is tasteless to them as well as builds up as a poison in their system. Human flesh also doubles as a fuel source for ghouls’ kagune, which are strange growths that come out of their back & can be used in battle in various fashions. The flesh that they consume can either be alive or dead but has to be human in origin (so no substituting it with animal flesh). If a ghoul doesn’t eat for a certain period of time, they lose their minds, turning feral & attacking the closest humans that they can find so they can feed.

After Ken is turned into a Half-Ghoul, he finds that he loses the ability to eat any human food & is almost driven insane by his need to survive. This brings him into contact & conflict with the hidden ghoul population of the city, many of whom compete over kills or dead bodies in order just to get by. This also brings in territories, based upon the Ward system in Tokyo, each of which has a strong hierarchy that can be enforced or disrupted by high level ghouls such as Rize. Ken’s strong moral bent of never doing any harm means that he cannot bring himself to eat human flesh because he believes that it will strip him of all that makes him human. Yet without the flesh, he’ll die, so vicious teenaged ghoul Kirishima Tōka (also spelt Touka) forces him to eat flesh after saving him from an attack by Nishio Nishiki, who is looking to fill the power vacuum left by Rize’s disappearance (the ghouls don’t know that she died attacking Ken). She then takes him to the café Anteiku (where he used to go with Rize), which is actually a front for ghouls who refuse to kill but need to be provided with flesh to survive. In exchange for flesh, he must work at the café, learning what it means to be a ghoul in the face of brutal reality.

In such a narrative world, one would think that ghouls, despite being in relatively low numbers, would be at the top of everything. The clever conceit of Tokyo Ghoul is that not only are ghouls petty & territorial -seldom able to work together because of their basic need to survive- but they are also hunted by humans with the skills to fight them on near equal levels. These are the Special Anti-Ghoul Investigators, also referred to as The Doves by ghouls, who fight with weapons called cinque, which are harvested from the kagune of the ghouls. With their cinque & intense training, Doves can stand against even higher tier ghouls. Their very presence in a ward constantly drives ghouls underground in fear because many of Doves are pure murderous sociopaths who don’t believe that ghouls have any form of morality or are capable of displaying any sort of human emotion &/or affection.

Toko disapproves of many things. Mainly your tiny penis.
Toko disapproves of many things. Mainly your tiny penis.

This juxtaposition of living & survival to illustrated in the merciless nature of the Doves against the Anteiku desire to live as a close approximation to normal human life as they can. The Doves believe that all ghouls are evil, because many of them are, whilst the Anteiku group simply want to live a life free of the fear of basic, animalistic survive. They don’t want to integrate into regular human society, merely not have to be terrified for their lives because of the Doves or more vicious ghouls like the utterly psychotic Jason (how they refer to him in the series, referencing the character Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13 II onwards) or the twisted Gourmet -who seeks flavour to enhance life rather than belittling himself with just subsuming ghoulish existence on human flesh. To add to this quality of “who is the real monster”, the primary Doves Mado & Amon are actually named after folkloric demons whilst they give many ghouls dehumanising nicknames to identify them if they hide behind masks or can only be known by their scenes of slaughter -such as Riza’s gluttonous behavour.

Through this new & treacherous world, Ken must navigate but, unfortunately, he’s a bit of a twat. Trusting, stubborn, self-conscious, piteous & oft times frustrating in his weakness. Usually these traits would have me so vexed by the way they are rendered within Ken make him a more grounded & relatable character. He is constantly trapped is human morality & his emerging ghoulish instincts. Yet his basic moral flaw doesn’t allow him to hurt others, even if it will do damage to him. The explanation for this trait is painful, pitiable & poignant that it brings almost everything that has come before into sharp relief. Unfortunately, having such a passive & weak belief leaves Ken vulnerable to the brutalities of the awakening world around him. He is also too trusting of people -again, to do with his inability to harm others- which often leads him into dangerous situations -ones that not only threaten his body but also his very sanity. His journey is to overcome these situations, strengthening his body & resolve but at, ultimately, what cost?

This series is very dark; in terms of its brutality but also in its visuals. Because it is filled with a high level of blood & gore, often a lot of the scenes have a dark filter places over them to censor out the offending material. This will later be remove for the home releases but it does somewhat mute the impact of what we are experiences -especially the savagery of Ken’s new situation. Apart from these patches of self-censorship, the rest of the series is exceptionally beautiful. The combat scenes are smooth & clear yet frenetic, hefting with the weight of each impact. The rendering of the kagune, which are often neon bright, is also exceptionally well done; contrasting well with the often darken backgrounds (since a lot of the action occurs in hidden locations or at night, away from prying human eyes).

The OP theme unravel by the artist Toru “TK” Kitajima from the post-rock group Ling Tosite Sigure has also garnered a lot of fan attention of late as well. This is because it is a layered affair, beginning with weak almost emotionally tortured vocals that then explodes into something so much more. As seen here:

My one great criticism of the series though is that it just ends.

Not that there will be no more of it. It simple ends without resolution & at a climatic part of the story-arc. This lack of settlement bothered me exceptionally, even with the realisation that there will be another series of it next year. It’s that annoying sudden kick of someone taking something away from you that you’ve been really enjoying & you know that you still have a hankering for -like an older sibling stealing your dessert to use a slightly tortured allegory.

In the end, this was an exceptionally deep series that speaks to so many different allegories for many different social issues. It speaks to racism -especially attitudes towards Half Japanese people- not to mention ideas of brutality & the basic need to survive vs. the desire to be part of a larger social group. There are many messages that you can get from it upon many viewings. I really hope that they bring out the 2nd series sooner than later but, in the meantime, I can still read the completed manga series & look at the recently release spin off sequel.

Have you heard about our Lord & Savour Jesus Christ?
Have you heard about our Lord & Savour Jesus Christ?