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.

kcktv4

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Who Judges the Judges? – anime critique: Death Parade

DeathparadevisualTitle: Death Parade
Format: TV anime
Genre: drama, supernatural, philosophical
Series Creator: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Series Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 9, 2015 – March 27, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Whenever two people on Earth die at the same time, they are sent to one of many mysterious bars run by bartenders serving as arbiters. There, they must participate in Death Games with their lives on the line, the results of which reveal what secrets led them to their situation and what their fate will be afterwards, with the arbiters judging if their souls will either be sent for reincarnation or banished into the void. The series follows Decim, the lone bartender of the Quindecim bar, whose role in judging these souls changes when he meets a curious black-haired woman.


Critique:

In my review of Isshuukan Friends from so long ago, I mentioned the condition of “the kick that never comes”, wherein you’re expecting the worst but it’s that’s expectation that causes you to suffer rather than the eventual happening (such as a kick) itself. In Death Parade, we very much have the opposite phenomenon because we are lulled into expecting something more light hearted & fun, only to be hit by the heavy club of the Human Condition.

One reason for that is the excellent & upbeat opening theme Flyers by J-rockers, Bradio.

Such an exciting, joyous song can’t help but lead your expectations of this serious into believing that it is what it’s not. & that theme does it every week.

What we expected is an entertaining look at human nature as people play games against each other but what we get is an exploration of the darkest recesses of the soul as inhuman Arbiters deconstruct all that it means to be human in order to judge where they go in the afterlife.

PARTY TIME TRICKERY!!!
PARTY TIME TRICKERY!!!

This is what makes the series so powerful & so masterful, because it utterly twists our expectations. You never know what’s coming or how things will resolve. It’s not afraid to truly hit you right in your emotional centre yet it’s not melancholy or brooding. Blending the harsh with the humourous is also what makes the series so great, as well as bringing unexpected characters & scenarios. Like Akame ga Kiru! it brings a delicate balancing act & delivers the unexpected & the brutal without flinching yet is not afraid to be introspective on the subject of life & death.

Unflinching truly is the watch-word of this series because even though it looks at them in a hyperbolic fashion, it doesn’t shy away from the subjects of murder & suicide, especially what drives individuals to commit both. Yet, despite the trappings of the series, it doesn’t really judge those who commit the latter as somehow being defective. Rather it looks at individuals who inflict that final wound upon their mortality as people who have somehow lost their ability to perceive the world & those around them. They are not broken or pathetic people, they merely suffer from a misconception of themselves, their lives & what it truly means to live.

Each episode deals with this differently & is done in a fairly neutral, almost passive, perspective.

That is because the main protagonist, Decim -like all other Arbiters- is a construct solely built to judge the lives of humans through various means. Primarily is hiding the fact that they are dead from them and then attempting to induce enough psychological stress that it “exposes the darkest recesses of their souls”.

"Welcome, valued customer"
“Welcome, valued customer”

Here in I have my only real problem with the series.

Without being explicit, the series seems to be based on a Japanese Buddhist version of the Afterlife, where souls are sent to various Arbiters to be judged based upon the deeds that they invoked during their mortal years. If they have found to have lived a life worthy of redemption, they are sent to be reinacarnated. If they display evil in their intentions (especially to their judges), they are sent to actually oblivion -an eternal void with nothing but their consciousness to suffer until they repent & are revoked back to Samsara. This is very much a hang over from early A.D. Daoism that arrived in Japan with the first waves of Chinese people who displayed the original aboriginal populations. There are also other references to Buddhist mythology, as Decim recounts the story of a Bodhisatva (a Buddhist version of a saint) who saves a spider & when he is sent to Hell by a demon wishing to know the Buddha’s secrets, the spider sends him a thread to pull him & guide him home. There are hints that Decim is possibly that spider, with his threads & inclinations, yet nothing is ever explicit about it being a Buddhist or even a truly religious form of Afterlife, yet it still has so many trapping of judgement gods & the living wishing punishment beyond the grave -which ties into the only punishments being reincarnation or oblivion.

Now, despite being a proper indoctrinated Buddhist (meaning that I belong to a real temple & have taken oaths of faith) I have no truck with Buddhist Afterlife & Reincarnation doctrine. It has no real logic to it & stories of how karma & Afterlife judgement make no sense what-so-ever.

Yet this is something that the creators of the series seem to think too -after a fashion. As Decim begins to question his role as an Arbiter & what it means for the unhuman to judge the lives of mentally & emotionally complex creatures such as humans when they cannot even begin to fathom their experiences & motivations.

To this end, Decim is introduced to the mysterious “Black-haired Woman” (how she’s referred to in the credits), a human who wasn’t judged & remains in the Afterlife. She acts a bit like Jiminy Cricket to Decim’s Pinocchio -providing him with a human perspective & a form of conscience as he pushes the visits to his level of the Afterlife -the bar-longue Quindecim- to their emotional extremes.

At least she's prettier than Jiminy.
At least she’s prettier than Jiminy.

This relationship seems to be the creation of the cunning, Nona, the supervisor of the Tower that consists the Afterlife. She’s often seen pushing a plan or agenda, at which lies the Black-haired Woman & the taciturn Decim as they push their customers (the dead) to play games within Quindecim by saying it’s for their very lives (because they are unaware that they are actually dead).

Nona near facepalm I think.
Nona near facepalm I think.

It is their games that are the crux of each episode that features them. For seem so mundane yet are twisted in a way they are create physical & emotional pain in those who are forced to play them.

This is demonstrated in the first episode, where a newly married couple are forced to play a game of darts but each section of the board is linked with an organ in their partners body. So if they score a hit, they inflict the other with incredible pain (which shouldn’t happen since they’re dead but the series does explain it very well). This means that if they truly love each other, they would intentionally lose in order not to inflict any further harm. But humans are seldom so simple or so noble & these games are designed to bring out the trauma surrounding their lives & deaths. Usually this involves rage at the indignation of their own mortality, so they lash out. In the case of the newlywed couple within the first episode, the husband suspects that his wife has been cheating on her, so willing inflicts pain on her -claiming it to be an accidentally- until she reveals something that is either the truth or a clever lie to save her from suffering at his hands.

"Ah! My spleen!"
“Ah! My spleen!”

Unfortunately, I think this series comes down heavy-handedly on the actions of women within it -especially a few either been seen as manipulative cheaters or utterly vile in other aspects. Yet that is not the entire truth of it, once Decim has the truths of human nature expounded to him by the Black-haired Woman. This seems to show the hypocrisy within society, as women are judged & condemned for acts that seem to be more able to get away with.

Though yet again, that is twisted around, as the series expands its roster of characters; introducing another Arbiter, Ginta, who has far more loathing for humanity & is less questioning about judging them. Almost relishing the punishment games that he gets to inflict upon them. Yet his perceptions of humanity is affected by his meeting with Maya, a seemingly delinquent high school student who is utterly devoted to the male popstar Harada -whom she ends up in Ginta’s Viginti with. Harada thinks that he can manipulate Maya into losing for him but she wants to impress him. When they are put into what they perceive to be a life threatening situation, Maya chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Harada, who, in turn, remembers part of the events leading to his death -the suicide of one of his many short term lovers- & doesn’t want anyone else to die because of him.

This isn’t seen as nobility, but rather a form of self-satisfaction, that both Maya & Harada can actually find meaning in & redemption for their lives within these possibly final acts. Yet in doing so, they begin to challenges ingrained views of human nature, making him slowly question what & why he judges in the fashion that he does.

Parallel to these games is woven a subplot involving a story of children’s book, Chavvot, which is about a little boy trying to befriend a deaf girl & find the best way he can express his love for her & her eternal, optimistic (& creepy looking) smile. This is an allegory for how humans connection, which is an external subject within anime (if you watch enough of it really). The main trust for this series is how human’s connect with & understand each other -even if it seems impossible because all we can know is the tiny universe inside our own heads.

That’s the main drive for the Black-haired Woman’s plot & itself ultimate irony as well because she came to Quindecim through her inability to connection & understand other humans. Yet that is what she constantly pushes Decim to do. Making him question his own judgements as she forces him to understand the complexities of human existence & the impossibilities of knowing why people do & say what they do.

Unfortunately I found a huge part of her character arc spoilt by a tiny throw away reference in the opening credits, which is a huge pity because they tease it out so well over the course of the series. The climax of her arc is a genuine kick in the guts & evokes a lot of hard emotions & questions -which I applaud it for.

If I have one final complain about the series it is that there is not enough of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series, more than I have many others of late (or even recent years) & it seems that I was not the only one -as they rushed through the English dubbed production to match the series by a week or so of release.

This, in my opinion, is a good trend because it means that anime is reaching a wider market & being taken seriously by distributors in the West.

I genuinely hope that they have a 2nd series for this because, despite wrapping up a lot of it, they still have a lot to explore with the side characters who don’t get as much screen time as they deserve. There is also a lot to be explained about who really created & controls the tower of judgement, because it’s forever hinted that even those within who think that they are the masters are in fact the puppets of others.

There isn’t much more about it that I can say, so I shall leave you how the series left us every week. That is with the end theme, Last Theatre, by NoisyCell -which is quickly becoming one of my favourite songs.

This is a series that I cannot recommend highly enough because of how it attempts to explore the human condition & human connection, as well as the amazing visuals & stories that it has. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour & get a copy right away.

& so, without further adieu, here is the song: