I know it’s a frustratingly vague thing to say, but Tokyo Ghoul just has “it”. Some series have it, others don’t – that little extra spark that makes them special. Ishida Sui’s source material and Morita Shuhei’s direction clearly both have that spark, and that makes Tokyo Ghoul a very exciting series to watch. It’s small things like adding details that probably don’t impact the larger premise but add color to the tapestry (like making in-story novelist Takatsuki Sen so clearly a female homage to Murakami Haruki), and big things like making the underworld of Anteiku and the ghouls feel so real. And it’s understanding that what separates good thrillers from great ones is putting character first.
This episode didn’t feature the headline-grabbing action of the second episode, but it was packed with content just the same. This was exposition done right, in the hands of a strong writer and director, not relying on manufactured classroom scenes or extraneous lectures but filling in the blanks the way it happens in real life – asking logical questions at the right time, and seeing events as they happen. What’s emerging is a picture of the dynamic that exists both at Anteiku and in Tokyo as a whole, and that picture reveals the “peace” of the 20th Ward to be hanging by the thinnest of threads.
The first event we see is a disturbance at a doctor’s office, where a smiling man (Rintarou Nishi) who takes knuckle-cracking to ridiculous heights asks the doctor (Toriumi Kousuke) for a “whatsit” to replace the one he’s lost. This is presumably a doctor who specializes in treating ghouls (probably the “Fueguchi-sensei” referenced later in the episode), and the visitor probably the same man who interrupted Rize’s feasting in the first moments of the series – who I assume to be the “Jason” everyone is talking about. The doctor is further presumably the father of Hinami (15 year-old Morohoshi Sumire) the little ghoul-girl who ends up with her mother at Anteiku, and “now has to live separately from her father”.
Pieces are being fitted into the puzzle here – the other face of ghouls that Yoshimura spoke to Ken of in the last episode. I love the way the story brings us into both the big and small picture in such a natural, flowing way – we get a sense of the struggle between ghouls and the “box carriers” – also called “Doves” – and how the 20th Ward has been largely exempt thanks to the efforts of those like Yoshimura, a peace now threatened by the likes of Jason and “The Gourmet” (more later). Yoshimura shows Ken how to help his ability to “pass” by pretending to eat (don’t chew, just swallow – and regurgitate, because apparently normal food is bad for ghoul health). And the sugar cubes which help quell the hunger pangs (I’m guessing those aren’t on the condiment bar at Starbucks), whose contents Ken is definitely better off not knowing too much about.
Perhaps most poignantly, we see a “food run” – for the first time, a window into the way “good” ghouls manage to source food without hurting humans. That they rely on suicide victims and even pay respects to them is quite a powerful imagery, especially in a country beset with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. All of this, starting with Yoshimura, is a fascinating glimpse at the way the ghoul and human worlds interact – Yoshimura tells Ken that he “likes humans”, and Ken can’t help but wonder what that means. We have Touka working harder than anyone to fit in, and an older barista kindly tells Ken that girls, especially, don’t like to be witnessed while eating. Ken has just stumbled in on Himura in the act, and when he brings her coffee by way of apology they have a very warm conversation about Takatsuki’s books, which Hinami is struggling through despite their difficulty.
Also shedding light on various corners of this world is a visit to Uta-san (Sakurai Takahiro), the Kabuki-cho artist who makes masks for ghouls to hide their identity in the event they have a run-in with the CCG and “occasionally” has a human customer. We also get a look at a CCG meeting in their opulent skyscraper headquarters, and at the quasi-religious approach they take to their crusade against ghoulism. And finally there’s a visitor to Anteiku – a sartorially-extravagant man (Miyano Mamoru) who I can only assume is the Gourmet everyone is on about. If he’s the sort of gourmet he appears to be, this fellow is likely the single-biggest reason why the 20th Ward is no longer a de facto demilitarized zone.
As to two questions that carried over from last week, Nishio is still alive and in the hospital (a ghoul hospital, presumably) but we can’t say for sure whether Hide now knows Ken’s secret (we do know that Touka has pledged to kill him if he ever finds out). It’s rare to see a series with so much going on – so many characters and so much plot – be this coherent. But again, that speaks to the quality of the writing and the direction. That all this is presented in a manageable fashion and that we’re so bought in to the lives of the characters is what sets Tokyo Ghoul apart as one of the best series of 2014 so far, and its potential seems limited only by the possibility that it might not have a long-enough run. Early returns indicate it may do quite well commercially – I can only hope that Morita-sensei leaves the door open for the series to continue, if indeed a second split cour hasn’t already been green-lit.