Tokyo Ghoul – 05

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It’s funny the things that are able to touch us emotionally.

It may sound odd to say it, but this series (mostly) about non-humans is really the most compelling human story of the season.  That’s not unheard of by any means (Uchouten Kazoku certainly leaps to mind) – shedding light on the human condition through fantasy is a frequently successful narrative device.  But Tokyo Ghoul seems like such an odd fit for the designation in a season with the likes of a Watanabe Shinichirou original drama and Barakamon (which probably should have been the head that wore the crown, in an ideal world where manga like that get the adaptations they deserve).

Nevertheless, for me that’s how things have worked out in this season’s first month.  Tokyo Ghoul isn’t just a horror story about ghouls – it’s also brash, often absurd, and frequently irreverent.  Yet it soars because it builds the story around the characters, and not the other way around.  And it peoples that story with characters who have some real depth and subtlety to them – we certainly have some who are mostly stock villains so far, but apart from them it’s notable how many seemingly minor characters get treated as if they really matter.  And when bad things happen to them, that makes an enormous difference in the emotional impact.

Last week’s episode seemed a bit of a misstep.  Miyano Mamoru’s performance was certainly memorable, but the tone of the episode was off – if was too absurd and too much of what happened wasn’t sufficiently set up for it to have much impact beyond shock value and humor.  This ep was right back on-form though, maybe the best episode of the series so far.  There was a lot happening but things never felt rushed, and the narrative didn’t put the cart before the horse – we were given good reason to care about what was going on before the shit hit the fan (last week was pretty much all post-fecal impact) and it doesn’t hurt that Ken started to show some formidability to go along with his innate decency.

For me pretty much everything worked this time, starting with the calm before the storm scenes at (and above) Anteiku.  Touka remains a bit of a mystery (not least the fact that she has a remarkable habit of showing up just when Ken is about to get jacked) but I like the scenes that “humanize” her.  Seeing her eat a piece of karaage in front her friend from school Yoriko is one thing – there are obvious practical reasons for that – but this was quite different.  She is in fact still ill from having ingested that toriniku, but when Yoriko drops off a pot of stew as a get-well gift (misinterpreting Ken’s presence in Touka’s room in the process) Touka insists on eating some of it even after Yoriko has left just on the principle that it was a heartfelt gesture.  Touka is obviously an idealistic person, and she’s doing perhaps more than anyone to fit in with human society – anything that sheds more light on that process and focuses less on her stock tsundere and badass persona is a positive in my book.

Among the most critical elements of this episode is that it sheds by far the most light on the growth and development of young ghouls and does so in a rather heartbreaking way – and through Nishio, of all characters.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he’s been cast in an extremely negative light so far, but we certainly see another side of him here.  Ken stumbles upon him being “cannibalized” by three ghoul thugs, and intervenes – showing that his training with Yomo is paying dividends.  He carries the weak and injured Nishio back to his apartment, where the human girl Kimi (Kobori Yurie) awaits him.  She’s human and knows what Nishio is but stands by him anyway, which is a bit of a revelation for Ken (and foreshadowing that Hide indeed knows the truth) though for the moment, we aren’t told just why she feels that way.

Here’s where Tsukiyama re-enters the narrative, and he’s far, far more effective this week – a real menacing presence and not a cartoon.  And Miyano’s performance is somehow that much better – just as manic, but more directed and far more sinister (and he adds Italian to his list of languages).  Miyano is really, really good, a powerful actor – but it takes the right material to show that off, and these last two episodes are the proof of how much it matters.  He’s still determined to dine on Ken, and his warped mind has decided that what he really needs to take him over the top is to do it while Ken is feasting on a human at the same time – and having seen Ken and Kimi talking in the park after leaving Nishio’s apartment, decided kidnapping her as the bait and the supplementary meal is the perfect course of action.

The scene at the church (just because) where the Gourmet plans to stage his bacchanal is a real work of art – bloody and scary and intense, and bisected by a superb flashback of Nishio’s childhood as a young ghoul.  Ken isn’t playing along voluntarily, of course, and Nishio has dragged himself along despite his weakened condition – and Touka shows up just in the nick of time, as it her fashion.  But Tsukiyama is more than a match even for her – he reflects on how “long ago” she was a rival for him, when she was fourteen and he eighteen, but how a ghoul is only as formidable as the “fuel” they consume (and Touka confirms this).  It’s really Nishio who steals this scene, though, both for his valiant but futile attempts to defend Kimi and for the aforementioned flashback to the time where he was a kind-hearted child who hated the idea of killing and eating humans and depended on his big sister for everything.  But someone turned her in to the Doves, and her death was clearly the event that sent him on the dark path leading to the present moment.

This is what Tokyo Ghoul is all about, really – big and brash set pieces full of blood, and setting up a mythology where the world of ghouls is every bit as layered and complex as our own.  I loved the tension built in this scene as the Gourmet systematically brutalizes the trio fighting him, and the fact that it’s Ken who comes up with the plan that can stop him – offering himself as the fuel Touka needs to match Tsukiyama’s strength (just as Kimi offered herself to Nishio after discovering the truth and finding him near death from weakness, a nice reminder of how similar humans and ghouls can be in terms of motivation and self-sacrifice).  It’s a terrific capper to a terrific episode, and admirably does the job of raising anticipation for the next.

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  1. R

    What I really like about this series is how they effectively use the SOL/high school humor to give more levity to the serious bits. You get to laugh at Touka's hilarious attempt to be cute, then you realize that she really has no choice but to put up this act in order to keep her precious human friends close to her, which is just heartbreaking.

    Though I must say, I am not really that fond of this arc with Tsukiyama. Not that it's bad, it's just that his character feels a bit out of tune with the other themes of the series (but hey, Mamoru Miyano's crazed performance is just captivating). Good thing, though, that Nishio actually gets some interesting developments here.

    One thing that i am curious to know here is whether or not the ghouls are limited only to Tokyo.

    And, hey, that's an interesting way to give Touka a powerup.

  2. s

    That's why its good to wait; Now i understand why last week's ep came first. Again, last week's ep was a bit of a step down, but this week said "whoops, I get that we kinda fucked up, let's get back on track". now i understand the reason why the events have been rearranged and upon deeper thought, it actually makes what is about to come have more impact (you'll see what i mean real soon); Morita shuhei you smart man. it's just really a shame that this series is getting the 12 ep treatment. The first 5 mins of this ep felt just a tiny tiny bit fast but everything else turned out great. Great overall directing with great music directing as well. Sigh…24 eps, i wish this got (when did i become Yoda?)

  3. v

    Heh, this is the last show I expected to touch me emotionally but it sure did a good job of it. Changing my perception on a character from utter scumbag to misunderstood. I really liked how Nishio's backstory was done. The pacing and the music that accompanied it.

  4. H

    I can only take Mamoru Miyano in these highly theatrical roles, and he's stealing the show here. Doubt that's much a good thing atm.

    I'm not finding the main leads and the process they're taking that compelling to be honest. Does Nishio's (I can't trust anyone!) backstory really explain/justify why he was such a bully a few episodes back?

  5. Z

    I'm rather disappointed in this series. Calling it a horror is a bit of an overstatement when it really plays out more as kids with super powers in grotesque setting (shounen) than an unsettling story with creepy atmosphere.
    Events and character actions occur in rather predictable fashion and when emotional segments are terribly obvious. Nishio’s conveniently timed backstory was hardly interesting or original piece of writing. I suppose they placed it there to try and make us feel bad for the guy – I didn't care for him in the slightest two episodes back, and I certainly don't now, despite the narrative's obvious (never gonna let you go) attempts to get us to do so. Throw a little obvious emotion in and people seem to lap it up.

  6. m

    Same as well, while Nishio's backstory was very well told, it doesn't really explain how much of a bastard he is back then (well… I can think of it as a feint for his weakness, he seems to get beaten around by most ghouls). Would have preferred a less abrupt focus on his character. I like it when this series is more low-key and there's more mystery under the layer.

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