It looks like Tokyo Ghoul is set to do pretty well commercially. The Stalker numbers look decent, and all of the back issues of the manga have started to chart again – always a good sign that an adaptation is pushing the right buttons. That doesn’t mean a second season is a lock of course, but the early signs are promising – which makes it all the more critical what the anime decides to include and not include in this cour. I haven’t read much of the manga but I know things are being reorganized in a pretty significant way. So far it’s mostly working for me, but here’s hoping it doesn’t burn through any more material than it needs to, just in case we get that sequel.
Superficially it would seem this show is anything but subtle. Larger-than-life villains, fountains of censored gore, action set-pieces – bombast is definitely the order of the day here. And that clearly suits the material well. But there’s actually a lot of complexity in the character interactions when the show is at its best (not with the Gourmet, mind you, but with those broadly gathered under the good guys umbrella). And for me, it’s that quality that makes Tokyo Ghoul arguably the best new series of the summer when it’s right.
I’m not so sure it was right this week, though this was still a pretty good episode. The bombast played off against the character dynamics is the combination that makes Ghoul go, but when the character dynamics lose their subtlety that’s where things start to misfire. There are a couple of major issues I have with this week’s story, the first and most simple being that Mado is nowhere near as much fun as the Gourmet. Ridiculous scenery-chewing baddies are part of the fun here, but Mado is sort of uninteresting and Amon basically a cipher.
A bigger problem with the ep for me, though, is that there’s a kind of lowest common denominator quality to the drama. Playing with the emotions of the audience by showing a little girl crying for her father and tearful mother-daughter bonding and self-sacrifice is pretty low-hanging fruit. I would have also liked to have seen Dr. Fueguchi’s character given a bit more of an opportunity to make an impression, because it’s hard to muster much emotion for somebody who’s basically never shown his face on-screen and whose total presence can’t be more than a couple of minutes.
There were a couple of headline moments in the episode that did work well, the first being Touka’s moment of decision as she stood over Kimi’s body once the Gourmet had been subdued (so many light beams). There’s an obvious hypocrisy to Touka’s declaration that Kimi had to die given her own lifestyle, as Ken pointed out. But the moment does a good job of highlighting the dilemma of being a ghoul trying to live a “clean” life in the modern human world. And Nishio joining the staff at Anteiku is certainly a form of penance in addition to a practical necessity if he wishes to be be one of those ghouls. His redemption may have come about too quickly for some tastes, but I thought it was very effective.
The other headline-grabber is the battle between Mado and Jason, which by appearances seems to be one villain vs. another. These are two baddies who so far don’t have the grotesque magnetism of Tsukiyama, nor do they have Miyano-san’s unique charisma to draw on, but they both have high-octane veteran seiyuu behind them. It’s hard to draw much conclusion on their relative strength based on their brief encounter, though Jason was certainly strong enough to break Mado’s Quinque (I believe that’s the first time we’ve heard the doves’ weapon referred to by name). I suppose these two big fish are going to continue snapping at each other for quite some time, though Mado is only too happy to wipe out as many small fry as he can while in the process of trolling for larger game.
That encounter of course directly led to the demise (presumably) of Fueguchi-sensei, and thus provides the impetus for the aforementioned drama surrounding Hiromi and her mother. What happens there is sad, certainly, but it’s very familiar and it’s easy – too easy to really spark any deep emotions in me. To the extent that Hiromi’s situation can be used as a device to shine more light on an important element of the larger issue of Ghouls integrating in modern culture it’s a good thing, but the more it steers clear of the shameless heartstring-tugging the better off the show will be. Grey morality and adults facing hard choices seem to be a better catalyst for bringing out the best in Tokyo Ghoul.