I think the broad course of Tokyo Ghoul has been laid in from the very beginning, and even if the order of events has apparently been moved around some in the anime version, the first eight episodes have pretty much been the prologue. It wasn’t so much about where we were going but how we were going to get there – and now, wherever it is we are it certainly feels like a “there”. The story has to transition to another phase now unless I’m seriously misreading the situation (and yes, manga readers, I’m quite happy to forgo your shared expertise and find out for myself).
I’ll say this much for starters: I very much like the scenario that’s been set up here but I do have some issues with the way it’s been executed, including in this episode. The notion of two sentient species with imperatives that are seemingly mutually exclusive, and the young man who stands balanced between them. is hardly novel in anime or elsewhere – hell, it’s practically archetypal. But there’s a kind of straightforward elegance to Tokyo Ghoul’s take on the subject. Ghouls need to eat flesh, humans need to not be eaten – it doesn’t get much simpler than that. But because there’s the full range of ethical and moral possibilities presenting in both populations, things could hardly be more complicated.
With that in mind, this episode was effectively the end of the beginning – the official stamp on the premise. I think it’s more a matter of stylistic preference than objective quality, but I wasn’t crazy about having Amon and Touka making the same speech simultaneously in different places, explaining the premise as the camera cross-cut between them. It felt like we were being hit over the head with something that was already apparent and didn’t need that kind of broad sledgehammer narrative – I prefer letting the pathos of the situation speak for itself.
The other element of this episode that didn’t click with me was Ken’s decision to employ passive resistance against Amon-kun. I have nothing against passive resistance, which is an incredibly powerful tool against evil and injustice in the right situation – but this wasn’t the right situation, for obvious practical reasons. Frankly, I would have expected Amon to simply kill Ken – why the hell didn’t he? He doesn’t seem temperamentally psychotic, but he’s clearly convinced himself that ghouls are incapable of recognizably human feelings and unworthy of restraint, and he was especially bitter about the death of Kusaba. True, Ken couldn’t have known about that specific matter, but he certainly had no reason to expect Amon to spare him.
Once Ken “woke up“, though, and accepted his responsibility that he had to stop Amon at any cost things got much better. Ken’s fundamental dilemma – trying to remain human despite having a psychopthic beast inside him urging him to kill and giving him the means to do so, and to find a way to foster communications between the species that make up his two halves – is the engine that drives Tokyo Ghoul, and it’s a powerful one. The quality of mercy is not strained, my ass – it looked pretty strained for Ken here. And it did make a sort of impact on Amon, confusing him at the very least – why would this subhuman beast disarm him rather than kill and devour him? There seems the very real possibility that Amon’s blind hatred may be starting to crack – though that possibility is shattered soon enough. Amon has frankly come off as a pretty weak fighter to this point, but from a psychological perspective he makes a much more interesting foil than Mado did.
Past tense? Indeed – as Ken and Amon are dancing and Rize cuts in, Mado is having a hell of a fight with Touka (truly, some of the best animation Pierrot has done in a very long time). I would argue that Mado was an even more outlandish villain than the Gourmet is, and for me at least his grotesquerie and sadistic nature undercut his effectiveness as the face of the human side of the story. But he’s a serious badass, and without any question he’s more than a match for Touka – he’s bested her twice now. It’s only when Hinami shows her teeth that the tide turns, and even if Hinami was unwilling to finish Mado off it was her attack that allowed Touka to do so.
There’s poetic justice in the fact that it was Mado’s sadistic delight in using Ryouko’s head to lure Hinami out, and Hinami’s parents’ kagune to finish her that finally awoke the beast in her. And while there are no easy answers in the human-ghoul dilemma (the fact that Tokyo Ghoul acknowledges this is a major point in its favor) I shed no tears for Mado. Whatever happened to his family, he brought this on himself. If an American murdered a Frenchman’s family, would we be willing to say the Frenchman would be justified in trying to kill every American he could, whether they were involved in any way or not?
At heart, I think Tokyo Ghoul is a tragedy, and people like Mado and Touka are tragic characters. Mado was consumed by his lust for revenge, and it eventually killed him. Touka is unable to rise above her own, and despite the concern and disapproval of those around her she continues down a path that will inevitably lead to her own destruction, miserable all the while. Part of the story is certainly going to be Ken’s efforts to get Touka off that path, though the main theme is surely his destiny to try and be a bridge over a seemingly unbridgeable chasm.