Tokyo Ghoul – 08

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That was an interesting mix of the expected and the unexpected.

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.

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17 comments

  1. s

    I quite liked the conversation scene with Touka and Mado and Amon and Kaneki; I am quite aware that scene could come off as the writing doing more "telling" than "showing"and it sort of does, but as a directorial decision, i think it was quite effective because its not just about that piece of dialogue, it's about seeing Touka being in a situation where she's actually confronting the hate and anger inside her. She's actually having a conversation with a dove (people she deems very dispensible), as if trying to make him understand the turmoil that exists in her heart. In that scene, a bit more of Touka's self-loathing rears its head, which adds an extra dimension the conversation. On Amon's end, he's mentioning something similar, but what he's saying reeks of a sense of hypocrisy and he kinda knows it does; you can sort of hear it in how he makes his claim, which is why i think that scene overall works well. To me, the themes of ghoul vs humans is only the surface of the conversation. It's what the characters reveal about themselves upon analysis is why i think the direction of that scene is effective.

  2. R

    Yep, this is definitely better than the last two eps. They are finally going back to the more interesting thees they have set up earlier. Still am hoping to see more of that mind talk between Ken and Rize that was shown some few episodes back.

    Though, i must add that I am also not really fond of the way they presented Mado as a villain. He was way too flat (crazed man and all) for the dilemmas that they are presenting here, and that conclusion to his character just felt too much of an attempt to make him sympathetic.

  3. Pretty much. I have more hopes for Amon – I could almost see him turning into a Javert-type character (in fact, that's who he reminds me of).

  4. N

    IMO, that is intentional. Gourmet and Mado are the first two major villains, and they both show some of the worst that their kind has to offer. I don't think that even his ring was supposed to make him sympathetic, but just answer why he was so sadistic (leaving questions unanswered is a bad practice as far as some writers are concerned).

  5. R

    @Enzo
    Am seeing more of a potertial teamup0 between Ken and Amon down the line (which means he might not be the tragic anti-villain Javerty turned out to be). He was pretty disturbed by the fact that Ken restrained himself from killing him.

    @Nayrael
    I get that that was the intent, but showing Mado's wedding ring is pretty much saying that "This guy was driven insane because his wife was killed by ghouls. Go pity him." Could have worked better if they had at least given bits of Mado's background beforehand.

  6. l

    @Roger

    I actually really liked the reveal of the ring. Since we:

    – have been seeing the story from the point of view of the ghouls
    – see Mado presented as a stereotypical villain

    we assume he cannot have a family. Personally; I think the ring was supposed to deconstruct that. Also make you wonder what else you (the viewer) may have assumed.

  7. s

    @roger…Hmm…..about that ring scene…well its best i say nothing

  8. R

    @sonicsenryuku
    Hey, is that about a spoiler or something?

    @Ijf
    we assume he cannot have a family. Personally; I think the ring was supposed to deconstruct that. Also make you wonder what else you (the viewer) may have assumed.

    That is what i really disliked about that particular scene. It felt more like manipulation than proper deconstruction. Like i said, it would really have been nicer if we at least were given some glimpses into his backstory, rather than just having him cackling mad in all his appearance.

  9. l

    @Roger
    All I know is that I personally didn't feel that when reading the manga. Maybe it's something about the way the anime handled it? or maybe we just have different opinions/ impressions.

  10. s

    @roger yea its a spoiler

  11. R

    @Ijf
    i haven't read the manga yet, so i guess would would really have to do with how the anime handled that scene (and Mado's characterization in general).

    @sonic
    now i am intrigued.

  12. l

    "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?"

    I don't think this analogy works on a fundamental level. French or American; we all know people are the same. It's common knowledge. We know because of world history, international friends and publications. In the world of the story; this clearly not the case.

    I'm thinking of an conversation early on between Ken and Hide where they are pondering why they have never seen a ghoul before and draw pictures of what they think a ghoul looks like. This tells us; everyday people don't know much about ghouls. So it's possible human beings ALL believe that ghouls drink the blood of babies and ghouls believe humans would NEVER accept them.

    The similarity between humans a ghouls is not understood in the world of the story. I think it might be more accurate to imagine to take a human character and have his family murdered by an alien from outer space. The man has no reason to trust aliens and every reason to fear and hate them.

    (not trying to nitpick, just this stood out to me. Thanks for writing these posts so promptly, Enzo)

  13. D

    "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."

    Yes! Thank you! This is my biggest issue with Tokyo Ghoul and the main reason I haven't been able enjoy it as much as I'd like. There are some great, classic themes and arguments at work here, but it feels like the writer(s) don't have any faith in the audience to connect the dots on their own. So instead we get these over-the-top caricatures of villainy (both ghoul and villain), obvious juxtaposition, and some painfully on-the-nose inner monologue (Ken's "OMG EPIPHANY" was even more painful than the Amon/Touka dialogue, IMO). That kind of "sledgehammer" (as you put it) writing is a huge pet peeve of mine. I'd much rather be a little uncertain about the intent than be beaten over the head with it.

    I'm griping, but I've actually enjoyed the last couple eps of TG quite a bit – much more than the two that came before it. And I'm very happy that we seem to have cleared the caricatures out of the cast so we can focus on the most believable, sympathetic characters (ghoul and otherwise). Here's hoping that's a sign of good things to come.

  14. D

    *"(both ghoul and HUMAN)," I meant to say. Silly Blogger, not letting people edit their comments. ^^;

  15. S

    Has anyone thought about the theme of "restraint"? I'm noticing how villains in the show have little to none of it (ie, shu, mado, rize etc.) and the whole purpose of Ankintu seems to be teaching fellow ghouls the importance of restraint in behavior and control. For that matter I'm starting to forgive the weak acting of keneki in the early episode as it is evidently a fight between restraint put on by his human nature vs the wild desires of a ghoul. Your thoughts?

  16. s

    I personally believe that restraint is one of the important themes of this series (as hinted by Rize's hedonism) along with self-loathing/acceptance, suffering, unity, abandonment, vengeance, justice, and change

  17. Nice observation. Certainly fits what we've seen thus far.

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