Tokyo Ghoul – 12 (End) and Series Review (Edit: Second Season Announced!)

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As endings to manga adaptations go, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like that one.

It’s been a crazy week in the world of Tokyo Ghoul.  Not only was the anime ending in a blaze of hyper-pacing with rumors of a possible continuation (at this stage based on no hard evidence) flying, but mangaka Ishida Sui unexpectedly announced that the manga was ending at Chapter 143, with almost no notice.  But he’d also titled Chapter 72 “Halfway”, so there’s overwhelming speculation that this is a long-planned stunt – an ending for the first “part” of the manga, with a sequel due to follow.  Guesswork is rampant – hard facts are in short supply.

I most certainly have no idea what’s going to happen either with the manga or anime, though I’d be shocked if the manga doesn’t continue (probably under a slightly changed title).  There’s certainly valid reason to think a second season of the anime is possible (EDIT: second season was announced today, starting in January – albeit on the Chinese website for the manga.  Told ya…): the anime has been a huge boon to the manga’s sales, so the publisher has strong incentive to see it continue.  The anime seems on-track for decent sales, though not outstanding.  There’s an anime event scheduled for next month, and such occasions are sometimes used for sequel announcements.  But all I could to is guess, the same as anyone else.

Thing is, if anyone was looking to the season finale for a clue (never mind an announcement, a la Sidonia) it wasn’t any help.  I was quite surprised by the way it wrapped up, frankly – after the antepenultimate episode introduced a half-dozen potential plot arcs and the penultimate was an exhausting “Blackwater”-styled action epic, the finale never left one room.  Apart, that is, from the flights of hallucination (or were they?) in the mind of Kaneki Ken.  It was as grim and interior as it’s possible for an episode to be – it effectively took place mostly in Ken’s mind, over the course of what was probably not more than an hour.

On the positive side, I like this approach way better than attempting the impossible task of trying to tie up all those loose ends in one episode, which would inevitably have left all of them unsatisfactorily closed out.  On the other, this was pretty much full-on torture porn here – those who love such things will no doubt complain about the black bars (like with all kinds of porn, this is used as incentive to sell discs), but it was plenty grisly enough for my tastes. As I mentioned last week I tend to feel that the normal charges against these sort of episodes – namely that they’re mostly about titillation – don’t apply as strongly here.  As gruesome as all this is it is here for a point – the viewer has to be shown how Ken got from the guy he was to the white-haired being we see in the OP.  But allowing for personal tastes, this isn’t the sort of material I enjoy very much.  As torture scenes go, I thought it was quite harrowing, and both Hanae Natsuki and Nishi Rintarou deliver outstanding performances.

When push comes to shove, Yakumo is here for this purpose – he’s a device, a catalyst to start the reaction that will give birth to the new Ken.  He’s a darn good one – a truly evil and genuinely scary SOB.  But the main point here is what’s going on inside Ken’s head while Jason is continually lopping off his extremities, forcing him to count backwards from 1000 by sevens in order to keep from breaking mentally.  I’m still not quite sure how literally we’re supposed to take Rize’s presence, but it’s certainly clear that she and Ken were indeed fused in some meaningful way (and quite intentionally, though to what end is still murky), and she makes a very useful symbol of the ghoul side of Ken, trying to assert itself.

There’s a lot of philosophy tied up in Ken’s fevered visions, as he recalls his late mother (Takahashi Rieko).  Whether it’s Ken using her as a way of questioning his own beliefs or literally her, Rize certainly uses the mother’s life to create a straw man out of Ken’s personal philosophy – “It’s better to be hurt than to hurt others”.  Ken’s mother was kind, but easily taken advantage of – despite being a widow raising a young son she constantly gave money to her deadbeat sister, forcing her to work non-stop to survive and provide.  It’s not the simple matter that Rize mockingly makes of it, but I don’t think most people would disagree that there’s such a thing as being too nice.  And it certainly makes sense that Ken would have been harboring a good deal of resentment over this, given that it was from overwork that his mother caused her own illness and eventual death, leaving him alone (apart from Hide, seemingly).

Truthfully I’m not quite sure where Ishida comes down on all this, but there’s a definite sense that he’s judging Ken pretty harshly for the choices he’s made.  Or lack of choices as the case may be, pointedly demonstrated when Yakumo makes an example of the couple who’d treated Ken kindly during his ordeal.  In the end Ken seems to insist that he’s going to try and have it both ways – turn into the killer and devourer he’s refused to become until now, but retain the essence of who he is rather than turn into Rize.  It’s the world that’s wrong, not him – and while that may be a useful lifeline to cling to, there’s no denying that Ken seems to have embarked on a path from which there’s no turning back.

That’s certainly a milestone, but I wouldn’t say it feels much like an ending – and I suppose one could optimistically say it’s yet more circumstantial evidence that a second season may be in the offing.  It’s quite shocking, but none of the plot threads and none of the major characters introduced in Episodes 9-11 were addressed here, and apart from brief cameos in Ken’s mind none even appeared.  This is either a teaser for a second season or a commercial for the manga, but it’s certainly not a conclusion.  And again, I prefer that to an ill-advised to do far too much in far too little time, which almost always leads to disaster.  One-cour adaptations of long, ongoing anime always require hard choices, and rarely are any of the options good ones.

So what of Tokyo Ghoul as a whole, then?  It can only be judged as if this is all the anime we’re going to get because, as far as we know, it is.  And for me, that’s a flawed but sometimes brilliant series – a victim of the schedule, certainly, but one which managed to introduce an awful lot of interesting stuff in that short window of time.  I can see why the manga’s sales have skyrocketed, because the anime is very good at expressing just what a well-crafted story this is, and how full of interesting characters and ideas – even if it’s not always as good at bringing out all of their potential.  That’s frustrating on its own terms of course, but as advertisement for the manga it’s a recipe for success.

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18 comments

  1. G

    Even if we don't get a second season(which I really hope we get) and it was just a huge commercial for the manga, that worked really well for me and the public in general I guess, I really enjoyed it.

    Plus, as far as this episode goes, I have to say this it blew my mind. The eerie and fiting background music, the insert song, which I am a sucker for, the really solid voice acting from Hanae Natsuki, Nishi Rintarou and HanaKana, the creepy torture, the "beautifully sad" descent into madness/transformation discussions between Kaneki and Rize, I loved everything about it other then the fact that at least a 13th episode might have been a good thing to tie up a few loose ends or at least show how they would move forward.

  2. R

    Wow! and I thought last week's was a bit too much. This one is just downright spine-chilling. Those censor bars don't even help anymore, since they got those luscious sounds to aptly fill in the details for the viewers' imagination.. And I am also once again impressed by Hanae Natsuki;s performance here (also props to HanaKana for Rize's captivating, yet frightening, portrayal). Though I am a bit disappointed with how they did Ken's takedown of Yamori. I was expecting it to be more viscious than the torture scenes.

    And I really like their choice of stopping point for the first season. It gives you that sense of wanting to see more and nicely wraps up ken's transition into a more brutal characters. Am just a bit curious. Is his change of hair color actually a physical one?

  3. J

    Well that was a fun ride. As it turns out they chose a decent place to stop and give everyone chance to draw breath… As far as I know Roger, his hair has physically and permanently changed colour. Maybe they intentionally left the Yamori beating/torture short, to give a launching point for the second series? I've not read the manga, but I've seen enough anime to suspect Yamori may not be dead.

    The episode didn't need that much finger cracking or that many flowers – I got it the first time – but subtlety isn't why I'm watching this, and otherwise it was as visceral and brutal as expected. I'll add my appreciation for everyone involved in the audio in this episode; composer, sound effects, seiyuus, etc. It was almost perfect and rendered the liberal use of censors moot.

  4. R

    What I mean with Ken's beatdown of Yamori was that I was expecting expecting it to be a bit more graphic, considering it followed the torture scenes. Rather, it ended up being closer to the standard Naruto-ish shounen fight scene (not that it was bad). But then again, making it as graphic as the preceding scenes might be taking it too much.

  5. Just because Ken has on some level decided to no longer be a pacifist, that doesn't necessarily mean he's now a sadist. I think him returning Jason's torture in-kind would have sent the wrong message.

  6. R

    Actually, Ken did show some hints of sadism in that last scene. Not as much as Jason, but he still has that air to him.

  7. R

    BTW, I was referring more to the visual presentation of the fight rather than the characterizations involved. It felt a bit toned down in comparison to the scenes that preceded it.

  8. J

    The simplest explanation would be a lack of time/budget/care (delete as appropriate), and I'd agree that it was noticeably cleaner than the scenes it followed.

  9. s

    comment on ep 10: "Ive been thinking about it for some time, but there's a perfect place (well as perfect as you're gonna get with 12 eps) to end this arc and its not by making an original ending or rushing the entire arc; it's by stopping it in the middle as that would serve as a legitimate finale due to its thematic strength and poignancy in the overall series"

    Looks like my prediction was right on the money in terms of where tokyo ghoul would end and i was only able to make that guess cuz if i was in Morita's position and i had my hands tied the way he did with a twelve ep run, this is exactly what i would have done. It's a shame that the production team wasnt able to at least give him the 39 eps (i strongly believe that the staff would need that many eps to tell this tale with much tighter pacing; this ep probably being ep 18 of the series had it been given the 39 ep treatment) to tell this tale from start to finish but at the end of the day, ill take what i got. In the end, i thought this ep was brilliant;a fine display of directorial acumen and a proper portrayal of what a tragedy tokyo ghoul is. This is the moment in the manga when i thought ishida Yui put to good use his horrific imagery, which was translated very effectively in anime form, taking advantage of the medium and enhancing what was already a gruesome moment in the manga

  10. G

    So is Ken's hair permanently white or does it change to that color when he uses his ghoul powers?

  11. s

    oh enzo, just chimming in but that's not manga info; you can see that in ep itself. It's the way the director went about using the imagery portraying Kaneki's descent into darkness that caused the confusion as to the nature of his white hair. Think Maria Antoinette syndrome

  12. Seems like a judgment call to me, but fair enough. It's not a major issue.

  13. A

    Honestly, as inconsistent and rough the anime has been at times, this episode was the best adaptationally. I had a couple gripes- mainly that he's tortured for ten days in the manga and I'm not sure if that was accurately represented here, and the fact that in the manga he had absolutely zero emotional support; i.e. Banjou and company didn't clean his blood and give him words of encouragement. But this is arguably the most important sequence in the entirety of Tokyo Ghoul and they mostly did it justice.

    I'm hoping season 2 gets 24 episodes, because it could certainly use that many if they plan on adapting the rest of the manga, but I'm not really counting on it. If S1 had the same kind of pacing most manga adaptations have, it would have taken about 24-26 episodes to conclude this arc.

  14. k

    i wonder why kaneki's clothes switched colors too…

  15. I believe he was there being tortured for a very long time.

  16. s

    His clothes didnt switch colors; they are different clothes. It seemed to me that Jason changed him during the long time that he tortured him

  17. v

    Heh it's weird how this episode sort of touched me on a personal level with the whole "better to be hurt than to hurt others" philosophy. Anyway it's been an enjoyable 12 week ride and I'm definitely looking forward to Season 2. As always thanks for covering the show Enzo.

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