There’s a lot that’s unusual with this series, starting with the unorthodox way it’s positioned itself in-between being an anime-original and a manga adaptation. For me, the most important oddity is the fact that I’m hard-pressed to remember many series in which I have less idea what’s really happening – the array of new characters and plot twists every week is pretty overwhelming – yet somehow it manages to keep me pretty much hooked in. With certain shows that sense of disorientation is obviously an intended part of the experience, but Tokyo Ghoul is a pretty plot-driven series – I’m not sure for how long it can keep up this high-wire act, but for the moment it’s mostly all-good.
Another strange thing about this season is the inescapable fact that the protagonist has been pretty much a non-entity in terms of screen time for the first three episodes. Kaneki certainly casts a big shadow over everyone and everything else in the story, but he himself is thus far an occasionally-glimpsed figure on a rooftop, or a news report, or a missing-persons poster. We continue to receive little to no insight into why he’s made the seemingly bizarre decision he did – to leave behind his friends and protectors and join up with an organization whose actions seem antithetical to everything the S1 Ken said he believed in. Again, I think it’s fair to ask for how long the show can pull that off – but to ask the question is not to deny the possibility that it can for quite some time. We’ll see.
We do get just a bit of Kaneki screen-time in an interaction he has with Naki (Shimono Hiro, laying it on a bit thick), yet another new character added to the mix. He seems to have been Yamori’s adoring flunky, and Aogiri Tree frees him as he’s being transported in a CCG convoy. Clearly he’s nutty as a loon, lashing out at friend and foe alike, but Ken offers him a bit of kindness – and received a compliment in return. It’s not clear how Naki fits into the plot now that Yamori is gone, but to receive this much attention this early suggests his role might be an important one.
Meanwhile, those two stalkers continue to turn up whenever Kaneki is in the field, inexplicably involved in operations that are leaving both humans and ghouls dead. Their continued presence teases that they, too, are certain to be significant figures but again, so far it’s only a tease. Normally this sort of thing would piss me off pretty good, but that’s not happening here yet for whatever reason. As for Kaneki, his act of minor compassion towards Naki is the only clue we get that there’s any trace of the old Ken still in there – though two Aogiri foot soldiers do speak of the rumor that he ate Jason.
Why do we know that? Because the Gourmet is still pursuing his obsession with Ken, and has infiltrated Aogiri in the search for him. Another slightly mysterious element is Hideyoshi, who’s infiltrated CCG presumably in his own desire to find his friend. He’s also taking down the missing persons posted all over campus. Hiromi (who for some reason appears to have aged-up about three years between seasons) is meanwhile starting to want to exert some independence from Touka – which she puts into play by borrowing one of her outfits and going to a book signing by her (and Ken’s) favorite author Takatsuki Sen (Sakamoto Maaya). Takatsuki could hardly make it more obvious that she too is mysteriously connected to the rest of the story (though perhaps less so if one is attentive to seiyuu voices).
How the heck does all this teasing add up to anything watchable? I guess the word I would use to sum it up is “intrigue” – somehow all of this is intriguing, in spite of how much the audience is being strung along. And remarkably even a few of the manga readers seem to be buying in, too. Is it just possible that this is the best of both worlds for adapting an unfinished manga – a storyline from the original author, one that’s free to go in its own directions without worrying about aligning with existing canon? Well, I won’t go that far yet – but so far at least I’m liking where this is going.