Watching Tokyo Ghoul this season has certainly been an odd experience. The first half of the season was almost like a band releasing an album of B-sides – you could tell who they were, but the material obviously wasn’t good enough to release as a single. Or seeing a veteran band in concert do nothing but play stuff off the new album – which isn’t that great – and then come back after the intermission and start playing their classic material.
Well, I’ve been in that latter situation more than a few times, and I can tell you that what you remember isn’t the first half of the concert, but how pumped up you were for the second. And now that Tokyo Ghoul has found its stride to an almost miraculous degree, the frustrations of the first half of the season are quickly fading into memory. That doesn’t mean I’m not worried about a relapse (believe me I am) but if this is the sort of material we get in the last four episodes, I’ll certainly call Tokyo Ghoul √A a success.
The formula for that success has been astonishingly simple: focus on existing characters rather than cascade new ones. Focus on the characters whose arcs have real weight. And actually start explaining what’s going on. In the process, Tokyo Ghoul has once again taken on something of the air of tragedy it had in the first season – a story of fundamentally good people caught in a no-win situation and headed for disaster. Most of the time that was mainly Kaneki, but while he’s very much connected to what happened this week, the focus was squarely on Yoshimura – and that’s a welcome development.
It’s no exaggeration to say we’ve been waiting on Yoshimura’s backstory since the very first episode of Tokyo Ghoul, and in the event it’s not too different than I imagined it. I’d long suspected that he was The Owl, but apparently there are two “Owls” – Yoshimura and his child, the One-eyed Owl. Yoshimura recounts his story to Kaneki over (naturally) coffee, and speaks of a young man named Kuzen – a ghoul of terrible power who killed both humans and his own kind, and was eventually recruited into a powerful ghoul gang (an early Aogiri Tree?). But even in the group, he was always alone – that is, until a young waitress at a coffee shop managed to get past his defenses and reach his heart.
This is a tragic story pretty much from the beginning, though Kuzen and the girl named Ukina (Kotobuki Minako) were certainly in love. They conceived a child, but apparently a “miracle” is required for a child conceived between ghoul father and human mother to be born. What that miracle is exactly isn’t clear, but it’s strongly insinuated that it means Ukina has to mimic ghoul feeding behavior for the child inside her to survive. And survive it does, but sadly Ukina’s life is lost not long after the child is born – she’s murdered by what I assume to be members of Kuzen’s old gang. Kuzen saves the child, but it seems that child (whose gender is never stated, but who has the same green hair color as the crazy author Takatsuki, who’s stirring up trouble for Anteiku with Shinohara) is going to grow up to be just as violent as its father was in his youth. And it’s the pain of this ordeal that drives Kuzen to become The Owl in the first place.
All of this is set off against a series of marvelously atmospheric and melancholy scenes at Anteiku: a busy day with a shop full of customers, Touka and her friend talking about dreams of the future, a light snow falling from a windless sky. This is clearly the calm before the storm, and it’s clear from Yoshimura’s contemplative mood that he’s soaking in these peaceful moments because he knows they’re about to end. He’s sending Touka and Hinami away on the pretense that the shop is going to be remodeled, but the truth is obvious – he knows the CCG is onto him, and he’s preparing for the battle that’s to come.
Once again, I find the scene featuring Yoshimura and Shinohara especially powerful. This time Shinohara stops by late (perhaps even after closing) and Yoshimura joins him for a cup of coffee and a chat about coffee that’s not really about coffee. The real tragedy of the situation is stark here – these are both decent and sober men, neither of whom seems to bear any ill will towards the other, yet they’re both caught up in an unavoidable path to bloodshed. The past is a powerful thing, not easily forgotten or forgiven, but what Yoshimura engineered for the 20th Ward certainly seems better than any alternative we’ve seen so far. That fragile peace seems to be at an end, though – there’s simply too much entrenched malice on both sides for it to stand.
Just what Ken’s role in the coming battle will be isn’t yet clear, but the tone of the episode suggests it’s one The Owl isn’t likely to survive. That leads me to think Ken’s eventual destiny is to step into Yoshimura’s place as the protector of those at Anteiku, and possibly as the lonely advocate for coexistence between ghouls and humans. That task seems a mountain too high for Ken or indeed anyone to climb – even Yoshimura was only able to carve out a small island of stability in an ocean of chaos – but it’s hard to see Tokyo Ghoul going where it needs to go as a story unless Ken takes that task on his shoulders.