What a strange series this is. There’s definitely some Kiseijuu in its genes, but the spin it puts on its tragic storyline is novel and interesting. But for every moment where it seems as if the series is going to fully exploit the inherent pathos in its premise, there’s one where it spins off on a tangent or loses itself in an extended, mind-numbing bloodbath. For every time we get deeply into the head of a really interesting character, we’re bombarded with two new ones and given little reason to care about them. And for every moment of abstract beauty or directorial flair, there’s a patch of jumpy animation, off-model characters or bad choreography.
I’ve said this before, but given a choice between shows that are really good some of the time and really subpar some of the time and shows that are just generally so-so, I’ll always take the former. That’s in spite of the fact that those are the far more frustrating series to follow, because they’re always teasing you with how good they can be and then breaking your heart when they crash back to Earth. I’ve seen far worse cases than Tokyo Ghoul, which in my view is never awful even when it’s off its game – but this is definitely a show that falls into this category.
I think we saw in this episode what the limitations to the approach taken by “Root A” are. It’s a payoff episode, naturally enough as the season is ending – but the payoff really hasn’t been earned. As with the big battle at the end of Season 1 (though not quite to the same extent) we see a long, drawn-out massacre that relies too heavily on characters we barely know (unless we’ve read the manga). What’s the name of the guy with the moustache? Why is this Arima guy such a badass? Just why are these ghouls at the head of Aogiri as sadistic as they are? We may have gotten hints at some of this during this season, but it’s hard to keep is all straight when it all flies by the camera in a blink, and ever harder to really care.
I think a big part of the schizophrenic nature of “Root A” stems from the fact that it never really seemed to decide if it was anime specifically for manga readers or for the general audience. So it’s really no surprise that the best parts of this episode involved the characters we know well – Kaneki’s duel with Amon, Shinohara’s act of sacrifice and Juuzo’s subsequent pathetic “battle” with the One-eyed Owl (confirmed to be Eto, as I figured), Takizawa’s (not unexpected, as it’s been flagged pretty hard) meeting with destiny.
Sadly, it seems as if the characters on both sides who actually have a bit of perspective and decency are being killed off systematically – though as I speak of Shinohara and Yoshimura perhaps I should rethink that assessment based on the last scene of the episode. It seems as if Tokyo Ghoul may just be approaching Aldnoah.Zero levels of fake deaths – and here, you can’t be sure even if you have seen the body. The really tragic thing here is this fight didn’t have to happen – Shinohara went after Anteiku based on old wounds, not fresh threats. As for Ken’s duel with Amon, we get an actual acknowledgement from the latter that there ought to be something better than reflexively killing each other – though not any kind of follow-up action. And Ken manages to suppress his kakuja, which I think we can safely assume is the only reason Amon is alive (and I think it’s pretty safe to assume he is).
The other big confrontation of the episode is between Eto and the mysterious Arima, who I guess we’re just supposed to accept is the most overpowered agent the CCG has. And indeed, he certainly gets the better of her, though she’s already killed (unless he isn’t dead) Shinohara by this point – though strangely, she leaves Juuzou alive. Beaten, the One-eyed Owl flies away – but not before swallowing Yoshimura’s body. Later, she regurgitates it and and confirms what was already pretty obvious – he was (in fact, is) her father.
That ending… The thing is, I really like Yoshimura – as I said last week I consider him the true hero of Tokyo Ghoul, even if Kaneki is the protagonist. But his death was handled so well, and it seemed to make such poetic and prosaic sense at this point in the story, that I feel cheated that he didn’t die after all. It makes last week’s emotional crescendo feel somehow hollow and false in hindsight. We’ll see where that goes – and the other interesting thread to follow is that Hide has (after seeing Takizawa meet a grisly fate) finally outed himself to Ken, who’s taken refuge in the wreckage of Anteiku to sleep off the wounds Amon gave him because Ken was too merciful to kill him outright. This friendship was one of the best things about the first half of the first season, but it’s been a complete non-factor since – I’ll be fascinated to see how the rest of that conversation goes.