Tokyo Ghoul: Tokyo Ghoul Episodes 5 – 12

Episodes 5 – 12 (Warning: this review contains spoilers from the first paragraph)

It is the final episode of Tokyo Ghoul. Things are looking bad for Ken Kaneki because he is in the middle of being tortured by the most fearsome beast seen in the series: Yakumo, a muscle-bound leviathan clad in a white suit, with a crooked grin a mile wide and a walleyed stare. As Yakumo tears strips from Kaneki, our protagonist retreats away from the physical world into the mental one where he meets Rize, the woman from whom he got a set of organs after a fateful accident that turned him into a ghoul. Her connection with him is quite possibly the most intimate connection two people may share. If Ken lives, so does Rize. Whether she is a ghost, a real psychic presence, or Ken’s way of personifying his ghoul side is up for debate but she is never far from his reality, she represents his ghoul side and is constantly battling with his human side for control over his body.

At this critical juncture the two may both perish and it is all because Kaneki refuses to choose to take action, to choose to survive even if it is at the expense of others. He has always refused to choose despite learning about the harshness of reality. When he really needs to change, unleash the ghoul from inside, he prevaricates. His philosophy is: “It’s better to be hurt than to hurt others.” Rize explores and presents his most painful memories of failure and loss and offers up a simple philosophical riposte to his pacifism: “To live is to devour others.”

The clip and wrenching snap of Yakumo’s torture devices taking apart Kaneki’s body brings him back to the physical world and the terror he has been avoiding. Ken’s screams rise to an even higher pitch. Rize tells him all he has to do is change, let his humanity slip away and accept his new identity as a ghoul. And that’s what happens…

It is interesting to glance back at first impressions of an anime and find if expectations were met or thwarted. Tokyo Ghoul exceeded them and presented a dark-hearted conclusion that turned out to be carefully planned and excellently executed.

Shuhei Morita, the director, and Chuuji Mikasano, the writer, had a tricky path to negotiate in deciding how to adapt a much-respected manga into a twelve episode television series. With so much content to fit into a limited time-span they departed from their source, a decision which did not go without controversy as fans of the manga decried the changes to characters and the plot.

These criticisms hold some truth because there are moments when it feels as if more time could have been spent exploring the world, not least the intrigues between the different factions of ghouls and the different personalities. These doubts were most powerfully felt in the penultimate episode’s sprawling battle between CCG and the ghoul gang Aogiri, when multiple story arcs and a large roster of named characters came crashing together. The problems of the one cour length seemed likely to bring the whole show crashing down with an inevitable unsatisfying ending full of loose ends. However, by the end of the final episode, one can judge that their choices were the right ones for the limited circumstances faced by Morita and Studio Pierrot because the changes made have resulted in a fast-paced and compelling character study that culminates in a cohesive and gripping and brutally beautiful denouement which lays out all of Ken’s actions throughout the series and judges them ruthlessly in an emotionally and viscerally intense torture scene that doubles as a deconstruction of Kaneki’s values and the themes brought up in the show.

There has always been the sense that Ken was an innocent exploring a new world and the series used the instances he came into contact with others to reveal believable and interesting details. Kaneki discovered the intricacies of ghoul culture and felt first-hand the dangers of life as a hunted monster in Tokyo, the ideas of pacifist ghouls living off the scraps of human remains left by suicides, and the more militant ghouls tired of being persecuted. He met the wrath of human agents from CCG and tried to play the pacifist himself, even in the face of unrelenting violence. All of this challenged his notions on what it is to be alive and human.

As Tokyo Ghoul progressed it was clear that through Ken Kaneki the story was using its horror narrative to explore familiar themes of restraint in action, selflessness and self-sacrifice in an amoral world. We see how they might work in a world without pity and by the end of the series it is clear that the authors of the story are pretty damning in their conclusion, perhaps suggesting that cowardice is a driving force for Kaneki. There are so many episodes where Kaneki resisted acting and this put those he cares about in dire peril and even cost the life of a ghoul he liked. By the end he is confronted with all of the examples of his failure to act, the folly of inaction, and he is forced into a position where he must turn into a monster to survive and this happens in the most gruesome and grisly manner possible and we come back to the torture scene.

Tokyo Ghoul has never blanched at showing gore (although the black bars of censorship see things differently!) and it works effectively here and for a reason, because we need to see what makes Kaneki change from a passive character to a monster. The sound effects are cranked right up for every snap of a body part, the screams from Ken are ear-piercing. The visual details are visceral as the blood shed is so viscous as to have a tactile feeling and points for showing the discoloured bits and pieces that have grown back on Kaneki’s increasingly mauled and shattered body. The torturer, Yakumo, has always been a forceful presence in the show and becomes a genuinely scary antagonist, a psychopathic and sadistic torturer. This feeling is heightened because Yakumo is voiced with such wild gusto by Rintarou Nishi that it becomes unbearably intense (Nishi deserves an award for his performance!) when he is in a scene.

Just as interesting is the mental battle going on in Kaneki’s head as Rize, voiced by Kana Hanazawa who is majestic here. Both seductive and mocking, she drags up past moments from the series and scenes from Kaneki’s tragic background as an orphan. She takes to systematically destroying everything that holds up Kaneki’s world view including his mother, the source of his moral foundation. Natsuki Hanae as Kaneki does a great job screaming in pain but is absolutely heart-breaking when he sobs over his mother and those he has lost at the moment he is pushed to breaking point and must decide whether to turn against all of his valued notions. By the end Kaneki has turned into a completely different person from the innocent we met and the OP “Unravel” and its lyrics come into sharp focus as they reveal the changes Kaneki has undergone. He is no longer a victim of circumstances, he is a protagonist who can make change happen but he had to be broken and forced to shed his good-natured self and turn to the dark side.

And then the anime ended! Viewers are left in exquisite agony with the open-ending which finished with the transformation of Ken Kaneki who was (believably) reshaped into a person completely different from who he was at the very beginning of the show. All of the experiences taken from the manga were utilised perfectly for an ending that reached operatic heights. If no second season was coming this would leave the audience in agony as to what would happen to all of the characters. Thankfully, a second season is on its way. During the week Tokyo Ghoul’s final episode aired it was announced that Sui Ishida’s manga was coming to an end at Chapter 143 and that a sequel for the anime is in the works ready to launch in January of next year.

Tokyo Ghoul has defined itself as a horror story with a set of compelling characters and themes that culminated in a final episode that was a brutal and bloody capping off of a well-drawn character arc. If it was not for the skill brought to bear in the final episode, the whole series might not have worked but what we got was a fun ride. It is hard to deny that a two cour run would have worked better but thanks to perfect planning it came together. It will be interesting to see if the show will be granted more freedom next year which will allow it to take advantage of the source material but whatever form the anime takes, Ken Kaneki’s compelling journey is going to continue and I, for one, cannot wait to see what he has matured into after the first season’s breath-taking finale.

9 / 10


I'm a long-time anime and Japanese film and culture fan who has lived in the country and is studying Japanese in an effort to become fluent. I write about films, anime, and work on various things.

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