Tokyo Ghoul: re premiered over a month ago but because of several factors, I could not review it; until now that is. I have always unironically loved the first two seasons, despite their problems. Tokyo Ghoul: √A is actually my favorite one so far (I have not read the manga, so I’m not too mad about it). Even with me liking the previous two seasons, I have not been blind to their problems especially in the writing department. And so, it was with great excitement that I embarked on watching the new season, but the butterfly effect of diverging too much from the manga is starting to affect the show and not in a good way…
“They blend into the crowd, and feed on human flesh. They have human forms…but they are something other than human. People call them…”ghouls”
Before I say anything about the episode, I must mention the opening sequence which has quickly become one of my favorites. The song, “Asphyxia” by Cö shu Nie, is hard rock but distorted and undercut with some amazing harmonies. The cinematography that accompanies the song is quite stellar, utilizing multiple scenes and color palettes to its fullest extent. It somewhat reminds me of “The Wold” from Death Note, although it bugs me that Tokyo Ghoul’s opening is not nearly as theme-heavy. Still, I think that “Unravel” from Season 1 is the better song.
Before I get into anything, I must say that this review contains lots of spoilers. So be wary of proceeding from here!
Kuki Urie, 2nd Grade Investigator, and the Quinx Squad’s Captain, has just found out that a taxi driver is a ghoul. A fight ensues and Urie is unarmed and about to be eaten by the ghoul before Ginshi Shirazu shows up just in time. The two have a conversation in the middle of the fight, which has grave consequences since the ghoul attacks again and Shirazu is pinned down.
But he’s totally okay since his left eye turns black with a red pupil in the middle, indicating that he’s a one-eyed ghoul. The ghoul is shocked at this but Urie reassures him that they are not ghoul but quinxes – humans who use the abilities of ghouls. Urie’s arm changes and he attacks and overpowers the ghoul. Oh, but he’s not dead! He moves again and is about to kill Urie but someone else shows up and cuts off his kagune before any damage is done.
The second scene is back at the CCG headquarters where the investigators are talking about the attack from the previous night. Apparently Urie had attacked the ghoul thinking that it was someone named Torso, but he wasn’t. We learn that the investigator who saved Urie is Haise Sasaki, a 1st Grade Investigator and Quinx Squad Member. The other investigators are apprehensive about the Quinx thing, saying it’s a bit iffy to put ghoul abilities into a human. One of them also accuses Haise of being a ghoul, which is telling, but he gets interrupted by Mado who is apparently Haise’s boss or something. After the meeting, Mado punches Haise (calls it a Mado Punch – seriously?) and tells him to lose his kindness while fighting or it will kill him.
The next scene has some ghoul called Orochi kill another ghoul for… reasons. He first inquires if the other knows who Torso is and is given a negative response. It’s not clear why any of this is happening but we’re moving on.
Urie and Shirazu are walking down a street and Shirazu chastises him for being unfriendly, saying that Mr. Sass told them to act more as a team. Urie responds by saying that he does not wish to stay under “1st Grade Sasaki” and will work to get promoted to S3 in no time. He tells Shirazu not to slow him down, Shirazu does not like being ordered around by Urie (although Urie is the team captain), and it looks like they’re going to fight. They’re interrupted by a flash and a camera clicking. Some girl asks them if they’re looking for Torso….
At the doctor’s office, Toru Mutsuki is getting his(?) blood drawn. The doctor asks if he has already produced his kagune and Mutsuki affirms the negative. Apparently Mutsuki and Urie are the only ones who go for their regular check ups. Mutsuki leaves, promising to get the others to visit the doctor more often.
The photographer girl is revealed to be Chie Hori. She sells the pictures she takes and trades information while she’s at it. She has a photograph of one of Torso’s predatory sites and charges one million yen… or a personal item from Haise Sasaki. Urie and Shirazu meet separately after and it’s revealed that Hori will only give the rest of her information after she receives payment. Shirazu wants to let Haise know but Urie is not in for it. He states that the operation will be distributed equally among the whole squad if they let Haise know – also Haise is their mentor. Urie also points out that Shirazu needs the money so they need to be careful. At any rate, they need to do well and get promoted so that they can get the money.
Haise and Mutsuki are having dinner when Urie and Shirazu walk in – there’s also someone else called Saiko but whatever. The latecomers refuse dinner but Urie informs Haise that he and Shirazu will catch Torso on their own. Haise tells Mutsuki that they too will try to catch Torso, so as to show Urie and Shirazu when “Sasaki means business”.
At Cochlea, the ghoul prison, Haise and Mutsuki interrogate Donato Porpora. They inquire about Torso. It is revealed that he is a ghoul who targets women and takes just their torsos (creepy!). Donato spews a bunch of stuff we already know and confirms that Urie was right in targeting a taxi driver.
We finally get to meet Torso, who is operating a cab occupied by another female ghoul. She tells him to curb his eating as he is attracting the attention of the ‘doves’ (CCG). She also thinks (to herself) that quinxes sound a lot like her Big Brother. This then means that she is Hinami and the person she is thinking about is Ken Kaneki.
We get back to Urie and Shirazu who have met with Chie and given her Haise’s underpants. She gives them a photo of one of Torso’s victims (though her face is pretty much hidden). She says the picture was taken by a high definition camera only found in specific places, and the person who took the picture was a certain Karao Saeki.
Mutsuki is sitting on a bench, flashing back to him and Haise figuring out that all of Torso’s victims had chest injuries. They decide that Torso is picking up his victims from hospitals around the kill areas and they split up to investigate the separate institutions. Haise tells Mutsuki not to engage anyone suspicious on his own… which is definitely a flag. At any rate, Mutsuki miraculously spots Torso just as a victim is about to enter his cab. He decides not to follow his Mentor’s advise and hops in.
Urie and Shirazu are riding around on Shirazu’s motorcycle when Urie gets an alert from Mutsuki, indicating that Torso has been identified. In the cab, Mutsuki and Torso start to fight and the former is easily overpowered. Urie and Shirazu catch up and Torso freaks out since he does not have his ghoul mask at hand. Shirazu fails to puncture Torso’s tires and a cop car starts tailing them, but Urie diffuses the situation by asking them to help catch Torso. It doesn’t go too well as the cops are killed but Torso can’t go any further since the road has been blocked up ahead.
A fight ensues and Mutsuki escapes while Urie and Shirazu engage with the enemy. He can’t get his kagune to come out which infuriates him. Meanwhile, Urie and Shirazu are having problems as Torso’s kagune is regenerating too quickly. They plan to arrest Torso – as killing him is out of the question – when Orochi shows up to complicate things. Orochi easily overpowers Urie and Shirazu and is about to kill Mutsuki when Shirazu saves him and orders a retreat. This prompts a flashback from Urie, remembering when his father was announced dead by two ghoul investigators. He refuses a retreat and begins to pray to himself so as to activate his kagune. The entire time, he repeats “promotion” over and over again.
Orochi charges at the three of them but is stopped by Haise. Haise, too, finds trouble in subduing Orochi and orders them to retreat. Orochi hits them again and Haise hears a voice telling him that he is weak. Oh look, it’s Kaneki in the room where Jason tortured him (Season 1)! Kaneki tells Haise that the latter needs him but Haise refuses to let him take control. He takes off his coat, activates his kagune, and cracks his finger. Kaneki, anyone?
It feels like the producers skipped two or three episodes before the pilot. There are a lot of characters introduced without properly showing who they are. It seems that they think having text at the top that ‘explains’ who this people are solves the problem, but it creates an even bigger one. International fans who do not understand Japanese now have to read the stuff at the top as well as the subtitles, which is quite dizzying.
Also, when is this happening? Two months after the raid of Anteiku? A year? It’s not clear at all. The continuity between this episode and the last season is almost non-existent. The end of the anime indicates that Haise is actually Kaneki but how did this happen? People who haven’t read the manga are probably going to be really confused here.
Haise is very similar to Kaneki pre-ghoulification but the tonal resonance from his character stands out in a bad way. This comes across painfully when Haise is ‘angered’ by Urie and Shirazu going off on their own. It was like I stopped watching a gritty anime and started watching a comedic slice-of-life melodrama. At first, I thought the writers/director wanted to show that not all is well with Kaneki but upon further retrospection, it seems like this scene was meant to add a lighter tone to the episode. It’s just not done well and the transition is a bit cringe-inducing and not at all necessary.
The characterization leaves a lot to be desired. Because the writers have jumped straight into the action, we miss out on being properly introduced to the characters and learning who they are and what their motivations are. This is painfully evident in two characters: Haise/Kaneki and Urie. As I mentioned above, the writers don’t seed Haise’s current situation well. They’re probably going to make this be about him gaining his memories later on and that’s fine, as long as they properly pace this.
Regarding Urie, I can understand where they’re going with the character, but he is just not compelling. I think cool, level-headed characters are good if they are well done. Urie is angry most of the time, for the most bizarre reasons, and we don’t get to see any other attributes of him. He is the typical shounen protagonist who is guarded, distrustful, but badass™ all the same. He is also pretty rude. There’s literally no one he gets along with and he has a really short temper concerning the smallest of things. He is ambitious for a reason… but we don’t know what the reason is.
I hope we get better explanations as the anime goes on. This is only the first episode out of twelve so there is lots of room to rectify things. I hope the new quinxes are properly written. So far, only Mutsuki is interesting as a character. I have a feeling that I will not like Urie as the season closes and I can’t really say that I care for Shirazu and I’m ambivalent to Saiko. That ending scene has ,e hyped though, I can’t wait to see Kaneki!