Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 12 (Fin)

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Tokyo Ghoul Root A delivers a finale as still and austere as the previous episodes were flashy and frenetic. It was a hauntingly gorgeous episode so quiet and deliberate, every gesture and breath and ambient sound contained multitudes. Aside from the insert song, a stripped down version of the first season’s OP, there isn’t even any music telling us how to feel. It’s all in the artistry of the camerawork, lighting, and, of course, the characters we’ve come to know.

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More than anything, there’s a palpable feeling of finality to this finale, that a page is about to be turned. Ken starts in a kind of limbo, in the place that held so many happy memories for him. It’s as good a place as any for Hide to finally tell Ken that he knows he’s a ghoul.

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But Hide is in a bad way. The reveal of is injury is a masterpiece of careful unveiling, and the first sign that this truly is the end. Hide was an almost casual, neutral observer of everything Ken and Touka and everyone else have been through. Now that the show is ending, there’s no longer a need for such an observer, so in a way it makes sense for him to die here.

For Ken, his connection and lasting friendship with Hide, someone he had been estranged from going back to the first season, is the only bridge forged between ghoul and human. It was a bridge that was there from the start. If everyone in the CCG had a loved one turned ghoul, they’d likely all be a little more tolerant…and vice versa.

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Touka arrives at Anteiku to find it ablaze, apparently the work of Ken, again closing a door to the past before walking out with Hide. Touka sees his human eye and moves to meet him, but wreckage nearly crushes her; wreckage that came loose due to a ghoul’s weapon.

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Touka still follows Ken and finds him approaching the fortified CCG staging area bearing Hide, who may or may not be dead. At this point Touka’s path is barred again by Yomo, and my suspicion that Ken and Touka might never meet again is confirmed.

The episode really takes its time with Ken’s slow walk, both to and through the CCG ranks, but while it’s not perfect pacing-wise, it’s still some very powerful work, and it’s a credit to the show that it was able to slow things down so we could savor the end rather than choke it down.

Like a carefully-made cup of coffee, it takes quality ingredients, the proper tools, patience, and restraint, and TG exhibited all of the above with aplomb.

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Ken’s final scene is carrying Hide (echoing the show’s promo art) as various CCG soldiers gawk at him and helicopters swoop menacingly above him. These moments were suffused with thick tension as I pondered if and when the CCG would make a move.

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Ultimately, it falls to Arima to face Ken, who stops and puts hide down. But true to this finale’s minimalist atmosphere, we never see a fight, one-sided or no; only the click of the briefcase containing Arima’s quinque. I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence they both have white hair.

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Dawn rises upon Tokyo, Anteiku’s fires are out, and only Arima and a rapier-like quinque stand where Ken once was. The snow has stopped falling, the storm is over, and peace has returned to the city. Was it peace attained by Aogiri’s tactical withdrawal, in which case it’s only temporary? Was some kind of deal struck between Ken and Arima?

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“All we can do is live as we endure loss,” Yomo says to Touka as he stops her from going to Ken, who wasn’t coming back. And he’s right. You can’t just stand still and wallow in despair until it consumes you. The fact som many people on both sides did just that is what put them all on that costly collision course.

After the credits we see Touka has opened a cafe of her own. While cheerfully opening up, she allows a brief moment to gaze wistfully out at the block before her; perhaps she saw something or someone in the corner of her eye? But it’s only a brief moment that passes, and she goes on with her morning with a smile on her face, remembering, but enduring and living. Because that’s just what you gotta do.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 11

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Both the Ghouls and CCG take heavy losses this week—starting with Shinohara in the first two minutes—as the show perpetuates the idea that even those who desire peace are caught up in the tide of war, and be it honor, obligation, revenge, or simply love for one’s family (whatever form it may take) and home, there will never be a shortage of reasons to fight and keep fighting.

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CCG can’t rest on its laurels after defeating Anteiku, as Aogiri Tree descends upon them in force. Ken is among them, but he’d rather Kotarou simply let him pass so he can get to Anteiku. Nothing doing.

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Both remember their first encounter, in which they each blamed the other’s side for continuing the war. Ken spared Koutarou’s life and even saves some CCG grunts from falling debris right in front of him, but such small gestures, while appreciated, cannot make up for all of the death and destruction the Ghouls have caused to those Kotarou knows and loves.

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This unending urge to fight with one’s last breath, in order to pay the enemy back for a wrong, is illustrated by Juuzou’s attempts to fight Eto, who killed his adoptive father Shinohara and laughed about it. Eto flicks Juuzou away dozens of times, and breaks his leg, but Juuzou keeps getting up, until he’s laying hapless punches on Eto. No matter how little effect they have, Juuzou won’t stop fighting until his tank is empty.

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Under less drastic circumstances and with hands less tied by bad blood, Kotarou and Ken could simply sit down and have a nice long chat. But they can’t do anything here and now but fight and try to kill each other.

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And they come very damn close, fighting to a stalemate in which both of them fall. Ken falls last, however, and wanders around later, while Koutarou doesn’t get back up.

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Juuzou, and possibly the rest of the ravaged CCG, are saved by their version of Eto: Arima, a dude who doesn’t wear an Arata but has two ridiculously bad-ass quinques that allow him to calmly and methodically fight on the same level as Eto; perhaps above it, considering Eto is angry about Yoshimura being defeated, while Arima doesn’t seem to express any emotion whatsoever.

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Touka remained out of the fight, which was probably for the best, but while I was hoping she’d find Ken bleeding to death in the alley, the episode ends without them crossing paths. Frankly, I wonder if they’ll ever meet again, considering we only have one more episode to work with.

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No, it turns out to be Hideyoshi who carries Ken to Anteiku, which is ironically a pretty safe place to be now that the battle is pretty much over. It occurs to me I may have been all wrong about Koutarou being the human representative to entreat with Ken to hammer out some kind of peace or at least cease-fire. Hide is human, after all, and by all appearances he continues to consider Ken a friend, if not his best friend.

So after an episode of pointless fighting, death, and despair and futility, we end with an ever-so-slight glimmer of hope, with two old friends reuniting for the first time in a while.

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Even that glimmer is threatened by the post-credits scene, where Eto spits out Yoshimura, who breathes still, and returns to her human form (a pretty awesome sequence to behold, I might add). Another reunion is achieved, though at this point I’m not sure what Eto intends to do with Yoshimura, or if she’d have the slightest interest in peace with humans.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 04

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Tokyo Ghoul combines lots of concepts and themes familiar to me through other shows, animated or not, and elaborates upon, improves, or polishes them to a sheen, resulting in an end product that is greater than the sum of those appropriated parts. Four shows that came to mind were The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (the newer one), and Bleach. A strange trio, I know.

First, this episode started out like X-Files, what with the odd-couple investigators diving into a dark secret-of-the week. Amon mirrored Mulder in the bearing of his traumatic event from the past that shaped the man he is today: having to pay a visit to a ghoul who once ran the orphanage where Amon grew up. Akira is Scully, questioning why they’re even there and turning out to be right about it probably being a bad idea.

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That’s because the day they’ve come to the Ghoul internment facility is the same day Aogiri Tree planned a massive attack, turning the quiet detective episode into an all-out spectacle. Few shows did bold spectacles better than Battlestar, and the creepily-cloaked Aogiri forces massing atop the prison, then descending upon the norma-looking prison guards below, reminded me of a swarm of implacable Cylon raiders going in for the kill. This is going to be a bad day for many many people.

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One place where Koutarou and Akira definitely have Mulder and Scully beat is in the combat department, as neither embarrass themselves in the heated battle against those swarms. Akira just happened to be unlucky enough to come afoul of the childish yet lethal Naki, who bites her in the leg and renders her a non-factor for the duration.

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It’s the doves fighting with their quinques and the masked ghouls fighting with their kagunes…well that’s just Shinigami with their Zanpakutos versus Arrancar with their Resurrection. The difference being, in Bleach, battles were often handled one at a time, and at a very deliberate pace, often stretching several episodes. TG compresses and distills the elaborate character and weapon designs and myriad battles into one bonanza of an episode with a lot more going on.

Then it has matchups that are clever, if unexpected, vehicles for fleshing out characters, like the black and white twins bumping into Suzu (who they know somehow) or Ayato facing his father…in the form of Shinohara’s armor.

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This is also just a good bonding experience for Koutarou and Akira, with the former invoking the words of the latter’s father about not letting up the fight even if you lose your arms and legs…the Black Knight mentality. Koutarou insists Akira not give up, and climb onto his shoulders while he handles the numerous but uncoordinated and fairly weak Aogiri third-stringers.

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Ken, meanwhile calmly walks about the facility, unfazed by everything around him. His role in the mission is limited to releasing a high-security captive in “Mr. Shachi.” You’d think he’d be grateful for being sprung, but he smells Rize on Ken and they initiate the fight that’s the centerpiece of the second half of the episode. These are two tough customers, but Ken is still inexperienced, and Shachi essentially toys with him.

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Even so, there’s a kind of inevitability to this fight, as if Ken was meant to be beaten senseless so that he can awaken an even stronger version of himself. He certainly seems to be on board with that, as he knows everyone he cares about (his “liabilities”) will die unless he get stronger. Eto stops Kamishiro from continuing his onslaught, while Ken sprouts a new and even more unsettling mask, something I can’t help but think Eto intended to happen.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 03

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I know, it’s early, but Tokyo Ghoul Root A has the makings of a rare sequel that surpases the original. It’s firing on all cylinders, both in  Ghoul/Dove conflict and in making us feel every inch of agonizing distance between people who were once so close and familiar they used to get on each other’s nerves. So much has changed, but people keep on keeping on with varying degrees of success.

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TG2 has also proven more adept than most shows at juggling a cast that was stupendously huge before all the new intros. It’s mixed things up wonderfully these past two episodes, and made interesting connections and re-connections between disparate characters, lending a sense of community.

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The characters aren’t having a sprawling or blurring effect I want to distance myself from; on the contrary, they’re drawing me in even closer. The conflux of characters in every shade of moral and mental gray, dotted will well-thought-out, punchy action set pieces like the opening attack on the police convoy (which black-and-white one-eyed sisters use to test Ken’s strength), and a script that crackles with poise, all set to a captivating soundtrack, and you see what I mean about all cylinders.

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As “Eyepatch” trashes police convoys and makes it on the news, we’re reminded Touka isn’t the only one he left behind; Hinami has a big-bro-shaped hole in her life now, and can’t help but talk about him, even though Touka rather wouldn’t. The next morning, she’s surprised to find Hinami all dolled up going out by herself (sort of; she has a chaperone) to a Takatsuki Sen book-signing. Hinami doesn’t want Touka to worry about her.

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When Nishiki stops by the cafe, he offers to show Touka Kamii University, where she’s thinking of attending herself. Little things like the fact she won’t stand out by not eating appeal to her, but it isn’t long until Ken’s dumb, innocent staring back at her: a wanted poster; a symbol that he can’t come back even if he wanted to anymore.

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Her heart sinks, but Hideyoshi, who’s been on the periphery of the show so far, steps in to help lift her spirits anyway he can. It’s been a while since these two have seen each other, but just hanging out with someone else who used to be close to Ken, whom she doesn’t have to put a brave face on for (like Hinami) comforts Touka. I particularly love this line by Hide:

“Come to think of it, he once had the lead part in a play! He was surprisingly good, too. He was quite an imposing presence on the stage. Whether it was him playing a part, or him putting on a mask, he always seemed to be saddled with things all unto himself.”

Hinami wanted Touka to reassure her that there must be a good reason Ken left. Hide helps restore a little hope in Touka’s heart that that is indeed the case.

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If Ken is putting on a grudging act, he’s playing a dangerous game, because between B&W and Eto, he still knows very little about his new Aogiri comrades. As for Eto…we finally see her unmasked in the most unexpected place: the book signing Hinami is attending! Turns out she’s the author Takatsuki Sen.

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I picked up on this fact because I recognized Sakamoto Maaya’s voice, and the camera was settling on the lower part of her grinning face, as it did at the end of last week’s episode. To have Eto sign a book she wrote for Hinami as a gift to Ken, the very guy she’s become interested in, is one of those awesome connections that feels both spontaneous and logical.

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Another interesting connection is Hide, whose delivery job affords him access to the CCG station, where he uses his friendly personality to get as much info on the eyepatch case out of Seido as he can (for what purpose I can’t yet fathom) until he’s shut down by a suspicious Akira. Though, to be fair, Akira is suspicious about everyone…but she’s also brilliant, and Natural Police, and Hide better watch himself, because I’m sure she’s watching him from here on out.

Oh yeah, Juuzou is given a new quinque, a huge scythe made from the deceased Jason which he names “Juuzou’s Jason.” Certainly not the most imaginative name, but it’s a frighteningly powerful weapon. Akira and Juuzou are cerebral and physical reminders that the Doves may have taken their licks, but they’re far from toothless in this fight.

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Such is the stength of the case right now, Ken only needs to show up in a couple brief scenes to be effective. Here, we see him take it upon himself to help the late Yamori’s inconsolable underling write the name “Yamori” properly. For some reason I was reminded of when he used to tutor Hinami.

Back at CCG, it’s not Akira who reaches a breakthrough in the case, but Saido (with considerable assistance from Houji). They determine through news reports and such that Eyepatch is Kaneki Ken, a Kamii University student who was injured by falling girders and given organ transplants without his consent from the woman beyond saving he was with at the time of the accident.

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With the Doves now hotter on Ken’s trail than ever, Hide studies the wanted signs he took down on campus, lamenting that Ken is making “such a nice girl worry about him.” But as she lies in bed, a faint smile comes to Touka: Maybe Ken is just out there playing a role, taking the stage and making a big show, for a good reason.

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Whatever that reason, Ken has buried himself in his part. Like last week, we close with them about to start another operation: this time at Cochlea, a ghoul internment center in the 23rd Ward. What fresh devilry—or moral ambiguity—lurks within those  maximum-security ramparts? Where will Ken’s performance lead him next?

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Tokyo Ghoul – 04

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This week picks up right where the last left off: Ken meeting the flamboyant ghoul “gourmet” and bon vivant, Tsukyama Shuu, voiced by Miyano Mamoru who purrs most of his lines with a silky menace. Shuu wastes no time invading Ken’s space and generally creeping him out, but he can’t help it: he is a man who likes the finer things, and Shuu’s scent is a fine thing indeed.

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While there was never any doubt that Ken was being led into another trap by another ghoul who doesn’t have his best interests at heart, before that happens Ken hangs out with ghouls who do: Yomo, Uta, and Itori are a trio of friends who go way back and have a bit of a wild past, but are now “mainstreaming.” Itori lets Ken know Rize’s death probably wasn’t a mere accident, while Yomo offers defense training after work.

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That training doesn’t progress very long before Ken is in some dire need of it. After a seemingly harmless meet-up at a cafe, Shuu, channeling Rize’s knack for predation-by-seduction and flattery, lures Ken to his mansion. After showering and dressing up to the nines, Ken is given a cup of drugged coffee than lifted up into a blood-spattered arena where the masked ghoul aristocracy looking down from opera balconies.

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It’s all very Eyes Wide Shut, and Ken looks well and truly screwed when a simply ginormous “scrapper” is loosed on him with all manner of cleavers and a saw that can cut through stone. But the shaved gorilla is slow and dumb, and the mortal peril draws out Ken’s ghoul side, shocking the crowd. Shuu shuts the fete down, killing the scrapper, and apologizes to Ken.

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It’s definitely a disquieting look into the bored, rich, seedy under-underbelly of ghoul society, but I like how Rize mocked it all as “playing at humanity” in a flashback that makes Shuu’s blood boil almost to the point of giving away the game too early. As a glutton, Rize embraced her primal, animal side, something Shuu seems intent on gussying up with pomp and pageantry. To her, that’s no better than mainstreaming; a form of self-neutering.

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Unlike Rize or Shuu—or practically anyone else, for that matter—Ken isn’t “playing at” being a human; he is still half of one. Once he figures out what he that and how to summon and control his power, he could do a lot of bad, but he could also do a lot of good. In either case, he can make a big difference, which is why he can’t keep letting himself get lured into traps, to say nothing of falling into the hands of the Doves.

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Stray Observations:

  • Sadly there’s not much Touka this week, though we do get a scene that demonstrates how hard it must be for a ghoul to mainstream, as her classmate offers her some food, which Touka is later unable to purge. Too much of that and she’ll get sick.
  • For a show that’s had mostly normal-sized and shape humans and ghouls alike, the scrapper was a bit too cartoonishly huge and muscular. It was just a silly design.
  • I’m also watching True Blood, so Shuu’s intense arousal of Ken’s scent reminded me of the way Sookie’s fairy blood gets vamps’ mouths watering.
  • There’s also a bit of Hannibal Lecter in Shuu’s mannerisms. Rather than a “foodie”, let’s call him a “fleshie.”

Tokyo Ghoul – 03

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Tokyo Ghoul got back on track this week by teaching us a lot more about Ghoul society, introducing a far more compelling adversary in the CCG (Customizable Card Game?), and having Ken come to terms with his new status and finally find a way to contribute. Overall it was a far more efficient, purposeful, and interesting outing than last week’s boss-of-the-week.

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First, Ken is lucky he was “turned” in the 20th Ward, which has the reputation of being one of the most peaceful Ghoul communities. He thought things were bad there, but it’s worse almost everywhere else, something he learns when Touka takes him to a rougher part of town to meet Uta, who measures him for a mask.

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Uta starts the realignment of Ken’s thinking by saying Touka’s far more than just a scary girl; she works diligently to balance her ghoul existence with her human life, as her boss Yoshimura has. There’s a neat scene where Yoshimura tells him how to eat human food. Appearences must be kept up; if Hide finds out Ken’s a ghoul, Touka has promised to kill Hide on the spot. (I enjoyed watching the many sides of Touka this week, from prickly to affable).

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The purpose of the mask is to hide one’s face in case the “Doves” descend upon you. The doves are what they call the CCG, a police-like organization operating out of a gleaming skyscraper that seems to have one goal in mind: ghoul-busting. Whether they only mean to keep the ghouls disorganized and in check or exterminate them outright, it’s a pretty odious business and a pretty strong allegory for racist social policy.

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These swine would even consider little Hinami, frightened daughter of the ward’s ghoul doctor who is being kept in hiding at Yoshimura’s cafe. Aside from her need for human flesh, she’s harmless and deserves to live as normal a life as she can. She and Ken bond over their mutual love of books. Yoshimura even has ghouls go on “shopping trips” to pick up suicide victims, avoiding killing. It’s a philosophy of “mainstreaming”; playing by as many of mankind’s rules as they possibly can.

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It’s also tremendously difficult, as Ken is quickly learning, and those who pull it off like Yoshimura and Touka deserve his admiration. We witness what happens to bold, reckless ghouls who cross the lines; they’re taken out one by one by the odd couple of CCG detectives: the young, stoic Amon and the slightly mad-scientist-y Mado. They’re ultimately after Rize, which means they’ll soon be on Ken’s trail.

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This episode excels in that it underlines how many new threats and hazards and difficulties Ken now faces, right up to the end when a menacing-looking guy in a blazing red suit barges in the cafe, apparently drawn there by Ken’s scent. But at the same time, it shows us that Ken’s life isn’t really that bad, that he’s starting to get that others have it far worse, and shows him all of the ways he can make this work.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 02

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I’m not sure if it was the less even animation, the wealth of scenes in which Ken is bawling or screaming, or that highly irritating OP song featuring a guy who fancies himself Imogen Heap; this second episode of Ghoul felt more of a chore than the first. Then again, the act of turning Ken was done; this was more about the realization of what he has become, and how ignoring his new needs will only lead to greater suffering.

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It’s a shame Ken is such an irritating little twerp most of the time, because his “flesh withdrawal”, made worse by hallucinations (or possibly something more) of Rize seductively egging him on, are effective and visceral, if a bit repetitive. But the focus of this episode is his relationship with his best/only friend and quasi-brother Hideyoshi, along with the awareness that ghouls aren’t simply showing up all over his world; they were always there and he just didn’t see them.

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Unfortunately, Hide comes off as a bit of a cypher himself: the ideal friend who is smarter than he looks (and he looks really dumb) who Ken can’t bear losing by going over to the flesh-eating side of things. But when Hide introduces Ken to Nishio, who is posing as a normal college student living a normal life, Nishio siezes the opportunity to again beat the crap out of Ken, then threaten Hide’s life, causing Ken’s (or rather Rize’s) kagune to sprout out of a desire to protect him.

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The kagunes are kind of silly looking and over-the-top; kind of the ghouls’ version of bankais. Hide’s is blue, while Ken has three or more, all red and sinister-looking. The colors of their fight scene are inverted so as not to show so much blood, which, like the heavily censored cold open, created more confusion and shrugging than actual excitement. This show is probably best watched uncensored, but I don’t have that option at present.

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In the end, Ken defeats Nishio fairly easily, but he can’t defeat his hunger. His dalliance in addressing that hunger puts him into a frenzy, and a crumpled Hide ceases being his treasured friend and just looks like irrestistable meal. Thankfully Touka appears (I assume she was following them; as Tokyo is kind of a big place), knocks him out, and she and her boss at the coffee shop (another ghoul) feed him while he’s out, ending his flesh-jonesing.

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The flashbacks that attempt to create a deep and meaningful bond between a character who has been doing little besides irritating us and his friend we’ve barely seen come off as a bit schmaltzy and generic. Where the heck is Ken’s family? Is Hide his only link to his human life? Seems that way. That makes the stakes of crossing over that much lower. You’re a ghoul now, dude…deal with it. The old cafe owner and Touka clearly have.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 01

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This show wasn’t on my initial Summer list, since from the admittedly very little I saw and read of it, I’d already seen it’s like before, with similarities to everything from Ao no Exorcist to True Blood. But with nothing else to watch, this first episode was to enticing to pass up, like the flesh laid out before Kaneki Ken. While it was impossible not to notice its many derivative elements, it was still a bloody fun romp.

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Many shows of this genre we’ve seen feature huge sprawling casts of various factions vying for power, but in the interests of easing us into its blood bath, the actors are thankfully kept as few as possible. There’s Ken, an utterly unremarkable bookworm of a kid with bangs that make him look ten years younger than he is, and there’s Rize, his gorgeous date, the true side of whom we see in the episode’s prologue, where she’s nude, enthusiastically gorging on flesh, and escaping a pursuer.

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With Rize, Hana-Kana gets to use both the cute/innocent and bad-ass/crazy/evil sides of her versatile voice. A ghoul—a vampire by any other name—she lures Ken somewhere secluded and attacks him with lustful vigor, totally throwing him, but not us, for a loop. He survives the assault when some steel girders fall on Rize, apparently killing her, and a doctor manages to fix him up, apparently by transplanting some of Rize’s still-intact organs.

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You can guess the rest: he becomes a ghoul himself…or rather a half-ghoul, which makes him unique (so far). Earlier in the episode he’s a bit of a tiresome pipsqueak, but watching the shadows literally close in upon him as he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, is nicely done. I particularly liked how all normal food and drink (given to him by his devoted best and only friend, Hide) now make him retch; now only human flesh will do.

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Like Haruto in Valvrave, he must choose to “resign his humanity”, although fate kind of chooses for him. When his nose leads him to a relatively kindly ghoul tucking into a fresh kill, their encounter is interrupted by Nishiki, an experienced ghoul and a heel who is ready to take over the dead Rize’s territory. He’s about to kill Nishiki when a girl named Touka shows up (Amamiya Sora in her first “tough girl” role).

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Touka was a waitress at the cafe where Ken meets Rize, and whom we imagine to be part of a more disciplined sect of ghouls than Rize or Nishiki. After dispatching the latter, she doles out some tough love to Ken, who is full-on Dr. Strangelove with his human side keeping his ghoul side from eating. Quick as a cat, she shoves the flesh right down Ken’s gullet, deciding for him that this is the way things are going to be.

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This is good, dark, twisted stuff; well-executed if not 100% (or even 50%) original. I liked how realistic, busy and richly-detailed the Tokyo backdrop appears, portraying the metropolis as one massive, seething buffet for Ken & Co. I’m hoping this episode wasn’t an anomaly in terms of either animation quality or amount of blood and gore for this show, because both were at a good level. I also appreciated that political claptrap was kept to a minimum.

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Car Cameos: