Yakusoku no Neverland – 01 (First Impressions) – Green Acres

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Look at how happy everyone is at this country orphanage! Clean white clothes, soft, warm beds, good food, plenty of friends, and fresh air…and a “Mama” that loves and cares for them all! What’s not to like?

Three 11-year-old “elite” orphans named Ray, Norman, and Emma distinguish themselves with their smarts and athletic ability. These three are the oldest at the “House”; everyone leaves the orphanage at age 12, but no one has a clear idea where they go and what they do.

All they know is, no one has ever written back. Ah well, they’re probably having too much fun, right?!

The boundaries of the orphanage are not particularly stout, but a warning from Mama is enough to keep even Norman, Ray and Emma from crossing them. And while she’s not yet 12, the day arrives when lil’ Conny is to leave the House, and she gets a warm sendoff. She promises she’ll write back.

Conny has already left the orphanage, escorted by a wordless and very creepily-lit Mama, when Emma discovers she forgot her stuffed bunny. Well that won’t do at all, will it? She has to reunite Conny with her treasure! Norman decides to tag along.

They will both come to regret doing so.

Once they cross the gate (Norman says they’ll “get scolded together” for the transgression) they come upon a truck; the first either of them has ever seen. And in the back of the truck is Conny, only she’s dead, and there are flowers sprouting out of her chest.

Utterly shocked, Norman and Emma just have time to hide under the truck when monsters arrive to collect Conny’s corpse, going on about how it’s “high quality human flesh for the rich.” That’s right: Norman, Emma, Ray, Conny and all the others are free-range children. The orphanage is a farm. And they’re meat.

Norman and Emma just manage to slink away before a monster smells and discovers them, but they leave the bunny behind, so Mama, AKA Isabella, knows someone was there. They’re alive for now, but along with Ray, they’re going to be the next kids to be killed and shipped off to be eaten by some kind of well-to-do monster gourmands.

Emma and Norman return to the House, forever changed and scared out of their wits. But Norman decides that he’s not going to let anyone else follow Conny’s fate. They’re going to get out of there, along with all the other orphans. It’s just a matter of strategy, and if any kids can do it, it’s the elite three. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I highly doubt Conny is the last victim.

Even as little hints spring up here and there in the first half that Not All Is Well, Yakusoku no Neverland is masterful at holding us in suspense until the big horrifying reveal, mercilessly upending the world of three kids. Emma’s initial face mirrored my own upon seeing Conny.

That was one hell of a start, and it’s pretty easy to root for children to escape the fate of being killed and eaten. But of course, once such a bullet is shot, it is shot; the show will have to find new ways to shock us now that we know the gist. I’m guessing they have plenty more horrors in store for us.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 06

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Ken’s flesh really does the trick, as Touka unleashes her kagune at full strength and is able to take a good-size chunk out of Shuu. He’ll probably heal, but it will take a long time, during which everyone can escape. But Touka goes one step further: she wants to kill Kimi for seeing what she wasn’t supposed to see.

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Only when Touka’s about to kill her, Kimi doesn’t recoil or scream; she calls Touka “pretty”, something Touka simply didn’t have the capacity to process in that moment. Unable to kill her, she flies off, and later spends all her time locked in her room. Later, Ken tells her he hopes Kimi and Nishiki are, like her and Yoriko, examples of how humans and ghouls can coexist: as friends and family.

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Speaking of families, the Fueguchi’s do not have a good week. Hinami gets in a fight with her mom over not being able to see her dad, but eventually they make up. Meanwhile her dad Asaki is used as bait by Mado and Amon to lure the S-Class ghoul Jason into the light. They aren’t able to subdue him, and Jason escapes, but they kill Asaki as consolation, and start looking for his wife and daughter, using his scent to lure the latter.

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So far, Ken’s been teaching Hinami how to read the tougher kanji in her book; trying to contribute to some semblance of a normal life the girl should be able to lead, because aside from needing flesh to survive, that’s what she is: a normal, innocent girl. On this point, the Doves vehemently disagree, to the point of proclaiming disgust at the sight of the “mother-daughter act” before them.

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Hinami’s mom goes into Protector Mode, unleashing her kagune in an effort to buy time for Hinami’s escape that could well lead to her death, and while she doesn’t look like a pushover in the ghoul department, she’s outnumbered four-to-one. Now, as Hinami is about to be fresh out of parents, Ken will have to do a bit more than teach her kanji.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 05

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When you become a ghoul, you may not be able to eat human food, but it isn’t automatically the end of your old life. Even for those who aren’t half-ghoul like Ken, your human life lives on, and ghouls are given a choice: to continue living moral lives and do as little harm as possible, or turn into a binge-eating beast.

The former seems quite a bit more difficult than the latter. For the likes of the late Rize and Shuu, humans are no longer anything but fodder. Yoshimura, Touka, Hinami, and the rest of the mainstreaming ghouls at Anteiku and elsewhere, still see humans as having value, and not just value as food, which they very much are at the end of the day.

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It’s silly to argue that denying yourself something you not only desperately want, but need for survival, is a more natural state than simply eating whoever when you’re hungry and not worrying about anything else. Murderous ghouls may shrug off their behavior as no different than a lion taking a gazelle, but that’s a false defense, because lions didn’t have the choice they had.

Also, Shuu isn’t just eating for survival, but for fun (and possibly sexual release). Like George Costanza, he’s turned food and sex (though not TV) into one disgusting uncontrollable urge. He’s rich and powerful, but look how alone he is in his dark and airy mansion. It’s only a matter of time before he ends up like Rize. He’s a walking talking cautionary tale on how not to live a ghoul life.

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Then there are those who toe the line between the worlds of man and beast, like Nishio Nishiki, who is alive. I thought Ken killed him for sure, but I underestimated a ghoul’s ability to heal. I didn’t really think much of him when he was last defeated—bored, arrogant college playboy; a smaller-time Shuu—but this episode doesn’t just see fit to return to his story, but fully flesh out his past.

Ken rescues Nishiki from a gang of ghouls as they’re about to eat him (we don’t see the fight that ensues, but Yomo’s training is working), then meets Nishiki’s lover, Kimi (whom we saw in the second ep). Shuu, keepping an eye on Ken, then uses Kimi as bait, and Ken and a still-weak Nishiki go to Shuu’s to save her. Shuu wants to eat Ken while’s he’s eating Kimi. Lovely.

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Even Ken, Nishiki, and a just-in-time Touka aren’t close to being match for him, as Touka’s friend’s cooking has weakened her considerably (and Shuu suggests she was once colder and thus stronger “long ago.) During the battle’s halftime we get a sprawling flashback of how Nishiki and his sister lived in squalor as young ghouls, but managed to scrape by.

Nishiki’s sister was reported and taken away by Doves, leaving him alone and very much leaning towards becoming a vengeful monster. Then he meets Kimi, a human, at college, and they start a relationship. As it turns out, he saved her, as she had lost her entire family in an accident just before they met.

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After Ken blasted a hole in him, Nishiki was again saved by Kimi’s love, when she offers him flesh from her shoulder to heal him. This is why, back in the present, no matter how much Shuu beats him down, he won’t give up until he’s dead. Kimi is everything to Nishiki, and while he may not be a saint, he’s at least capable of seeing humans as more than meat, which means there’s hope for him.

Ken may not have seen the flashback we saw, but he gets the same idea Kimi had when he realizes no one will get out of Shuu’s mansion alive if Touka can’t get stronger. So willingly offers to her the very thing Shuu has been going mad trying to take by force: his half-human flesh. Like Popeye’s spinach, it looks like it will do the trick, though that fight will have to wait until next week.

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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: