In the catalogue of adjectives that swirl amidst existence, perhaps the most commonly affixed to life itself is “unpredictable”. Left turns, right turns, zigging when it should be zagging, this most ephemeral of concepts is truly a fickle one. This, of course, is only compounded should ones particular iteration of life involve flesh eating monsters, near-superhuman police officers and an overall vibe of malice and terror. However, through these circumstances, the term unpredictable bends and buckles, it pivots and shifts until it no longer resembles its initial definition, taking on instead a more malicious meaning and a seemingly more purposeful darkness. For despite the apparent impartialness of a concept, life can more often be cruel than kind.
So…season one ended pretty harshly didn’t it? Now, to save us all a little time, I’ll go ahead and answer this for all of us; yes. Tortured in a way that made us all rethink wanting that regeneration superpower, poor old Kaneki is no longer the kid who we met in the first episode. Twisted by his experiences, and now sporting a funky fresh hair colour, our protagonist has ceased his monologues on peace and acceptance, instead opting for silence and beating up humans. So in short, a total 180. Now, from a storyline perspective, this is an interesting turn. Though not unfounded, heroes shifting allegiances is generally reserved for unseen set up or the establishment of a cliff hangar. But not this time, no, this time we get an episode one side shift that leaves us with plenty of time to unravel Kaneki’s motivations, witness his actions and deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, this does not happen to any acceptable degree. Spoiler warning for anyone who didn’t pick it up immediately, Kaneki’s reason for allying with Aogiri (the villainous faction in question) was to protect his friends. You know, learn the ways of combat from the fight hungry ghouls that plague Japan and utilise those skills to keep his loved ones safe. A solid reason, as well as one that shows Kaneki is still very much lying within his new stoic facade. That being said, this is not a big twist and I get the distinct feeling that the series wanted it to be. With his motivations revealed to Touka through some not-so-subtle hints and assumptive dialogue, nothing of note changes. Nobody villains catch on to his ruse (because I’m pretty sure they all know anyway), no heroes come to his aid, no ancillary characters piece anything together. Thus, a scene that has all the trimmings of a big reveal transforms into a sequence that blends into the timeline. Though to be fair the encounter does make Touka smile and, after having been downgraded from awesome ghoul girl to side character who doesn’t do much at all, she deserves that.
Bouncing off that point, allow me to sum up the vibe of this series as I have come to understand it; a series of short stories trapped within a plotline. Arcing off the first season, √A goes to great lengths to pad the world of Tokyo Ghoul, exploring the characters that comprise the greater cast and providing reasons for their actions. Which is neat. However, in doing so, the series simply seems distracted from its initial premise and spread much to thin. From Kaneki’s sombre turn to the dark side, we visit the human side of the war equation and witness Amon adjusting to his new partner Akira, the daughter of his former partner/mentor. A moment for us to delve more into Kaneki’s parallel? Yes, yes it is. Actually a buddy cop style storyline revolving around a confluence of emotions and protocol, topped with a workplace comedy? Yes, yes it was. Now while I do not decry a little lightness here and there, the overall pacing of this plot aspect, as well as the series in general, left this feeling like a cliche slice of a slice of life. From cold hearted genius rookie to confused love interest in record speed, I honestly didn’t care enough about Akira for her connection to Amon to mean anything…not that my feelings for Amon were particularly strong. He’s stoic, he’s stubborn, he’s by the book, I get it. In fact, I got it back in the first season. And, despite the arrival of a love interest, I do not feel as if any of this has changed, a feeling I extend to much of the cast, if not all of it. The shortness of this Amon/Akira plot, the cutout natures of the characters within, this extends to each and every story present, hence my comment about being spread to thin (sorry if I got a touch distracted from that). Good guy cop (not Amon), malicious cop, bad guy Ghoul, good guy Ghoul, innocents, guilties, bystanders, conspirators, all the core groups you want to hit in a story, but without the uniqueness that breaks them from the mold. I hold no misconceptions, every character ever created can be put into a category, that’s just a fact. However it is the job of a story to make you forget this fact, to build upon this framework and produce a character you can care about, that you can differentiate from all those like them. Tokyo Ghoul does not do this. I do not feel as if any character was their own existence. Simply, they were the archetype needed to push the story forward. I assume this is also the reason that the series felt as if it could simply insert characters with zero backstory and have them comprise climactic combat scenes. Some form of super ghoul and an unseen super police officer? Reserved for a spontaneous last episode appearance. Now to be fair, the super ghoul was vaguely referenced in the episode prior, but as for the Dove (officer), zero warning, zero explanation, zero impact on the story. Made even worse by the character’s utterances that he was awesome, like we were dumb for not knowing who he is. Which is not a good vibe for a series to exert.
Adding on to the argument regarding the rushed nature of the subplots, I would also like to add the addendum that everything in this series is far too connected for its own good. On more than one occasion, characters were revealed to have been connected on multiple unforseen levels, completely destroying any sense of mystery or chance previously established. Again, whilst a useful tool and interesting concept, the lack of moderation completely nullifies this effect. The most egregious example of this revolves around the mystery of the One Eyed Owl, which I will now cover with no regard for spoilers. Long proclaimed as the strongest Ghoul in existence, we come to learn that this demonic entity is a natural born half-Ghoul and is in fact the child of Anteiku’s owner, Yoshimura. Now, whilst this goes a way to explain his particular opinions regarding Ghoul-human relations, the series feels as if this is not enough and takes this reveal a step further. Not only connected to Anteiku, the Owl also happens to be the bandaged member of Aogiri, the very same member who seems to hold some degree of interest in Kaneki. Mysterious…and not yet finished. No, there’s one more level to this my friends, yes, the Owl also happens to be the ditsy girl who befriended Hinami during her trip to the bookstore. What? Three connections? How interesting, almost as if it was on purpose…except for one little thing, on last nagging issue I have. you see, the reason Hinami meet the Owl unbeknownst is that she just so happens to be the author who Kaneki loves, the one he has always loved, the one whose books he was reading in the first episode and prior, before any of this Ghoulish business began…why? I don’t know. It’s all just too neat. Why did the Owl have to be so much to so many, even when there was no precedent? It just reeks of meta interference and cuts any strings suspending your disbelief when it comes to happenstance and organic connections, which, for a series devoted to building a world, is not a great aspect to have.
Coming off of the season that preceded it, Tokyo Ghoul √A is an oxymoronically obvious and subtle pivot. Whereas the series initially focused on Kaneki’s personal experience and development through his half-Ghoul existence, this season instead placed the world itself as the primary character, whilst those within it were used as a tool to support it. Again, while this is an interesting framing device, too much remained from its previous iteration, making Kaneki’s sudden removal from the forefront of the story seem random at best. Combined with the improbable connections and shallow rapidity that plagues each sub-story, √A comes across as disjointed and structurally hectic when compared to its origins. Yet another problematic layer is spawned from the inherent feeling that this anime is an adaptation that trimmed detail in order to spur the story forwards. As previously mentioned, certain characters receive little to no introduction and yet hold a fairly decent place within the events that unfold. The actual mechanics of the world are also left in the air as characters offhandedly mention facts which we as the audience have no knowledge of. RC Cells, RC Suppression Gas, the Kagune themselves, the newly important Kakuja, all important elements that are far more mysterious than is necessary, especially considering that they are apparently widespread knowledge in-universe. Though I appreciate the slow discovery that can follow along with a story, this is not one of those situations and simply results in frustration.
As it stands, Tokyo Ghoul √A is not an amazing series. Though far from the worst offering I have ever seen in the sequel department, it does not stand up that well when compared with its precursor. Having shifted from its personable tale to a more worldly nature, √A does not utilise the strengths of this change in a way that justifies it. Each story feels rushed, each character feels like the mere beginnings of a character and the overall conclusion of the series does not feel entirely earned, nor does it carry the weight the finale of a two season long story should. Which is a shame. That being said, and in order to end with a little praise, the visuals of the Kagune are still interesting, suitably creepy and the violence committed with them is just as blood heavy as ever. My personal favourite moment/aspect of the series however is of the aural variety and one I shall leave a little on the vague side, with the hopes of spurning your interest. Let me just say that frantic, atonal piano is one heck of a powerful way to represent insanity…and that centipedes are 100% as frightening as you thought they were.
If the Madman eludes your sight, look inward