Review: Tokyo Ghoul Root A (Funimation February)

 

How do you write that? Tokyo Ghoul… Square Root A? Tokyo Ghoul Root A? Just… Tokyo Ghoul A? I guess the most correct way would be Tokyo Ghoul √A… but there’s also the question of how do you even pronounce it?

Anyway, this is the second season of Tokyo Ghoul. It was the second show I reviewed for Funimation February last year, so let’s make it the second one for this year too! This season picks up almost immediately where the first season left off, and going from there. But if you expected the second season to be more of the same, you’re sorely mistaken.

An Introduction

We once again meet up with our valiant young hero Kaneki Ken, as he and his fellow ghoul mates from Anteiku are in the midst of a giant battle with the Aogiri Tree, a violent vigilante gang from a few districts over. Soon enough, the Anteiku mates are able to fend off Aogiri Tree… and then Kaneki decides he’s gonna join them! Yeah, he’s valiant, alright.

So, as Kaneki runs off with his newfound friends, he leaves his buddies from Anteiku to start picking up the pieces and begin to return to a normal life. At the same time, the CCG is now redoubling its efforts to clean all of Tokyo of these ghoul pests…

The Plot and Characters

I know I’m not the first to complain about it, and I probably won’t be the last, but Kaneki’s distinct change in personality is weird, to say the least. In fact, from a writing perspective, I’d say it’s baffling and kind of stupid, to be honest. Kaneki, who was awkward, careful, and worried in the first season, has now suddenly become cold, distant, brooding, and power-hungry. Although he offers a reason for doing so partway into the season, the reasoning is about as thin as paper.

This ultimately makes Kaneki next to impossible to connect to, unlike the first season when he and us (the audience) were both exploring the world of ghouls together. Now that he’s become more disconnected, though, we see Touka be promoted to the main character status (being a major supporting role in the first season). We’ll see glimpses of Kaneki doing something ominous or dark throughout the series, but for the majority of the time, we’re following Touka and Amon, the CCG investigator who was a main character in the first season as well.

Touka and the rest of the Anteiku group are shown doing their best to return to a normal life, but for her and little Hinami, it’s kind of hard. Kaneki pretty much leaves with barely a goodbye, and you see her really struggle with his sudden disappearance. She’s sad, lonely, and, most of all, confused. In fact, it’s kind of hard not to feel for her at least a bit. I didn’t feel as connected to her as I did to Kaneki in the first season, but I think she does a fair enough job taking the main character role here.

On the CCG’s side, the organization is more shown as, well, an organization – all its agents working in a giant, chrome building with offices, meetings rooms, laboratories, and even a war room. Battles become more large coordinated assaults between the CCG and organized ghoul gangs, and less about the smaller duo combos of CCG investigators picking one-on-one or two-on-two fights like in season 1. After the death of Kureo Mado in the first season, we’re introduced to his daughter, Akira, as Amon’s new partner. Akira is super professional and dedicated to her work, and highly intelligent to boot. There are other CCG agents that we see more of as well, such as the unstable Suzuya – whom I grew to somewhat like.

While in the first season, it seemed like it was only a few steps away from becoming a nice metaphor for ethics or genocide, with one scene where Amon and Kaneki seemed just about to have a rational conversation with each other… none of that is present here. We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, end of story. There’s nothing really complex about this anymore; although the show still shows you a decent amount about the CCG and (feebly) attempts in some ways to humanize them, it definitely wants you to root for Touka, Kaneki, and the rest of the ghouls. It’s just another two-sided, black and white battle, and that’s it.

This season is a lot more focused on broodiness, freakiness, and action. Kaneki is dealing with the trauma he experienced at the end of season 1, newcomer Suzuya gets fleshed out, and more. There are still quieter, sweeter moments, but they’re fewer and farther between, and a lot of these moments are moments of sadness, focusing on Touka and Hinami. There are a number of major fights that occur in this season, all culiminating in a bleak, but also ungodly long ending scene in the final episode. I get that it’s supposed to feel emotional – and this show definitely tries to draw out as much emotion as it can from here – but given the events of this season, I found myself wondering “is this done yet?” more than anything else.

Frankly, what I enjoyed about Season 1 just doesn’t seem to be here anymore. There isn’t a complex morality thing at all anymore, there isn’t a character you can wholly relate to and root for with all your being, there’s no sense of community or family here, and the only big events here are just seeing (what’s essentially) armies clash with each other. This felt more like “just another action series”, and that wasn’t how I saw the first season. It’s not to say that what it turned into is terrible or anything, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

Summing it up, I can’t say I hate this season. It may have lowered my overall opinion about Tokyo Ghoul, but it isn’t the worst thing ever. The changes from the first season to this one make it a different show, though – not the one I signed up for when I watched the first episode of the first season.

The Atmosphere

Presentation-wise, this season continues pretty much the same as the first.

The action scenes tend to get darker and darker in coloration the further into the battles we go, but beyond that, the lighting is still the same. Anteiku still has that warm feel to it, the outside still looks bright and colorful, but everything has that tint of sadness and coldness to it. The CCG’s corporate headquarters is large and chrome, trying to look industrial and business-like, and their other buildings (such as the ghoul prison, Cochlea) all feature this similar look.

The fight choreography in this season is either really good or really bad, depending upon the scene. Was the first season actually this way too, and I just didn’t notice? Maybe… The kagunes and quinques are what makes this series stand apart from other action series, as extensions of their wielders. However, when the choreography is bad, the show really fails to make them stand out and look cool. I do like the designs of the kagunes and quinques, like in the first season, but I’ll admit that it feels kind of hard to distinguish a number of the kagunes apart. The special quinque armor that we see the CCG use looks a bit stupid to me, to be honest.

When it comes to the character designs, in general, they’re still pretty alright. A number of the new ghoul characters look kind of cool, like Kurona and Nashiro. The CCG still has its problem of the characters being hard to distinguish, especially since everyone is now in a suit and tie – this leads to me only remembering characters as “eyebrows guy” or “angry kid” and that’s it. Suzuya, though, is quite different, and I appreciate his design.

For this season, I saw a lot of it in both Japanese and English, although I don’t quite remember the Japanese side all too much anymore. The voice actors for Suzuya on both sides – Rie Kugimiya on the Japanese side, and Maxey Whitehead on the English side – are both pretty good and make him sound interesting and like a kid with weird, creepy interests. In total, I feel there really isn’t one side or another that I can full-heartedly recommend; it’s good enough between both that the one you choose should be enough to satisfy you. As is usual with watching anime, though, once you choose a subbed or dubbed side, it’s not quite easy to jump to the other.

It kind of feels like they were trying to go for this over-dramatic movie soundtrack for this season (and they probably did so, at least to some degree, in the first season too). These intense strings will play during tense moments, dirty synthesized sounds play during a heated moment in a battle, and the piano will saunter in during quieter moments. The soundtrack isn’t bad, but it also doesn’t stand out in any way. There is a pretty cool insert song called Glassy Sky that I do enjoy, but it plays 4 times throughout the season. By the third time, I was like “isn’t this that same song?” – it may be a bit overused.

The opening song, Munou, is an interesting one. I can’t say I dislike the song, but I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to it at all. The song has this off-kilter feel to it, even during its “prettier” parts, which I suppose isn’t too unfitting for this season. Its lyrics are weird. The opening animation, though, is fairly uninteresting, just showing a shirtless Kaneki standing there. I’m not usually a big proponent of skipping openings, but this one honestly doesn’t have anything at all that makes it worth watching 12 times.

The ending song though, I rather enjoy. I also really enjoy how the ending animation changes for each episode too, showing different characters and situations painted in this watercolor style the manga covers also use.

So yeah, skip the openings and watch the endings.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Although Tokyo Ghoul Root A picks up almost immediately after the first season ends, it sets off to go in a very different direction. The CCG unquestionably become the villains and the Anteiku crew become the good guys, while Kaneki just runs off with some random other ghouls for no good reason. A lot of what I personally liked about the first season – the gray morality, our connection to Kaneki – is missing. It isn’t a bad season, but to say I’m less than thrilled about it may be an understatement.

For fans of the first season, you may as well watch the first episode of this season to resolve how things ended off. However, after then, I’d say it’s up to you if you want to continue or not. The second season isn’t necessarily a waste of time, but it won’t be the same as the first. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if you decide to not even bother with it; I guess the worst that can happen, though, is you try a few episodes and see what you think.

Rating: Bad
Recommendation: Give It a Try
+++ ending theme and animation, Suzuya, connection to Touka
— anything and everything Kaneki, opening animation (song is decent), no complex morality

Review: Tokyo Ghoul (Funimation February!)

Like I’ve said in my Assassination Classroom review, action shows aren’t something I watch all too particularly often. This doesn’t mean the few-off action shows I watch aren’t fun, but it does mean I’m usually relatively behind on the times when it comes to watching these shows.

Here is yet another prime example: Tokyo Ghoul. The show has risen in popularity since its 2014 release, and despite an ever-growing number of people telling me I really need to give it a shot, Tokyo Ghoul was never at the front of my mind when I asked myself what show I should start next.

Finally, however, this show was pretty much presented in front of me without me even being able to protest. … Well, I guess I could’ve, but Tokyo Ghoul soon showed me I didn’t really have a reason to.

An Introduction

In an alternate universe, near-human beings have appeared and live relatively undetected among us humans, the ghouls. Ghouls live, breath, and enjoy life in almost every single way a human does… there’s just one prime difference: they eat human flesh to survive.

It’s created an uneasy disturbance between humanity and the ghouls. While most common people see ghouls as unfamiliar creatures that “would never eat someone like me”, some of humanity has become riled up enough to create an organization called the CCG, focused on the extermination of ghouls. On the opposite end, a number of ghouls simply wish to just survive, being horribly treated and oppressed by the CCG, although some ghouls have lashed back out in violence – and have even created organized criminal organizations to combat the CCG and to bring general chaos.

It’s in this turbulent world that we meet our main character, Kaneki Ken. Kaneki is a book-loving college guy, but after a fatal accident while on a “date” with a girl named Rize, who turned out to be a ghoul, he wakes up feeling different. An ethically-questionable surgery replaced his failing organs with those of the ghoul Rize. Soon enough, Kaneki discovers himself to be something quite rare: a half-ghoul.

Now awkwardly trying to keep his human side while also finding a way to deal with this new ghoulish sense of hunger, another ghoul named Touka delivers him to Anteiku, a small coffee shop in his neighborhood that doubles as a secret safe-haven for ghouls.

The Plot and Characters

The world of Tokyo Ghoul is a complex one, and I’m personally happy that this show doesn’t shy away from its complexities to only focus on Kaneki, and his plight as a human-turned-(half-)ghoul.

Although Kaneki is certainly the main character of the show, and he gets the majority of the screen time and focus, a decent amount of time is also spent on someone on the flip side of the coin: a 30-something CCG investigator named Amon. It provides a decent amount of insight into both sides of this conflict, and at its best moments, Tokyo Ghoul is able to show that neither side is really in the wrong here. The CCG, afraid of the ghouls and scared of what they could do to humanity, determined the ghouls are an enemy that must be stopped.

However, as the anime spends more time on Kaneki’s side of things, the CCG are more often than not painted in a bad light. The show does a really good job of showing the humanity (in essence and appearance, not in physicality) of these ghouls, showing them to also be caring and feeling, that simply want to live their lives, but are also stuck with necessity to eat human flesh. It really gets you to care for and connect to these characters, and to root for them as they continue to hope they can live without fear and persecution.

It seems inevitable, though, that violence enters into the picture with Tokyo Ghoul; this is an action show, after all. Although a lot of the violence in the first half of the series stems from Kaneki stumbling into various parts of the ghoul world/way of life, we soon see the CCG become the antagonist to the actions of the ghouls, and we finally see Amon (and company) fighting against Kaneki (and company). It leads to an even-bigger enemy appearing at the very end of the series as well.

Although there was one fairly emotional scene when Amon and Kaneki first stood face to face, where Kaneki tried to show he was peaceful… there really isn’t much effort on Kaneki’s side to try to open a line of communication between the two groups. Of course, when both are so enraged on the other side, it’s hard, but I feel Kaneki could’ve gone further.

The final episode of this show, as well, is a really fascinating one, especially for Kaneki. I won’t say much about him in this episode, but needless to say, we really see him begin to come into his own, and actually go through an entire character arc in one episode. The episode does it in an artistic, realistic, and disgusting way that makes you want to look away but yet stay glued to the screen the entire time… and it’s awesome. That being said, though, those looking for a resolution will not find that here at the end of this final episode.

However, you can probably get some sort of idea of what happens after the end of that episode. … And after you develop and believe in that idea, move on to the second season.

The Atmosphere

Tokyo Ghoul, probably unsurprisingly, is a very dark series. Blacks and dark greys are used throughout, and even in the scenes with warmer tones and a calmer atmosphere, the show still felt distant and uninviting with its colors and visuals. I wouldn’t expect it to allow me to get too comfortable, honestly, but it also seemed like it didn’t want me to ever be comfortable at all, while watching it.

The visuals doesn’t leave me with much to complain, but it doesn’t particularly awe me all that much either. It’s not hard to keep track of what’s going on in fights, even if the animation isn’t the most fluid. The slower scenes allow some of the more artistic background visuals to shine at times, though. All in all, though, the quality does stay pretty consistent, and I didn’t really notice any glaring issues.

However, there will be one scene that I’ll probably end up remembering for a good while: in episode 1, after Kaneki returns to his apartment, he tries out a variety of foods, and slowly (and with little dialogue) realizes that he can’t eat human food anymore – he’s a ghoul. The emotions of the scene were shown in Kaneki’s panicked, hurried actions, and his eventual crying at the end, and it was honestly kind of moving.

The character designs are pretty standard for a 2014 anime; it’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not pushing the envelope either – it’s safe. The design of Kureo Mado (Amon’s older/wiser CCG partner) is the only one that really stood out to me; the other standard designs actually became a problem for me. I ended up mixing up or not recognizing a number of the supporting cast simply because they weren’t distinguishable or different enough. On a related note, though, the designs of the quinques (the weapons the CCG use) were pretty cool (I liked them even more for story reasons that I won’t spoil).

The show’s soundtrack ranges from big and grandiose, to quiet and timid, when the scene so needed it to be. Of course, any decently done soundtrack can do so. The reliance upon strings and the occasional electronic instrument or vocal for the action scenes do lead to some pretty cool songs, though. The piano is brought out for the more quieter and somber moments, and it also serves the show fairly well.

Speaking of voice acting, since I watched Tokyo Ghoul first in Japanese, I’m more used to the Japanese voices. The performances of Shu Tsukiyama and Nishiki were my favorite. This is one of those shows where you’ll get attached to either the Japanese or the English side, though. I’ve listened to parts of the series in English, and although the English cast sounds overall fine, it still feels off because I’m so used to them in Japanese. Touka’s performance in English seems pretty decent, but I feel Austin Tindle as Kaneki isn’t the best at monologues.

If I really had to tell you which one to choose, I’d probably tell you to just watch the show in Japanese. The subtitles aren’t that bad to follow, anyway. That being said, whatever one you choose, you’re probably gonna end up not liking the other all that much.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

I really like the story of Tokyo Ghoul; it does a really good job of presenting the life of a ghoul, the troubles they face, the issues they want to save, and the eventual fighting that seems inevitable for them. It seems a bit of a shame that the show couldn’t completely show the CCG as morally grey though; I would’ve liked this show more if it were more dedicated to showing neither side as black or white. Kaneki’s plight is an adventure to watch, though, for sure.

Action fans will probably have already seen this. If action isn’t your main jam, though, it may get a bit more murky for you: the story is interesting and the show does allow you to connect with its characters, but you will also have to put up with a decent amount of gore. Give it a few episodes and see what you think.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ really allows to connect to the ghoul characters, the final episode, not straight good guys and bad guys
— could’ve gone further to show CCG as morally gray, Kaneki’s attempts to communicate with CCG could’ve been better, standard (not bad nor super-amazing) presentation