This review contains spoilers for Tokyo Ghoul.
After enduring torture at the hands of Jason, Ken Kaneki decides to embraces his ghoul half and consume the body of his tormentor. Despite his friends coming to his aid, it’s too late, Kaneki is a changed man and no longer wishes to turn back to the quiet life at the coffee shop. Instead he’s decided to turn his back on them and join the Aogiri Tree, much to Touka’s dismay. But with the CCG drawing ever closer to eradicating the One Eyed Owl and Aogiri Tree, will Kaneki ever find a place in this world?
On paper Tokyo Ghoul √A looks like a seamless continuation of the first season; the opening episode plays out like the long-overdue season finale that we should have seen at the end of Tokyo Ghoul with Kaneki closing the door on his human life, choosing to embrace his ghoulish nature. Plot-wise the two stream perfectly together; however, it slowly becomes clear after the first episode that the two are not so joined at the hip, and not just because the animation budget takes a hit for the first few episodes.
For the first season, even though we had several ghouls and humans hogging the spotlight and receiving character development, the main voice of the series was Kaneki. We heard his inner voice and saw things from his perspective; he was the audience surrogate whom we watched suffer and learn to adapt to his new ghoulish ways. In Tokyo Ghoul √A we no longer hear his inner voice and because he joins one of the more aggressive (near antagonistic) ghoul groups, he’s no longer the proxy of the audience, he distances himself from the others as well as us, therefore the narrative is shared amongst cast members we’ve already met as well as a few new additions. This change obviously has its pros and cons. The positives are mostly reserved for the cast that carry on from the first season that get more time in the spotlight, especially the human characters that have more of a say as to why they want to eradicate all ghouls. Their actions are not waved away or forgiven but given relatable motives via how they view of the world, adding to the ‘shades of grey’ view point that Tokyo Ghoul excels at. The negatives first appear early on with Kaneki as he continues to grow and go through some serious mentally challenging situations; having his inner voice would have added more of an emotional punch, similar to the heart-breaking scenes we endured for the season finale of Tokyo Ghoul, but sadly it’s lacking here so it’s an emotionally colder series as a result. The other side effect lies with the newer characters that were either introduced in the last episodes of season one or beginning of √A; the series tries to cram in their tragic backstory into a handful (or sometimes just the one) scene in an episode to make the audience feel sympathy for them, and just before they’re fatally wounded, killed, or written off the show. It happens enough times to be noticeable and frustrating to sit through; you can’t expect us to feel sorry for a character suffering a life-threatening wound after one scene explaining how horrible their life was, when we got several episodes in the first season revealing in great detail why each ghoul has to do the things they do to survive.
Tokyo Ghoul shook a lot of fans during its initial run due to its graphical bloody gore, and its intimate showing of it. That’s also changed in √A; of course by now the shock of seeing such bloodshed has worn off, but instead of trying to up its game to the point of having overblown blood everywhere like some series to maintain its ‘edgy’ appeal, √A instead goes for a broader spectrum of gore, showing the brutality of fight scenes (of which there are more) and having the cast gasp at Kaneki’s new ‘taste’ for flesh. This may disappoint some audiences but this was the best way to go; going for more outrageous blood fountains and eating flesh carnage would have eventually worn out its welcome or worse, turning it into a comical exploit, rather than the horrific action it’s meant to be.
The first season also left the audience with many unanswered questions; the nature of each ghoul’s personal attacks and why some are stronger than others just being one. Does √A answer all questions left hanging? Not only does it not, but instead adds more. The biggest early example is what a Kakuja is – the ghouls act like it’s a ghastly thing to turn into, and the audience with no manga knowledge can gather that it’s a somewhat nastier version of a typical ghoul – but how so? Why does it happen? How did it come to be known in the first place? There’s also the whole backstory of the One Eyed Owl, and the numerous characters such as Armia showing up in the last few episodes, apparently being CCG’s ace member, but we know nothing about him and why he ends up taking the last scenes of the series that had next to nothing to do with him. As a result, the overall conclusion of the series fails to tie up all the loose ends it opens in the first place. There are a few OVAs tied to the series (currently not out in the UK) that may or may not help remedy the situation, but it seems that the series left things open in hopes of a sequel…which is currently up for debate. Manga fans will have plenty of reasons to feel smug by the end of the series, is the best way to describe it.
Yutaka Yamada returns to provide the score for the series and seems to favour inserting random English songs into the soundtrack. Credit where it’s due; the English is mostly very good, however for the first half of the series every episode ends on a different English song, often out of the blue and tonally doesn’t work with the scene, strange addition indeed. New opening song ‘Incompetence’ by Muno is backed by a very artsy animation, with accompanying strange lyrics and a voice that sounds like a cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, however the song lacks compared to the soul-screaming ‘unravel’ the first season had. Luckily there’s a stunning acoustic version of said song that’s played out during the final scenes of the √A. Ending theme (The Seasons Die Out, One After Another ) is provided by Amazarashi, it’s very different to People In A Box’s efforts, being far more uplifting musically and lyrically but it works extremely well, especially as the series builds towards the climax.
Blu-ray extras include commentaries for episodes 1, 7 & 12, Japanese and US trailers for Tokyo Ghoul √A, textless opening, and trailers for other anime – it has the same problem as the first season; advertising series only currently available in the US (however one series Black Butler: Book of Circus has JUST been licensed for UK so it’s not as bad).
Tokyo Ghoul √A is no doubt still an engaging show with splendid action, relatable characters and intriguing ideas, but its overall progression and ending will leave behind mixed emotions. Ken Kaneki’s emotional journey has reached a conclusion but there’s still many questions left unanswered. It’s not a simple case of ‘read the manga’ ending; the anime tried to conclude it admirably but mostly failed to bring in all the meat from the original source material, so has to settle for making do with what it could. Tokyo Ghoul, both seasons, are a worthwhile watch overall and worthy of any anime fan’s collection, but what ultimately you take from the end of it will depend on whether you need all questions answered and endings to be fully settled when the credits roll.
Anime Quick Information
- Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A
- UK Publisher: Anime Limited
- Genre: Horror, Drama, Action, Fantasy, Supernatural
- Director: Shuhei Morita
- Studio: Studio Pierrot
- Type: TV series
- Year: 2015
- DVD Release Date: 13th Jun. 2016
- Run Time: 288 minutes
- Classification: 15