Tokyo Ghoul Ep. 8: Breaking the cycle

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Watching Hinami in her current state, I’m more convinced than ever that Touka shouldn’t have tried to do anything. That’s not to say she can’t eventually restore justice for Hinami and her deceased parents. That’s also not to say she has to run from the doves forever. But what everyone — and not just Touka — should’ve focused on, more than anything, was Hinami’s mental state. She’s just a child. She has no proper understanding of death and loss. But all of a sudden, she’s lost both her parents. Her refusal to listen to Touka and leave the waterways may seem stupid to us, but again, she’s just a child. She’s operating on nothing but pure emotions right now. Painful emotions, too. Mado and his ilk will always be there for Touka to take down eventually. They weren’t going to go anywhere. If Touka had concerned herself more with Hinami’s sake, however, rather than this misguided need to achieve justice right away, then perhaps she wouldn’t be in this mess where she needs to protect Hinami and fend Mado off at the same time.

But don’t get me wrong. I extend my sympathies to Touka too, though not quite to the same extent. After all, she is substantially older than Hinami; she is nearing adulthood, in fact. As a result, I expect Touka to be smarter, wiser, and more attentive to the situation around her. At the same time, though, because we are constantly inundated with super smart and super capable teenagers in anime, we sometimes forget that these characters are still just a bunch of kids. At the end of the day, Touka is just 16. Hell, I know what it’s like to be 16; I know what it’s like to feel as though I knew everything, and we must take the right course of action at all costs. As a result, I don’t hate Touka for feeling strongly about justice. We all want justice. It takes some growing up to realize, however, that justice isn’t always the most important thing. I just wish our heroine had considered Hinami’s feelings more before taking action: “I don’t care… about revenge. I’m just sad, that’s all. I miss Mom and Dad. I’m just sad….” When the truth finally comes out, this saves Touka. She does eventually kill Mado, but it wasn’t out of revenge. She took Mado’s life out of necessity; she needed to protect Hinami, something she should’ve done all along.

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Watching Touka and Amon mirror each other word for word, you’re reminded of a sad reality that occurs all too often around the world. When both sides are too consumed with anguish, they eventually become blinded by hate. After that, they can no longer step back and take stock of the entire situation. According to Amon, his friend died senselessly by Touka’s hand. At the same time, however, Hinami’s parents died senselessly at Mado’s hand. So what are we to do? All too often, people want to assign blame. All too often, people are more concerned with restoring justice first and foremost. In fact, restoring justice is often conflated with being the solution to all of society’s ills.  When a situation is this fucked up, however, assigning blame can’t be the primary concern. Let me use an example. My roommate cooks a pot of food, but then leaves it out overnight. When I wake up, I notice that the entire apartment now smells like shit. Oh yeah, my roommate is nowhere to be found. Obviously, my roommate is at fault. Obviously, the ideal solution is to have him clean up the mess. But again, he’s nowhere to be found. So what do we do? Are we just going to sit there and let the rotten food continue to stink up the house? Or do fix the situation first, then worry about assigning blame later?

It’s the same problem here. Yes, innocent victims have died senselessly, but violence only begets violence. Vengeance only begets vengeance. People act on their emotions. Even of Touka manages to get her vengeance on the doves, it would only enrage the doves and make them seek vengeance. Amon is the perfect example of this. Is he an evil bastard like Mado? No, of course not. But rage and grief he feels over his friend’s death has blinded him enough that he now wants to seek vengeance. As flawed human beings, we tend to act on our emotions. Sometimes it helps us, but sometimes, it doesn’t. People need to realize, of course, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Vengeance may seem like justice to you, but it never occurs in a vacuum. Vengeance will inevitably piss someone else off, which then forces them to act on their emotions and go on their own misguided crusade for justice. The cycle will sadly repeat itself forever and ever until one side is too weak to fight back. The only way out of this is to humble oneself and clean up the mess in the kitchen, even if it isn’t really your fault.

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Ken’s gimp facade is pretty dumb from a personal taste standpoint. You’d never catch me wearing something like that. But what is a gimp? Rather, who is a gimp? Isn’t a gimp a submissive person? Isn’t a gimp usually male? Isn’t a gimp, to put it bluntly, someone’s sex slave? So what, then, does Ken’s mask tell us about him? Yes, he does have somewhat of a submissive personality, so it’s tempting to say the mask reflects Ken’s true character. It’s hard to say he’s a slave to sex, though. It’s also hard to say he’s been a very sexual creature even if he’s found himself in a few rather sexually charged situations (see: Rize, Sho). But like I’ve said in a previous post, a person’s mask doesn’t always serve to reveal his or her true identity. A person’s mask can speak to what he or she wants to become. So does that mean Ken wants to become a sex slave? Well, not exactly. But in order for him to defeat Amon, it does require him to call upon Rize for help. It does require him to give in to hedonism — her hedonism, in fact.

One of the primary complaints about Ken is that he’s weak, naive, and ineffectual. As I’ve been arguing this entire time, however, our hero’s weakness is partly due to the fact that he’s lost. He’s caught between two worlds. On the one hand, he desperately wants to remain human, but on the other hand, he can deny what he has (biologically?) become: a ghoul. We cannot simply ignore the flesh just because our mind desires otherwise. People grapple with their true identities for years. Some will sadly never reconcile the two disparate components that ultimately define them. But I digress. My point is that Ken’s human side is the reason why he appears weak. Recall how he was at the start of the series. He refused to consume human flesh because he didn’t think it was right. Even though he could have died, his all-too-human morality kept him from indulging his ravenous hunger. Ken’s inaction thus largely stems from his human side. Even now, he cannot act because he hesitates. He doesn’t operate on animal instincts like other ghouls seem to.

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You could then perhaps even say that Ken’s human side represents his superego. After all, just look at the way Ken has been bound by society’s laws and moralities. Just because he’s become a ghoul doesn’t mean he can ignore those same inhibitions overnight. Contrast this with the wild, “immoral” ghouls who will hunt and kill whenever they feel the need to eat. So long as Ken appears to us as a human, however, it is a sign that he can never fully let go of his inhibitions. He will hold himself back, constantly questioning his actions as both a ghoul and a human. More often than not, his human side will win out. In certain times of need, however, we do not have the luxury to stop and think. We must act and we must act quickly. We must go with our gut feeling. When Ken threw himself in Amon’s way, he acted on his gut feelings. He felt the need to protect not just Touka but Hinami as well. Hell, this isn’t even the first time Ken has given in to his desires. He went out of control when he needed to protect his best friend from Nishiki. Anyway, my point is that the gimp mask is a reflection to of this need to give in more often. It’s a reflection of Ken telling himself that sometimes he just needs to act and become a slave to his appetites.

This isn’t to say that the answer is for Ken to let go of his human side completely. Even when he gives in to the Rize inside him, he tells himself that he won’t lose sight of who he is. Perhaps the true strength of a half-ghoul lies in one’s ability to strike that delicate balance between one’s animal instincts and one’s human self. In that sense, Ken isn’t the only half-ghoul in this story. Yes, he’s physically — literally, in fact — a half-ghoul, but you could also argue that, in spirit, the people at Anteiku are half-ghouls as well. Their ability to blend and take part in human society cannot be ignored. The primary theme of the story is that it is best to achieve balance. You may be physically 100% ghoul, but this doesn’t mean you necessarily lack personhood. I’d even go so far as to say Touka resembled a half-ghoul in spirit up until she became consumed by her desire to get revenge at all costs. Then all of a sudden, she started to ignore her friends’ opinions and feelings on the matter. She became too much of a slave to her own appetites, i.e. this hunger for vengeance. Seeing Hinami’s refusal to end Mado’s life, however, brings Touka back to her senses.

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But to bring this back to Ken, this is why his one ghoul eye turns back into a human eye. He realizes that he needs to be the one who brings balance to the conflict: “I’m the only one… who is aware of it… who can communicate it…” As a result, he doesn’t continue the cycle of vengeance. He could’ve killed Amon, but he lets the dove escape. He is doing what I’ve just talked about: fix the mess. And what’s the mess? What’s the reason this human vs. ghoul problem never seems to go away? It’s this need to constantly retaliate. It’s this need to take an eye for an eye. You’ve done me wrong, so now I need to hit you or else we won’t be even. Ken sees that mess in the kitchen, though. So Ken does what he can only do: he first shows Amon that he doesn’t need to fight back. That even though Ken appears to Amon as just another ghoul, he’s bigger than Amon will ever be. Still, Amon remained unconvinced, so for his friends’ sake, Ken finally gives in to the Rize inside him. Even so, however, Ken never directly attacked Amon. He simply went for Amon’s quinque.  Then once our hero had disarmed the dove, he fights his own desires and tells the latter to run. Ken simply knows that if he gets too caught up with assigning blame and meting out retributive justice, that pot of rotten food will sit there forever, stinking up the joint.

In the end, Touka removes one of Mado’s gloves to find his wedding band. She is left speechless when she likely realizes that the bloodthirsty dove has just been blinded by his need for vengeance. More importantly, she risks going down the same path. Still, it takes time for these realizations to set in. Likewise, you have to wonder what Amon will do now. He ends up discovering his partner’s dead body, and although it was plainly obvious to us that Mado had long been corrupted by his hate for ghouls, Amon nevertheless cries for the fallen dove. Ken’s display of mercy towards Amon may have given him a lot to think about, but it can’t help to see that yet another person you care about has just died at the hands of a ghoul. Just like it’ll take time for Touka to suss out how she wants to live out the rest of her life, I don’t expect Amon to instantly become an ally of ghouls anytime soon.

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Anyway, I rather enjoyed this episode. Sure, the action scenes by themselves weren’t too impressive from a technical standpoint, but you’re doing the show a disservice if you think it’s nothing more than just a bunch of shounen battles between humans and ghouls. So even though the animation could’ve been a whole lot better, it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m not really watching Tokyo Ghoul for the action.

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16 thoughts on “Tokyo Ghoul Ep. 8: Breaking the cycle”

  1. I’m glad when they showed the bag containing the head of Hinami’s mother they didn’t reveal the head itself. Somethings are better left unseen and left to the imagination. I thought that was a good bit of restraint on the shows part. Which got me to thinking that restraint is kind of a major theme in Tokyo Ghoul. Most of the shows’ antagonists have been defined by a lack of restraint (Rize, Mado, Nishiki & Shū). While characters like Renji & Yoshimura teach Ken discipline through self defense and human-behaviour training respectively.

    This also changes the way I look at Ken’s character. I think he understands just how powerful his ghoul side is. If he (and the author) really wanted to, he could become a powerful figure in the 20th ward at least physically. Instead, he hangs on to his humanity and only calls upon his Kagune when necessary. He isn’t just a character who is growing while actively restraining his hedonistic nature. In other words, he isn’t weak so much as he is suppressing his own power to grow emotionally as a person.

    I remember you said that Tokyo Ghoul was deceptively smart and I agree with you. Not just in it’s themes and ideas but in it’s execution as well. The difference between this and something like Akame ga Kill are night and day. Both shows try to tell grim, tragic stories of human nature. But while Akame ga Kill’s attempts at a grim atmosphere come off as strained and forced, Tokyo Ghoul does this as easily as breathing.

    In conclusion, Tokyo Ghoul is good.

    1. Its not restraint its over censorship. I do not view this shows crappy censoring as anything but crappy over reactive censoring. Even tho I like this shows story better fight scenes would be a huge plus. Episode 1 was perfect it set the atmosphere,story, and the fight scene between Jason and Rize was short and great leaving you with a want for more. Everything has been great but the action scenes.Actually the fights seem to have a more immature in tone than the rest of the show they just don’t have a sense of life or death. Or when some one is going to die it is painfully obvious ruining the suspense. Fight choreography plays a large part in a show. Due to how bad it is here it is making me not like the series as much I could have. It still gets a 8 out of ten but it really should be better in a series of this scale.Maybe I am just spoiled by Attack on Titan really polished and organic fights where you have no clue who is going to win most of the time.

      1. I think you misunderstood. When I talk about restraint as a theme, I mean in character behaviour and action. Plus, while censorship can be annoying, the scene(s) which I mentioned were less about censoring then it was about making a deliberate directorial choose. Like I said, sometimes you get more by showing less.

    2. In conclusion, Tokyo Ghoul is good.

      Yeah, it’s too bad it also seems to be the show that people instantly write off for one reason or another.

    3. And I think Tokyo Ghoul does the whole morally grey characters thing much better as well. AGK tries to be all “we’re really awful assassins, not heroes” but the good and bad guys is pretty clear cut. In this show I wouldn’t say there’s a “good” or “bad” faction, just people trying to survive however they can.

  2. Episode did have a whole lot of stiff animation, but unfortunately with multiple consecutive episodes having action it’s hard do justice to them all. Convincing action is something a limited number of talented animators can pull off, and most studios don’t have the resources to feature high profile animators on every single episode.
    This show actually does seem to have one or two good animators in each episode, but the stuff they end up animating is just a fraction of the whole fight.

  3. The further it gets into the season the more i’m convinced Tokyo Ghoul is the AOTS. The only other contender is Zankyou no Terror but it’s lacking something for me.

  4. Its weird Zankyou no Terror is the better series. But Tokyo Ghoul gets you way more emotionally attached and raises the better questions. I look more forward to to a new episode of Tokyo ghoul than Zankyou no Terror.

    1. Then how is it the “better” series? I find myself much more attached to Tokyo Ghoul which makes it “better” to me.

      1. Zankyou no Terror is paced and directed remarkably well by anime standards, and tells a compelling story, so at least on technical merit I would say it’s the better series. I like Tokyo Ghoul more, flaws and all, for the ideas its got and the questions it raises.

        It’s the difference between watching the Shawshank Redemption and coming away with nothing to say but “it was really good”, and seeing an old noir film with an over-convoluted plot and some awkward directing that nonetheless sparks a hundred ideas in your head which stick with you and your creative endeavors for weeks to come.

    2. I look forward to them for different reasons. I think Tokyo Ghoul has better characters, but the mystery behind Terror in Resonance draws me in a lot too. Plus, I want to know where the latter is going. With Tokyo Ghoul, there isn’t an overarching plot. It’s just the characters doing their best to survive.

  5. Having read the manga, I wasn’t too thrilled at the anime adaptation as like many people before me have said; too many contents skipped that give the story & setting so much more details and context. However I am struck by your analysis of the main character in the story about the theme of restraint, having read ahead I can definitely the theme throughout the manga and in the upcoming episode.

    On another note. I really do enjoy the foreshadowing that the story provides, It sort of reminds me of FMA where minor details in the early chapters really do foreshadow a lot of significant events head in the story. (not saying which scene) but episode 1,3 8 do have significant foreshadowing for upcoming story. All these details in retrospect only makes me love the story more.

    1. Having read the manga, I wasn’t too thrilled at the anime adaptation as like many people before me have said; too many contents skipped that give the story & setting so much more details and context.

      If they only had 13 episodes to work with, I think they’re doing the best they can with the adaptation. Of course, you could counter with, “Then don’t do the adaptation to begin with,” but it’s been done. And I think the adaptation is effective in what its trying to do within the the constraints that it has been given.

  6. I have a problem with the Kaneki scene in this episode. As a viewer sure we can appreciate the subtlety of what Kaneki does by not attacking at first but that’s the problem. Being subtle about something as important as that is just asking for your effort to go unnoticed. especially if your dealing with someone with such conviction. If my roommate leaves out the pot overnight and I clean it for him without saying anything and this becomes a regular thing, do I continue to do the same thing hoping he realizes what I’m doing. The thing with the Kaneki scene is that he just stood there taking hits most of the time instead of actually engaging this guy in a serious conversation.

    “What do I need to do to get through to him?” Kaneki says after he hears Amon ask if there was any reason for his friends to be killed, people who did nothing wrong. This is when Kaneki should have been asking him if there was any reason for Mrs. Ryoko to be killed and what of the innocent girl they recently orphaned. That would have been food for thought.

    The question of if ghouls should be allowed to live was brought up, but sadly seems to have been swept under the rug.

    1. If my roommate leaves out the pot overnight and I clean it for him without saying anything and this becomes a regular thing, do I continue to do the same thing hoping he realizes what I’m doing.

      No, you take care of the situation now, then afterwards, take steps to prevent from happening (e.g. kick him out). Just because I’m advocating fixing a dire situation doesn’t mean I’m telling you to be a doormat.

      The thing with the Kaneki scene is that he just stood there taking hits most of the time instead of actually engaging this guy in a serious conversation.

      Emotions were running high, and he did talk to the guy. Guy didn’t really listen. Actions speak louder than words, so he eventually decided to throwdown.

      This is when Kaneki should have been asking him if there was any reason for Mrs. Ryoko to be killed and what of the innocent girl they recently orphaned.

      Guy is getting beat up. I’d cut him some slack.

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