Well, I wish we had gotten this week’s episode last week. What then would we do with this week’s episode? Who knows. Maybe tie up some loose ends since this episode is all about Ken. Nearly everything you saw in the previous episode does not make a lick of difference here. The finale is all about Ken’s fall from grace, and hell, that’s fine. We’ve reached the thematic highpoint of the story, so I’m okay with the story ending here. I can see how the story might lack closure for others, though. We have no clue whatsoever how Ken’s friends are doing. Still, Tokyo Ghoul is at its best when it focuses on the characters’ psychology; the fight scenes are just one of many ways to help deliver that story. The problem with last week’s episode was that not only was it nonsensical on many levels, it was never really about the characters. In fact, the past three weeks failed to focus much on anything but the bare bones of the plot. Things moved briskly in order for Studio Pierrot to squeeze an entire arc into just four episode. Naturally, Ken’s torture deserves an episode all to itself, so really, they had even less time to work with.
But you know what? I will give credit where credit’s due: I feel that Studio Pierrot did this episode right. Is the episode perfect? No, but it’s a strong one. It reminds me of what the anime does best. Is the series still flawed, especially towards the end? Very much so, but at least we salvaged something out of the disaster that was the past three weeks. Like I’ve said, we finally do see Ken’s mental torture. I initially thought we wouldn’t after how the previous episode had ended, but I see Studio Pierrot pulled the ol’ switcheroo on us. Or, if you’re being charitable, you can call it foreshadowing, but it’s pretty weak foreshadowing if that’s the case. But moving on, we even revisit some very key themes established at the very start of the series. Why do you suppose Ken is in chains even in his own mind? It’s because Rize is his torturer in this world. Yamori is assaulting our hero’s body, and using this to her advantage, Rize attacks Ken’s mind as well as everything he holds dear. After all, she’s been trying to corrupt him ever since he became a ghoul. She only now senses that she has the perfect opportunity to get the job done.
Sitting amidst a field of white flowers — white being the color of innocence and purity — a shuddering, sobbing Ken feels a feminine hand reach out and caress him. He instinctively calls out for his mother, but when his blindfold falls off, he realizes that it is none other than Rize standing before him. Wherever Rize stands, the white flowers beneath her feet turn to red — red being the color for anger and hatred, but also love and sex (the sight of flowers blooming is also symbolic of one’s burgeoning sexuality). In other words, she is literally corrupting the flowers as she touches them. What does that tell us when we see her touching Ken? Rize then asks about Ken’s mother, whom our hero remembers fondly. But that’s not what Rize wants, is it? In the very first memory that we see, a white flower that Ken’s mother had cut suddenly turns to red; like with the flowers she had walked on in the previous scene, Rize’s here to corrupt Ken’s memories of his own mother as well. You can even see both Rize and the red flower lurking in the background in this shot. Her goal is to tear Ken’s mother down in his own mind, because Ken bases so much of his personality on what he had learned from his mother.
Ken believes it is better to be hurt than to hurt others thanks to his mother and his mother alone. This is one of the primary reasons why he resistant against accepting his ghoul self. After all, a ghoul derives his or power from consuming flesh. A ghoul’s very existence requires others to get hurt. Throughout the series, Ken drives himself to the brink of death simply because he’s hesitant to eat what he needs to eat. But what if Rize could cause Ken to lose faith in his own mother? Ken’s foundation would no longer lie with his actual mother, but with Rize, who had had a hand in creating his current self. So in order for Ken to accept his ghoul side, he must also accept Rize as a mother figure. He must see that Rize is someone who can protect him, because that’s the role that mothers play in almost every culture. To facilitate this, Rize makes our hero see that his actual mother had worked herself too hard for her sister’s sake. And in doing so, she had neglected Ken, her own son. And for all that she’s taught him, look where it has gotten him. He’s absolutely defenseless against Yamori, because he’s just too soft-hearted. Ken’s mother couldn’t protect him from loneliness back then, and she can’t protect him from Yamori’s torture now.
Rize, on the other hand, can give Ken the power that he needs to stand up and fight for himself. Yamori even taunts Ken along this same line of reasoning: “All of the disadvantage in this world stems from a person’s lack of ability.” Our hero has the ability to overcome his torture; he has the ability to stop all of this, but why isn’t he doing anything? ‘Cause he’s frozen with fear. After all this time, and after all that he’s been through, he’s fearful of hurting people just like his mother was fearful of hurting her sister. She didn’t realize that her fear inadvertently hurt her son, just like how Ken’s inability to fight back prevented him from protecting the people he supposedly cares about. Back in the real world, Yamori puts Ken to the task. He must choose to save one of two people. If Ken refuses to make a decision, Yamori will simply kill them both. Naturally, Ken does nothing; in fact, he is unable to do anything. Inability grips him because he is afraid to make a decision. His kind-hearted nature can’t help him navigate these dilemmas. It’s better to be hurt than to hurt others? What if no matter what you do, someone will get hurt? What then? In the end, his indecision becomes a decision of its own — a decision not to save anyone but himself from the guilt of having to make the decision.
Of course, you could argue that Yamori would’ve killed them both anyway even if Ken had made a decision, but that just brings us back to the fact that he’s weak. This is why Rize goes on to say, “Your mother was the same way. If she had turned aside her intolerable sister’s requests, she wouldn’t have died from overwork.” Ken’s mother thought she was just putting all of the burden onto herself, but without realizing it, she put it on Ken too. So in this moment of despair, our hero finally believes he is weak because he is too much like his mother. Rejecting his human side is thus like rejecting his mother. In doing so, he’s embracing what he and Rize have in common: their ghoul side. Make no mistake about it, Rize then calls Ken a good boy when he abandon his mother’s teachings. She then flat out asks, “Are you saying you accept me?” Ken doesn’t exactly say yes. Instead, he breaks free from his bondage and pins Rize down, claiming that he can always surpass her. You can’t tell me that this moment isn’t supposed to be sexual when our hero adopts a dominant sexual position on top of the woman he had once foolishly tried to date. And gosh, this same woman has been trying all episode long to tear down Ken’s memories of his own mother.
But why? Why are things suddenly sexual between him and Rize? Well, he was in bondage as Rize caressed and teased him, so you could argue that this scene was always sort of sexual. But more to the point, Ken never had his mother to himself. He was a lonely child, remember? During a childhood developmental stage in which children typically have their mother all to themselves, Ken never got to posses his own mother. This is something most of us eventually grow out of; we accept that we can be independent from our mothers. But thanks to what Ken had to suffer through in his youth, he still has this hang-up — this need to possess the mother figure because she was always too busy for him. So in accepting Rize in this twisted way, Ken can have it both ways. He can have the strength he wants from embracing both Rize and his ghoul side, but he can also possess her. And y’know what? The funniest part was people trying to tell me at the start of the season that I was seeing things. Oh no, dude, Rize isn’t trying to be a mother figure! And there’s nothing sexual about any of this! Meanwhile, we only see from a distance that Ken is enjoying Rize’s flesh… in his own mind, of course, which hammers home the fact that his imbibing of her flesh is metaphorical.
Sex, people, it’s all about sex. Our world is inundated with sex. Stop trying to deny it.