Review: Tokyo Ghoul √A
When the first series of Tokyo Ghoul ended it did so without resolution. Now we have √A (Root A), the follow up that continues the arc which was paused so abruptly, but isn’t quite the sequel you’d expect. In contrast to original we have an experimental series that changes focus, recharacterises its protagonist, and expands in an unexpected way.
I enjoyed Tokyo Ghoul, but although competent there was no doubt that it took a ‘by the numbers’ approach to anime. The visuals were nice and the fight scenes enjoyable, but it was also predictable and fell victim to the many of the genre’s oldest tropes. In particular we had a protagonist that could have been cut and pasted from countless shows with a similar premise. Young boy, strong morals, discovers he has hidden powers. Bored yet? Sure there’s a bit of originality in the form of transplanted ghoul organs, but even then the show was always only ever on the cusp of being anything more than simply ‘quite good’.
That was until the end, and the final episode – which was mainly a brutal and psychedelic torture scene, suggested that Tokyo Ghoul was ready to step things up a gear. Of course it was at this point it ended, and there was also all this stuff from the previous episode that was left completely unresolved.
Tokyo Ghoul √A is the good kind of sequel that directly continues the plot of the original (not the bad kind that just makes stuff up after the actual plot has finished like Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryōiki no Déjà vu). But we are not simply presented with the resolution to the series one, rather a point from which the anime diverges in plot from its manga source material. This alternate story was also written by Ishida Sui – so doesn’t quite fit into the crazy spinoff category – but when the first episode ends with Kaneki doing the exact opposite of what he originally does, questions regarding character motivation obviously arise.
Yet whilst his decision to join the ‘cool kids’ at Aogiri doesn’t entirely make sense, the character Kaneki becomes in Tokyo Ghoul √A is complex and interesting. He is forever changed by the horrors he has experienced and no longer the boring rock of morality he previously was. Whilst his presence is surprisingly reserved this time around, his descent towards insanity serves as a harrowing backdrop to a series that can’t resist following him into madness. It would have been easy for the status quo to have been resolved using some implausible trope (like in Code Geass R2 where the characters literally have their memories altered) but instead Tokyo Ghoul √A tries something different.
Back at the coffee shop the development of much of the support cast feels restrained, although at least the characters follow fairly logical path of progression. This time around sixty six chapters of manga haven’t been compressed into twelve episodes, and you can clearly tell. Sure, √A isn’t the faithful retelling of the manga some may have expected, but Pierrot already gave that a crack and it didn’t work out so well.
And whilst Tōka and Nishiki don’t get up to much, a new focus on the Commission of Counter Ghoul adds a further element of ambiguity to the previously obvious moral themes of the show. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Mado was cool, but he was a one dimensional comic book villain who was characterised by his thirst for violence, sinister hunch and crazy eye. This time around we have Amon and Akira; likeable characters who’s interactions contrast well with the ghoul related teen angst that, whilst still present, no longer dominates as much of the narrative.
With such a vastly different focus, Tokyo Ghoul √A does not feel like a natural continuation of the first series. Instead it resembles a discarded first draft of what could follow – which I think it actually is – and a new direction that was ultimately deemed too far removed from its original vision. This is exactly why I enjoyed it so much; it is an unexpected and defiant statement in the face of convention. Everything about the show embodies this, from the despicable actions of its protagonist to the blatant disregard for its source material, to the initially jarring yet ultimately brilliant opening sequence. Tokyo Ghoul √A breaks all the rules, and I liked it.