Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tokyo Ghoul √A (2nd Season) Review

Year: 2015
Studio: Pierrot 
Genre: Horror, Drama, Supernatural, Action

It's pretty rare for me to review the sequel when I didn't bother to review the first season, but somehow the second season of Tokyo Ghoul, with all its wasted potential, urged me to say something about it. I wasn't really all that invested in the first season because I thought it was a fairly generic series that only shined occasionaly. It wasn't terrible, but I simply did not have the time to write a review and it wasn't the kind of series that absolutely demanded one (speaking of reviews, I will get around to Death Parade, I promise). Still, I was at invested enough to watch the sequel. Surprise, surprise, despite all its shortcomings, it made me realize that Tokyo Ghoul is more sophisticated and thought provoking than what it appears to be at first glance, despite being a reduced version of the source material.

There is certain depth to the plot and characters that I wasn't expecting and frankly haven't seen much of from the genre in recent years. We can definitely draw parallel from Parasyte, another show that begs the question of what makes humans human. There is no black and white in the world of Tokyo Ghoul, the moral landscape is consistenly grey and ever shifting. It's very rare to have such a balanced perspective – in a way, there IS no true anatagonist. Kaneki is both a hero and and an anti-hero. The transformation he goes through is dramatic. He commits unspeakable deeds to acquire strength and protect those who sheltered and guided him during a time of helplessness. He is tormented not only by the ghoul alter egos who are now an intimate part of his psyche, but also by convictions deeply rooted in his humanity. Kaneki, on the microscale, embodies the theme of reconciliation, compromise and coexistence that the series, on a macroscale, attempts to explore. Of course, he is far from being an original character – the halfbreed gift and curse is well documented in anime, or any other medium for that matter – but I still find him interesting as someone with complex intrapsychic struggles that mirror the evolving circumstances. Maybe because the story is so atmosphereically dark, and centers on the hunter/hunted paradigm, the rift between species is exacerbated and perhaps more violent than what I'm used to seeing. Well, the real tragedy is having to choose between two rights (or two wrongs, depending on how you look at it). The biggest pull for me is how multifaceted the character dynamics is – a vast web, seemingly impossible to untangle. Many characters are challenged to reevaluate the belief they subscribe to. One example is between Amon and Kaneki – neither wants to fight given the choice, yet choice seems like a luxury at this point if not a far-fetched ideal.

Well, that's the good news and the bad news is it didn't live up to its massive potential. It could've been one of the best shows of the year if things went right. I recently reviewed Psycho-Pass, and if the problem there is all bones and no flesh, then we have the exact opposite situation here – fleshy (quite literally) but bones and tendons are not fully formed. The art direction and storyboarding are excellent, and responsible for some of the most melancholic and at the same time hauntingly beautiful scenes. But on the whole there is too much sentimentality without a solid and structured narrative to contain it. This is one case where more exposition would do wonders. It has all the right emotional details but the stage is not set. It has an odd effect on me, at times I felt drawn to the characters but not sure why, and only to feel detached the next moment. In other words, the character development is far from coherent. I'm not sure what studio Pierrot was thinking when they decided to pack 143 chapters worth of material into a measely 24 episodes (12 for the sequel). Going by the 2 chapters per episode rule, it's really a stretch and a huge shame. For the sake of comparison, Fullmetal Alchemist has a total of 110 chapters and the anime (Brotherhood) stands at 64 episodes, which is the perfect length. Tokyo Ghoul is a much reduced form of what its supposed to be – random arcs tossed together and stripped of its momentum. The odd thing is the manga already had a decent following and exposure prior to the anime, and on top, it was near its end of serialization when the anime was announced. There was every incentive to make a panel by panel adaption. It doesn't have many of the concerns a less popular manga would have to face – lack of commercial appeal, limited source material and budget constraints among others.

Again, it's a shame things have to be so rushed. I personally think Madhouse may have been a better match for the series. For the record, Madhouse is responsibly for more than 80% of the seinen shows ever produced and Tokyo Ghoul is right in the comfort zone. If anything, the anime got me interested in the manga, which I'm going to pickup next. From what I hear, the possibility of a third season is plenty high. I don't know what to feel honestly, it's going to end up being another one of those desperately-needs-a-reboot cases. Well, let's read the manga.

Overall Score: 7/10

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