Tokyo Ghoul √A has some charm to it, with a few endearing characters and good art and musical direction, but it fails on nearly every other front.
Plot synopsis: Following Kaneki’s escape and subsequent decisions, the CCG and Aogiri are locked in a cruel confrontation that could change the fate of Tokyo forever.
The events of Tokyo Ghoul √A pick up immediately where the first season ended, or rather, the first episode is what should have been the final episode of the previous season, as this season begins right in the middle of the climax. The CCG have stormed the Aogiri facility, resulting in considerable casualties on both sides. The most important characters for this season are introduced, and before the first episode has even ended, substantial problems have already arisen. From that point on, the story alternatives between focusing on many different characters, with poor structure and prioritisation. With an almost equal split between character drama and seinen action, Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t manage to do either very well on the whole, in spite of some outstanding moments.
One of the reasons why Tokyo Ghoul √A doesn’t work as an action series is that it fails to present any of the impact of the battles on the plot. In spite of the multiple confrontations in which dozens upon dozens of ghouls and humans are killed, they seem to be replaced with no hassle, causing the events to feel like they have no real consequences in the long term. The main characters, both human and ghoul, seem incapable of being killed by anything short of decapitation, so the emotional reaction that the writers seem to want to be felt when a character has their leg cut or stomach torn doesn’t feel genuine. Had a better sense of time been present, this may not have been so much of an issue, but it feels as though everyone is invincible.
This also results in the action sequences in the middle feeling unnecessarily drawn out, as they have no pay off. The lack of build-up is also a problem; when the jail was raided, little mention of it had been given prior to the invasion, making it feel spontaneous. The outcome also left much to be desire, as the ghouls attacked the prison, to free ghouls, but lost ghouls when freeing the prisoners. If they gained any especially potent members, it wasn’t shown in the finale, where all of Aogiri’s lieutenant ghouls were the same with no additions, making the whole things feel like a waste of time.
The characters and their relationships are a mixed bag, with some in the CCG having meaningful relationships and character dynamics, though the rushed nature of the character development and poor focus and prioritisation result in even the best and most interesting characters falling flat. The best characters are Akira and Amon, who actually have some legitimately well-written chemistry that plays out well across the 12 episode time span, as they have a good footing in both the action and dramatic side, are connected to both the ghouls and humans on an emotional level (usually through hatred), and even provide some occasional comedic relief. However, their relationship never bears fruit. Juuzou and Shinohara also have some development, but this is shoe-horned into the climax and feels like padding, with the characters having negligible believable chemistry. Individually, Shinohara is a passable character, but Juuzou is a fairly stereotypical killer, and no amount of backstory can change that. The other characters in the CCG don’t add much, except to serve as foil for Akira and Amon.
If you were a fan of the ghouls at Anteiku first season, steel yourself for disappointment. Touka completely throws away her tough-girl façade and becomes a minor supporting character with no purpose in the narrative, which is a shame, because her few minutes of screen time solidified her as the best character in the series. Hinami has some promise, and has clearly matured since the first season, but she is sadly throw aside in favour of weaker characters, such as Nishio, who didn’t really have anything to add, and Tsukiyama, who really should have died in the first season. Yoshimura may be considered a bright spot, but his end is ultimately unsatisfactory.
With so many uneven character arcs and the human side having a very noticeable bias in terms of how favourably they are presented, the conflicts ultimately lack their intended bite. This is further exacerbated by the presence of some of the most woefully unimaginative comic relief I have seen in a long time. From random gay stereotyping, to turning illiteracy into a joke, Tokyo Ghoul √A displays awareness of the importance of comedic moments, but ineptness in the application of them. This turns some otherwise genuinely tense moments into cringe worthy comedy routines.
To top it all off, though I really wish I could say that the comic relief characters were the worst part of the series, but that dishonor goes to Kaneki. He is supposed to be the eyes through which the world is seen, the only one to live in both worlds and truly understand them, but when looking at the big picture, he doesn’t really do much that another member of Aogiri wouldn’t do in his shoes. Sure, he talks a little, and tries to stand as a “tragic hero”, by not telling anyone his plan, killing dozens and expecting that the audience will sympathise with him just because he looks sad and holds regret. As Touka points out, he could have told her what he planned from the beginning, but instead he decided to join Aogiri with a very weak excuse. His character is a dead-end, nothing more can be done with it, and nothing meaningful was done with it, leaving his story ending like the bad-end of a visual novel, much like with everyone else.
It could be argued that giving every character an unfulfilled arc made the series more realistic, but if each character suffers the same fate, there isn’t much contrast, resulting in a monochromatic ending to everyone’s journey with no stand outs and nothing to remember. It was a mistake to have every character end either with death or, more commonly, a vague, inconclusive future lying before them.___
With all that being said, the drama and action scenes worked relatively well, even if the infrastructure of the narrative prevented them from having a lasting impact. Character deaths, though rare, still carried meaning, the atmosphere was cold and unforgiving, greatly due to strong snow animation and character designs, and director Shuhei Morita did the best he could with a weak story and a shoe-string budget.
Visually, Tokyo Ghoul √A carries on in a similar tradition to the first season; good art direction, average animation. However, the animation quality had more significant variation this time around; episodes 4 and 12 had several off model characters, the fights scenes’ choreography lack the weight needed to make them feel as powerful as they should be, and a couple character designs, like Juuzou, look outright silly. Frames are spared wherever possible in the non-action oriented episodes, looking regularly rigid, and shading and lighting are kept to a minimum.
However, for every weak looking episode, there is a stunning one. Episode 5 and 13 were spectacles, with the finale only being challenged in visual splendor by the first episode of Season 1. The framing is good, and nearly all the character designs, aside from the aforementioned few, work. Hide and Hinami’s appearances reflect their maturation well, and the different CCG agents have experience etched on their faces. The right scenes are given priority, even if major cutbacks were required to make the series look as good as it did at times. The production values were a step down from Season 1 on the whole, but even if there are few “wallpaper frames”, the visual directing displays a level of competence that the writing never did.
The sound, in contrast, really stepped up from season 1. The OST often sounds reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s Inception score, though never like a rip off, bringing the right level of tension to scenes that really need it, and being quiet when the directors want silence to do the talking. The voice acting in English is good, much like season 1, even if Austin Tindle and Brina Palencia are wasted on Kaneki and Touka, respectively, this time around. Maxey Whitehead’s Juuzou is suitably kooky, Morgan Garrett takes charge as the CCG prodigy Akira Mado, rivalling Karen Thompson’s performance as a similar character in Ergo Proxy a decade ago. The Japanese is consistent, and brings the emotion when needed as well. The real audio treat, however, comes in the form of the Ending song and insert songs. Amazarashi’s “The seasons die one by one” fits with the tone in poetic beauty, though its commendable lyrical precision gives it a level of sophistication that the series could never pull off. Glassy Sky is also outstanding, sounding simultaneously cold and distant while carrying a soft, almost lullaby-like annunciation, though it is almost overused. The Opening is an abysmally produced, directed and utilised song that would be better left cut from the series altogether. The lyrics make little coherent sense, the vocals are a travesty, and, being used often as late as 7 minutes into the episode, it feels like more of a nuisance than anything else. I suppose it could be said that the ED represents what the series wanted to say, while the OP is an accurate presentation of its quality.
On the whole, Tokyo Ghoul √A is a series that does much right, but more wrong. It’s convoluted, directionless and overstuffed with strong characters and thematic material, bursting with good ideas and clearly many staff members are competent, but ultimately it just spirals towards failure. With that being said, I will miss Tokyo Ghoul’s sharp drama and sometimes brilliant execution, though I am certainly not sad to see it go.
Overall (Japanese): D
Overall (English): D+