The first season of TOKYO GHOUL contained pretty much all one could want in an anime. The story was quickly, but nicely established from that very first episode. We saw a human young man by the name of Kaneki forced into becoming a so-called “monster” and being thrown into crazy scenarios. He was a very reserved person, and with a gentle mindset. That’s why the final episode was the ultimate cliffhanger: he gave into his ghoul side to stop Jason. It’s been quite awhile since then for viewers, and with so much happening Season 2 (or rather √A) was heavily anticipated. Like the first Season, we have 12 episodes. √A continues the dark show well…somewhat. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of its first Season. This is primarily because of the unfocused writing and questionable second half.
In modern day Tokyo, society lives in fear of Ghouls: mysterious creatures who look exactly like humans — yet hunger insatiably for their flesh. None of this matters to Ken Kaneki, a bookish and ordinary young man, until a dark and violent encounter turns him into the first ever Ghoul-human half breed. Trapped between two worlds, Ken must survive the violent conflicts of warring Ghoul factions, while attempting to learn more about Ghoul society, his newfound powers, and the fine line between man and monster.
√A picks up directly where the first Season left off. The CCG is battling it out with Aogiri. Kaneki had just finished taking out Jason while Touka is in a deadly battle with her brother. As expected, there’s a great amount of intensity, not only in the fights but in the dialogue as well. Touka’s brother Ayato was established late in Season 1. Somehow a lot of anime can get away with establishing characters late in the game. We only got some lines of dialogue and a flashback to detail the hateful relationship between the two. Some shows take whole arcs to fully cement this kind of relationship. But in a quality show like Ghoul, it only takes an episode. The fight in the first episode here was extremely well done. Obviously not only because of the choreography (though that deserves praise as well) but because of what was established before between the two characters.
It’s in this episode when were introduced to the Owl. This character looks especially imposing and unique, so hats off to the original designers. There are also a couple of other notable things happening here as well, the biggest being the ending which shapes the status quo for the next eleven episodes. Instead of Kaneki simply going back to Anteiku with his friends, he decides to join Aogiri. Plot developments like this are always shocking, sometimes a good shocking and sometimes not. Given the context and what was happening between the two episodes, Kaneki joining them came out of nowhere. The viewer at first is given no real reason for his joining. When that reason finally presents itself, it still doesn’t make up for this bizarre aspect of the story. (Never mind the fact that a member of their group was literally torturing him to death.) Also Ayato was trying to kill Kaneki; then about 15 minutes later they’re side by side on the same team with no dialogue questioning this. It felt like part of the episode was missing.
After this plot development is when the writing starts to become unfocused. Episodes 2 and 3 took time to show more of the inner workings of the CCG. They also served to introduce Akira, the daughter of the deceased Mado, into the fold. These aren’t bad things in themselves. The problem is that too much focus is on them when the viewer wants to see what’s going on with Kaneki and also Anteiku. The character of Akira isn’t bad, but sadly just reminds the viewer how much more engaging her father was. Amon is a very good character to watch, but that was due in part because he was nicely complemented by the buddy cop duo of him and Mado. The duo of Amon and Akira just isn’t as good. Plus, there’s an unnecessary romance subplot between the two that goes nowhere. The “bonding time” first at the bar then at the apartment was bizarre and just awkward to get through.
With Mado gone, the story puts an emphasis on the next most charismatic member of the CCG: Juuzou. He appeared briefly in Season 1. He was fun, but at the same time it felt like he was quirky just to be quirky. There was no reason why he acted the way he did. Thankfully, Season 2 adds excellent backstory. In just a couple of scenes Juuzou rises to being one of the greatest characters in the whole show. Shinohara of the CCG is also given more to do. He’s a likable character, and the friendship between him and Juuzou is expertly established. If a person only had time to state one thing Tokyo Ghoul has proven pretty consistent of, it’s that it knows how to generate genuine emotion in its scenes.
The fight scenes and the soundtrack complementing them continues to be excellent. Perhaps the biggest highlight was in Episode 4, when Aogiri laid an assault on a top level ghoul prison. Though, one of the biggest plot holes was what happened to Orca. Aogiri wanted him retrieved, so they sent Kaneki. The two get into a big fight, with Orca completely outclassing Kaneki. Then we have another plot development: Kaneki becoming more of an uncontrollable monstrous ghoul. This is good stuff, but the problem is that after the episode makes such a big deal about Orca, he vanishes. I suppose it’s assumed Kaneki destroyed him, but even then it’s just too unclear. Plus, why did Aogiri want Orca? Just for him to join them? The writing unfortunately was very vague here.
Interestingly, Kaneki leaving seems to have affected Touka the most. The two had bonded and became close friends over the course of the first Season. The writing does a fantastic job showing her genuine sadness here. Though, fans might be disappointed that she doesn’t get to fight all that much. At the same time however she’s given development as she starts applying for college. Another returning character of note is Tsukiyama. He was one of the more interesting antagonists of the first Season. The installment there when he captures Kaneki was one of the most intensely written episodes I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly, his role in √A was minimal at best. The infamous drug-like scene was too awkward to watch. I know that’s supposed to be the point, but the writing went a little overboard.
Short seasons aren’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually the shorter shows which prove to be the best. (Such as the first season of Psycho-Pass and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) There is however always the chance that things could be rushed or poorly explained. The final four or so episodes of √A is an example of this. There’s a lot of major plot twists, such as with Yoshimura that could have been better developed over the course of more episodes. Things happen way too fast where the viewer is given too much shocking information almost all at once. The revelation of the final boss also comes out of left field. The assault on Anteiku was very well done, but would have been better if there were more episodes building up to it. At the very least, the coffee shop scenes between Yoshimura and Shinohara were very well done and tension filled.
The Season ends with a lot of loose ends. (Such as characters, like the twins, whom seemingly disappear after their major appearance.) Of course, it’s somewhat forgivable assuming a Season 3 is coming. Though, unlike the first Season’s cliffhanger when the viewer thought, “wow that was something, give me Season 2” instead it’s more like, “that’s it?” It was hard to be invested in the final episode with the overload of confusing information and things happening. At the least, the usage of Season’s 1 opening theme as Kaneki walks into the spotlight was an excellent touch.
Overall, √A isn’t a bad followup to the first Season, though at the same time being something of a disappointment. The animation looks great, and the fight scenes are excellent. The dialogue and backstories are also very well done. Quite a few aspects of the writing however stops it from being called another “great” season. Kaneki’s leaving was handled very abruptly (not to mention that he gets a criminally low amount of screen time) and the final few episodes needed much better developing. Still, if one enjoyed the first Season, he/she should like √A at least a bit.