For the past few days I’ve been thinking about how to write this. It’s around 4:30AM right now, and this is usually when I knock out most of my writing. There’s a stillness about early mornings that make it so easy think. Recently I’ve found it incredibly hard to put down exactly what I wanted to say. Naturally, I wanted to give this arc of Tokyo Ghoul proper justice when writing about it. Because if there’s ever a moment you will remember from this series, it’ll most likely be in the arc I’m about to talk about. Would I necessarily like that to be the case? Not necessarily, but it is what most people gravitate towards. As with my previous post, this isn’t going to be a review, but rather a discussion. With a series like this, I try to be as vulnerable as possible when speaking about it. Because that is where I truly believe the strengths in Tokyo Ghoul lie. Not just in the manga, but also in the personal reflection it has generated for me. So let’s dive in.
SIDE NOTE: Before I go any further, I realize in the last article I discussed the first thirty chapters. This one will cover about forty. However, I will not be talking about the Gourmet Arc. It is wonderful, but it is a short arc. Very much worth a reread but personally I don’t have much to say about it besides the fact that it has one of the best Touka panels in both parts. It also has moments like this, which is sort why we are all here, because of the books we read. I do plan to write about Tsukiyama individually in the future. He’s a very interesting man, one who is definitely worth his own analysis, so expect that soon.
I have sort of always considered myself desensitized to most graphic content in media, but this arc is still hard for me to read through to this day. For a few reasons, this remains one of the heaviest things I’ve read, both in viewing and symbolically. The start of the conflict is spontaneous and happens without warning. Kaneki, who has continuously attempted to live his life as a newly created ghoul, is kidnapped by a ghoul terrorist regime known as the Aogiri Tree. Their intentions at first are unclear, considering they arrived searching for Rize, but with Rize no longer being here, Kaneki is the next best thing. This is the driving factor that would create the battle at the 11th ward, with Aogiri, Anteiku, and the CCG all playing a major hand. On the more introspective side of Tokyo Ghoul, there is one thing that makes me laugh about this arc. Kaneki, like myself and many of you who come across this, essentially has no anchor in who he is at this given time. Not only is he young, but everything he has known up until a certain point was completely thrown away the second he became a ghoul. The things that hold value have shifted, and his perception on the world (and himself) has drastically changed. Now what is the one thing in our lives that forces our indecisive nature and shatters any chance at well-paced growth? Forced conflict! Nothing says goodbye to any mental solidarity we’ve established like a traumatic experience. For many of us time may not always be on our side. This creates situations that bring us to make very distinct changes as to who we are. Survive or die. Adapt or fall short. When the decision is finally made, regressing to who you once were can often become impossible. That is what makes this arc, and its moments for Kaneki, so heavy.
Discovering Hurt, Pain, and Understanding the Difference
Kaneki’s torture is the most widely known moment in the series. Yamori’s sequence of brutal acts on Kaneki as a prisoner has almost set a standard as THE aesthetic of the series (much to my dislike). I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of overly graphic issues in comics or manga, which at first glance would make me look away from something like this. However, there is so much more to this than just blood and gore. This moment serves as groundwork in several different ways. We get our first look at Kaneki’s past, as well as the creation of a new voice in Kaneki’s mind, Rize herself. Ken’s Rize persona, much like the Rize Ken actually met, provides perspective and change. Kaneki has been walking a path he has no control over, simply based on the principle of strength (or lack thereof). This causes a sort of debate between Ken and Rize (himself). One of the issues goes back to a memory of Kaneki’s mother who we learn passed away years ago. We then learn that he has been living his entire life based on something his mother told him years ago. The idea that kind people only need love in their walk, and that he should be someone who knows pain, instead of being someone who hurts. Hurt is the feeling. The thought that you are letting an event bring you down and affect you in a negative way. Pain is different. It is a part of the riddle of life. It is the knowledge and acceptance that bad things will come, but they can be endured and overcome. This revolves back her saying love is the ultimate uplifter and rewarder to those who are kind. The series takes a drastic shift when we come to discover that Kaneki’s mother would pass away living by these words. She, much like Kaneki has been since the first chapter, also had no control in her life. This would eventually lead to her untimely death. Her passing furthers the notion that there can be no solidarity unless you make it yourself, so a realization dawns on Kaneki. Instead of being someone who hurts, or someone who knows pain, a third option can be created. He can become someone who knows strength. Creating a being that is so strong, no one who he cares about will experience such things. This is the first time he has been the decider of his fate. He comes to terms with who he is. A ghoul, and the strongest in his eyes.
The dialogue in these issues is masterclass. Helming a dramatic story of cathartic depth and personal experience. It really is life changing writing for me personally. Mainly because I have always valued the quotes of Ken’s mother. Those are words I try to live by in my own personal life, and there are times where I feel that I should do more in the construction of my own path.
The Battle at the 11th Ward
Kaneki proves his newly formed mantra by devouring Yamori, his torturer. After the act, he frees himself and witnesses the battle in the 11th ward first hand. Anteiku, Aogiri tree, and the CCG are all present and fighting amognst one another. He takes a dive into the action, searching for and saving his loved ones who were being held prisoner, and finally comes across Touka, who was in battle with her older brother, a member of the Aogiri Tree. He continues his declaration of strength by completely destroying Ayato and breaking half the bones in his body. I must give it to Ishida because though character transformations are incredibly common in manga, rarely do they feel as heavy as this. Kaneki is a completely different person from the time he was at Anteiku. His testament of strength has already carried him an incredibly long way, and at this point in the story, it seems to really be working.
Finally, we are presented with this incredibly tense moment. Kaneki is now reunited with Anteiku, who has made a very strong effort to get him back (though he eventually came to save himself). This however is not the Kaneki that they once knew. He is now a person with a much clearer path. If you have ever brought great change into your life, you understand that there are times where you aren’t able to bring everyone with you. This is the driving wall between Kaneki and Anteiku. He must learn more about Rize, as well as continue to climb in order to protect his loved ones. In sincere words, he makes his departure towards the new world he is building for himself. The Battle of the 11th Ward is all about change. The change we make in our lives is never as intense or as traumatic as Kaneki’s, but the lives we live may not always go in the direction we would like them to. It is important to fully understand this. Know the pain, embrace the hurt, and if need be, create a new road for yourself. As you can see, this goes so much deeper than torture porn, and I really do suggest you give this a genuine reread. This arc sets a completely new tone for the series, one I hope you continue to experience with me through myself and Ishida’s writing.