With Kaneki's ordeal at the hands of Jason thankfully over, there is only one thing left for him and his friends to do; get the hell out of Dodge alive and as healthy as possible. In the aftermath of these events, Kaneki makes a decision that has consequences for both ghouls and humans. Does Tokyo Ghoul √A live up to its hype as an anime-original sequel, or does its problems go root deep?
(Warning, this review is for the second season of a show, it will be assuming you have seen the first season all the way through, and thus will include spoilers. If you would like to see if the first season of Tokyo Ghoul is for you, please read my review of it here.)
One of the things I wished to see more of in the first season of Tokyo Ghoul was more character development for the CCG's ghoul investigators. While I liked them well enough, I thought they could add an additional edge to the series by furthering the human perspective. Thankfully √A takes care of this in spades, greatly expanding on Amon, while also building upon characters like Suzuya and introducing interesting new characters like Akira, the daughter of Amon's former partner Mado.
By far the best thing Tokyo Ghoul √A has going for it is its fights, and they are just as brutal and engaging as before. Gallons upon gallons of blood is spilled over the course of √A, but that's not all, as things ramp up a bit with many characters being munched on, both lethally and non-lethally, and still unsettling either way. If you enjoyed the first season's fights, you should still enjoy √A's.
The last episode of Tokyo Ghoul √A is one of the best "shot" episodes of anime I have ever seen. Now keep in mind, I'm just strictly talking about the use of visuals and sound in this episode. The writing is something else entirely, which I'll be getting to later.
Kaneki more or less literally becomes a support character in what is ostensibly supposed to be his story. If he's supposed to be our lead character, he quite possibly sets the record for least screen time a main character has in a work. For the majority of the episodes in √A he only appears long enough to barely qualify as a glorified cameo. On top of that the majority of his limited screen time is spent with him being silent. He gets very little lines, and this includes internal monologues, so his character really doesn't grow that much. Hell thanks to his lack of speaking, we don't even really get a chance to grasp many of the motivations for his actions in this season. All in all, Kaneki was just treated poorly in Tokyo Ghoul √A. And speaking of characters treated poorly....
Now this one hurts a lot too, because Touka was one of my favorite characters from the first season. She was presented as a badass. Ok maybe she wasn't really that physically strong of a character to begin with, but she at least looked cool in the first season and could hold her own in a fight. Yet in √A, she spends the vast majority of her time doing one of three things; moping, studying to get into college, or running around. And I mean that last one quite literally, as Touka spends larges chunks of her appearances just running to places. Often to try and see Kaneki, sure, but it is still in the end just running. And it was quite annoying, practically becoming the physical equivalent of Murano constantly questioning if Shinichi is really himself in Parasyte.
Tokyo Ghoul √A has a lot of open plot threads, or at least more than enough that it became a significant problem for me. The show had a bad tendency of introducing new characters or plot elements, and summarily failing to tie them up in some fashion. There is very little conclusion to anything that occurs on screen. Hey, speaking of conclusions...
So, who here likes cliffhangers, and especially ones where there is no certainty that it'll be concluded? Well if you do, first of all, you are a sick person and need to seek help, secondly, you are in luck, because boy howdy does Tokyo Ghoul √A deliver on that front. The final episode was going relatively fine, if a bit underwhelming for the majority of the episode, but then things changed in the final minutes. The show was preparing to show us one badass, if possibly climatic, fight, only just before the fight got underway, it cut away from the fight to a different scene, and by the time the cut back to the fight, we don't know what happened, all we see is the Dove who was involved in the fight with their Quinque out and then the episode.....ends. Just like that. Roll credits, no conclusion for you. Hope you enjoy your blue balls. Sure there is an after credits scene, but that was essentially just a tease for what may or may not be a third season of the anime.
One of the main reasons Tokyo Ghoul √A was able to maintain hype levels going into the season, even amongst those who were jaded by how much was cut and changed from the manga in the first season, was that √A was supposed to be an anime-only season that took a different path from the manga. Hell, that is the entire reason it was named √A, implying that it was a different route. And to be sure, a few things were different. Key word here being "few". For the most part, Tokyo Ghoul √A is just an extremely gutted retelling of the rest of the manga after the events of the first season. It should have been something more than this. It should have been, you know, something actually original.
In the end, Tokyo Ghoul √A was just a resounding disappointment to me in all but a few areas. And that really sucks, because I was one of the champions of the first season as an anime-only viewer of the series. I wanted √A to be good, I truly, truly did, but for some reason this season never really felt quite right. Something was off almost the entire time, and as √A kept going on, the problems kept piling up for me. Now I don't think Tokyo Ghoul √A is unwatchable or a waste of time for everybody. If you are head over heels in love with the anime, by all means, watch √A, ditto for if you like to see good fight scenes and the strength of the writing doesn't matter much to you. But for everyone else, it is incredibly hard for me to recommend. Especially if you like Kaneki and Touka. This season was quite honestly insulting in the way they handled both of them. My best suggestion for those who saw the first season and just wanted some form of conclusion to the events from that season, just watch the first episode of √A. It picks up immediately after the end of episode 12, aka the finale from the first season, and ends that arc satisfyingly enough. Even if it becomes a bit of a "But our fight continues" ending (thank you for that Shirobako) it is still a more satisfying ending than the one Tokyo Ghoul √A will give you.
Tokyo Ghoul √A can be watched on the Hulu and FUNimation streaming services. Tokyo Ghoul √A is based on a manga by Sui Ishida that ended its run in Shueisha's Weekly Young Jump magazine and has a sequel manga called Tokyo Ghoul:re that is currently running.