With the recent happenings in Tokyo Ghoul :re, I realized a parallel that stems back to the very beginning chapters of Tokyo Ghoul. That is, Ishida correlates Kaneki’s vulnerability – both uncomfortable and comfortable – with nudity.
The first instance we see of this uncomfortable vulnerability is with Rize.
Tokyo Ghoul – Chapter 1
Kaneki had no control over the situation he was placed in. The girl who made him feel happy just by looking at her turned out to be a sadistic Ghoul that tried to eat him. Dr. Kanou transplanted her kakuhou into him and transformed him into a One-Eyed Ghoul under the guise of a legitimate medical procedure. And Ishida portrayed this life spiraling out of control in an impactful manner: Kaneki was stripped naked.
Tokyo Ghoul – Chapter 16
This image of Kaneki comes after Kureo Mado murdered Hinami Fueguchi’s mother, Ryouko, in cold blood. Kaneki laments because he wasn’t as strong as Touka, who would have arguably defended both Ryouka and Hinami against the Ghoul Investigators had she been in his position, nor was he able to do anything other than cover Hinami’s eyes and watch Ryouko be killed.
In this moment of vulnerability, we also see a shift in Kaneki’s thinking patterns. In his mind, Ghouls were painted as monsters driven by their need to consume human flesh and that they were deserving of death. A belief that was probably reinforced by the trauma he suffered at Rize’s hand. But when he saw Ryouka die, he didn’t feel relief, nor was it as simple as distantly acknowledging that some Ghoul had been killed. These were people he knew and had come to care for that were suffering, that he couldn’t help. And he miserable for being unable to protect them.
His nakedness only highlights this change. Kaneki has been forced to challenge his perception of the world, and he has to evolve, because he can no longer view the Ghouls’ world from the eyes of an ordinary human. He ceased being that after Dr. Kanou’s experimentation on him. And it’s torturous.
Tokyo Ghoul – Chapter 37
The next time we see Kaneki naked is when Shuu Tsukiyama invited him to the Ghoul Restaurant for dinner. Kaneki is shown to be uncomfortable in and skeptical of this situation because, for one, he’d already been suspicious of Tsukiyama’s motives since the beginning, and – as he himself said – he’s never showered at a restaurant before.
Kaneki’s suspicions are confirmed when it was revealed that Tsukiyama brought him to the restaurant with the intention of having him served as the main course of the evening.
Kaneki even drew parallels between the predicament he faced with Tsukiyama to the one he previously faced with Rize, even chastising himself for not learning anything from what happened with her and allowing himself to be deceived once again.
Tokyo Ghoul – Chapter 136
Kaneki was faced with the two monsters that both destroyed him, and gave him the strength he needed to survive: Rize and Yamori. In this scene, we witness the greatest extent of Kaneki’s mental instability in Tokyo Ghoul, as he battled the vivid and gruesome hallucinations that plagued him.
Once again, Kaneki has been stripped naked – a state that Ishida has used many times to convey his discomfort, his lack of control, his vulnerability. It showed how warped his mind has become from near-constant torment and stress, and these two, Rize and Yamori, are the catalysts.
In :re, though nudity is still utilized as a sign of Kaneki’s vulnerability, Ishida began employing a certain sense of comfort during these scenes that start with Hideyoshi Nagachika.
Tokyo Ghoul :re – Chapter 75
Before this scene, Kaneki has always either appeared alone and miserable, or overwhelmed by fear and assaulted. Here, Kaneki was ready to die, to “go out in style” like how he’d assumed Hide died.
Then a hallucination of Hide appears to him and demands that he put some clothes on because he did not want to see Kaneki naked. He didn’t want to see him hurt or vulnerable or suicidal. He wanted him to feel comfortable and safe, so Hide literally gave Kaneki the clothes off his back.
Hide even slumps down when they’re sitting down facing each other, purposely making himself lower than Kaneki, thus putting Kaneki in a position of power.
Just those actions alone, show what Kaneki has always viewed Hide as: his sense of security. Because even though his vision of Hide made sure he was covered, made sure he felt in control, Kaneki still let himself be vulnerable for him.
Finally, we have Kaneki’s love scene with Touka Kirishima. Like Hide, Touka is the only other person that Kaneki allows himself to become vulnerable for. Consenting to have sex with someone is a symbol of trust, an intimacy that comes in sharing in the blissful pleasure and pain of the act. Just as his hallucination of Hide clothed him to make sure he felt warm and safe, both Touka and Kaneki bared themselves for each other in a moment of heated surrender.
Tokyo Ghoul :re – Chapter 125
This is the first time we’ve seen Kaneki bare himself for anyone. He was in full control of his decisions and how vulnerable he wanted to feel with Touka, and – equally as important – he wanted to ensure this experience was pleasurable and comfortable for them both.
There are three situations that I have listed here that Kaneki winds up crying while he’s naked, and they are: 1) When he witnessed Ryouka’s death, 2) when he spoke with his hallucination of Hide, and 3) when he made love with Touka.
In each of these situations, Kaneki undergoes some form of metamorphosis. With Ryouka, he realizes he has to change his perception of the world. With Hide, he regains his will to live, no matter how unstylish it may be. With Touka, that he is loved intimately.
Feel free to point out anything I might have missed! Or if there’s anything that could be disputed. This is just an observation I made about Ken Kaneki thus far ^^