Tokyo Ghoul and the Violent, Dominant, Woman: pt 1.
Awhile ago (maybe 2 months?) my partner brought up the idea that Ishida clearly has a fascination with women of a certain type (dominant, powerful, sadistic, abusive) and the complicated ways in which the men around them react to them. He sort of connected all the dots for me, and showed me the parallels between many of Ishida’s female characters, and it really blew my mind. I wasn’t sure if it was something that I wanted to write meta about but in light of the most recent chapter, especially in light of Eto’s nakedness, I kind of feel like writing about it again. My partner gave me permission to use his ideas in this meta, so a big thank you to him!
So, I’ve seen (and even reblogged) metas about how the female characters of Tokyo Ghoul are not fanservice-y or sexualized, and though I agree in part, I do think that (many) of the female characters in Tokyo Ghoul are explorations in the erotification of violence, female dominance, sadism, or some combination of the three. Some of the women fall loosely into this category, others are very obvious, but it’s one of the running themes throughout the entire series, both Tokyo Ghoul and (even more strongly) in :RE. Now, full disclosure…this isn’t a criticism. I’m fascinated with Ishida’s portrayal of women and how sharply it differs from expectation. Instead, I would prefer to characterize this as a series of observations from which certain assumptions can be reasonably made. But I’ll let you decide.
I started writing this and it became SO LONG that I am breaking it down into parts. At this time, I plan at least 3 parts to this meta: The Sadists, The Fighters, and The Abusers.
Why not start with lady who kicked it all off? The first time we see Rize, she’s very “covered,” dressed conservatively, very little skin showing, with long hair and glasses. She’s she picture of a stereotype of demure, passive femininity.
Of course, her large breasts are still accentuated, but we’re essentially seeing her from the perspective of a young, hormonal boy who is completely infatuated with her.
She’s Kaneki’s softnerd bookstore date nice girl fantasy, and he’s got the blush of puppy love. On their date, she lowers the neckline a little, but still dresses quite conservatively. That’s because, as we later find out, Rize needs to sell the image of herself as a young, soft, innocent girl. Someone that no one would ever need to feel vulnerable to. Someone that you would walk down a dark alley with…despite the fact that you don’t know them, that you’ve only just met them.
Even after she bites him, she keeps it up for a few moments, laughing girlishly as she talks about her favorite scene in Black Goats Egg, where a man chases down another man and rips out his entrails. That’s when we see the first image of the manga that really mixes eroticism with violence…Rize licking her hand, shuddering in delight, gazing upon the terrified face of her prey.
She really gets off on the fact that Kaneki never considered her a threat, that he’s so terrified and so, so shocked. She bats him around like a cat with a mouse, putting a hole through his abdomen before cornering him. Kaneki is soft, weak…she makes a point of that as she closes in to make her kill.
Looking back on her past, we see that Rize was undoubtedly a sadist, which is probably part of why Jason was so interested in her. She enjoyed playing with her prey, tricking them and then making them suffer before ultimately eating them. She liked this so much that she caused problems for all of the ghouls with her binge eating. However, too much of a good thing really can be enough, and six months before she met Kaneki, she was already bored.
The more we learn about Rize, the more we realize that she is truly the antithesis of the ultra-passive, ultra-feminine guise that she uses to entrap her victims. She’s learned to play the part of the fantasy-girl so well, but in reality she has no maternal instinct, no nesting instinct, no empathy, no warmth; she revels in the hedonism of eating young men with soft bodies, in the chase, in the thrill of torture, fear, and sadism. On top of that, she’s incredibly strong, one of the strongest ghouls we see in Tokyo Ghoul. And even with other ghouls, she can only keep her facade in place for so long.
That mixture of the erotic and violent appears again and again with Rize, the juxtaposition of stereotypically feminine traits with decidedly unfeminine actions. For example, her shower scene in a tub full of blood and body parts from the men she’s killed…
The next time that we see Rize, she’s been completely incapacitated. It took all of those beams to stop her, and since then she’s become nothing more than a test subject, and a shell of her former self. Seeing the once-strong, sadistic, decidedly un-feminine ghoul reduced to a naked test subject in a large tube, forced to reproduce again and again (in a manner of speaking) shows the extent that she has been subjugated and tormented. Her resultant madness, which we see in the later chapter when Kaneki finally tries to speak with her, is understandable. The juxtaposition of violence and eroticism that characterized Rize’s life before her kidnapping is present in her living-death; she is still beautiful, but she’s been broken, used, her body violated, her person ignored, her strength reduced to nothing at all. There are many ways to interpret this turn of events. I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions.
Unlike Rize, Eto’s sadism is not a purely hedonistic affair. While Rize seeks fun, excitement, pleasure, and food, Eto has bigger plans in mind. Eto reveals herself to others very purposefully, showing up either in a moment of peril or personal distress more often than not, and offering up her twisted version of reality to a person whois either questioning their own perceptions, or who could be influenced to question that quite quickly. She likes to present herself either as Takatsuki Sen, an objectively attractive, bubbly, feminine girl who, despite writing dark, delicate prose is accessible and kind with her fans, or as a small child wrapped in bandages. Both of these personas come across as completely unthreatening.
In fact, with the exception of the events in Kanou’s underground lab where she pulls out Banjou’s ribs and moves so fast that she appears to be teleporting while manipulating Nashiro and Kurona, Eto is at her most terrifying when she is naked.
Her nakedness is not sexualized, but it is, as with Rize, a juxtaposition of the erotic and violence. Nakedness is typically a state of extreme vulnerability, so much so that “nakedness” is often used metaphorically to describe a state of extreme vulnerability. It literally means to lack any sort of covering, yet, it is in a state of nakedness that Eto is most powerful. Eto is invulnerable, even in her nakedness, she is undefeated, impenetrable. She has no fear, because she is the top-tier predator. She can not be beaten, can not be defeated, can not even be harmed. Even when her kakuja is maimed by Arima, she’s utterly fine; she emerges naked, unhurt, and ready to carry on with her plan. The erotic image of her naked body is set against the backdrop of her monstrous kakuja, placed next to the image of her dying father, who lays prone before her. She is beautiful in this scene, she is terrifying.
The purpose of Eto’s nakedness in the torture scene serves a similar purpose, though the connotation is different. The monstrous part of the picture is the image of her kagune burrowing into (or bursting forth from) Kanae’s back. Before a backdrop reminiscent of twisting snaked, she sits naked yet completely unexposed. Kanae, on the other hand, is utterly exposed. Despite his tattered clothing, it is Kanae who is laid bare before Eto. Again we have a sadistic, powerful, beautiful woman and the image of the men who are crushed beneath her strength.
I believe that there will be much more to say on this subject in the future, but for now, I will leave Eto and move on to…