Ken Kaneki, who accidentally becomes a ghoul after surviving being eaten by one, is the protagonist of Sui Ishida’s Tokyo Ghoul manga and the anime, as well as the protagonist of our article. In this article, we are going to explain what happened to Kaneki throughout the four seasons of the show, chronicling all the changes he went through.
What happened to Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul (Season 1)?
When we are first introduced to Ken Kaneki in the first season of the Tokyo Ghoul anime, we see him as an ordinary, shy student who is in love with a beautiful, yet enigmatic girl named Rize Kamishiro. At that time of his life, Kaneki has only one real friend – Hideyoshi Nagachika, known as Hide.
While hanging out with Hide in Anteiku, Kaneki manages to arrange a date with Rize, a girl who also hangs out there and with whom he shares his love for books. As they walk alone during the night, Rize tricks Kaneki and brings him to a construction site, where she reveals herself to be a ghoul.
Realizing that she wants to eat him, Kaneki is scared and soon Rize attacks him, wounding him mortally but she never finishes the job. Namely, just as her kagune was attacking Kaneki, several large steel beams fall from the top of the site and land directly on Rize, killing her. Kaneki is found and rushed to the hospital, along with Rize’s dead body.
In the hospital, Dr. Kanō operates on Kaneki and, in order to save his life, he transplants some of Rize’s internal organs into Kaneki. His life was saved, but he had been transformed into a half-ghoul during the process. As he woke up, Kaneki had trouble adjusting to his new persona and he hid it from everyone. He was generally a loner, so the social aspect wasn’t all that problematic, but he had trouble with food, as everything he had in his fridge made him vomit and he suddenly had a craving for human flesh and blood; on the other hand, he was not a murderer and he would never kill a human so he could eat them.
The first season is primarily focused on Kaneki coming to terms with his new ghoul persona, mostly with the help of the people from Anteiku. It was a rough journey for him, especially when he became targeted by other ghouls like Shū Tsukiyama, who thought him delicious, or Jason, who targeted him because he was the carrier of Rize’s powers. It was Jason who kidnapped Kaneki close to the season’s end and who put him through unfathomable torture because he had betrayed him.
Kaneki survived, but was severely damaged, both mentally and physically; he had less control over his ghoul side, he was borderline psychotic, weak and even his hair turned white. Yet, in that exact state, Kaneki finally let go of his inhibitions and attacked Jason, killing him in the process and later cannibalizing him; cannibalism was considered wrong even among ghouls and was rarely practiced, which speaks enough about Kaneki’s state of mind. This was the first major change after his transformation into a half-ghoul.
What happened to Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul √A (Season 2)?
After his defeat of Jason, Ken Kaneki was different. He was far more powerful, yet far more unstable. Although both the manga and the anime follow that same premise, they differ in the storyline, as Tokyo Ghoul √A had a different, original narrative written by Ishida. In this article, we are going to focus on the anime version of the story.
Soon after killing Jason, Kaneki saved Tōka’s life but he also told her that he would not be returning to Anteiku but would join Aogiri instead. While in captivity, he was brainwashed by Aogiri and he started to see the world as a place full of enemies, instead of friends; therefore, he vowed to kill anyone who crossed his path and joined Aorigi, where he was hailed as a hero. He participated in several of Aogiri’s smaller missions, fighting both ghouls and the CCG, and was under special protection by Eto herself, the One-Eyed Owl.
During these fights, Kaneki demonstrated enormous power, but also a visible lack of self-control, which made him both extremely dangerous and vulnerable. In his epic fight against Amon, Kaneki was even on the brink of being killed by Amon, who did not fully understand Kaneki’s motivations but was saved by Eto in the last moment.
This is where Kaneki showed the first signs of breaking away from Aogiri’s indoctrination, as he fell down before Amon, crying, stating that he did not want to eat anymore. After the incident, Kaneki took some time for himself and returned to Anteiku, where he spoke with Yoshimura, but not before being beaten up by a disappointed Tōka, who wanted to know why he turned to Aogiri; smiling, Kaneki wondered the same thing.
Soon, news of the big battle for the 20th ward spread as the CCG launched its massive offensive to eliminate the One-Eyed Owl. Kaneki pondered his own role in the conflict but decided that he had to participate and protect the ones he cared about, which was his final break from Aogiri.
Kaneki fought his was through the CCG’s troops until he once again clashed with Amon in another epic battle; Kaneki urged Amon to stop, stating that he did not wish to fight, but Amon said it was impossible. The fight ended without a clear winner, with both Amon and Kaneki sustaining serious injuries.
Kaneki finally made his way, in this injured state, to the empty Anteiku, where he was met by Hide, who secretly participated in the operation disguised as a CCG soldier. Hide was also critically injured and after reconnecting with his best friend, he seemingly dies. Destroyed and tired, Kaneki took his friend’s body in his arms and carried him through the streets, in front of the shocked CCG troops who just stood and watched.
The walk lasted until Arima arrived. He had been waiting for Kaneki and Kaneki knew that there was no way to avoid the clash. He put Hide’s body down in the snow and prepared for the fight, which was – sadly – never shown on-screen and we had to consult the manga to find out that Arima – as expected – defeated Kaneki, leaving him with a serious brain injury which ultimately led to his temporary memory loss as shown in Tokyo Ghoul:re.
What happened to Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul:re (Seasons 3 & 4)?
Now, Tokyo Ghoul:re is the collective title of the third and fourth seasons of the anime. Unlike the first two, the seasons had the same name, but were split into two parts, each corresponding with one part of Ishida’s sequel manga. In this section, we are going to see the changes Ken Kaneki went through during these two seasons.
Season 3 (Tokyo Ghoul:re, Season 1)
The character of Haise Sasaki was introduced as a replacement for Ken Kaneki in season 3 of the anime but as it soon turned out, Haise Sasaki was actually Ken Kaneki. Namely, after his clash with Arima, he was left with serious brain damage but alive. The CCG realised Kaneki’s potential so they used the situation and gave him a new identity, as he had no clue about his former self. His appearance was slightly changed and he had now become a well-respected inspector with the CCG. He also led and mentored the Quinx Squad, especially Kuki Urie, who was sort of an enfant terrible of the group.
During the Torso case, Haise Sasaki clashed with Serpent, who was actually Nishiki Nishio, one of Kaneki’s old friends. Sasaki did not know that but when he was about to be defeated, the “image” of Kaneki appeared in front of him and awakened his powers, although Sasaki wasn’t really sure about their origins, as he still didn’t remember his former self.
He attacked Nishio with his ghoul powers and when Nishio’s mask fell off, he reminded Sasaki that he was – in fact – Ken Kaneki, which caused him to break as memories were beginning to pile up. Kaneki almost fully cracked, but was subdued and it was later explained to him that the CCG knew of his past but decided to treat him as a human as long as he behaved like one, and not as a ghoul.
Sasaki now has constant clashes with his subconscious mind, fearing that he is going to go berserk all the time. In the meantime, the CCG executes the Auction and Rose Extermination plans. During the battle against the Tsukiyama family, Ken Kaneki finally reemerges as Haise Sasaki regains his memories and accepts his true personality. Although – once again – different and more violent, Sasaki/Kaneki helps the CCG and even manages to defeat and consume Eto’s, the One-Eyed Owl’s ghoul; Eto survives the fight and is later arrested.
Season 4 (Tokyo Ghoul:re, Season 2)
His white turns black, and Haise Sasaki – now aware that he is Ken Kaneki – becomes known as “The Black Reaper”. Once again, he is very different towards the people around him. He is much crueler and is set on eliminating the evil ghouls, but he also doesn’t care too much about his colleagues.
He has a perfect record and is set on eliminating Aogiri Tree. Still, the “new” Sasaki, despite distant and emotionless, never forgot his ghoul side and when he found out that Arima was about to hunt down his friends, he betrayed the CCG and freed his friends, thinking that he would most certainly die at Arima’s hands.
The fight eventually happens and although it seems that Arima is going to win, Kaneki’s immense inner strength manages to secure him a victory as he destroys Arima’s Owl. He refuses to kill Arima despite his insistence, so Arima cuts his own throat with the shattered Owl.
Kaneki was absolutely devastated as he considered Arima to be his friend and mentor, and Arima likewise had a strong respect for Kaneki. As he was dying, Arima revealed his true nature to Kaneki, admitting that he was likewise a half-ghoul and the One-Eyed King, a title which Kaneki would soon inherit.
Arima affirmed his belief that Kaneki would be able to reconcile the ghouls and the humans, which was his duty as the One-Eyed King. This prompted another change in Kaneki, as he became more protective and aware of his role in the world, becoming a responsible leader of the ghouls and their human sympathizers.
Soon after this, Kaneki and his group split from the CCG, now led by the vindictive Furuta, and formed their own organisation, Goat. As Goat clashed with the CCG, Kaneki had another mental breakdown after fighting a couple inspectors, this time losing it completely as all of his personalities clashed inside his already fragile mind.
This activated another surge of power, but also led to Kaneki losing it completely once more. A new form was created – the Dragon – which was enormous and began to destroy Tokyo as Kaneki was imprisoned inside the Dragon’s shell, hallucinating and without any control of the Dragon whatsoever. This time, however, Kaneki managed to fight through the hallucinations with Rize’s help and he quickly came back to life, with his friends waiting for him.
The Dragon was still alive, though, and was still a danger to everyone; also, there was the issue of the maniacal Furuta. Back in the real world, Kaneki found out that the Scarecrow was actually his best friend, Hide, which gave him new strength to fight Furuta and the Dragon.
In the final episodes, Kaneki successfully clashed with Furuta, defeating him, and then managed to break the Dragon’s last defenses, thereby dissolving the ghoulish monstrosity. With this, Kaneki finally resolved all internal conflicts and became the true One-Eyed King, the leader of the ghouls and the one who reconciled them with the humans.
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