Kaneki Ken is the protagonist of one of the most popular dark fantasy anime and manga; Tokyo Ghoul. While the first season of the animation was well-received, the 2nd season derailed from the manga written and illustrated by Sui Ishida. The manga is composed of 14 volumes and is ranked as 118th most popular on MAL. One of the most iconic and memorable traits of this character is him cracking his fingers by using his thumb to bend his index or middle finger to a point where the viewers hear what we can say sounds like a bone-breaking sound in the anime. Now that you know what we’re talking about, you’ve probably noticed that at some point and you must be wondering why does Ken Kaneki crack his fingers at all?
Ken Kaneki cracks his fingers as a consequence of a traumatic torture cycle brought upon him by Yamori. He does not break them, only cracks them. It symbolizes his duality and is the pinnacle of his “transformation” into a one-eyed ghoul, which occurs before and during fighting an opponent.
During this period of unimaginable horror, we witness disturbing scenes of physical, emotional, and psychological torment through which we closely follow Kaneki’s descent into this new “persona”. The cycle reached its climax when Kaneki freed himself from the chains which were binding him and fought Yamori to consume his kagune, cracking his fingers immediately after Yamori did as he was being consumed by his madness and rage.
It is what signifies the switch from his mother’s ideology (because of which he called her his own “pride and joy”), to one that was now engraved in his mind through severe agony and trauma inflicted by Yamori and the character Rize whom he sees and is influenced by in that chamber. As with any well-written psychological study, Kaneki’s story is among those that are indeed worth scrutinizing, so why don’t you join me in a detailed analysis of Ken Kaneki’s worrying behavior!
From the very beginning, we see Kaneki as a quiet college student, often spoken for by Hide, his best friend who never failed to have his back. Later on, we learn that Hide was actually the sole person whom he relied on while he was human since he lost both his parents when he was a child. First, he lost his father, after which he became an orphan at the age of 10 because his mother passed away due to having overworked herself.
This reminiscence takes us back to the mentions of Franz Kafka and his novella, The Metamorphosis. While the story of a salesman waking up one day as an insect strongly alludes to Kaneki’s transformation into the one-eyed ghoul and his centipede kakuja, the underlying notion of being rejected seems to come more into play.
His cries for a savior who would put an end to the pain, and his anger that his mother didn’t “choose” him all came into light within that chamber, where his toes and fingers kept being cut off and regenerated over, and over, and over again. Kaneki, who hoped to live to be the kind of person his mother would be proud of, the woman who told him to “become the person getting hurt rather than a person who hurts others”, was now a ghoul who isn’t okay with being on the side getting hurt again, getting mutilated and tortured, forced to witness lives being treated so ruthlessly, too weak to put an end to the pain.
While tied up and tortured mercilessly day in, day out, he “visited” certain scenes from his life with Rize by his side; “The son of the ‘Black Goat’ is the protagonist, thus ‘The Black Goat’s Egg’.” Both being observers, which we can see in the manga and are emphasized by Kaneki himself saying “it’s me” in the 62nd chapter titled “Kaneki”, his detachment from Kaneki to a ghoul is reaching its pinnacle. The metaphor that was set up from the very beginning was reaching its climax, as the protagonist who rebelled against the being, he had become now screamed: “I AM A GHOUL.” (chapter 63, “Ghoul”).
Viewing Kaneki from this perspective, the action of cracking his fingers signifies this absolute switch to the one-eyed ghoul which takes him into a raging frenzy, ready to fight and devour.
What does “crack” signify?
The cracking sound remains a topic among the fans, as it is continuously noted as “crack” and the sound effect in the anime is greatly similar, if not the same, as the one we can hear in cases of a bone being broken. However, considering the intensity of his trauma, his regenerative capabilities, and Kaneki’s line “I don’t care if it breaks” when Yamori grabbed his leg, with a follow-up line “You think I’d call this pain?”, we could assume that Kaneki actually breaks the bone.
In addition to these, there is also Yamori’s backstory which reveals how his own torturer affected him. By pretending to be the man torturing him instead of the victim, Yamori endured the pain, until one day when the roles were reversed in reality as well. The tortured has become the torturer, so following the notion of “the pupil has become the master” where the pupil finally surpasses the master, we could assume that Yamori became even more bloodthirsty and gruesome than the man who introduced this world to him.
Therefore, for Kaneki to beat this kind of malice, a being exhilarated by fear, agony, despair, and helplessness those around him display, one so focused on inflicting pain and trauma, we could again assume that Kaneki actually breaks the bone.