Tokyo Ghoul tells the story of a tragedy about tragedies. Not only does the story itself but the characters' lives are also wrapped in Tragedy. One of the unfortunate victims, who lives in this cruel world is Eto Yoshimura - the so-called One-Eyed Owl, the only natural ghoul, the creator of Aogiri, the holder of the One-Eyed King title(along with Arima). Fighting alongside Kishou Arima, she seeks to destroy the Bird Cage and create a world, where ghouls will have an equal place in.
Now, in this article, I will try to cover some major points of her character, as well as explain as much as I can her goals and ambitions, what happened after her alleged death, and the mystery and symbolism that's attached to her overall character. There is a lot I want to unpack here and I will mainly focus on some aspects that aren't really frequently mentioned and kind of overlooked by the fandom, but are truly important.
Also, mind you, when talking about Symbolism it's good to note that it isn't really clear cut and it shouldn't be. It is a thing, interpreted as something very ambiguous, that everyone finds a different meaning in. I think that exact aspect of the manga is executed perfectly and the anime also does it justice.
Firstly, I will talk about "Eto's different forms" or all the versions we see her portrait as in the anime and manga. To my mind, we can distinguish three versions of her character throughout the series.
Takatsuki Sen - the most human version of Eto and the one we get first introduced to in the series. For quite some time that was what we only knew Eto as.
Takatsuki Sen is a renowned author, one who Kaneki took great joy reading the work of(as it was firstly foreshadowed in the anime), author of dark, psychological horror and stories of gore. In her books, we can see reflected all her ideals and her pure essence, as well as her point of character, which was Sui Ishida's way of foreshadowing what was about to go down. She is represented as being cunning and smart(shown in the way she was deceiving the CCG). There isn't that much to be said about her. Now, we have a backstory on that particular character. Takatsuki Sen was what Eto wanted to be viewed as by society and maybe, what she wanted to be, but didn't really have the chance. We can even say that she was destined to go on the path of becoming the One-Eyed King since the moment of her birth, which eventually led to her ultimate demise.
The Bandage Girl
We can see her being wrapped around the skin by bandages and wearing a long, cloak-like, red dress with a sakura(cherry blossoms) scarf. She appears to be at her smallest here. The childish and playful nature that is very distinctive of her character later on in the story is well-depicted first here.
The most pronounced thing about her appearance are the bandages, which of course can represent the way she hides her identity to the public. She doesn't want to be recognized as a ghoul, or at least not now, since the world is yet not ready to accept her for what she is. However, I do feel like a more accurate representation of her bandages will be the way she looks at everybody else, the way she thinks of the world. A mummy is widely associated with bandages and they are known as being dead, as such devoid of emotion, which is the way Eto looks at everybody else. She often comes around as being unbiased, some even might say heartless, which wouldn't be a bad presumption, considering the way she treats people - being completely unaffected when torturing both psychically and emotionally someone, in fact, she takes joy in doing that. That unbiasedness of her can be seen in the way she views herself as standing above everybody else, but not necessarily in a bad way. She manages to realize how rotten the world they live in is, how insignificant one's self truly is, as well as the fact that everyone is a mere speck of dust. Having come to that realization, her superiority over everyone else doesn't seem at all that unjustified. However, I don't feel like she thinks of herself as better than everyone, more like she sees them for what they are and they are just human.
That version of Eto is more of her ghoul side, the one with raging hatred towards the world, her father, the one who is ready to inflict pain upon others, in order to stop experiencing her own tragedy.
The One-Eyed Owl
This is the full-on ghoul side version of Eto. In contrast to her small body, her kakuja is the one of a horrifying, giant beast. This aspect is very important as it shows how vulnerable she actually is. Hiding behind the mask of a mighty monster, while in fact, she is just a child, frustrated by her own powerlessness. It can also portrait how uncertain she is about where she wants to stand - either behind her father, living somewhat of a peaceful life, or to continue on having that blinding hate towards him. Her being naked inside her kakuja can also highlight the frustration and suffering she had to go through as a lonely child, and at the end of the day, she is just someone who needs "saving", according to both Kaneki and her father.
This is the last version of Eto we get to see and a personal favorite of mine. It's is someway the most balanced of them all, as it represents her ultimate form of character - her goals, her views on the world, her overall essence. It's in this form that she allegedly dies in.
The Tragedy of Eto Yoshimura
The Tokyo Ghoul series mostly puts emphasis on that dark theme, as it sets the overall tone of the world in the story. This can be seen, for example, within the characters' tragic backstories. I mean, almost all of them had gone through some kind of dark moment throughout their past, which is understandable, considering it is what the show is aiming for. Now, this is a very crucial aspect of the show if not the most important one. Tokyo Ghoul tells the story of the cycle of Tragedy, powered by the Bird Cage.
Eto Yoshimura's place in the world allows her to see its human and ghoul side, eventually leading her to despise both. The fact that she had a sad childhood herself, being very poor, alone in the world might have been the reason why she turned the way she did. Not feeling any kind of remorse while murdering someone, finding extreme pleasure in torturing Kanao mentally, being ready to put her father in that cylinder to rip out his kagune. Even though some might argue that was the only way she could have achieved her goal and justify what she had done because of her wanting to help the world, she is, all in all, a terrible person. She is someone who has encountered the cruelty of the world from a young age, but unlike some other characters like Kaneki she was corrupted by it. It was that corruption that made her dislike humans and ghouls alike and what primarily motivated her to feel the need to destroy the Bird Cage.
Throughout most of the show, she was presented as being the "bad guy", an antagonist, or even a villain. This can be seen in the way she is inflicting pain upon others, as though that will free her from her own. Also, it's very important to note that her books tell the story of a Tragedy, similar to the one the characters of Tokyo Ghoul are experiencing. It seems as though Eto is trying to emulate that same Tragedy in their world rather than cleanse from it. She is also talking of her god, who she describes as a child with an absurd amount of power. In her books, she depicts the creator of Tragedy as a child, that same one she refers to as a god. So Eto becomes a living incarnation of that child in the book. She serves as an embodiment of the tragic genre.
She is even portrayed as the Devil, which is first seen when she was having a conversation with Kanao. Talking about "the apple of knowledge", she later shoves down the throat of Haise, making him wake up. Just her swift appearance makes Haise's perfect world shatter to pieces. Right when hope is trying to make its way, Eto pulls it back to reclaim the original theme of the story. As though the moment the light in the world has been found, she seeks a way to destroy it.
However, that world was illusory and Eto's motives were not anywhere near sustaining the cycle of Tragedy. What she wanted to do was serve as a grim reminder to the world that Tragedy is still there. During her fight with Kaneki, her attempts to lure him back to the darkness were a mere reminder call for him that it is still there.
So, in order to destroy V, the only ones who were benefiting from the Bird Cage, she had to obtain the role of the bad guy. Here I want to mention that Eto didn't want to be looked at as the saviour or the hero (that was Kaneki's role), more like as the benefactor. Nonetheless, she was the one who created the steps for Kaneki and the one who made the ultimate sacrifice along with Arima.
Eto Yoshimura's Death
In order for her to stop that endless cycle of Tragedy, she became the author of it. I think that's what Eto being a renowned author symbolizes. Her books are used as a foreshadow about what's about to happen in the story later on.
I think, even some of the characters managed to realize that they were also part of a story. Most of all Kaneki. We might even speculate that that's what made him an eligible successor of the One-eyed king in eyes of Eto.
She had lived for way too long in that tragic and unjust world, just like Arima, so she became way too entangled in it. Up to the point that she herself could not live in that post-Tragic world. That's why she needed someone else to become the savior and hold the title of the One-Eyed King. Someone whose soul hasn't been tainted, but is also willing to fight against the tragedy of their world. Kaneki was a perfect fit for the role.
Now, whether or not, she is dead or alive, we cannot be sure and all of us can establish a different opinion. Considering that the new, free-of-darkness world would not be the right match for her, it would only make sense for her to have died, just like Arima. Her goal is fulfilled and she has finished her final job (creating the steps, that Kaneki would later climb on).
Having said all that, I still believe or rather hope she is alive somewhere. Hiding and observing, writing stories of gore on a notebook.
© 2021 Sen Takatsuki