This is something that’s been on my mind for a while, but I just finally decided to bring it up and see if anyone agrees or disagrees with me.
As we see Kaneki change and mature over the course of the manga, discussions around these changes always refer to Kaneki’s different “personalities.” For example, OG Ken, Shironeki, 240, Haise, Black Reaper, One-Eyed King, etc. However, I would argue that most of these different sides of Kaneki are more accurately referred to as Personas rather than Personalities, and I kind of want to explain why that’s an important distinction rather than mere semantics.
Here’s how I understand the definitions of Personas and Personalities, based on its usage in common vernacular and media (outside of Tokyo Ghoul discussion forums). I included the dictionary definition from Google as well as my own interpretation of it. I am by no means an expert on this, and I invite anyone with more knowledge of the matter to respond.
Persona – the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others . Basically what this means is that a Persona is the part of you that you show to the world. Your “face” if you will. Appropriately enough, the Persona games sort of discuss this (though they don’t go into too much detail).
Personality – the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. This is the core part of a person, and different sources will refer to the personality as “consistent through life” and “unchanging”. This is why a person with “multiple personalities” refer to each personality as a different person, with distinct thoughts, memories, and behaviors.
Now you may be thinking, “But that second definition definitely fits Kaneki. All those sides of him are completely different people.” To which I say, “not really.” Whenever we see Kaneki change, it’s to adapt to a new situation around him.
-Shironeki to adapt to Yamori’s torture and threats against Anteiku.
-Black Reaper to adapt to Haise regaining his memories as Kaneki. Black Reaper is also interesting to me because people refer to him as “ruthless,” when really, I think Black Reaper is more obviously a Persona than any of his other faces. It seems clear that this Persona was his attempt to distance himself from his squad and put on a strong front, since he already accepted he would die at the hands of Arima in order to free Hinami.
-What about Akaneki, who some distinguish from Black Reaper? Destroying Kanae and calling Eto “trash” seem to be out of Kaneki’s character. What we have to consider here is that this Persona came immediately after Haise regained all of Kaneki’s memories. Two personalities (I know I said personality here, I’ll explain in a bit) are converging here and it’s hard for someone like that to immediately understand who they are. Plus, I would include the fact that at this point Kaneki is PISSED. You might consider this a new personality, but I would consider it a return to an old one. Haise being incorporated into Kaneki (again, explanation a little further down).
-One-eyed King to adapt to a new will to live.
The only one I might consider a full-blown Personality as opposed to a Persona is Haise Sasaki, who we do know to have both different memories and different thoughts (he doesn’t like Takatsuki’s novels) from Kaneki. However, Haise was a result of brainwashing/amnesia, and didn’t come about like any of the other versions of Kaneki.
“But Henzapper, you buffoon!” you may be saying, “in Chapter 144, we see all the different personalities talk to each other! They are clearly different people!” To this I say, I disagree, and my explanation has to do with how our thinking processes work. Throughout the two series, we’ve only seen Kaneki talk to himself this way once before (as far as I remember) and that was when he was getting his eyes/brains stabbed out by Arima in their first fight. There, he talks to a kid version of himself. The only other time something like this happens is when Kaneki speaks with Haise, which I’ve admitted are two distinct personalities.
Kaneki is known to be someone who organizes his thoughts by having a discussion in his own head. He does this with Rize (when he is tortured by Yamori), and he does this with Hide (when he gives up in his fight against Arima). Kaneki himself admits that these voices are a part of his own mind, spurring himself to do things he himself would not dare to consider. I believe his discussion with his younger self at the end of the original Tokyo Ghoul was not two separate personalities meeting, but rather Kaneki organizing his thoughts in his mind: his regrets, his sorrows, basically just a reflection on his life.
Back to the “Council of Kaneki’s” in Chapter 144, I believe this is also his way of organizing his thoughts, in an attempt to adapt to the situation at hand. In this chapter, Kaneki is struggling with a lot of things in this situation: his failure, his regret, his wife and child being in danger, the possibility that he might have to kill Hajime – a child – to save everyone. The different Kanekis are there as a way for him to talk things out with himself, to think through what he has to do, which is portrayed through different versions of himself considering what they would have done. (Note: at this point, I would no longer consider Haise a separate personality, but merely one part of his mind trying to make sense of everything).
If you guys want a TL;DR, it’s this: a personality implies a different person, but the core of Kaneki has remained the same throughout the entire series. His kindness, his need to protect, his need to get stronger to be able to protect, his desire to not be alone, the desire to be loved by others. It’s just that Kaneki has employed different methods to achieve the goals that represent the main core of his being, and those different methods are Personas, the faces that he shows the world.
credit – Henzapper