Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

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Hanebado! – 03 – For the Sheer Love of Badminton

Overshadowed last week by Nagisa’s slump was the fact that Ayano still didn’t really want to play badminton. The exact reason why was not explicitly laid out until now, and it paints both her reluctance to join the bad club and Elena’s adamant insistence she join anyway. By getting to the roots of the two girls’ motivations, the episode succeeds in strengthening both characters and elevating the show’s drama.

We start with a series of flashbacks from Elena’s perspective, always on the sidelines watching Ayano with a combination of awe and pride, but also loneliness, and even envy. Mostly though, since they were wee girls Elena has always known how much Ayano loves badminton, and so simply couldn’t allow her to reject it. It wasn’t just about wasting talent, but denying herself that which both of them know she loves.

Of course, we’ve known that love is tainted by the huge expectations others put upon her, and the unwanted attention she gets from other badminton lovers for her body and her skills. Elena watches the others fawning over Ayano, gets bored, and goes to the movies with Noriko…where she’s also bored.

Afterwards, Noriko goes off on a date with Saionji, leaving Elena alone. She spots Nagisa on her run, but doesn’t call out. It’s Nagisa, on her run back, who spots Elena, who explains she wanted to see how Ayano would do on her own. Nagisa asks Elena why Ayano quit badminton, because she’s since fallen far from the “perfect” player who crushed her at the junior nationals. Elena promises to get to the bottom of it.

The next day, Ayano’s personal slump is compounded by the sudden arrival of her former self-appointed rival, Serigaya Kaoruko. After nearly falling for the cool Tachibana, Kaoruko challenges a very lethargic Ayano to a set, and totally embarrasses her.

This is another beautifully-animated badminton game, and it’s thrilling to see Kaoruko so easily confound, befuddle, and decimate Ayano, who had been impressing her teammates with her skills thus far. Kaoruko is disappointed, and vows that Ayano will never beat her. Considering Ayano is lying on the floor drenched in sweat, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Ayano rushes out, and when Elena catches up to her, she says she’s quitting badminton after all; Elena can stay if she wants, but she won’t. In that moment I couldn’t help but feel bad for Elena, who had stuck with Ayano all this time only for her efforts to be impulsively discarded after just one frustrating set. It felt like Ayano was taking Elena for granted.

The next day, Ayano doesn’t come to school or practice. Tachibana and Nagisa visit her house where her stately, adorable grandparents take care of her; there, they learn that Ayano’s mother was Shindo Uchika, the greatest badminton player of her generation and winner of ten straight national titles.

Both Elena and I considered the pressure of following in the footsteps of an almost impossibly elite parent ample motive for feeling like one’s own badminton career is pointless…but Ayano’s situation turns out to be far more fucked up. Elena may know more about Ayano than anyone, but even she didn’t understand the depths of Ayano’s pain.

She also didn’t know who Kaoruko was. When the two were scheduled to have a match, Kaoruko caught a cold, so she tied Ayano up and gave her her cold so they could play “on even terms.” Kaoruko ended up beating Ayano by a hair, and Ayano passed out on the court.

While still in bed recovering, her mother turned her back on her, ignored the calls of her daughter, walked out the door…and never came back. Ayano kept playing and kept winning, transforming herself into a badminton WMD, hoping that if she won enough, her mom would come back.

Not only did her mother never come back, but Ayano had to learn from an article in Badminton Magazine at the konbini that her mother had taken on another student in a faraway land and trained her to be her successor. Earlier I wondered whether perhaps there was a good reason her mom had to go, but no, she was just a garbage mother and human being.

Elena ponders the shocking new information Ayano has given her on her walk home, but one image over all others continues to be prominent in her mind: that of a tiny her watching a tiny Ayano playing badminton with her mom and loving every minute of it.

Elena considers it her duty as Ayano’s friend to help her get that feeling back—a feeling independent of pressure and  betrayal. To do so, she elicits the help of Nagisa. Elena and Ayano meet at their usual meeting spot atop the red playground octopus. Elena tells Ayano she needs to go back to school, and Nagisa makes her appearance.

Then Elena tells Ayano something she didn’t know before: How then, and now, she felt/feels “left out” when she watches Ayano play. Elena always thought she doesn’t have anything she can devote herself to, but she does. Ayano loves and devotes herself to badminton, and Elena loves and devotes herself to Ayano. Even if she feels lonely, or left out, or envious at times, it’s all worth it to see Ayano have so much fun.

With that, Nagisa draws a makeshift court in the sand, and the two have a match. It’s a bit of a mess of a match, with the wind wreaking havoc on the shuttlecock…but it doesn’t matter. Ayano is able to drop the baggage surrounding the sport she loves and simply enjoy playing it again.

The rest of the club is contacted and they join in the fun. And the next day, Elena and Ayano turn in their forms indicating their intention to join the Badminton Club. Ayano was dealt a terrible hand in moms, but in turn was dealt a great hand in BFsF.