Attack on Titan – 25 (Fin)

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A Priest of the Wall is preaching in a packed temple, when all of a sudden, Annie the Titan bursts through the walls, killing dozens. When Eren punched her, he wasn’t thinking about the people inside, but rather how much damage he could do to Annie with his punch. Annie, who always looked so smug and bored, keeping her dark secret to herself while mixing with the rest of humanity when it suited her.

No more. Eren’s fighting spirit is fueled just as much by hate and resentment than a desire to save mankind. And in order to beat Annie, who has shed her allegiance to humanity altogether, he must be a monster, unconcered with the collateral damage to the district.

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Even though those behind Wall Sina contribute next to nothing to the survival of mankind, and live within a false shell of security forged from the deaths of those from the outer walls, they’re still largely innocent men, women, and children, like a little girl walking through the streets, bloodied, dazed, and almost certainly orphaned. While this is on the whole a duel between giants in what is to them a toy city, the episode makes sure to capture the human toll of their brutal melee.

After getting beaten to a pulp by the technically superior Annie, Eren gets his second wind by remembering the promise he made five years ago after the Titans first invaded: he’d exterminate every last one of them without fail. That must naturally include Annie, so he powers up into a kind of overdrive mode and overpowers her. Panicked she may actually lose, Annie tries to flee over the wall.

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Throughout the fight, we hear Eren’s inner monologue, but unfortunately, not Annie’s. However, we do see flashes of a past even in which her father is embracing her in apparent forgiveness, telling her he’ll be on her side even if the entire world becomes her enemy. The details on what exactly happened in Annie’s past to cause this encounter and lead to her gaining the ability to transform are nonexistent, but at least we now know that Annie’s actions weren’t totally random, but driven by this seminal past event in her life.

However much death and destruction she’s caused, she feels justified, if not totally immune to the judgment of the masses. Maybe she has no “leader” to report to or to deliver Eren to; perhaps Annie is doing all of this for Annie, and no one else.

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Her getaway is thwarted by a clutch Mikasa, who is able to slice even Annie’s crystallized digits off, sending her falling to the ground, where a berserk Eren proceeds to de-limb and decapitate her. Hange is concerned he’ll kill Annie in his rage, and with it the captive the Scout Regiment needs to survive the ramifications of this operation.

But he doesn’t. When he sees Annie within the Titan nape, unconscious, helpless, crying, and connected by tissue the same way he is, Eren freezes. All the resolve he’d built up melts away simply due to the sight of the Annie he knows. That hesitation allows Annie to (voluntarily or not) become encased in hard crystal that no blade can cut.

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Eren emerges from the Titan, exhausted but unharmed. Mikasa stays by his bedside as he makes a full recovery. Erwin manages to convince the Mayor and other bigwigs that they were able to accomplish something, by uncovering a potential epidemic of Titans hiding among mankind; Annie and Eren are surely not alone.

For now, Eren still has the key to his basement, Annie remains encased in crystal under Hange’s care, and Erwin vows to go on the offensive against the Titans. We have plenty of seeds for a second season, which is apparently arriving some time this year. With all the questions left unanswered mysteries left unsolved, and, of course, that creepy Titan peering out from inside the wall, I don’t see how I can miss it.

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Attack on Titan – 24

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So, here we are: Annie is very  out-in-the-open about being the Female Titan, but it doesn’t change her plan: to capture Eren. Why is a question that remains unclear: if she wanted to deprive the humans of a weapon against other Titans, she could just kill him, like she killed Hange’s two test subjects. She’s been very careful to keep Eren alive.

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This episode flashes back to the planning of Annie’s trap, along with an Eren who won’t accept that Annie is the Titan, no matter how much circumstantial evidence Armin and Mikasa come up with to try to convince him. Back in the present, on the run in tunnels they thought would be safe but are actually quite the opposite, Eren finds out just how devastating the inability to give nothing up can be.

With no resolve whatsoever to kill or even harm Annie anymore, he can’t transform into a Titan when he needs to the most, no matter how much he may want to transform, it can only be for a purpose, and his heart just isn’t in it. He must’ve thought back to all those fun pillow fights with Annie back during their cadet days (which we never saw):

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Eren’s problem, then, isn’t that he doesn’t believe Annie is the Female Titan; that much is clear at this point, now that he notices the resemblance both in their appearance and fighting style (along with the fact she transformed right in front of him).

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But while Eren can’t give up on Annie as a human and a friend, Annie can give up everything, which is why she can transform any time she likes and kill with abandon. Even Armin and Mikasa put their lives on the line in a gambit to allow Eren to escape. As Mikasa says, it’s a cruel world. Shit like this goes down, and you can’t worry about what’s right, or you’re dead.

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Mikasa and Armin successfully lure Annie into a trap by Hange, but I knew from the pittance of arresting cables that she wouldn’t be held for long…It might’ve served Hange to fully incapacitate Annie before gloating about catching her then describing what she’s going to do with her (everything she can).

But this isn’t about whether the Scout Regiment can catch Annie, or whether Armin and MIkasa and Jean or Erwin and Levi and Hange can somehow pull something off without Eren in the picture.

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The only thing that’s going to bring Annie down is Eren in Titan form. And to become a Titan, he’s going to have to convince himself to give up on the idea of Annie as a friend to be cherished, but an enemy to be killed without hesitation.

Buried by rubble and with a stick of wood in his chest, Eren thinks back to all of the people lost before his eyes and/or in front of him, starting with his mother being eaten years ago in Shiganshina where it all started. This isn’t time to be worried about his soul, or about not being to walk away having lost nothing. This is about putting everything—even his humanity—on the line, and getting the job done.

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Attack on Titan – 23

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This week starts out pretty quietly, as we look into Annie Leonhart’s life as a military policeman. The unit she belongs to is full of people who don’t care and led by a commander who’d rather play cards with the buds than lead, delegating the scout regiment escort duties to Marlo, someone with a strong sense of justice who has come to root out the corruption of the police.

Inside Wall Sina, soldiers clearly don’t have much to do, and idle hands are the devil’s playthings. Yet when actually faced with corruption occurring before his eyes, and Marlo gingerly points out the crimes his superiors are committing, they try bribing him, then beat the crap out of him when he persists.

Annie stays the hand of one of the superiors, while Hitch smooths everything over. But more importantly, Annie gives Marlo a second chance to prove he means what he says about punishing those who break the law. Marlo can kill those corrupt officers, but he doesn’t. Marlo, Annie concludes, is no Eren: full of bluster, but actually willing to follow through.

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When the scout regiment convoy arrives, Annie’s unit commences escort duties, but she’s drawn into an alley by a familiar voice: Armin’s. He’s just able to convince her to help sneak Eren out of custody of the selfish, ignorant bigwigs. It isn’t long before Armin and Annie have met up with Eren and Mikasa, and the three lead Annie to the entrance to a subterranean tunnel they’ll use to escape Wall Sina. Only…Annie doesn’t want to go in there, neither confirming or denying a fear of small, enclosed spaces.

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But it isn’t long until all pretense falls away, and Annie realizes this was all a trap to capture her. Armin knew as soon as he saw her, or rather Marco’s gear, that something wasn’t right, and wonders why she didn’t kill him out beyond the wall.

Out of convenient excuses, Annie knows the jig is up, even as Eren implores her to come down with them so they can figure this all out. Finally, Mikasa loses her patience and draws her sword, being the first to come right out and say it: Annie is the Female Titan.

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To this, Annie shows a side of herself we’ve never seen, and it’s at once wonderful and incredibly disturbing. Now that she’s been found out, Annie appears ecstatic and flush with excitement, and her voice changes. Granted, lots of villains and villainesses make similar faces and start cackling all the time, but there was something particularly unnerving about Annie doing it. That’s a face that’ll haunt your dreams.

Unfortunately for Eren, Armin, Mikasa, and all the people gathered to arrest her, Annie is wearing a ring with a retractable blade with which she can use to cut and transform herself. They simply aren’t quick enough to stop her. There’s some consolation in the trio heading safe underground, but they have to come back up eventually, and in the meantime Annie will be wreaking havoc at the very core of human civilization.

My only beefs with this development? Well, it was telegraphed pretty early on, so at this point I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop (which had its own tension). But more importantly, Annie just didn’t make that strong of an impression on me early on, and she hadn’t been an important part of the story until she showed up in Titan form, so her betrayal doesn’t nearly cut as deep as the show wants it to.

So, can they stop her? Reason with her? Live another day? Looks like the remaining two episodes of AoT will be spent answering those questions.

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Attack on Titan – 22

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Levi and Mikasa (but mostly Levi) succeeds in disabling the Female Titan to the point he can extract Eren from her mouth, betting everything that he’s still alive as Mikasa insists. That’s obviously good for Eren’s well-being, but part of me still wanted to see exactly where, or who, the Titan was taking him to, and for what purpose (though the fact he can transform like she can is obviously a front-runner for why).

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In any case, Eren is unconscious and goo-covered, but alive, as are many other scouts like Armin, Jean, and Sasha. But many are also dead, and they’ve been busy gathering the bodies and preparing them for the journey back behind the wall. This is like the grisly aftermath of the Trost battle, only there isn’t even a victory here with which to say it was worth it.

This was total defeat and failure, and it only gets worse when the bodies are loaded but the wagons can’t outrun Titans (who were led out of the forest and to the formation by two scouts desperate to find their friend’s body). Not only do they re-lose that body, but the soldiers on the wagon have to dump some of the bodies they have—including Petra’s, as Levi sees—in order to outrun the Titans.

It’s one more awful, morbid action people in this show must take in order to keep living, and a Sasha says, only half-believing it herself, being alive is something, right?

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In a manner that’s almost too rubbed in our faces, Eren dreams of the day the Scount Regiment returned, all solemn, defeated, bandaged faces and corpses, and when he got so damned mad at the townsfolk complaining about how the scouts just waste their taxes. When he wakes up, Mikasa is with him but is no comfort when they re-enter the walls to find just as cold and critical a reception, only now they’re the scouts.

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Even worse, Eren sees two bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youths watching the scouts’ procession full of excitement and hope. Neither Eren nor Mikasa can even put on fake faces of strength or confidence; they’re merely slack-jawed. That used to be them; now they know why those Scouts looked the way they did.

Finally, because Erwin didn’t actually accomplish anything on their expensive operation, they’re being called to the Capital to answer for his failure, while Eren is being placed back into custody. Things have just about hit rock bottom…but I won’t underestimate this show’s talent for finding still lower depths of despair.

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Attack on Titan – 21

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AoT’s pacing during its building up can be foot-tappingly sluggish, and it’s a show that loves to have its characters explain every last detail of what’s happening ad nauseum, but it can still stage one hell of an intense payoff, as it does this week when the She-Titan pilot takes out Gunter, transforms back into a Titan, and then kills off Erd, Petra, and Oulo in quick succession. All Eren can do is watch, as he made his decision to place his belief in his friends over his belief in himself.

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It proves to be the wrong decision, just as his decision not to fight the She-Titan when he first encountered it was the wrong decision. I thought that Levi looked somewhat surprised when Eren decided to press forward, allowing him to lead the Titan to Erwin’s trap. But the trap was the wrong decision, too.

Sure, you’re supposed to believe in your comrades, and perfectly-executed traps are supposed to work, but Erwin and Eren both learn that doing things that seem most reasonable aren’t effective when dealing with the Titans, especially this one. I knew some shit was going to hit the fan, but the shit was so thick it stopped the fan blades in their tracks. Gunter, Erd, Oulo, or Petra? Sure, one or two were bound to die. But all of them? That’s some rough carnage.

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But one good thing comes out of that carnage: it provokes Eren into a murderous, vengeful rage, transforming into full-on Titan Mode (no partial manifestation) and getting into the best Titan-on-Titan battle yet, an epic struggle in which Eren’s brute force intermittently finds purchase with the slick, slippery She-Titan, who also packs a punch due to her ability to harden her skin.

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Throughout this battle all the way until the end of the episode, my heart rate went up and my adrenaline didn’t stop pumping. But while it’s clear now who’s inside the She-Titan, Eren doesn’t pick up on it. He doesn’t realize someone used these kinds of moves on him before, in human form. No, he’s too goddamn angry to think about anything other than beating her into oblivion.

That proves his undoing, however, as he blasts his own fists away and has to wait for them to heal. Also, after appearing to walk away from the fight when he’s down, the She-Titan turns back and blasts Eren’s head off, exposing the human within, which she swallows. Now, we’ve been here before, so again, Eren clearly isn’t dead, but he definitely lost a fight I thought he’d win. He just lacked the experience in his Titan form and over-relied on his brutality. The way of water beat the way of fire here.

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As if this episode wasn’t awesome enough, Mikasa shows up just in time not to save Eren, but watch him get glomped by the She-Titan. Her sudden transition from shocked-and-fragile Mikasa to Pissed-and-Lethal Mikasa was wonderful to behold, as is her ultimately futile attempt to get Eren back immediately by chasing the She-Titan and slashing the shit out of her.

Like Eren, Mikasa falls victim to lack of experience when she goes for the nape only to hit the She-Titan’s crystalline shell. She took her shot and missed, but looks fully prepared to go at it again, but we can guess how it would have ended: out of gas, out of blades, and with no Eren to save her. Instead, Levi grabs her from death-by-blaze-of-glory, and we’re glad for it. Let them try it his way, if he has one.

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Next Week: My AoT Retro Reviews come to an end, just in time for Christmas.

Attack on Titan – 20

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Hmm…this is what I was afraid of: either the episode would feature everyone besides Erwin and Levi heeing and hawing about what’s going on, delaying the reveal of who is inside the Female Titan, or they’d simply be unable to get her out. We get both. But while this episode lags at times with its scores of characters who don’t know as much as we do, I still didn’t hate it, because it went in a different direction and opened my eyes to a through line I hadn’t yet fully considered.

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Speaking of eyes, both they and the short blonde hair got me thinking Krista is the Female Titan, but we see her positioned on the edge of the forest, distracting the lesser Titans along with Armin, Mikasa (who has been criminally sidelined this arc), Sasha, etc.

So Krista’s out, leaving only one blue-eyed blonde, who oddly chose not to join the others in the Scout Regiment. If that’s Annie Leonhart in there, it explains her past aloofness and desire to be independent from the scouts when the time came to nab Eren, not to mention her martial arts background.

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Unfortunately, Erwin and Levi aren’t able to get past the Titan’s hands, and before they can blow them off with explosives, she gives out a blood-curdling cry that sends legions of Titans to her position, where they proceed not to free her from her restraints, but eat her, leaving Erwin no choice but to give the order to retreat, with their prize now gone.

Erwin, clearly feeling pretty defeated and distraught, notes that the She-Titan gave up everything to foil his plans, mirroring Armin’s notion that those who aren’t prepared to lose it all won’t be able to enact the necessary change to save humanity. Well, it works both ways.

Meanwhile, and less interesting, are Eren, Petra, & Co. sussing out exactly why they were left in the dark, concluding that there’s a pro-Titan traitor in their midst, so need-to-know was the name of the game.

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When Eren was told the expedition isn’t over and you haven’t officially survived until you’re back home, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be an easy retreat. Erwin also makes it a point to order Levi to fill up on gas and blades for the return trip, just in case something happens. And something does, with the “pilot” of the Female Titan masquerading as Levi and luring his squad to their potential doom.

For the first time, this episode turned me on to the idea of humans collaborating with Titans, even if I don’t quite understand how the hell it works. When everyone was accusing Eren, I obviously thought they were full of it, because I watched what Eren went through firsthand.

But this female traitor (who is probably Annie?) She’s the real deal: she’s killed dozens of her fellow humans and isn’t done, and is still very much after Eren. I’d say a Titan-on-Titan duel in the forest is pretty much inevitable.

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Attack on Titan – 19

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What does Levi’s big flare gun shot set into motion? Well, in the immediate moment, not all that much; it’s only an acoustic round that doesn’t seem to affect the She-Titan at all, but could serve as a signal for the soldiers ahead of them, as well as wiping everyone’s slate clean, so to speak, and focusing them.

But the more Eren focuses on what’s behind him—scouts engaging the Titan and getting killed, while he runs away—the more upset he gets, to the point he’s ready to bite his hand and become a Titan himself so he can stop the killing. Levi, looking ahead the whole time, doesn’t discourage him from this. Rather, he tells him to make his own choice, though Petra begs Eren to believe in her and his other comrades.

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Those words—“Believe in us.”—triggers a flashback, which is another suspension of the momentum of the present events, but actually turned out to be a worthwhile detour. When Eren climbs down a well to test his Titan-transforming powers, biting his hand doesn’t work. Levi tells him not to sweat it, and they have some chow.

But as Eren reaches for a spoon that’s just out of reach, the Titan transformation occurs, as he unwittingly creates a partial Titan torso and arm grasping that spoon. All of a sudden, Eren’s comrades draw their swords and start yelling, ready to kill him if he so much as flinches. The sense of cascading fear and mounting chaos in this scene was quite palpable.

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Eren tries to de-escalate by shouting “Be quiet for a second!”, but he’s really saved by an elated Hange Zoe, whose mouth is literally watering at the chance to see Eren’s ability in the hot, skinless flesh. Ironically, it’s Hange’s crazed, reckless thirst for knowledge and unapologeticly light mood that defuses the tense standoff. And Romi Park is immensely entertaining in this role.

An assist goes to Levi, who stood between Eren and his trigger (or rather blade)-happy officers and insisted they all basically chill the fuck out. No one acts in the time between Eren’s transformation and Hange’s arrival because the others are heeding their Captain, even if the compulsion to act decisively without thinking too much is strong.

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In fact, those instincts are one of the very reasons Levi chose them for his unit. None of the men or woman directly under Levi can be said to be like Armin; they’re not overthinkers. If they see an imminent threat, they don’t assess; they act. But another reason he chose them is their unswerving loyalty. When Hange determines Eren’s actions were involuntary, they know when they’re wrong and that they were threatening jerks to Eren, and not only apologize, but bite their own hands.

Would they act exactly the same way as they did if the clock was turned back (as tends to happen on this show) and they faced identical circumstances? Definitely, but that’s not going to ever happen, because now they know a little more about Eren and his ability: he only transforms when there’s a specific purpose to it, whether it’s protecting his friends from a cannon, plugging the gate, or reaching for a spoon.

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That night when Petra and the others bite their hands pledge to believe in Eren, and urge him to believe in him; that’s the end of Eren’s deliberations. Petra’s look up top is the same as the one from that night, an earnest plea for him to put his trust not only in himself, but in her, and Levi, and the rest of his comrades. Rather than transform, with the purpose of beating the She-Titan, he decides to keep racing forward on his horse. He’s growing a lot on this mission…without having to grow into a Titan.

His faith in his comrades and the Scout Regiment in general pays off, as the She-Titan, having been harried by several scouts who gave their lives to enable Levi, Eren, Petra & Co. to stay just ahead of her, is led straight into an elaborate trap consisting of hundreds of restraining wires that stop her in her tracks.

This was Erwin’s plan all along: using Eren to draw the She-Titan into captivity. She’s covering her nape, but they believe someone is in there (probably someone with that same hairstyle, I’m thinking), and they’re itching to get her out of there so she can answer for what she’s done…whoever she is.

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Attack on Titan – 18

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A survival crisis crops up when Armin, Jean, and Reiner are stuck in an exposed area with only one horse, and consider leaving someone behind, possibly to die, but Krista Lenz, who happens to be some kind of horse whisperer, rescues the three guys by bringing two horses with her, causing them to fall for their pretty savior right then and there.

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That scene is a nice little breather before returning to the dilemmas at hand: the formation is off course and being torn to smithereens by the Female Titan, who continues to repel any scout attack against her, displaying intelligence and creativity even most elites have never seen.

The show’s penchant for dark humor is amplified when she spins one poor soldier around like a stone in a sling, before apathetically letting him loose behind her. I was waiting for the awful crunching sound of the guy hitting the ground,but we were spared.

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Ultimately, the She-Titan’s goal is Eren, as Armin deduced from her course. The balance of this episode becomes about Commander Erwin’s strange orders and how all the lower-downs handle them. He shoots his elite core with Eren into the depths of a forest of really tall trees, which is really cool and looks like a place I’d want to camp were there not Titans around.

In fact, one wonders why humans didn’t just build settlements in the treetops, out of reach of the Titans. I guess there just wouldn’t be time to build, and in any case, the Colossal and Armored Titans would wreak just as much havoc on a forest as on a wall. That doesn’t change my opinion that a tiered tree-city would be cooler than a walled one, but I’ll table that wish in the interests of proceeding with she show we have.

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In the show, Jean, Eren, and several others are outright confused by Erwin’s moves, and wish he’d just explain to them what his plan is so that they won’t be so damned jittery. That doesn’t happen; even the elites under Levi’s command look like they have no clue what’s going on. Again, one can hardly blame them; when the She-Titan suddenly appears in the forest and goes after Eren it’s pretty damned frightening.

But neither Erwin nor Levi will tell anyone anything until it’s time to set into motion whatever trap they’ve set for the Female Titan, if that’s indeed what’s going on. Levi simply orders everyone to cover their ears (what about their horses’ reins?) before firing what looks like a flare gun. And that’s where the episode leaves us, on the edge of our seats, wondering what pulling that trigger will do (beyond launching a flare, of course). Fortunately I won’t have to wait a week to find out.

Also…I doubt it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit suspicious that Krista and the She-Titan have the same hair and eyes, and that Krista showed up immediately after the She-Titan disappeared? Probably just a coincidence.

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Attack on Titan – 17

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Wow, AoT really geeks out this week with the intricate enemy scouting formation dealie Erwin cooks up for the regiment. It’s a clever way to make a group of mounted humans work like one big organism, complete with eyes on the flanks that communicate to the brain controlling navigation in the center, through the use of colored signal flares. Considering the enemy is one big organism, strength in numbers makes sense, just as it does on the Serengeti.

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And naturally, because this is AoT, it doesn’t take long for Erwin’s delicately-crafted formation to start getting completely torn up by Titans, including one very frightening “centipede” variant that chases and nearly nabs a straying Sasha, who is thoroughly freaked out by the experience, causing me to wonder if she should really even be out there participating in an operation.

It’s a bit harsh to say Sash should be used to it by now, this job is going to entail a lot more close calls with Titans than steamed potatoes. Also, that crawling Titan was pretty freaky. Hell, she reacted like I would have. The thing is, Crawly isn’t the scariest Titan this week by far. That goes to one a lot…different.

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I’m talking of course about the 14-meter elephant in the room: a female Titan that is incredibly fast, quick, and smart. So smart, she’s aware her nape is her weak spot and guards it from attacks, and rather than step on the cloaked Armin, daintily pulls his cloak back and gets a good look at his face before getting up and moving on. Without eating him. This is a weird Titan, indeed. And as Armin, resident brainiac, opines, it’s behavior that puts her in a very small class of Titan, along with Colossal, Armored…and Eren.

Combined with Hange’s discovery that Titans are far lighter than one would think, and those secrets in the basement, and Eren’s unique-so-far ability to transform into a Titan, the body of evidence is growing that some Titans may be humans in Titan bodies. Could there be a civilization far beyond the horizon that sent Colossal, Armored, and this She-Titan as “generals” of sorts to herd the dumber hordes of Titans to feed, like so many foot soldiers? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

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But the Scout Regiment doesn’t have time to stoke their chins and consider those possibilities. They have a formation to keep and a mission to complete. Armin, with help from Jean and Reiner, manage to escape the She-Titan after trying and failing to take her out, and from the direction she’s headed, Armin believes she’s looking for Eren.

This was a thrilling episode pretty much from start to finish, doubly admirable considering Eren and Mikasa weren’t even in it, and it took place on a mostly flat field. The 360-degree cameras following the soldiers as they fought the Titans, as well as the unique way the She-Titan looks and moves, all added to the engrossing spectacle. And because much of the episode took place on horseback, things literally moved along quite nicely.

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Attack on Titan – 16

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The mystery of who killed Sonny and Bean remains that this week, as an investigation turns up no culprits. But there isn’t time to worry about that now; the Scout Regiment must prepare to head out beyond Wall Rose to retrieve the secret in Eren’s basement, which is a potential MacGuffin if I ever heard of one.

While last week focused entirely on Eren settling into his new assignment, this week gets back to his fellow 104th cadets, who must still choose which regiment they’ll join, despite being profoundly traumatized by the battle and the clean-up that followed. Some are sure of where they’re going—Mikasa and Armin to the Scouts, Annie to the Police—but Connie, Sasha, and especially Jean wring their hands a lot more.

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When the night of the choosing is upon them, scores of cadets head for the hills after hearing Erwin’s stirring but not altogether encouraging speech, curtly informing them that in the last four years, 60% of the Scouts have been wiped out, and he can’t guarantee those losses will go down just because they now have Eren.

What Erwin does do, without sugarcoating anything, is lay out their plan to return to Shiganshina, in hopes the answer to defeating the Titans for good lies there (a huge assumption, but one made by desperate people).

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The ones who remain, less than two dozen, include all of the cadets who hung around Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, except for Annie and Marco. I’m gradually learning their names, but to be honest there are so many and they get so little time on screen it’s tough keeping track of them all, aside from the very distinctive Sasha, Connie, and Krista.

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There’s no rest for the weary, as the newly-minted Scouts are immediately integrated into Erwin’s plan to do a practice run outside the wall to test whether getting Eren to Shiganshina is possible. This means Eren is reunited with Mikasa and Armin, and to the show’s credit, Mikasa demonstrates her undying devotion to Eren by neither forgiving nor forgetting what Levi did to him.

Eren is surprised to see Jean, and almost disproportionately devastated when he learns Marco died. But Marco, it would seem, is one reason Jean joined up, despite lacking what he perceives as Eren’s “death wish.”

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Marco died quietly, ingloriously, and no one witnessed his end, nor will any songs be sung. It just happened, like it did with countless other humans, be they soldiers or not. He also died without Eren ever noticing, until he was told by those who saw his body. I guess Jean took another look at himself as a military policeman after all he’d been through, and heard the words of praise from a comrade, and decided “I can contribute more directly to the cause.”

By doing so, he figures to die in a manner more likely to be remembered. But he’d rather not die at all, which is why he implores Eren, who still isn’t sure he can control his Titan form, to please, please don’t let them down. Don’t let any more of his comrades end up like Marco. Jean tells Mikasa not everyone can die unconditionally for Eren like her. Jean has conditions. If he’s going to die, he wants it to be for a good reason, and for someone to notice when it happens.

As the Scout Regiment storms out of the gates with purpose, in search of glory and salvation, there’s a good chance those conditions will be met.

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Attack on Titan – 15

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Eren’s first big mission as a newly-minted member of the Scout Regiment is…cleaning a dusty old castle that once served as the Regiment’s HQ. It’s not glamorous, but it is a good opportunity for him to meet his new comrades, among them Petra, Oulo, Eld, and other people with funny names.

But despite those funny names, they’re all elite soldiers with dozens of Titan kills and perhaps hundreds of assists between them. Whatever his status is here (and it’s not high), he intends to soak up as much as he can from these veterans of his calling.

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After dinner, those veterans clear out when Eren shows curiosity in Hange Zoe’s activities experimenting on Titans. Hange ends up talking to Eren the entire night before she’s to perform some tests on him to get a better idea of what the regiment has to work with. She also proves to be the most knowledgeable person on the Titans either he or we have yet encountered.

Not only that, Hange is a very odd duck in a regiment full of ’em, but there’s a method to her madness. As she tells Eren, she enlisted and was once driven solely by hatred for humanity’s “mortal enemy,” but the closer she got to the Titans, and the more she learned about them, the more the hate faded and the desire to learn still more grew. They may be a voracious plague on mankind, but that doesn’t change the fact that Titans are inscrutable, wondrous creatures.

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Part of that wonder is derived from the fact that Titans are so light for their size, which makes Hange consider the possibility that they way humans perceive Titans and the way Titans really are may be two completely different things. The show has been so extremely stingy with solid info on the Titans, so theories of this nature burnish their mystique.

Fear and rage haven’t gotten humans far, so she has always strove to study them from a different perspective, and with that has come an ungrudging admiration of and affection for her “subjects”. I never thought Titans could be portrayed with something like compassion, but Hange’s interaction with them does just that.

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So when, the morning after the whole night she talked Eren’s ear off, those subjects, named Sonny and Bean, are discovered having been murdered, she’s genuinely devastated and flips out. Meanwhile, Erwin seems to have a plan that diverges from the “company line”, which Mike has sniffed out. No doubt Eren is integral to that plan, whatever it consists of.

Eren has learned in no time at all that he’s in a strange place full of intrigue among strange people who want to use him for one reason or another. He’s passed the Don’t-Get-Eaten-By-A-Titan Test, but surviving in a swirling sea of eccentric, erratic, and ambitious personalities is a whole new ballgame.

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Attack on Titan – 14

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AoT is a show in which Eren and pretty much everyone else around him is usually fighting for their lives. As such, it is more necessary than other less “lethal” shows to suspend disbelief that this week will finally Eren’s last. The truth is, he’s the protagonist, and he’s not going anywhere. So the show has to be clever in order to keep the audience suspended in disbelief, like a scout regiment soldier suspended in the air.

This week, I couldn’t help but come to the ground, probably because I couldn’t silence the voice of a theoretical 90’s-style overdone television commercial for this episode: “This week on Attack on Titan: Eren goes on trial. Will he live…or die?”, and so forth. Opening the second cour of AoT with a stodgy standalone trial episode with a foregone conclusion frankly wasn’t all that engaging.

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Forget the feeling this is just a formality, and the nagging certainty that Eren would be spared the proverbial guillotine. After all the horrors and near-misses we’ve faced with Eren, a courtroom setting populated mostly with ignorant wimps just doesn’t feel that threatening. C-in-C Zackley is built up as this force to be reckoned with, but he’s mostly just a bore who is not only constantly failing to keep order in the court, but doesn’t even seem particularly interested in doing so.

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I kinda pumped my fist, then, when Levi essentially puts an end to the farce by approaching Eren and then proceeding to beat the ever-loving crap out of him, an effort to show he can control him, but also to call out all the schlubs who talk big but weren’t ready to back up their bluster with action. Sure, Levi activates Angry Mikasa, but it would seem Armin has the ability to hold her back in such situations. If he didn’t, I still think Levi would give her a run for her money; he seems a true-grit kinda fellow.

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Zackley decides to hand Eren over to the Scout Regiment, represented by Erwin Smith, Levi, Hange Zoe (who seems to have a scientific inclination) and Mike Zacharias (who likes sniffing people then sneering). Between them, only Erwin seems normal. As it turns out, Levi only beat up Eren in order to convince Zackley to let the Scouts take him out to the exterior, to see if he can truly be a benefit to humanity.

Mind you, Levi didn’t hold back, but he did have to sell it, even to a judge as disinterested as Zackley. And Eren seems to still possess rapid-healing powers, as the tooth he lost to Levi’s beating is already growing back.

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Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long