Attack on Titan – 75 – Piecking Sides

Zeke barely survived the Thunder Spear explosion, but believes he may be soon pushing daisies until a Pure Titan arrives, cuts open its belly, and places Zeke inside; presumably to facilitate healing. Levi’s gambit failed and his fate remains unknown.

To the last, Attack on Titan is to tense, unpleasant meal scenes as Yuru Camp is to relaxing, pleasant ones, as Pyxis is forced to dine while soldiers wearing the same uniform hold a gun to his back.

Pyxis notes that various colored handkerchiefs adorning everyone—white for Jaegerists, red for those who found out they drank wine and forced to comply, and black for those who drank wine without knowing it—seem an awful lot like “how Marley does things”. But Yelena makes one thing clear: this isn’t about revenge.

In the jail, Connie and Jean want to know what Eren said to Mikasa that made Armin throw a punch at Eren, then get the shit beat out of him (though his Titan healing seems to be working fine). Mikasa doesn’t want to talk about it, Connie thinks it doesn’t matter; Eren is a piece of shit and now he’s gone mad; and Jean wonders if Eren is actually playing some kind of 4D chess.

Then Yelena arrives to tell the once-“heroes of Shiganshina” that they’re to sit quiet and behave until Zeke and Eren meet. When Niccolo berates Greiz for selling them out to become Yelena’s lackey, Greiz lays into Niccolo for falling in love with a “devil spawn whore”.

His words earn him a bullet to the head…from Yelena, who bows in apology and assures the others that Paradis “has no need for those who would call you devils”. She decides to come clean with Zeke and Eren’s true goal: the Eldian Euthanization Plan that will end the cycle of hatred.

Gabi, the rootable yet pitiable poster girl for that cycle throughout The Final Season, is visited by Eren, who asks her to help him if she wants her friend Falco to live, by calling for help on the radio to flush out her allies. Just as he’s making this not-a-request, one of those allies in Pieck slips right in, cuts the guard’s throat, and points her Luger at Eren, ordering Gabi to train the guard’s rifle on him.

Eren is unmoved. Pieck’s orders were to retake the Founding Titan, not kill him, otherwise he’d already be dead. He impresses upon her how both she and her family would be punished by Marley for disobeying orders. Pieck stands down and orders Gabi to do the same, declaring that her true goal is to free all Eldians—in Marley and around the world.

When Pieck asks Gabi what they are, she says “Honorary Marleyans”, but Pieck says they’re Subjects of Ymir first and foremost. Port Slava showed that the time of the Titans’ usefulness is nearing an end due to the advancement of military technology. When it does, Marley will slaughter the lot of them.

While Pieck tries to convince a still-thoroughly conditioned Gabi of their need to fight for their right to live, Yelena finishes explaining to the prisoners how the Jeager brothers’ plan will end the Eldians’ time on this earth “gracefully and peacefully”. Armin is moved to tears by the nobility of such a cause, apparently in agreement that the only way to end the cycle is to end the Titans.

Having agreed to point out her fellow Marleyan invaders to Eren from atop the Shiganshina citadel’s tower, they walk through the citadel. She waves to soldiers like an idol and is met by blushing faces…there’s no denying Pieck is extremely cute—and cool-headed to boot. But until Eren is satisfied she can be trusted, he has her shackled to Gabi so if she tries to transform into the Cart, she’ll kill her.

Just when Gabi couldn’t be feeling lower, Pieck squeezes her hand in hers and gives her a soft, kind smile. When Eren orders her to point out where the enemy is, Pieck turns around and dramatically points…right back at Eren. She’s not lying, nor is she talking about Eren, as Porco/Jaws blasts through the floor and snaps up everything below Eren’s waist.

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to snap his head off, gobble him up whole, and Eren simply transforms into the Founding Titan. But that’s apparently just what Pieck, Porco, and their compatriots want, as five Marleyan airships arrive right on time, with both Commander Magath and Reiner Braun on board. We get one last look at the Founding Titan’s glorious glutes before the cut to yet another To Be Continued.

That’s right: The Final Season isn’t over yet, only the first part. This actually came as news to me, but I’m also eternally grateful things don’t end here with some kind of “Want to find out how it ends? Read the manga!” message. As the minutes were counting down I had a feeling there simply wouldn’t be adequate time for an anime-original wrap-up of everything going on. But the endgame is certainly nigh, and this first part of the final season covered some serious ground and ended with Eren as the Big Bad.

Will he remain so in Part 2, or go against his brother’s plan to exterminate their race? Is his relationship with Mikasa and Armin been permanently destroyed, or will a chance at redemption present itself, possibly aligned with his split from Zeke? How many more twists are we in store for? Questions abound, just as they always do at the end of a cour of Shingeki no Kyojin—and as always, the next cour can’t come soon enough.

Attack on Titan – 73 – Burning Bridges, Breaking Bonds

Note: This episode was interrupted ~17 minutes in by a special news report of a magnitude 4.7 earthquake near Wakamiya. As of yet are no reports of serious injuries or damage, and there is no tsunami threat. We’re hoping everyone is okay.—R.S.

The first eight minutes of this episode contain some of the bitterest, most heartbreaking moments of the entire run of the show. Eren hasn’t come to see his two best friends to ask them to join his cause. They aren’t friends anymore, and according to him, one of them never was.

When Armin accuses him of being manipulated by his big brother, Eren turns the accusation back on Armin. Since he carries the Colossal Titan, he also carries Bertholdt Hoover’s memories, and has thus partially become Bertholdt, whom Eren considers the enemy. Eren isn’t wrong, either: why else has Armin been visiting Annie?

If Mikasa thought she be safe from Eren’s aspersions, she is proven dead wrong, as he dismisses her as nothing but a vessel for the Ackerman blood, sworn to protect the king of Eldia at all costs. The day she killed to save him in that cabin, she was simply obeying orders, like a slave, and every time she’s saved him since was for the same reason.

There’s nothing Eren hates more than people who aren’t free, who he calls “cattle”, and blows right through Armin’s “stop it” by saying just looking at Mikasa would piss him off, and that he always hated her. 

Whether it is true if Eren always hated her (I tend to doubt that), no one can deny Mikasa putting Eren’s safety above everything else, even defining her entire existence. She doesn’t help her case when Armin, who’s had enough of Eren’s lip, leaps over the table to slug him, only to be immediately and easily restrained…by Mikasa, again moving without thinking, betraying her Ackerman programming.

Armin still manages to get a potshot in, and Eren decides to stir the shit a little more, telling him that they’ve never fought each other once in all their lives because it wouldn’t be a fair fight. To drive that point home, he beats the shit out of Armin while Mikasa can only watch in tearful horror. He then asks one of his underlings to take them, and Gabi, away. They’re headed to where it all began: Shiganshima.

I can’t believe Eren always felt this way about Armin and Mikasa, but it is probably no coincidence that the man who has become obsessed with his idea of “freedom” isn’t just breaking his bonds of bondage, but of friendship as well. Even if there was once an Eren Yeager we could root for, that Eren is long gone now.

I don’t care what he says about Armin or Mikasa or how technically accurate he may be about their circumstances. The fact is they both loved him, and dearly. They didn’t deserve to be shit on like this, and he didn’t deserve them, period.

Levi is tired of waiting around for something to happen, and so breaks his bonds of protocol and command by deciding that both Eren and Zeke will be fed to other, more malleable hosts. But he waited a little too long, and also made the critical mistake of letting his unit drink the Marleyan wine usually reserved for the Military Police.

Zeke lets out a shout as he flees the camp, and in moments each and every one of Levi’s solders transform into Pure Titans under his control. At the same time in the capital, Pyxis and a host of other officials are momentarily paralyzed and report feeling strange…including Falco, who swallowed a drop of wine after all.

Zeke may seem to have the upper hand, but makes the miscalculation that Levi would refrain or even hesitate to slaughter Titans bearing the faces of his subordinates. That’s exactly what he does, including two of the three escorting Zeke out of the forest when he catches up to him, slicing them up like spiral hams. Zeke is left with no choice but to transform into the Beast, and repurposes pieces of a Titan’s corpse into deadly thrown projectiles.

Unfortunately, the lumbering Beast Titan is no match for someone as small, agile, and fast as Levi in the middle of a forest full of anchors for his ODM gear. He can attack Zeke from any and all angles, and launches four nape-busting missiles right into the Beast’s neck.

Zeke is thrown from the Titan body, severely injured, but still alive, and Levi’s plan to feed him to someone else are back on. If Zeke was headed to Shiganshima to meet with Eren, like the final six minutes of this episode, he’s been delayed indefinitely.

Attack on Titan – 69 – Love Is in the Air

Things in present-day Paradis are pretty grim, but leave it to Hange to liven things up a bit by getting all pedantic about an incarcerated Eren repeating “fight” into his mirror. Hange is there to talk, just like the first time they met, only this time they’d prefer if he did most of the talking. If nothing else, Hange believed Eren would never sacrifice Historia (which is necessary for the Rumbling). Yet here they are.

Flash back to two years ago, with the Scouts and Yelena’s Marleyans welcoming the first outside visitors to Paradis’ rebuilt port: Paradis’s sole friendly nation, Hizuru, and its special envoy, Azumabito Kiyomi. During initial pleasantries, Kiyomi presents the shogunate crest: three katanas forming a triangle. Eren urges Mikasa to reveal what she’s only ever shown to him: that very same crest on top of her right wrist.

That’s right: Mikasa is the long-lost descendant and rightful heir to Hizuru’s throne. Queen Historia immediately feels a deepened kinship with Mikasa, as both were born with a heavy burden to bear. It’s just that unlike ‘Tori, Mikasa likely has no intention of uprooting her life, so say nothing of leaving Eren’s side.

Kiyomi has come to Paradis on Zeke Yeager’s invitation, as he enticed them with the prospect of mining the unique resource known as “Iceburst Stone” which fuels Paradis’ ODM gear. They’re excited at the prospect of restoring their former glory by taking the lead in an innovative industry. It also becomes clear that the Azumabitos of Hizuru are particularly concerned with profit, however it can be acquired.

Zeke’s plan to use the Rumbling to protect Paradis consists of three stages, as presented to Historia and all the island’s higher-ups. First, there will be a “test run” of the Rumbling, then strengthening of the Paradis military. Finally, the Founding Titan and a Titan with royal blood will be passed down. Zeke will pass the Beast Titan to a royal, and for thirteen years that royal’s primary task will be to have as many children as possible.

This plan makes sense in the present, but it does nothing about the overarching problem of the power of the Titans bringing ruin upon Eldians. Basically, the cure (i.e. the successful defense of Paradis) is worse than the disease. Hange understands this, and doesn’t like the prospect of kicking the can down the road to future generations, as previous ones did to them.

Back in the present, Hange tells Eren she felt the same urgency to weigh the protection of their lands against the cost it would incur, but still wishes Eren hadn’t gone off on his own, which severely limited their remaining options. Eren’s only response is that no prison can hold him now that he has the Warhammer Titan, so if Hange has “anything up her sleeve”, now’s the time to come out with it.

As for Queen Historia, she became pregnant in the ensuing two years, as discussed by a good old boy’s club getting drunk and discussing future strategy. The father of the child she’s carrying once threw rocks at her on her farm and later volunteered at her orphanage as penance. It was Historia who initiated their eventual liason resulting in her pregnancy.

One old man, Roeg, drunk on wine, can’t believe the queen got herself knocked up, and suggests they make her a Titan despite her pregnancy; no one else thinks that’s right or wise. Roeg suspects it was Yelena who convinced Tori to get pregnant, but he really has no idea. These guys, by the way, are being attended to by Greiz and Niccolo, who serve under Yelena.

Looking back two years ago, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, and Jean are all hard at work building a Paradis railroad, of all things, when Hange and Levi pay them a visit to report that Hizuru gave their reply: they won’t help Paradis open trade with other nations, as they’re committed to a monopoly on the island’s resources.

The rest of the world’s nations remaining united against Paradis, Root of All Evil, creates stability they’re unwilling to give up. That means they have little choice but to rely on the Rumbling for defense, which means sacrificing Historia. Armin wishes they’d reconsider a more peaceful path, but Mikasa tells him it’s no good; as long as those nations don’t know who and what they really are, they’ll always fear them.

An alternative plan, then, involves showing them who and what they are, by setting up a base in Marley. Eren worries time is running short; he only has five more years as a Titan. Then talk turns to who will inheret his Titan. Obviously, Mikasa volunteers first, but Jean vetoes, as there’s too much mystery surrounding the Ackermans.

Jean volunteers, but Connie believes he’s too valuable as a future regiment commander. Connie volunteers, but Sasha says they can’t leave such an important role to an idiot, so she volunteers. Connie says she’s more of an idiot than he is, so that wouldn’t work. Then Eren says he doesn’t want any of them to have to inherit it. They’re all too important to him, and he wants them to live long lives. This causes all of them to turn red—apropos for Valentines.

Back in the darker, bleaker, narrower present, Mikasa, Armin, Jean and Connie discuss what’s next now that Eren seems to be going all in on Zeke’s plan. If Eren is choosing Zeke over them, they may need to cut him down, but of course Mikasa would never allow that. She assures them it won’t come to that, that he still cares about them.

But Jean mentions how the old Eren would try to keep Mikasa off the front lines. The new one pulled them into an unnecessary battle that got Sasha killed. And worse, Connie mentions how Eren laughed when he heard Sasha had died. Armin decides that he and Mikasa will talk to Eren alone and try to see how he sees things. Because he may not be Eren anymore, and thus may not consider them as important as exacting final revenge upon Marley and the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 68 – No Peace In Our Time

The Scout Regiment is back home on Paradis, and Armin is reminiscing on better times on a torch-lit cell, all the while with the shell he found that day on the beach in his hand. He looks back to three years ago, to when there was still a possibility things could come to a peaceful or diplomatic solution.

Thanks to Eren lifting Marleyan scout ships out of the water and dropping them on dry land, the Scout Regiment as led by Hange and Levi manage to secure the entire Marleyan crew as captives. But they have help from within: Yelena, who along with her pro-Eldian compatriots, turn on their Marleyan crewmates and accepts Hange’s somewhat kind if somewhat manic offer of a cup of tea.

Yelena and Onyankopon describe to Hange and Levi Marley’s extensive advantage in military technology. When asked why Marley hasn’t used that tech to invade Paradise, Yelena’s answer is twofold: the hordes of Pure Titans around the island meant to keep the Eldians within the walls also do a good job keeping would-be invaders away.

Secondly, after the Colossal and Female Titans were captured by Paradis, Marley’s weakness was exploited by a number of nations ganging up on them. As we know, the fresh invasion of Paradis couldn’t happen until their war with the other nations was won. Yelena and her people, who aren’t foreign secret agents embedded in Marley but a group called the “Anti-Marleyan Volunteers” are tasked with freeing the Eldian people, are led by Zeke Yeager.

Hange relays Zeke’s plan to save all Eldians by bringing about the Rumbling, which requires both the Founding Titan and a Titan of Royal Blood. When some higher-ups bristle, Eren confirms that Zeke at least isn’t lying about the Founding Titan and Royals, as he himself experienced with Dina Fritz. He hadn’t brought it up until now because he wished to protect Queen Historia.

The Scouts capture more Marleyan Scout ships as the plan is considered, but Eren doesn’t want anything to do with a peaceful resolution. As far as he’s concerned, everyone across the sea who believe they’re scary monsters who can turn into Titans are absolutely right, and should be scared.

But three years later, with Liberio in ruins and Sasha dead, Armin wonders if they could have taken a different path to get what they wanted. Jean and Connie are joined at Sasha’s grave by Niccolo, the captured Marleyan who used to love cooking for Sasha as much as she loved eating his cooking. Sasha’s parents visit the grave, and Niccolo tells them the small but meaningful way he knew and cared for their daughter, and he shakes her father’s hand.

It’s Armin’s wish writ small—an Eldian and a Marley joining hands and joining in their mutual grief. But it’s too small against the most dangerous “Titan” of them all: that generational leviathan of shared, irreconcilable hatred and distrust. It’s why once Yelena’s haul of stolen Titan serum is secured, Pyxis has the volunteers detained, while Levi stuffs Zeke in the forest, on a tight leash.

Meanwhile, in the cell she shares with Falco, Gabi chews her nails to the quick, cursing Eren Yeager with every breath, a vessel for that long-stewing hatred mixed with her own personal losses at Paradis’ hands.

Armin then says that no longer what he and Mikasa and Sasha and everyone else did or didn’t do, Eren was going to have his way; the worst was going to happen regardless. With that in mind, he believes they had no choice, no more than Reiner, Bertholdt, or Annie had a choice that day years ago. The person he’s talking to? Annie, still frozen in crystal.

As Mikasa leans against a gravestone, she repeats the words she’s lived by: “Fight or die. Win and live.” Those words are echoed by an Eren just as fully committed to war and vengeance as Gabi…just as lost: “The only way to win is to fight.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 67 – A Few Miscalculations

Here it is, the rematch you’ve all been waiting for. Eren vs. Reiner. Attack vs. Armored…aaaaand just like that, it’s over. Reiner’s down for the count. He didn’t have much gas in the tank to begin with, and neither did Eren, who hops out of his Titan and gets picked up by a waiting Mikasa.

After last weeks Titan battle-heavy episode, I was pleased that this was only a brief struggle, with Reiner’s consolation prize being he managed to rescue Porco and Jaw. But even if Eren and Reiner are done for now, Gabi isn’t. She grabs her gun and runs after the airship. Falco follows close behind.

When Mikasa carries Eren up to the airshop, Armin is waiting there to help lift them up into the cabin, after the exchange of weary, haunted stares. I can’t help but think back when the three were just little kids running around Shiganshima laughing without a care in the world. If Armin’s a bit chilly, Levi is downright disgusted to see Eren’s face again.

Compare their thousand-yard glares to the still-strong camaraderie of the B-Team, Sasha, Connie and Jean, with Connie taking a moment to hug dear his siblings from other mothers out of relief they all made it out of this crazy operation. Indeed, we learn the Survey Corps only lost six men, against untold hundreds of Marleyans.

Of course, not only has the airship not ascended or cleared Liberio, it hasn’t even finished gathering up all of the corpsmen. One of them is Lobov, an older man but new recruit who sought to do more than he was doing in the garrison. He is unfortunate enough to be in Gabi’s line of fire.

But before that, Gabi is stopped by Falco, who tells her it’s impossible to chase an airship on foot. She tells him how Zofia and Udo died, and shocked she was by how protective of her the soldiers at the gate were despite her being an Eldian. All her life, Marleyans have cursed and spit on her, and all she wanted to do was prove Eldians could be good people.

Then tonight happened, with Paradis stomping on all of that. So yes, she’s going to chase an airship on foot. Falco tells her “we stomped on them first”, but it’s only an abstraction for Gabi, like the Eldians and Paradis themselves. To her, they’re cruel demons who deserve to die, end of story. She slides, gets a lucky shot off that kills Lobov. He crashes to the ground, but his ODM cable is still connected. As Gabi prepares to retract the cable and ascend to the airship, Falco again tells her it’s pointless and she’ll be killed.

Gabi doesn’t argue the latter part, but believes it will be far from pointless. She wants Falco to tell everyone how she fought to the end, and they’ll surely inherit her feelings. She tells him he’s a good person, then pulls the trigger…but Falco grabs hold of Lobov and rises with her, honoring what Reiner told him to do: save her from a grim fate.

When she asks why, he doesn’t say because he loves her—she wouldn’t understand—he tells her he’ll be the next Armored Titan. Of course, none of them know how the ODM works, so they end up banging against the belly of the airship. In the midst of the totally off-guard jovial celebrating corpsmen, Sasha hears their bump. But again, virtually everyone else aboard is in the midst of a celebration, before leaving the battlefield…before the battle is over.

It’s a shocking lack of discipline and training for such a dangerous operation. Before anyone knows the source of the bump, Gabi rolls into the cabin and fires the gun she’s been clutching tightly since the battle began, just waiting for her chance. The bullet goes straight through the heart of Sasha, the woman who killed the guards at the gate.

As she bleeds out, the corpsmen swarm on the two kids and beat them bloody. Floch wants to throw them out of the airship, but Jean, who is not an out-and-out monster (yet), won’t authorize it, because if he could, there would be no end to this killing. He takes them to Eren instead, so Gabi can curse him in person. The thing is, someone else they know is aboard the airship: War Chief Zeke.

Back on the ground, a recovering Pieck tells Magath she finally remembered the somewhat-“off” soldier who dropped her and Porco down a well. He, or rather she, was a follower of Zeke’s. We learn her name is Yelena, and she was wearing a fake beard when she escorted Pieck and Porco. Zeke was in on the operation all along, and to hear Eren say it, it was a victory: the operation killed the leaders of the Marleyan army, sunk their main fleet, and destroyed their major military port, and he was able to inherit the Warhammer.

While it was a tactical success, it may turn out to be a massive strategic blunder if the entire world unites against Paradis. Even so, I guess Eren demanded that the people who created the people who destroyed his home and family needed to be hit and hit hard, no matter the cost. As Hange remarks, Eren used his trust in her and the corps to rescue him, but by being taken hostage again and forcing them to attack, they’ve now lost their trust in him.

Zeke calls the sacrifices made “noble” as they will “bring freedom to Eldia.” It’s clear that unlike some like, say, Gabi, he wasn’t satisfied with Marley simply allowing Eldians to exist under their bootheels. True freedom means liberating all Eldians from the yoke of Marley forevermore. He’s willing to go, and indeed has gone, farther than someone like Gabi even believed was possible to even go. Call it the narrow perspective of youth.

Alas, there is one noble sacrifice no one in the corps was ever going to be able to bear: Connie reports that Sasha has died. Beautiful, capable, eternally hungry Sasha Blouse. She didn’t die in a blaze of glory, but by the hand of an indoctrinated little Eldian girl who was so desperate for revenge she literally chased down an airship and found a way aboard.

Mikasa and Armin race to where her body lay. Eren asks if she said anything before passing away; Connie says “meat.” Eren fights back a chuckle which twists into a grimace as Jean tells him Sasha is dead because of him. I doubt she’ll be the last, because as much as Eren cared for Sasha, her death won’t be enough for him to stop. If anything, it’ll only motivate him to keep going. Like Gabi, he can only keep going.

Attack on Titan – 66 – What You Saw That Day

Eren has Lara Tybur in the palm of his hand but isn’t able to do anything with the super-hardened crystal she’s encased in, and she initiates a last-ditch attack that immobilizes him. This gives Pieck, Porco, and Zeke a chance to rally the troops.

Pieck’s machine gun armaments are particularly effective against the Paradisians’ ODM Gear. Gabi also has a gun, and runs. Even if it looks like she’ll never be able to make the slightest dent in this chain of events, well…let’s just say that’s how it looked for one Eren Yeager many years ago.

Reiner was already begging for death before the attack began; now he’s lost the will to even wake up from unconsciousness. He was able to save Falco, but that’s as far as he’s willing to go. He’s as much paralyzed as Eren, but by choice. He was already the aggressor; what’s the point of starting the cycle over?

Eren, full of terrible purpose, tries to bite through Lara’s crystal but only ruins his Titan’s mouth. As Levi stalks the Beast Titan, Eren transfers out of the immobilized body and into a fresh Titan body. Gabi has stopped running, but still has her gun, and wants to use it. Against Eren. Against his allies. Against the demons of Paradis. Then Armin Arlert makes his appearance.

Having hidden aboard an unassuming fishing boat that drifts right into the middle of the Marleyan fleet, Armin transforms into the Colossal Titan, which we recall is a cataclysmic event in and of itself. It’s as if a massive bomb were detonated over Liberio’s waterfront.

The eerie blood-red glow calls to mind Evangelion and the God Warriors of Nausicaä—the 80s precursor to Colossal Titans. The Marleyan navy is obliterated; even the water the ships were floating is all boiled away. Armin climbs out of the Colossal, looks upon his mighty work, and despairs. This is essentially the very same sight Bertoldt Hoover saw in Shiganshima.  What’s past is prologue.

Levi takes out the Beast Titan. Sasha shoots dead one of Pieck’s gunners, then her reinforcements carpet bomb the Cart Titan. The only Marleyan Titan still in the game is Porco in Jaw, who uses his speed and agility to deliver some wounds to Eren. Only Eren uses Lara’s crystal to block one swipe, and thus Porco inadvertently teaches him how he’ll crack that particular nut.

Levi cuts Jaw’s legs off, and Eren uses him as a nutcracker. The crystal doesn’t just crack, it shatters into a million pieces; Lara is just a spray of blood, most of which Eren swallows up, thus gaining the Warhammer power. Zeke is out of commission. Pieck looks near death. Jaw himself is about to be eaten by Eren. And oh yeah, Hange Zoe has arrived via armored airship to retrieve the assault force.

All Gabi can do about this situation is call out to the only Titan left: Reiner. So she cries out to him, in an extended scene that I hope Ayane Sakura recorded in parts because it sounded painful to scream that much. Falco joins in, and their two-kid chorus reaches Reiner, even though he’d prefer if they just stayed quiet.

Reiner knows if he gets up, he’ll be giving Gabi and Falco a good chance of dying even more horribly than they might have otherwise. All the same, he can’t ignore their cries. He transforms behind Eren, interrupting his eating of Jaw. He’s not in his full armor—indeed, he already looks exhausted before raising a hand to Eren, and certainly not particularly happy to be here once more. But if certain kids won’t let him die in peace, he’ll just have to die more violently, even if those kids will rue the day they asked to be saved.

Well, that was a goddamn downer. It feels downright wrong at this point to outright root for the Paradis forces. Heck, even Mikasa and Armin look like they’d rather be anywhere else…like back on that gorgeous beach. At the same time, did they have a choice? Willy Tybur was coming for them with the full force of the Marley Titans. The majority of Eldians of Paradis don’t deserve death any more than the Eldians of the Liberio Internment Zone.

In any case, a large number of lives were going to be lost. The only question was from where those lives would be taken. There are no heroes here, and probably never were. Only warriors on both sides sacrificing their humanity to try to ensure their side suffers a little less this time around.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, why did they even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to throw open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t even see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible.

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core. He can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved, and that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into his prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, to which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair? Can freedom be achieved without harming Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. The Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and glimpse the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  It’s the kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

As for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all, that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

Attack on Titan – 58 – The…Attack Titan

The entire flashback with Grisha being rescued by the Owl, Eren Kruger, is being retold by Eren as Armin writes it down and Mikasa listens in an adjacent cell. Eren is able to provide this information from many years ago thanks to his coordinate status.

Among the things he learns is that once given the powers of a Titan, a subject of Ymir will only live 13 years, something Mikasa dismisses out of hand, as she’s probably committed to making sure her beloved Eren lives to at least 100.

Kruger doesn’t have any comfort or solace to give to Grisha, because he was never given any himself. He’s only been able to survive as an Eldian spy within Marley by actually acting the way a Marleyan would; injecting his countrymen and casting them over the wall one after the other. By the same token, he deems Grisha so suited to save Eldia because he has already set that path into motion by leaving the gates of the ghetto with his sister.

Leave it to Titan to break up all that dourness with a couple moments of levity, such as when Eren seems to pose when he repeats what Eren Kruger called his Titan: the Attack Titan. This is funny on several levels, as Levi waves it off as latent chuunibyou on the teenage Eren’s part, while the older Hange is ignorant about such things. More than that, though, Eren finally gets to say the title line—a title that in English perhaps never should have had that confusing “on” in it…

There’s also the suggestion that for the duration of their imprisonment, Mikasa only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and thus was literally wasting away without Eren by her side. But their sentences are commuted and they’re free to go, seeing as how they’re heroes of humanity and all.

“Free to go” is relative, however. They’re out of the stockade and back in uniform, but they are ordered to attend an audience with none other than Queen Historia, who feels a connection to Ymir’s letter similar to Eren’s with the books and photo they found in the Basement.

While the words of the letter seem to be not much more than the “love letter” they appear to be, it’s clear Ymir sent it in its form in order to deliver far more and different information to Tory; she’s just not sure what to do with it, or even whom to tell. She’s just glad to see Eren, Mikasa and Armin, and embarrassed when they all bow before her.

At the hearing, Hange delivers the report full of revelations provided by Eren and recorded by Armin, all about the reality that their kingdom within the walls being but a tiny sliver of the real world, and that the vast majority of that world is dedicated to their destruction.

As he listens to the testimony with everyone else, the new memories provided by Grisha continue to swirl in his head. He notes that the Titan into which Dina Fritz transformed was the same Titan who ate his mother and Hannes. When he met that Titan later and touched it, a similar surge of information suddenly flowed into him.

Now he knows why, and he almost blurts it out, but thankfully Hange can sense why he ends up holding his tongue, and chalks it up to his chuuni phase to the assembled bigwigs. What Eren now knows is that it’s possible for him to gain the vaunted powers of the Founding Titan—the main mission Kruger gave Grisha when he sent him to the walls—by touching Historia while she is a Titan.

He’s loath to bring this up because he doesn’t want to see Historia suffer any more than she already has. But what if, like Grisha and Kruger and so many other subjects of Ymir before them, he’ll have to sacrifice something important in order to gain that which will restore Eldia.

Or perhaps not; perhaps Eren is supposed to break that cycle. After all, another part of Kruger’s mission to Grisha was for him to fall in love with someone in the walls, raise a family, and love them. Now there are people Eren loves, and perhaps there are lines he won’t cross, even for the sake of saving the world.

Attack on Titan – 57 – Prisons

We return to Grisha’s accounting of the day he learned he was a prisoner, and always was. A prisoner of the oppressive Marleyans who confine all the Eldians to internment camps. A prisoner of history, for the Marleyans punish the Eldians for the crimes of their ancestors.

He’s a prisoner in his powerless child’s body, unable to save his little sister Fay from a terrible fate—being attacked and eaten by guard dogs—just for the crime of leaving the camp without permission. And he’s a prisoner to his father, who is a full-on collaborator who is happy to condemn his ancestors if it means being able to live out his humble life.

We also learn that the lands where the three walls that were the entire setting for Titan up to this point are only a tiny sliver of the world; in fact, everywhere Eren & Co. have ever known occupy a relatively small island called Paradis—the last refuge of King Fritz and the Eldians.

When Grisha learns the truth about Fay (confirming his suspicions), he joins an underground movement of “restorationists” bent on restoring once great Eldians—and of course, exacting revenge on Marley for their brutal oppression. They are aided by a member of Marleyan security, known only as the “Owl.”

That informant sends them the last surviving descendant of the Eldian royal family: Dina Fritz, and she and Grisha soon fall in love, get married and have a son, Zeke. But their attempts to indoctrinate him and make him the instrument of Eldian salvation fail miserably, as he turns in his own parents to save himself and his grandparents.

Grisha doesn’t blame his son—after all, he ended up building a prison for Zeke just as his father had tried to build for him: the prison of adopting the beliefs (and grudges) of one’s predecessors. But after thorough torturing, he, the other members of his cell, and Dina, are all sent to the island of Paradis, to be injected with serum to transform them into wandering Titans. Dina is transformed first.

Eren suddenly wakes up in a stockade in the present—he realizes he’s been connected with his father’s memories, such that it feels more like he’s been re-living Grisha’s experiences rather than simply having a normal dream. He and Mikasa are behind bars for their insubordination of Levi, but Armin, whom they defied Levi to save, is there with them.

Back in Grisha’s recounting, he finds himself at the boundary of the Titan penal colony, having just seen his friend and his wife transformed into mindless giant monsters, and the same officers he and Fay encountered the day she was killed are present with him. The mustachioed officer tells him he doesn’t feel remorse for the terrible things he does to Eldians because it was their ancestors who started the fight. Besides, life is more “interesting” if every day is lived like it’s your last.

As it happens, it is the last day for Mr. Mustache, as his colleague, Kruger, who was there back when Fay died and is here now, pushes him and not Grisha into the pit to be eaten by a Titan. Turns out Kruger is the Owl, and he cuts himself to transform into a lucid Titan, in order to demonstrate to Grisha what a Titan can do.

This was another trippy journey that vastly expanded the show’s universe and revealed more crucial answers about What This Is All About: a seemingly endless, vicious cycle of retribution between two races of men, neither of which can ever forgive the previous generations of the other; one ultimate prison, containing everyone in the world. So, when will Eren & Co. try to squeeze through the bars?

Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Attack on Titan – 55 – Levi’s Choice

The characters of Titan naturally have to hold on to certain dreams in order to keep going, though Kenny likened that to being a slave to something or someone. For Levi, that has become serving Erwin and seeing to it his dreams come true, if at all possible. That’s why, when he appears with the syringe of Titan serum, he holds out as long as he can to give it to Armin, who is on the verge of death.

Eren is slave to Armin’s and his dream of seeing the ocean one day, so their opposing dreams create a conflict. As for Zeke, he leaves Bertholdt for dead and lives to fight another day, promising Eren, fellow victim of their father, that he’ll come back to rescue him some day.

On the other front, Hange sends Mikasa to see if Levi is alive and still has the serum; if injected into one of them, they can eat Reiner and gain his powers. Otherwise Hange will kill Reiner right there and then, but not before taking possession of a letter from Ymir meant for Christa.

When Mikasa meets up with Eren and Levi, and sees what has become of Armin, Floch arrives just before Levi administers the serum to Armin, with a badly wounded but still breathing Erwin. Right there and then, Levi changes his mind; Erwin will get the serum. Armin will die.

It’s an impossible choice, as both Erwin and Armin have proven to be an integral part of the continued survival of humans within the walls. For Levi, it’s a simple matter of giving it to the more experienced leader, but he can’t pretend he’s not influenced by his greater loyalty to his commander, as well as his buy-in to Erwin’s dreams.

When he knocks Eren aside to execute his decision, Mikasa pins him down, and because he’s in such bad shape from the Beast Titan fight, Mikasa can tell she can overpower him. But Floch is on Levi’s side, and tells them how he believes was the only one of his unit to survive so he could ensure the “devil” Erwin couldn’t go out so easily, that he’d live on and continue to be the devil they needed to defeat the Titans. Then Hange, Jean, and Sasha drop in, further complicating matters.

It’s an apt microcosm of the inner-wall humans all along: different factions or individuals wasting precious time and resources fighting over which way to proceed, with Levi, Hange, and Floch on one side and Eren and Mikasa on the other. Both are factoring emotions into their decisions, and both are right that if either person dies it will be a huge blow to the cause.

Ultimately, when everyone has cleared out, Levi is about to insert the syringe in Erwin’s arm, and Erwin suddenly moves it out of the way, as if to prevent the injection. Turns out he’s delirious and raising his hand as if he was still in Grisha’s classroom. Levi takes it as a sign it’s time for Erwin to finally get the rest he’s deserved.

The next time Eren sees Armin, he’s a Titan, gobbling up Bertholdt and gaining his Colossal Titan powers. Levi quietly explains his choice, and begs Floch and everyone else to forgive Erwin, who never wanted to be a Devil. Everyone made him the devil, and it didn’t seem right to pull him back into Hell when he was finally freed from it.

Instead, Armin is being given a second chance to see the sea with Eren and Mikasa. By being given the abilities of the biggest, strongest Titan, he’s taking Erwin’s place as the Devil the humans within the walls need to lead them to victory.

Even with this massive shift in the balance of power (the Titans’ greatest weapon we know of is now in human hands), even dragging Armin back into Hell might not be enough. There’s still so much they don’t know. But with Zeke and Reiner in retreat, at least the path to The Basement now seems clear.

Attack on Titan – 54 – His First Lie

This week the Beast, Armored, and Colossal Titans were so sure time was up for the humans, they neglected to detect the diversions that led to their own demise. Beast Titan is having so much fun tweaking his pitch delivery to kill Erwin and his desperate cavalry charge, he fails to see why they keep shooting nothing but green smoke at him.

That green smoke hides the fact that all of his Titans to one side have been felled by Levi, who then comes for him. Bertholdt and Reiner warned Zeke about the one human he had to worry about, but by the time he’s finally face-to-face with that human, the Beast Titan is toast. Levi carves him up like a Christmas goose.

Levi’s victory is snatched away by the “crawling” Titan, who grabs Zeke’s body before Levi can find anyone to turn into a Titan so he can eat Zeke and gain the Beast Titan’s powers. Levi gives chase, still committed to keeping the promise he made to Erwin. The only survivor of the cavalry charge is still alive, but not sure why. Will he be the one Levi gives the serum to, or will there be someone else near death who needs it more than this guy?

Inside the walls, Armin finally has a plan, to the relief of Mikasa and Jean. He’ll wake Eren up to fight Bertholdt, while Mikasa, Jean, Conny and Sasha will deal with Reiner. His plan revolves around the fact that the Colossal doesn’t do well in a battle of attrition, since the amount of steam he can produce is finite, making him thinner and thinner.

Reiner may be alive, but he’s signifcantly weakened, and still isn’t aware of the Thunder Spears, one of which takes out a knee and halts his advance. They need to get his mouth open, but while Conny’s spear finds its target, Sasha misses and is ijured. Armin wakes Eren up, but Eren ends up falling off the wall; Bertholdt is convinced he’s concussed and in no condition to fight, and that Armin is rushing him in a last-gasp suicide attack that will fail.

When telling Eren his plan, Armin reminds him he’s never lied to him, and that they’re going to see the sea together someday. However, this was actually the first and only time Armin was lying; in order to defeat Bertholdt, he had to stay in front of his face—and the tremendous heat from his steam attack—as long as possible, incinerating him in the process.

Back at the Armored battle, Hange swoops in to complete the destruction of his jaw, enabling Mikasa to land on his tongue and fire her thunder spear down his throat, forcibly ejecting the very weak and vulnerable Reiner.

With Armin killed, Bertholdt looks down and notices Eren’s Titan has fully hardened. Just then, Eren swoops in from behind, cuts the Titan’s nape open, and rips Bertholdt out sans arms and legs. The Colossal Titan darkens and falls. With all three main foes defeated, it should be a great victory for the Scouts and humanity.

But there are so few left to savor that victory, and Armin was an irreplaceable friend and tactical asset. I honestly can’t believe they offed one of the three main characters, but his life ended triumphantly the same way Eren first met him years ago: not losing by never running.

Attack on Titan – 53 – The Ones Who Will Remember

It’s pretty impressive that after 54 episodes—probably about double the number required to tell a complete and satisfying tale—Titan is still bringing it. Armin freezes up after his hunch about Hoover turns out to be wrong, and so defers command to Jean, at least to decide their next course of action.

The thing is, while Jean probably wanted command, he tells Armin striaght up that it won’t be enough to get them out of this. When the rubber meets the road they’ll be relying on Armin’s strategic know-how, even if he’s finding it hard to focus, he’ll have to. Outside the wall, Erwin loses three whole squads in quick gory succession to the Beast Titan’s new tactic of hurling fastballs of rock at his forces.

Jean decides everyone will climb aboard Eren and attempt to distract the Colossal Titan, but screaming at him accomplishes nothing; he keeps heading towards the wall. Eren has to bum rush one of his legs and attempt to knock him down, but the Colossal simply kicks him off, sending him flying to the top of the wall.

Jean, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and Connie all launch off off Eren before the rush, but instead find themselves confronted with a very alive and very pissed-off-looking Armored Titan. Looks like Hoover’s distraction bought Braun enough time to heal up.

Irwin and Levi spot Eren atop the wall, and Levi suggests his commander take the horses and survivors and withdraw with as many people as he can. Only the new recruits have survived, and the constant rock bombardment is starting to make some of them crack, including one who gives a lengthy monologue about their entire cause being hopeless and pointless, and no one really piping up to argue with him.

Erwin and Levi have an extended (and very moving) talk in which Erwin laments he won’t ever get to see the basement he longed to see his entire life. He also looks around and sees his fallen comrades all around him, watching him, wondering if they were sacrificed in vain. He asks Levi if it was all a sad delusion.

Levi is respectful, thanking Erwin for getting them this far, but it’s time to give up on the dream, lead the recruits into hell, and die. If he does, Levi will have that much better a shot at taking down the Beast Titan.

Still, Levi wonders how he can even reach the Beast when he’s on on a wide open field. In this, the Beast’s vanity and desire to present a show of devastating force leads to him making a critical tactical error: all of the large Titans spread out on either side of him provide the perfect ODM path for Levi.

That leaves Erwin to fire up his shaky, demoralized recruit squad, and shows why he was born to lead with a rousing motivational speech for the ages, which he starts up when one of the recruits asks why it matters whether they die fighting or cowering in a corner:

No matter what dreams or hopes you had, no matter how blessed a life you’ve lived, it’s all the same if you’re shredded by rocks. Everyone will die someday. Does that mean life is meaningless? Was there even any meaning in our being born? Would you say that of our fallen comrades? Their lives…were they meaningless? No, they weren’t! It’s we who give meaning to our comrades’ lives! The brave fallen! The anguished fallen! The ones who will remember them are us, the living! We die trusting the living who follow to find meaning in our lives! That is the sole method by which we can rebel against this cruel world! My soldiers, rage! My soldiers, scream! My soldiers, fight!

Hell, I was ready to charge into battle after that. By splitting into three groups and launching smoke flares simultaneously, Erwin hopes to affect the Beast’s accuracy enough to draw out the charge as long as they can, giving Levi the time he needs to reach his target. Unfortunately, Erwin is pierced through the torso in the first moments of the charge, which likely means his time is finally up.

So, did Erwin believe what he told the recruits to motivate them? Is he confident he gave his fallen comrades’ lives meaning, and does he trust those who outlive him to give his life meaning as well? We’ll see. But whatever happens to him, the Scouts, and the mission, let it be said that through his actions Erwin Smith rebelled against the cruel world until his final breath.